Written on the Wind

May 22, 2010

A Douglas Sirk masterpiece, “Written on the Wind” tells the tale of  of an oil tycoon’s son and his inability to deal with his alcoholism, impotency, and irresponsibility. Obviously influenced by Sirk’s love of the “melodramatic” style, this story follows a tradition of grand, over the top action and dialogue. Both performances by Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone are gloriously eccentric, often drawing a fine line between laughable and moving. What I liked about “Written on the Wind” the most though was it’s portrayal of the prieledged American family.The fact that although it may seem like the Hadley family has everything you would ever want and more, it’s clear when we meet the two siblings that that couldn’t be further from the truth. Marylee for example, has every material need she could ever need. But it’s Mitchs love that she really wants but could never attain. This becomes very apparent during the last scene, when the father has died and shes sitting at the big oil company desk, owner of a huge money making company on the outside but lonely on the inside. Sirk, in his interview with Jon Halliday, asserts that his choice to portray two such obviously flawed characters with a tolken straight guy like Rock Hudson is a fundamental strategy in melodrama. He calls it the “advantage to have one immovable character against which you can put your more split ones.” Which in essense, makes alot of sense considering how hard it would be if every main character in the film were flying off the deep end. I guess when you have some character to relate to, one with at least some integrity, it’s easier to appreciate the ones with more flaws who we wouldn’t normally associate with. Sirk called this kind of device the “perfect balance” and attributes it to othe succesful pictures from the past.

Umberto D

May 22, 2010

Definately one of the most heartwrenching films we’ve seen all term, Umberto D is a relntless tale of poverty and hardship. Following the style of the Italian neo realist movement, this picture succeeds in capturing the very essense of being between a rock and a hard place. Main character Umberto D, brilliantly played by Carlo Battisti, is instantly relatable and grabs your sympathy from the very first moments of the film. There is no doubt in my mind that this film has been influenced by the devestation Italy felt after the second world war. Andre Bazin in “An Aesthetic of Reality:Neorealism” describes Vittorio De Sica and other such neorealist director’s approach as using a “revolutionary humanism”, preserving an acute sense of reality in the wake of the cruel reality of the war. This can be seen in the use of real life settings in the movie as well as issues like unemployment and eviction. As much as one may despise the idea of an old man being thrown into the streets, there was no way to deny that it could happen in real life, and that’s part of what makes Umberto D so effective. At the same time, Bazin argues that it is this attention and utilization of real life details that actually makes the film more of a believable “artifice”. He also traces this to other fims which have borrowed similar ideas from neorealism, such as Citizen Cane, where the utilization of actual settings is a more effective simulation of reality than an artificial set. As if the realist approach as an art takes more work and can be more effective than simply “art for art’s sake” as he puts it. This is definately something that I can agree with, being that I was so caught up in the story and didn’t realize the implications of utilizing such realistic aesthetics until I was done with the film and read about it. In short, realism works. It works because it’s familiar and way more relatable than any expertly painted set background. It’s as simple as feeling bad for Umberto when his only companion in life, his dog Flike, has been lost in the pound and may be dead or mistreated. You just naturally feel bad for him. And you know how he must feel as he walks around the actual pound, watching the unidentified animals getting shoved into an oven and realizing Flike might be next.

Bonnie and Clyde

May 21, 2010

What better time was there than the “Summer of  Love” for a movie as taboo and hair raising as “Bonnie and Clyde” to have come out and made the impact that it did?  Probably none. Loosely based on the historical bankrobbing duo, “Bonnie and Clyde” raised the bar for every motion picture that has come afterwards in terms of realism and suggestive content. And although it is rather loyal to the period in which it takes place, it explodes with radical nineteen sixties undertones. Mathew Bernstein points out a great example in his essay “Perfecting the New Gangster: Writing Bonnie and CLyde” by comparing the last scene in the car where Bonnie is feeding Cyde the pear as “1960s flower children in 1930s garb.” Even today, in an age where gratuitous sex and violence is a standard of most mainstream movies, there is still something very dangerous about “Bonnie and Clyde”. I see it as something totally different than your average bad guy, good cop approach to outlaw movies. Instead, it makes you reassess the role of law enforcement and gives the bad guy an almost Robbin Hood type of quality. After the scene in which the family visits their house that has been repossessed by the bank, we almost get a sense that Bonnie and Clyde are justified in their actions. Bernstein attributes this approach to the plot as a result of the influence of French New Wave. He calls director Arthur Penn’s approach to the Amrican Gangster as an “existential” one, where the French New Wave has taught him the “poetry of  crime” in American life. This of course was something the French interpreted from even older American Gangster films, something that Penn took a step further with “Bonnie and Clyde”.

Memories of Underdevelopement/Borom Sarret

May 21, 2010

A product of the late nineteen sixties’ Cuban cinema movement, “Memories of Underdevelopement” provides us with a deep, and gritty view on the plight of an impoverished Cuba during a period of severe political flux. The movie begins as our main protagonist, Sergio, watches his wife got on a plane in order to escape a Cuba torn apart by revolution and settle down in the United Sates while he has decided to stay behind in order to write. The movie then shifts over to Sergio’s attempt to evaluate and make sense of where he stands in the country, and more importantly, where the country stands in the world. To me, the most interesting aspect of this movie is Director Tomas Guiterrez Alea’s choice to set Sergio as the movie’s main character . Although he does possess a bougousie background, he also understands and acknowledges the plight of Cuba’s lower class . With the understanding of both ends of the spectrum, he also sees their contradictions. This not only puts us in a position in which we don’t know whether to condemn him or sympathize with him, but he also brings up good points for both sides of the argument concerning the Cuban revolution. So while “Memories..” is obviously an extremely political film, it never trys to convince us into believing any single point of view. Margot Kernan defines this point about the movie perfectly in her article called “Cuban Cinema” by saying “Alea has taken the risk of giving us a political film without heroes or heroines, with a logic that we must discover for ourselves.” A similar theme can also be found in Ousmane Sembene’s “Borom Sarret”, where the main character narrates a day in his life as a poor African push cart driver. While it’s hard to sympathize with him because of his bitter, self centered demeanor, we also can’t help but feel bad when he is left penniless and without his push cart at the end. Another parallel between the two movies is the representation of the higher class as natives who have taken up American capitalism. In “Borom..”, the guard in the modernized city is an African American just like him, except that he has been bred upon American ideals. The same can be said of Sergio as well as his rich friend, who shows him his new American car. This sense of non American natives being tainted by American influences is best explained in an interview with director Sembene by G.M. Perry and Patrick McGilligan , explaining how “black bourgeoisie had aped European and American models” in their art. He goes on to state that the “true art remains in the villages and rural communities”.

Early Summer

March 22, 2010

Yasujiro Ozu’s 1951 film “Early Summer” portrayed an interesting bite of post World War 2 Japanese life. Following a similar “slow and steady wins the race” approach to the cinematography as the Italian neorealist film we watched previously, “Umberto D”, it is not the most easily assesible movie we’ve seen all term. In fact, some areas of the movie took a fair amount of willpower in order to devote all of your attention. But for all of the sparse dialogue, drawn out shots, and at times, lack of any real concise plot line, Ozu’s overall approach to this movie paid off in the long run. As we watch the menial and insignificant daily happenings of a small Japanese family for the first part of the movie, we get a real sense of the personalities and relationships at play. It was almost as if, instead of being thrown directly into a story, we were getting to live with the family for a day in order to fully understand them. This is why when Ozu begins sprinkling their neutral interactions with elements of conflict, we get to appreciate their reactions and emotions a lot better. Quite honestly, the pace of the movie dampened my enthusiasm a tiny bit. But all in all, his technique made it worth while in the end (or as close as we got to an end). Another interesting observation, which I mentioned before, is the similarity in style between Ozu’s style and that of Vittorio de Sica’s “Umberto D”. Of course there are some obvious differences between the two. The melodramatic score and unsettling resolution in “Umberto D” would seem way out of place in “Early Summer”. But in many ways, these films seems like kindred spirits. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that both movies were produced by countries devastated by their loss in the second world war. both movies share an uncanny theme to portray the world as it truly is. In “Umberto..”‘s case, this was through the gritty account of an elderly man, evicted from his apartment with nothing to fall back on. In “Early Summer”, Ozu channeled his idea of reality through the story of an ordinary Japanese family, who’s existence had more to do with sitting around the dinner table than fighting off space invaders.

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