Posted on 8/18/13 10:02 PM
I don't have a lot of sympathy for the belief that this film puts too much emphasis over the television marketing end of the story. It's true that there was more to the story than that. It's true that the movie even hints at some of the other aspects of the campaign but not does spend much time on them. However, that's because the other parts of the campaign are not the story that the movie is telling. This is not intended to be the story of the whole of Chile's progress back to democracy. It isn't even the story of the whole of the referendum which made democracy possible. It is the story of the television commercials. That's it. The whole story would be much busier than the narrower aspects of it that we have here. That's okay; most human stories are large and complicated, especially when they involve as many people as this story inevitably would have. However, there are other arguments to be made against this film, and we'll get to them.
It is 1988. For fifteen years, Chile has been under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet following the coup in which he and other military officials overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Now, the junta has agreed to hold an election with but one thing on the ballot--will Pinochet remain in power for eight more years? The "yes" side has the support of the government. The "no" side has the support of the seventeen political parties hoping to take over if Pinochet steps down. Each side will get fifteen minutes a night for the twenty-seven nights before the election to present its side on national television, and then, there will be the vote. The "no" side recruits commercial director--and son of a man who went into exile--René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) to make their series of TV spots. Saavedra has to fight against the various leaders of the political parties to get commercials that he thinks will actually help.
The more cogent argument against this film is that it glorifies the commercial makers, not the people making things different. And if convincing people to vote is making things different, which of course it is, why did a TV commercial--or series of them--have so much influence? The spot which makes Saavedra decide that he will help them after all is a somber series of declarations about the evils of the Pinochet regime. They are, of course, all true. Doubtless most of the viewing audience was aware of that. The issue is not so much convincing people about how to vote; it is convincing them to vote at all. The implication is that it is not apathy but fear that will prevent it, though apathy doubtless also plays a part. It really, really bothers me that Saavedra's commercials probably overcame more apathy, and it worries me that they might have overcome more fear. The study of the influence of media on voting patterns is worth doing, though that isn't the point here.
The way we can tell that the only point of the movie is the commercials is that we barely even dip into Saavedra's own past. We know his father is in exile, because that gets used several times as something which adds weight to his position as the right person to make the commercials. It seems there is some history between the regime and the mother of Saavedra's child (Simón, played by Pascal Montero), or anyway that's who I think she is, but it isn't completely clear. It is, in fact, probable that each and every person who is part of the No campaign knows someone who has disappeared, who is in exile, who is actually known to be imprisoned or executed. (That last possibly the most rare, given what I know of the Pinochet regime.) They know that know few of the people watching have had similar experiences, but they also know that those are not the people who need convincing. At least, not those who would be convinced by a simple TV commercials.
I still have not seen Amour. However, I was slightly disappointed when it won for Best Foreign Language Film, because I wanted this to win. Not that I had seen any of the nominees, and indeed, I still have not seen any of the others. Foreign Language Film is one of those categories where it is hard to see the nominees before the ceremony. It often takes a very long time for them to be available in this country. This often leads to a certain amount of fuss that other films, ones actually available on DVD, are not nominated. The nomination procedure for Foreign Language Film is complicated, possibly to the point of being arbitrary. Still, I do at times wish that we'd start being more interested in films about other countries' histories. After all, the events in Argo were in some ways not so different from the events in this film, or anyway plenty of parallels can be drawn. In filming style, too, come to that; if I were to talk about that, it would be about the effort made to make the film look to be filmed in 1988, not just set then.
Posted on 8/17/13 06:29 PM
Only So Much You Can Say
I think this movie exemplifies most the difference in how I see the world versus how the filmmakers see the world. Despite the awful nature of some of what is filmed, I really still see most of what appears in this movie as inherently hopeful. Maybe I'm romanticizing. It wouldn't be the first time. However, I see beauty in much of the environment shown in the film, even the urban landscapes that we're probably supposed to see as inherently less than the natural ones. Yeah, there are also some places that are pretty awful--mines and so forth. It's not even as though I think there's something great to just the sight of seas of neon. What struck me about it was more the fact that we are able to create beauty out of things that aren't necessarily beautiful on their face. We are able to find beauty in places that aren't beautiful by themselves. Even if it's only for a moment.
As with the other "Qatsi" films, there's no plot to summarize. It's all about imagery and music. The imagery in this one is mostly human, ranging from the Serra Pelada gold mines of Brazil to Mombasa to Cuzco to Cairo. Some of it is a bit depressing, like for example those gold mines. An injured man is carried out on the backs of his fellows. In the film's only staged shot (which was just repeating something they'd seen but not caught on camera), a boy walks by the side of the road and vanishes in a dust cloud as a truck passes him. There is a boat, possibly a dhow, with a beautiful, multicoloured sail. We see African villages, mosques, and people praying by the banks of the Ganges. The film primarily focuses on the Third World, but there are also shots of people such as Christie Brinkley and John Paul II. There aren't the financial landmarks of Naqoyqatsi or the sweeping panoramas of Koyaanisqatsi; this is, I think, the most human of the trilogy.
However, my viewing of the trilogy is out of order and over an extended period of time. I must confess that I can't really compare them with any degree of certainty. It's a powerful series, but I've seen four movies of this ilk, if you include Baraka, and after four movies, remembering exactly which one any specific moment is from, assuming I can remember specific moments, is far from a certainty. And that's leaving out the fact that I see something like four hundred movies in any given year, counting movies I watch and don't review, either because I had nothing to say or because I've already reviewed it some time in the past. The images are floating in my head somewhere, and I've loved the music of Koyaanisqatsi, at least, since something like seventh grade. But perhaps because these are non-narrative films, they don't remain in the brain in the same way. This is not to say that they're forgettable; I watch a lot of forgettable films. But they are a lot more disjointed than other films.
I suppose the theme I see in the Qatsi trilogy is that humans must find their place in the world, and what that place is must balance somehow. We cannot take everything out of the Earth and put nothing back. We cannot take everything from each other and give nothing back. Our lives in the industrialized world are built on the backs of those men in Brazilian mines, for example. The third movie of the trilogy, as I mentioned in my review of it, features the Enron logo. This one is, I believe, the only one of the three not to feature a mushroom cloud. As I said, there's a pretty negative attitude toward progress through the series. The movie seems of the opinion that all progress is necessarily at the expense of the natural world and the balance of humanity. I'm reasonably sure that the very idea that technology could improve the life of those miners would be shocking to the filmmaker, but I'd certainly prefer a machine to lifting all that dirt out of the pit by hand.
I am a firm believer that there is a balance between science and nature. I believe that we need both. Filmmaker Godfrey Reggion felt guilty about using high-tech cameras to make this movie and had to convince himself that technology is just a part of our lives now. I find that perspective a little bewildering. Technology has been part of our lives as long as we've been recognizably human. We may not call it that, but even when it was just stone tools and control of fire, we were using technology. I am reminded of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, actually. Werner Herzog built his own 3D camera to film in a cave that had been important to people who were among the first to capture imagery using paints. The people who decorated the walls of that cave wouldn't have recognized the tools Werner used, but I believe they would have recognized the drive to do it. The same is true of flint-knappers and the people we see in one of these movies building cars on an assembly line. There's a difference between roast mammoth and Twinkies, but it's all the same drive.
Posted on 8/16/13 09:44 PM
This Is What All the Fuss Is About?
When I pick up my library holds every Tuesday, I go to the counter to check out instead of using self-check out, because I like talking to the librarians about any particularly interesting item that I've gotten that week. I'm pretty sure they like talking to me about them, too; when they haven't seen me in a while, they ask how I'm doing and where in the alphabet I am. This week, the librarian who checked me out looked through the pile and told me that he'd never seen this movie, because it's a scary movie. I told him that I didn't get scared by movies, ever, and he looked surprised. However, even if I did, I don't think I would have been scared by this. It isn't just my generation's curse--I saw the Simpsons episode first--that caused that, either. It's that I found the movie silly instead. And I'm going to be giving spoilers, because when the big reveal came, it simply didn't make any sense.
The Freeling family has been living in the pleasant subdivision of Cuesta Verde for years. Father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) is, in fact, a salesman for the company and has apparently sold nearly half the homes in the subdivision for them. Mother Diane (JoBeth Williams) takes care of the three kids--Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). Then one day, a storm comes. In the storm, for reasons, are dark spirits. They take Carol Anne into the realm between the living and the dead. Her parents call in Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), a parapsychologist. She tries to help them, but it's beyond her capabilities. She, in turn, summons Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), who has more experience in such matters. Together, they work to find a way to bring Carol Anne back into the world of the living and the care of her parents. While they are preparing for it, Steve finds out the secret of Cuesta Verde.
Or at least part of it. The part that we discover at the very end is that it is not merely that the land where the housing development was built used to be a cemetery. It is that it basically still is. Steve cries in shock that they moved the headstones, but they didn't move the bodies. (Which were real skeletons, because real ones were cheaper than good fake ones.) This is, bluntly, stupid and impossible. I mean, take a look--how deep is the foundation on your house? Okay, subdivision in probably California means these houses probably don't have basements, but the first sewer line they ran? Heck, the pool that the Freelings are having dug is deeper than six feet at its deepest point. It would not have been possible, even if it were legal, which I'm pretty sure it isn't. This doesn't work. I know I'm probably not supposed to think about that, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to avoid it. It was so obvious and stupid that I don't know how it was possible to miss it, and one of you who managed not to think about it should let me know how.
And then there's the claim that the production was cursed. I'm not buying that, either. Supposedly, it's because they used real human skeletons in the climax (they were actually cheaper), but if that's true, MythBusters is similarly cursed. Anyway, it is true that Dominique Dunne was murdered by her abusive boyfriend. Heather O'Rourke probably died of completely preventable causes. I'm given to understand that a couple of people who were in later movies also died, but you know, both the parents are still alive. The younger brother is still alive. Heck, the film was produced by Steven Spielberg, and unless you want to argue that the Academy's hatred of him is part of the curse, he's doing just fine. Director Tobe Hooper is still alive. No, this is like the alleged Curse of King Tut; it's grasping at straws to make a story more interesting. I feel for the O'Rourke and Dunne families, but I still don't think there's any such thing as curses.
This is another film I watched solely to check off the list. There are a lot of those. There continue to be a lot of them and will for some time. Yeah, okay, the list of classics I've never seen actually does get shorter, even if my list of movies I actually want to watch doesn't. My definition of "classic" is pretty specific, and there aren't as many new ones made every year which will one day become classics as I watch in a year. I don't even find out about all that many new ones. Even as I examine more countries' films, I don't learn about as many that I would consider classics as all that. So that's one list in my life that actually gets shorter, and I've knocked another one off it today. (It will not surprise you to know that the sequels don't make it onto the list.) I sometimes feel that my library project is particularly quixotic, because the catalog has more than doubled since I started. But since I don't backtrack in the library catalog, at least the end of that one is in sight, too.
Posted on 8/15/13 11:33 PM
I have dropped my keyboard. It has erased my review. All I am going to say now, having written a rhapsody on the curiously dated references and so forth and then lost it, is that Cara Miller and I had a great time, and we'll see you at Night of the Living Dead in October. Also, while it amuses me that cast members saw the broadcast, I wished they'd gotten Neil Patrick Harris as a special guest star.
Posted on 8/14/13 09:41 PM
But Really Understanding the Bible Is Hard!
Someone once told me that Catholics don't ever read the Bible. Leaving aside that Bible readings are part of the mass, my church gave Bibles to every Sunday school class in fourth grade. It's true that I doubt half my classmates ever read theirs, but I have no certainty that most Protestants read their Bibles, either. I know too many stories of Protestants who were ignorant of basic details of the Bible. In practice, this means that Catholics and Protestants alike--and probably the various Orthodox faiths, and Jews, and Muslims--are ignorant of what the book actually says. They follow it, but they rely on other people to tell them what they're following. They don't know enough to know for themselves what the Bible says on any subject, and I think that's part of the problem. I hope that this will be rectified, and sooner rather than later, but I am inclined to doubt it.
Ky Dickens went to Vanderbilt University because of a weird fixation with Southerners based on things like reading Fried Green Tomatoes. However, there's more to the South than that, and Vanderbilt is notoriously conservative. So when she came out to her closest friends, she was surprised and I am not to discover that they rejected her because of it. Without fail, they told her that the Bible supported such rejection. Hurt and sad, she decided to find out if that was true. She sought out the opinions of literally dozens of religious figures around the US, asking if they believed the Bible, interpreted correctly, considered homosexuality to be a sin. All the people she interviewed were heterosexual. She only found two who went on record stating that the Bible really said that, one of whom was Fred Phelps. The film is cute animation and serious conversation with her religious figures, including Phelps. She also does some "vox populi" interviews to find out what the average person the street thinks.
Oh, I find it very surprising that she only found two. I can name a few others she should have spoken to; I don't think she interviewed any Catholics, for example. However, I do think that even a Catholic, upon reading the actual history of those seven quotes, would be forced to concede that the quotes do not say what a lot of people think they do. Of course, it gets into the murky history of Biblical translation, and I think that's where Phelps goes wrong. At least one of the other people I think she could have spoken to knows that history and has consciously rejected it, going on record to say that the King James Bible is clearly the right one even with its known history of translation errors. (Which she wouldn't have gotten from a Catholic.) Still, she says nothing about her qualifications for considering people to be interviewed for the piece, which is one of several places where I think the documentary should have been longer than its bare hour.
A point worth mentioning, which she does, is that homosexuality as we know it today was literally inconceivable to the people who wrote the Bible. They were more discussing the Greek model, where an older man took a younger one under his wing and also expected sexual favours for it. A homosexual relationship of equals was as impossible to the people who wrote those verses as, in most cases, a heterosexual relationship of equals was. The problem isn't the sex, and even if it were, the Bible leaves lesbians out entirely. The problem is that a homosexual relationship was one in which one of the men ceded the power that he held by right of being male. That's entirely different. The idea of any marriage as a partnership of true equals was not one that was held by most cultures in history. This is where you get into concepts like "complementarianism," which is one that horrifies me. That's where men are men and women are women, and they have very specific roles, and how can you have a complementary gay marriage?
I have to say, though, I always tear up at these images of gay couples' finally getting married. We have a clip here from the moments when a Massachusetts minister performed her first legal gay marriage ceremony, and she has to pause for cheers when she announces that it is by the authority vested in her by the commonwealth. Just the idea that these people are able at long last to celebrate their love, especially when the couples have been together for literally decades, fills me with delight. The minister says that she trembled, not with nervousness but with joy. The idea that these people have suffered so much for their love, for their very identities, and are having it at least somewhat validated in one glorious moment to be shared with everyone they love? Great stuff. Great for all of us. We need to be reminded, now and again, of how important love really is to people. The moments of pure joy thrill me every time, and I am glad for them every time.
Posted on 8/13/13 11:58 PM
No Bodices Were Harmed in the Making of This Film
You can tell that this wasn't an American film. No American film of 1948 could have had the same plot, even though all evildoers are appropriately punished. The background of the film would have been forbidden, much less anything that actually happens onscreen. One of the main characters is an illegitimate child. If two of the characters don't commit adultery, they commit fornication. (I'm not sure of the timeline.) And so forth. For 1948, this is quite shocking stuff. To a modern eye, probably the most shocking part is the portrayal of Gypsies, though I doubt most people even notice. (Discrimination against Gypsies seems to be considered more quaint and old-fashioned than an actual problem these days.) All the stuff that appears in this movie might easily be in the chintzy romance novels my mother spent so much time reading when I was growing up.
Blanche Fury (Valerie Hobson) is the impoverished daughter of an old, established family. She has been failing at a number of the kind of jobs a woman like her would have had. Finally, she receives a letter from her uncle Simon (Walter Fitzgerald), who says that, now that certain other relatives have died, he wants her to come to the family estate and be the governess of his granddaughter, Lavinia (Susanne Gibbs). She will be a servant, but she will have a home. Also in this position is Philip Thorn (Stewart Granger), the illegitimate son of the former owner of the estate. He believes he should have inherited the estate, believes his parents were married in Italy. This fuels his resentment against his Fury cousins, which isn't helped when Blanche marries Laurence (Michael Gough in one of his first roles). Things get worse, and Blanche must face the fact that she is in love with Philip, not Laurence. Laurence seems to know this and decides to take control, which of course doesn't end well for anyone.
It's awfully melodramatic, is what I'm saying. To the point that it's silly. Obviously, we shouldn't expect chemistry between Blanche and Laurence, but there isn't really any chemistry between Blanche and Philip, either. Lavinia spends most of the movie forgotten, I think; she arrives again when we need her to be the heir, but she has no part in the story until she needs to be in danger to keep the plot, such as it is, going. To be honest, I have no idea how she connects to the rest of the family anyway. Okay, she's Simon's granddaughter. Who were her parents? Was Laurence widowed? How were the families related? Blanche's father and Simon were brothers, but how was Philip's father related to the others? Are all three first cousins? It's entirely possible that the movie said this and I missed it, but it is kind of important information, right? Why do so many movies let important plot points slide like that? I feel like I'm saying this sort of thing a lot.
And I mean, it's badly filmed, too. The colour's being muddy may be the fact that this movie is more than sixty years old, and Netflix Instant Play may not have a copy in the best condition. (This is another thing that I would like fixed before Netflix goes to all-streaming; a lot of the older movies are not in good shape.) However, Netflix couldn't make the actual shots worse. (This is not getting into the fact that Netflix has recently acknowledged changing aspect ratios on some films; this is too old to have it be an issue.) The director doesn't seem particularly skilled, in my opinion. I actually turned off a movie last week that he'd directed, because it did even less for me than this one. Also, I was watching it earlier in the day. But the point, here, is that the movie isn't good enough in a technical perspective to rise above the plot problems it has. Some movies do; this one does not. Which is fairly common, so I'm not really all that peeved about the whole thing.
My mother read the books that she did because she knew she could put them down pretty much in mid-sentence and pick them up again considerably later without missing the plot. While there are a lot of details that I missed, the general thrust of the story was pretty predictable. I've never really agreed with my mother on the subject. I'd rather read something interesting, even if I have to reread a page back upon picking the book up again, but I do see my mother's point. To be fair to my mother--or perhaps not, depending on your perspective--she mostly read Harlequins and so forth instead of the dippy historical ones. So this wasn't the sort she was most likely to read. However, it does still have its similarities. It's not unlike the books I read when I was pregnant the first time, because my roommate had a ton of them and I was reading everything I could get my hands on. However, this is certainly no more the kind of movie I'd watch a second time than I bothered reading most of those books a second time.
Posted on 8/12/13 11:42 PM
Back When Geek Meant Something Totally Different
One of these days, I will go looking for the etymological history of the word "geek." Apparently, the book on which this movie is based is the first use of it in the "carnival attraction" sense; we don't quite know where the word comes from, and the site I use for etymology doesn't seem to know how we went from the version of it in this to the version of it in The Breakfast Club. It's interesting to consider, but since it's slang, it's probably much harder to do the research. The etymology of slang is extremely difficult, which is why it's not something I've ever considered doing for a living. So, you know, the day when I track the history of the word "geek" is not going to come any time soon. But it is a thing that I think about occasionally, especially when I read articles about how maybe we should stop pretending that "geek" is an insult that automatically means "Anthony Michael Hall."
Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power) has just started working for a carnival. One of the things he does is help Zeena Krumbein (dear Joan Blondell) and her husband, Pete (Ian Keith), with their psychic act. Zeena and Pete used to have an even better one, but Pete has become a drunk and isn't capable of keeping it up any more. Through a series of events that don't entirely matter, Stan helps Pete drink himself to death. He joins Zeena in her act, and they're doing just fine, but he ends up in a shotgun wedding with Molly (Coleen Gray), and they go off to do the psychic act in a nightclub, because psychic acts were the big draw in nightclubs in 1947, I guess. The act is definitely better in each incarnation, but still. Anyway, he goes on to hook up with a psychiatrist, Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker), and use her files to improve his act. And then, he basically sets himself up as a guru, I kind of missed how, and from there, things just get weird.
Joan Blondell was forty-one when this movie was made, and she is treated as old by pretty much all the characters. She pairs up with Molly's father, Bruno (Mike Mazurki), to force the wedding, though we are clearly shown that it's because she is bitter about the fact that Stan convinced her that he was interested in her and then went off with the younger woman. Yes, okay, Tyrone Power was eight years younger than she was, but of course Coleen Gray was eight years younger than Tyrone Power. It just kind of irks me, in no small part because she doesn't look middle aged. Heck, she was in Desk Set in 1957, and she didn't look middle aged then. I'm not sure she looked any older then. I could understand why you'd be interested in Molly instead of Zeena, but that's because of personal taste, not because Joan Blondell looked too old. And anyway I'm quite sure Tyrone Power would be able to keep playing a romantic lead well after Joan Blondell could, because that's how the film industry works.
A bigger problem is that, and let's face it, the story did not make any sense. I had no idea what was going on half the time, or I suppose more accurately, I had no idea why it was happening. It isn't just the whole "I don't know why psychics are supposedly a popular nightclub act" thing--I mean, how did Stan and Molly go from working in a carnival to working in high-class nightclubs anyway? But I wasn't sure why everyone seemed so determined that he and Molly should get married. I'm not sure why he basically killed Pete; he wanted to get his hands on the code that Zeena and Pete used in their act, but was he really that awful a person? I do not understand. We don't really develop his character enough in order for the film to really work. Once again, it's theoretically possible that this would have made more sense if I'd read the book. I often assume this to be the case, especially under the Code, where there were limits on what you could spell out. But really?
Probably the most interesting part of the movie is the lingering dread of being the geek. It's obviously something that the character in this movie has with the characters in The Breakfast Club, even if their definition of the word is not quite the same. I have a lot more sympathy with the people afraid of being this kind of geek. This is a genuinely scary kind. They never actually show us the geek, is the fun thing. The geek is the dark secret of the carnival; if there turns out to be a geek act, they can all go to jail, or at least the carnival will be shut down. We get to see the accuracy of cold reading, which is an important thing to know, and we get to see that, if you make the wrong decision, you can end up in a bad place. Probably your bad place will not be biting the heads of chickens; it really doesn't happen to that many people. However, being the geek is, for these people, the prime example of your life ending up in a bad place. This is just another way of showing how different their lives are.
Posted on 8/11/13 10:48 PM
Finding Yourself in the Legitimate Theatre
It's easy to forget how very young she was then. This was her third movie, her first Oscar. She was twenty-six then and could still pass for younger. She was ninety-six when she died; for my entire life, she was old. For as long as my mother can remember, she was middle aged. But there was a time, long ago, when Katharine Hepburn was young. In some ways, I think she was very like the character she played here--earnest and determined beyond the average. Wanting very much for everyone to be aware of how talented she was. She mellowed, with time, and I suspect her relationship with the more down-to-earth Spencer Tracy probably contributed to that, deeply messed up though that relationship was. However, part of me still likes young and earnest Katharine Hepburn, even when I find the characters she's playing to be more than a little embarrassing. I sympathize with them more than I really want to admit.
Ada Love (Hepburn) has come to New York to be an actress. She has begun called herself Eva Lovelace, and she wrote George Bernard Shaw to tell him of her admiration for him--and got a letter back. She is waiting in the office of Louis Easton (Adolphe Menjou), a theatrical producer (I think), in the hopes of auditioning for one of the plays he's putting on. He works with up-and-coming playwright Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), who is strangely captivated by Eva, even if she is brash and callow. She's lovely, and he can see that she has more talent than the kind of sophisticate so frequently cast in Easton's plays. Eva also befriends Bob Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith), an experienced actor who is also enchanted by her. Her pride will not let her admit just how much help she needs. She will not admit that she is broke and hungry, for example. However, Bob sees through her and goes out of his way to help her, even when she doesn't want to let him.
Of course, Eva is a lot luckier than hundreds, if not thousands, of others. Most young women who come from small towns to act in New York don't befriend producers' mascots. Mostly, they starve. Or go home. Or find a way of making a living that isn't acting. Now, that isn't as popular to watch. We want to see the underdog succeed. All the better when she is played by someone like Katharine Hepburn, who was never truly an underdog in her life. She was never going to have to worry about starving. Most of those women trying to come to the attention of producers and playwrights are not Bryn Mawr graduates. Still, there is something to her in these early performances, when she played a common woman. Eva Lovelace is from a small New England town. She did local theatre, and she tried to improve it. Despite the fact that young Katharine Hepburn instead met Margaret Sanger and fought for suffrage, you can still see her in the different kind of earnest nature of Eva.
That said, the movie itself isn't terribly good. It goes on a bit despite also being quite short. It's really more of a character study than anything else, but instead on focusing on what's genuinely interesting about the character, we hammer in a tiny amount of a romance between her and Sheridan. And only a very tiny one that I'm not sure is two-sided. I think Eva is as much in love with the theatre as any human, and there is at one point the implication that she believes she is about to begin an affair with Easton. And she's perfectly willing to do it, in part because she thinks it will help her career and in part because she thinks it's the sort of thing that that great actresses all have in their pasts. This is the thing that I don't think we bring out enough in Eva--her beliefs in what a great actress should do. We focus rather more on the men than we do on Eva, and I don't think that helps the movie, whether in plot or character. It's an unfortunate trend in movies that has not much changed.
And, yes, it was her first Oscar. I wasn't hugely fond of Lady For a Day--and just didn't bother writing a review of its later remake, even if that remake did star Bette Davis in the role that didn't win an Oscar in the original. I haven't seen Cavalcade. But I can't help wondering, given that there were only three nominees in the category that year, what other, possibly better, performances went unrecognized. Don't get me wrong; I love me some Katharine Hepburn. I have a great distaste at the idea that Meryl Streep will someday tie her record and win a fourth acting Oscar, though I take some comfort in knowing that at least one of hers was for supporting, while Katharine Hepburn never got a supporting nomination in her life. Still, I often wonder, in situations like this, what other performances might have been worth noting. It was in the silly first few years of the ceremony, where the eligible period was longer than a calendar year, so I don't know, alas, what was missed.
Posted on 8/10/13 11:24 PM
Obsessively Quoted by Geeks Everywhere
I have a friend who has never seen this movie. Okay, there are lots of people who have never seen this movie. However, she's started to watch it several times. The problem has been that, every time she goes to watch it, she does so in company with a large number of people who have already seen it. Invariably, they spend the entire movie quoting the movie they are watching. The worst of it is that they quote scenes that haven't come up yet. My friend finds the whole thing so deeply frustrating that she's never bothered to finish it, and I don't blame her. I first saw it when it was airing on Comedy Central (or possibly one of its earlier incarnations) when I was in high school, and that's bad enough. However, to see it in circumstances like those? Intolerable. I've told her she should watch it with me, because I won't do that, but she's a bit burned out on the subject.
This is, at least vaguely, the story of Arthur, King of the Britons (Graham Chapman). He is gathering knights to join him at his castle at Camelot. They are also going in search of the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. He gathers several knights--not too many, because it's hard for them when they all have to appear in the same scene. But there is Sir Lancelot (John Cleese), Sir Galahad (Michael Palin), Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones), Sir Robin (Eric Idle), and Sir Not Appearing in This Film (William Palin). They have adventures--Sir Galahad finds Castle Anthrax and its Grail-shaped beacon; Sir Lancelot slaughters pretty much an entire wedding party; Sir Robin bravely runs away. There are musical numbers. There is animation. There is the fearsome rabbit. There are the taunting Frenchmen. There are, most shockingly of all for a Python film, female characters actually played by women. There isn't much of a plot, and there basically isn't an ending.
I've said before that the Pythons are the only group I can think of who preferred their experience filming in Tunisia, and having read some of what went wrong on this one, I can understand why. At least in Tunisia, they weren't wearing wet wool and staying in a hotel with an inadequate supply of running water. Graham Chapman had the DTs. John Cleese filmed one scene standing on a cliff where, if he fell on one side, the drop could have killed him. If he fell on the other, "it could have maimed me." It's true that Camelot was only a model, because the Scottish Department of the Environment refused them permission to film in any of its castles, which is most of the castles in Scotland, because the script was "incompatible with the[ir] history and fabric." They were given this with two weeks' notice, so they had to use two privately owned castles over and over and just hope no one noticed. I won't say everything that could go wrong did, but quite a lot went wrong, and less did in Tunisia on Life of Brian.
People forget, or else don't realize, that the only Python without an "Oxbridge" education is Terry Gilliam, the American. (Who went to Occidental, not itself a bad school, even if it isn't in quite the same league.) This means that they are versed in all sorts of things that make it onscreen in surprising ways. A knight running from a rabbit is a common medieval symbol of cowardice, for example, and so Sir Robin runs from the rabbit in our film. Of course the monks are chanting in proper Latin; as Life of Brian would later show, the Pythons know their Latin. But more specifically, they are singing ecclesiastical Latin, an excerpt from the rites for the dead. Even having Frenchmen in England is probably a reference to things like the Battle of Hastings. The story isn't quite as full of historical parody of Life of Brian, which was full of nuggets about first-century Palestine, but there's still enough to keep a history major amused.
I don't have as much of a problem with people who obsessively quote this movie. After all, I've seen it, and the quotes aren't spoiling anything for me. What I do have a problem with is people who quote the movie in place of being funny themselves. Someone I knew when I was in grade school did "the Holy Hand Bouquet of Antioch" at her wedding, and that was funny. Randomly quoting from this movie is less so. The issue with Yvonne's wedding was the context. She got a friend to read from an enormous book, and they went through the whole thing. It wasn't as funny as it was during the movie, but it was funnier than someone who just quoted those lines for no good reason randomly during a conversation about something else. It is true that "Pythonesque" is a real word in real dictionaries, though not the one my browser uses. I've heard an argument that its very existence means that they failed at their humour, and I don't accept that, but I do believe being funny is more than just being a parrot, alive or dead.
Posted on 8/09/13 10:05 PM
Ghibli on Conservation Again
Okay, how many of you, when I say that this film is Not For Little Kids, assume that I'm doing so because of animated raccoon scrotum? (Actually, they're a form of canid; raccoons, after all, are New World animals!) And, yes, the whole animated scrotum gets seriously weird; late in the film, one of the characters makes his scrotum into a ship, and literally dozens of raccoons sail away on it. Other characters attack the cops with theirs. However, that's not actually my reason. The fact is, this gets seriously dark in places, more so than I was expecting. Studio Ghibli is seldom all sunshine and flowers; even Totoro has the background of the girls' mother's hospitalization, after all. Still, there's some pretty frightening stuff in this one, and while some kids will be fine with it, not all of them will, and parents should be aware that it's there going in.
Two tribes of tanuki have been at war with one another. This means, in part, that they are too busy fighting with one another to notice that the farms and forests where they live are disappearing. They are near Tokyo, you see; Tokyo, like most other cities, is expanding. A suburb is scheduled to be built where their forest now grows. Old Oroku (Tress MacNeille) brings the situation to their attention, and they decide that they must do something about it. As it happens, tanuki are one of the three kinds of animals believed in Japanese folklore to be shapeshifters. (The other two are foxes and "some cats.") Not all the tanuki are capable of shapeshifting, but those who can practice until they are good enough to use their abilities to convince the humans that their forest is haunted. They also recruit expert assistance from more rural areas to teach them the ins and outs of shapeshifting and human superstition. However, the people of Tokyo really do need the extra housing, so superstition only gets so much weight.
Okay, why do they get called raccoons if they're a different species entirely, if raccoons don't even live on that continent? It's because I watched the Disney dub again. "Raccoon" works better with the movement of the characters' lips, apparently--not to mention that Americans are not, for the most part, aware that "raccoon dog" is a thing. I wasn't, come to that. And I've looked at pictures of tanuki, and they do indeed look like raccoons. If I'd thought about it, I would have known that it was a mistranslation, because I know that they're native to North America. However, I am only somewhat familiar with Japanese folklore, and while I knew about shapeshifting foxes, for all I knew, tanuki were an invented animal. Or even something invented for the movie, though I suspected that wasn't true. However, I'm willing to go along with the term for the sake of convenience, if nothing else. I do think they might have just left the name in Japanese, though.
The shapeshifting isn't just to convince humans that there are spirits in the forest, either. One thing that struck me as interesting was that the tanuki have several different appearances. There's the generic anthropomorphic "funny animal" appearance--in fact, there are two, though the differences between them don't stand out in my head all that much. However, there is also the more realistic portrayal. When the tanuki are acting like animals, they are drawn like animals. When they talk, they are drawn to look like the animals in animated movies. It's a way of reminding us, I suppose, that there really is a species called tanuki, and they really do live in the fields and forests of Japan, and their homes really are threatened by development. It's not a bad way of pointing that out. It's also not a bad lesson to learn, and the use of the realistic drawings makes certain of the moments more poignant. It also struck me that the other shapeshifting animal was drawn more in the style of traditional Japanese art, which was also interesting.
There are plenty of moments of whimsy to the story. I'd say we're working at about seventy-thirty whimsy to pathos. It isn't quite as packed with star voices as a lot of Disney dubs; Maurice LaMarche is, of course, distinctive as the narrator, but probably the biggest name is J. K. Simmons, who isn't that big a name. This is, in many ways, a lesser Ghibli. For one thing, it isn't a Miyazaki. I didn't dislike this movie, but it doesn't interest me as much as many of the others. We own about half the Disney Ghibli releases, and this is pretty low on my list of ones we don't own that I feel we ought to. (We really need to pick up Totoro at some point, for example.) If you're a completist, you might as well pick it up, but if you're a completist, you'll get it even if it's lousy. This isn't lousy. It isn't great, either, but I've seen much worse kids' movies--even ones that don't have giant scrotums that can be turned into boats and things.