gerardo's Review of Bird of Paradise
Bird of Paradise(1932)
It seems that there were two strands of films in the early 30's. Some embraced the challenges of creating dialogue driven films while others still pursued the privilege of images over dialogue. This film falls under the category of images. It does focus on presenting images above plot. In an early scene Dolores del Rio is swimming on her back alongside the boat of the new visitors from the west. Quite a physical feat, but understandable when viewed under the film's focus on images over plot.
A boat from the west is for some reason sailing along the Pacific ocean with Joel McCrea on board. Joel's character falls in love at first sight with Dolores' character. Much of the film also takes advantage of the inability of the characters to communicate to focus on creating images. In this case, it focuses on creating sexual images as far as it is allowed. Dolores does not wear much throughout the film, performs sensual dances and there is one swimming under water sequence where she is shown naked from the rear end. Dolores is a princess in the island and Joel is supposed to stay away from her because only a native prince can court her. When there is trouble, the natives determine that Dolores is supposed to be sacrificed to the island's volcano to appease it. Joel kidnaps her and they try to live together in a nearby uninhabited island.
The biggest drawback with the film is the use of so many stereotypes. The island natives are portrayed as "savages"; the princess is a sexually seductive foreigner that even goes out swimming naked near the boat of foreign visitors. The notion that they need a volcano sacrifice is such an erroneous and superficial view that makes the plot all the more anti-climactic. Looking back, such a plot makes sense in its 1932 context when misperceptions and stereotypes abounded concerning foreign societies. Although today there is still quite a bit going on given the recent lingerie advertising debacle and fraternity parties at universities where foreigners are viewed as mysterious and backwards. In a sense, we are still guilty as a society of the same stereotypes. At least in this film, the two protagonists take seriously their intentions of trying to make their relationship work despite the cultural gap (which is widened through stereotypes for heightened effect) that separates them.