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Archive for May, 2008

The idea of conflict between good and evil is central to this film and the US-Mexico divide in which the drama is played out merely is a geographical divide, and not necessarily to be taken for a moral divide. Having said this let me introduce Mr. Big and he is evil incarnate and he is also a pro. Quinlan exudes the stench of corruption from every pore of his distended, heaving carcass, yet his fellow officers are in awe of him because of his reputation. He short-cuts moral quotient if he could attain his ends. Thus he is also a pragmatist. The twist is that his outlook has been poisoned since the brutal murder of his wife, decades ago. The constant pain fuels a personal vendetta. This is, of course, no excuse, but it does partly explain the prejudice of Quinlan. Enter the Mexican lawmen Ramon ‘Mike’ Vargas and given an international incident and an unsolved crime the stage is set for sparks to fly. Both Vargas and Quinlan have reputations to protect and when it comes down to a one-on-one duel, both are willing to get their hands dirty. Now all it requires is the genius of Orson Welles to give the film its impact and enduring appeal.

The film opens with its most famous sequence. It’s an audacious, incredible, breathtaking, three-minute, uninterrupted crane tracking shot under the credits (appearing superimposed on the left of the screen). The entire tracking shot covers four blocks from start to finish. In a close-up, hands set an explosive, timed device. A shadowy figure runs and places it in the trunk of a parked convertible. The pounding of bongo drums and blare of brass instruments are heard (Henry Mancini’s score), accompanied by the ticking-tocking of the mechanism on the soundtrack. The camera pulls away sharply, identifying the car’s location – it is parked on a street in a seedy Mexican border town. An unsuspecting, wealthy American man – Rudi Linnekar (the boss of the town) and his giggling, blonde floozy, mistress/girlfriend [later, we learn she is a striptease dancer named Zita] emerge out of the background darkness and get into the car, driving off through the streets toward the US-Mexican border about four blocks away.
Through the tawdry streets Linnekar and Zita roll, until the camera smoothly picks up their passing by Mexican lawman Ramon “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his new wife Susan (Janet Leigh). As the newly-weds cross over the border, into the US, they catch up and overtake the automobile. Just a few steps more and the car explodes in a ball of flame, casting harsh shadows. Unfortunately this is an international incident since the bomb was set in Mexico and detonated in America.
Honeymoon plans of Vargas and his wife are now ruined and he sends her to the hotel to await him while he wants to assist the local cops who have arrived at the scene. The cops are awaiting Quinlan (Orson Welles). When he finally arrives from his ranch, with his side-kick Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia), the dead man’s daughter Marcia Linnekar (Joanna Moore) comes in to identify the remains of her father but Quinlan seems disinterested, dismissing her (with a tail). Finally turning to his fellow officers, after appraising and disregarding Vargas, Quinlan’s twitching nose takes them onto the Mexican side.
Meanwhile, Susan has been waylaid on the way to the hotel by smooth-looking Pancho (Valentin De Vargas), one of the Grandi boys. Allowing herself to be led to greasy crime-boss “Uncle Joe” Grandi (Akim Tamiroff), puts on a brave face. Since his brother is being investigated by Vargas, he wants him to lay off – a request which cuts no ice with Susan. Her husband hasn’t got much time to think about this development though because Quinlan is hot on the trail of a suspect and Vargas wants to be present. The hunch concerns Manelo Sanchez (Victor Millan), a poor Mexican worker who became involved with Marcia, severely upsetting her father. Thus Sanchez had the motive, which is enough for Quinlan. However the discovery of some damning evidence by Pete seals the case, but disturbs Vargas. He is certain that Quinlan is framing Sanchez, though he’ll have to gather some solid proof if he is to prove this (which means leaving Susan to make the best of her situation.)

We see a stunning portrait of corruption and abuse of power in the hulk of Orson Welles. As I said earlier the opening shots sets the mood and tone. Having introduced main characters early on Welles doesn’t slacken his control over its development. This technical brilliance, flaunted so early, is a driving force, opening the door to extensive range of camera angles and superb editing. Links between separate scenes are established with connecting motifs, such as doors opening or a shared musical theme. When combined with the advanced level of spatial choreography (so that every position and movement latches together into a cogent whole), the result is an extraordinary piece of film-making. There is a greater fluidity in his direction helped firmly by the strong theme and acting.

Lastly, the bizarre casting choices made for Touch of Evil show, in retrospect, a certain genius. Welles is perfect, dominating and beyond reproach, sometimes looming over the screen and sometimes shrunken like a doll. In opposition, Heston and Leigh are excellent as the disturbed newly-weds. However, special mentions must be made of Marlene Dietrich, the gypsy fortune-teller Tanya, Dennis Weaver, the motel clerk, Mercedes McCambridge, a butch gang member, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. This eclectic group of performers forms the broad-sweep of this frontier town, a setting where the weird is commonplace and disparate cultures clash. All of this gives Touch of Evil a deliciously tangy flavour, a film noir at its best. Given the unexpected opportunity to direct( since Citizen Kane had sent him to the dog-house as far as Movie moghuls were concerned), Welles grabbed the opportunity and created a masterpiece (foxing the studio executives). As usual he messed up during the editing stage, by letting the film out of his hands (cf. The Magnificent Ambersons), but now we have the chance to see his vision in all of its electrifying glory.
The version of the film that was released in 1958 with 93 minutes of running time (later revised and restored with 15 minutes of additional scenes in 1976), was disowned by director Welles, who was paid $125,000 to direct, re-write, and star in the film. Before its release by Universal International Pictures, some scenes were reshot, and the film was edited, cut and bastardized without his full approval, while he was out of town working on another project.
In 1998, the film was re-edited and/or restored based upon creator Welles’ original, newly-discovered 58 page memo of editing instructions to Universal International boss Ed Muhl. The new version did not contain new footage, but was a reconstructed “quasi-director’s cut” with re-organized, cross-cut scenes (with a total of about 50 changes). The most impressive change was that the legendary opening shot (described below) was seen without obscuring, super-imposed credits, and the blaring, distracting Henry Mancini background music during the elaborate scene was stripped away and replaced by natural source music (from doorways of dives the couple passes, or from car radios). The credits were re-positioned at the end of the sequence. Other changes included: repaired torn shots, restored sound quality, excision of “explanatory scenes” added by the studio, re-positioning and trimming of scenes, and restoration of originally-cut footage. The re-edited version, the fourth version of the film, now runs 111 minutes (compared to 93 minutes in the earliest version).(ack)
Compiler: benny

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Art and literature certainly fatten on the misery of war and calamities. Supposing we were freed completely of the consequences of war what would be the fate of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’? Had it been shown to Adam and Eve they would have simply rubbished it as the work of some madman. But we have been like phoenix several  times reborn out of the ashes of our greed and destructive acts. We have lived so long in the midst of war, and do hold an uneasy conscience. We are repelled by the horror of a war as well as attracted by the bloodletting. Art and literature work as catharsis and as moral guides to us and sometimes show that we ourselves are guilty of what we find in others repugnant. This point is well brought out by De Sica’s ‘Ladri di biciclette.’ 

Based on a novel by Luigi Bartolini, Vittorio De Sica’s (1901-1974) Italian neorealist film, The Bicycle Thief is a milestone in Italian cinema. This drama of desperation and survival in Italy’s devastating post-war depression earned a special Oscar for its affecting power. Shot in the streets and alleys of Rome, De Sica uses the real-life environment of contemporary life to frame his moving drama of a desperate father Ricci trying to get a job to support his family. He lands a good paying job, but he must have a bicycle. Sometime before, Ricci pawned his bicycle to feed his family. His loyal wife pawns her sheets to obtain the money to get the bike back. He gets his bike and the job,. It involves delivering cinema posters ( Rita Hayworth flyers, no less!) around the city and pasting  them on the wall. While straightening out a wall poster some one steals his bicycle. Too poor to buy another, he and his son take to the streets in an impossible search for his bike. In his desperate search to recover his stolen bicycle, he looses his decorum, his principles, and ultimately the respect of his son; he harms his marriage and his relationship to his son, perhaps irreparably; and he almost loses his son to a pedophile, to drowning, and then to speeding cars.

One of the crucial moral dilemma of a war is that it puts man’s life on the razor’s edge and for a loaf of bread he might be forced to steal or even kill. Must a man be tempted beyond what he may endure? Ricci steals a bicycle since his livelihood revolves around his own that was lost. He may not have thought of its influence on a long-range on his son. The  film is a white hot moral thriller where a series of bad decisions compound on one another from bad to worse and not stopping for ninety straight minutes.

One memorable scene goes like thus: Ricci takes his son into a restaurant with the little money he has. They order a meager lunch. Sitting next to them was a wealthy family. The rich little boy was trying to show off with all the good food he had. Bruno took his mozzarella toast and made it look like it was the best meal ever—his smile back to the rich kid said it all!

 Cast with nonactors and filled with the real street life of Rome, this landmark film helped define the Italian neorealist approach with its mix of real life details, poetic imagery, and warm sentimentality. De Sica uses the wandering pair to witness the lives of everyday folks, but ultimately he paints a quiet, poignant portrait of father and son, played Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola, whose understated performances carry the heart of the film. De Sica and scenarist Cesare Zavattini also collaborated on Shoeshine, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D, all classics in the neorealist vein, but none of which approach the simple poetry and quiet power achieved in The Bicycle Thief.

De Sica shot his film entirely on location in the streets and alleys of Rome. De Sica refused to cut two scenes from the film, which were considered obscene at the time. In the first, Bruno attempts to relieve himself against a wall. In the second, Antonio finds the thief into the kitchen of a brothel. Hollywood nevertheless awarded the movie a special Oscar. (ack: G.Merrit, Sean Axmaker)

Compiler: benny

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Poetry Please!-romancing dead

To an infant still-born

 

Were you a water-baby

While you skimmed the fluid

By dead certainty of life

‘Mong the knotted grass of blood

And colloidal ooze

Of some primeval womb?

 

Death erased the name

And a few inconsequential

Particulars that perforce

Ride the tail of life

To fill a musty corner

Of Registrar’s office.

Death has spared the fret-

Those frantic cares and dull unease

The living suffer daily.

You are now one with

Flaming creatures

No matter if it be dinosaur.  

Mastodons,  perhaps some other.

 

Were you a water-baby

While you skimmed the sac

And fell from grace by

Exhaustion of fret, and froth

of life surround?

  benny thomas 05-18-08

 

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One may be pardoned after seeing this movie if he were to ask, “What is the good of harrowing people like that?” This opening line isn’t mine but I am echoing a review of Brooks Atkinson of the play in the NY Times in 1947.’There is no purpose in “Streetcar.” It solves no problems;it arrives at no general moral conclusions. It is the rueful portrait of one person’, a faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who comes to visit her pregnant sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), in a seedy section of New Orleans. The predicament of Blanche is not something universal and in tracking her descent (for who like Ophelia fate hasn’t been too kind and has difficulty in separating reality from imaginings) into madness Tennessee Williams sets the stage in so many scenes to be compassionate and prise open poetic truth from that particular case.

In the classic play by Tennessee Williams, brought to the screen by Elia Kazan, Stella’s boorish husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), not only regards Blanche’s aristocratic affectations as a royal pain but also thinks she’s holding out on inheritance money that rightfully belongs to Stella. On the fringes of sanity, Blanche is trying to forget her checkered past and start life anew. Attracted to Stanley’s friend Mitch (Karl Malden), she glosses over the less savory incidents in her past, but she soon discovers that she cannot outrun that past, and the stage is set for her final, brutal confrontation with her brother-in-law.

The movie transcended “filmed theater” to become a groundbreaking Hollywood work. Battling the stringent Production Code, Kazan and Williams made concessions concerning the “perverse” sexual elements of Blanche DuBois’ past, but they retained the crucial rape of “delicate,” old-fashioned Blanche by brutal, Stanley Kowalski, earning the Code’s approval for a film definitively aimed toward adults. Marlon Brando’s performance as the ‘pollack’ Stanley was brilliant. The scene where he demands his rights and howls ‘Stella!’ was electrifying. It burned itself into popular consciousness what with Stella descending the steps slowly in a combination of carnality and doing her duty to her husband though he had wronged her sister and the scene was something elemental. Method-acting “naturalness,” established Brando as the premier purveyor of the then-innovative Method acting style and a striking erotic presence. Brando, Hunter, and Malden had all starred in the original Broadway version. The more traditional Vivien Leigh, replacing Broadway’s Jessica Tandy, similarly flourished as Blanche, while the Oscar-winning art direction, Harry Stradling’s photography, and Alex North’s moody, influential jazz score enhanced the hothouse atmosphere.

The film was nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, and took home awards for Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter, though Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. It was re-released in 1993 with four minutes of footage that had originally been censored by the Legion of Decency, including close-ups of Hunter’s Stella eyeing Stanley with too much desire. (ack: Hal Erickson)

compiler: benny

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Steinbeck narrates the story of Joad family who were on the road: somewhat similar to Kerouak’s On The Road. Kerouak had Sal Paradiso and a few others hitting the road: they were looking for the soul of America in a Post-war America. America of the Depression period was a world much more simpler. Joad’s family merely wanted to be together as a family. While Kerouak’s narrator was for beatific experience, Steinbeck’s characters, of which Joad’s  family is nothing unusual  set out for some hard cash that would keep their body and soul together. Sal Paradise’s travels erode into disappointment among people from lower classes, old Negroes and Mexican whores and Joad’s family is onto some bitter disappointment. In the Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck told the story of the migration of thousands of homeless families from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the promised land of California, the “Golden West.” The misfortunes of the Joad family who, lured by this promise, load their meager belongings onto a dilapidated truck and head west for the land of plenty. What they find is even more bitter poverty and oppression.

Why California?

Why don’t you go on west to California? There’s work there, and it never gets cold. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange, Why, there’s always some kind of crop to work in. Why don’t you go there? And the owner men started their cars and rolled away.

For once, a great book is made into a great movie in the 1940 film. Comparing the book with the film one is struck of the differences of creative approach required in turning a book into a successful film. It was Edmund Wilson who noted ‘Mr. Steinbeck’s almost always in his dealing either with the lower animals or with human beings so rudimentary that they are almost on the animal level’. Steinbeck describes the indestructibility of a turtle which is hit by a truck. His introduction of this event is to hint of the survival of the Joads despite of all their vicissitudes. A film can equally well create its inner logic without resorting to the same imagery given in prose. ‘The religious satire, with the single exception, is dropped entirely; the political radicalism is muted and generalized…’(George Bluestone) The love of land, family and human dignity are consistently translated into cinematic images:Greg Toland’s photography lovingly brings out the pictorial values of the land and sky and in his dark silhouettes against a brooding sky he sets the mood and tone. If the book is one of indignation and of moral anger the film seem to linger long after the show for its beauty and cinematic values. Here we see two different purposes and two different results. Both are successful in its own medium.

John Ford takes the second of his four Oscars for Best Director and Henry Fonda establishes himself as a major screen actor in the role of Tom Joad.

There is anger in this film, a deep resentment of the social injustice and downright misery, which America allowed to be visited on thousands of its people. It was a remarkably brave and liberal picture to make at a time when the Dies Committee was already trying to sniff out Communists in Hollywood.

~ Barry Norman, 100 Best Films of the Century

The film chickens out when it comes to the book’s downbeat and shocking ending. Still, it remains a great movie with some great photography from Greg Toland and tremendous acting from the cast.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)

Director: John Ford

Tom Joad: Henry Fonda

Ma Joad: Jane Darwell

Pa Joad: Russell Simpson

Jim Casy: John Carradine

Al Joad: O.Z.Whitehead

Rose of Sharon: Doris Bowden

128 minutes

Academy Awards

Won (2)

* Best Director

* Best Supporting Actress (Darwell)

Nominated (7) above plus

* Best Picture

* Best Actor (Ford)

* Best Screenplay

* Best Sound

* Best Editing

2.

John Steinbeck was already a major literary figure when he published The Grapes of Wrath in 1939. Works like Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men were already behind him. The Grapes of Wrath won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. In his earlier works, John Steinbeck had often returned to the social theme of the troubles of poor and hard working folk.

A feature of the novel are the ‘intercalary’ chapters: descriptive passages that background the story. Chapter 1, for instance, poetically describes the how the last feeble rains give way to fierce heat ,which dries out the parched soil and bakes it into dust. Then winds come and whip up the dust.

When the night came again it was black night, for the stars could not pierce the dust to get down, and the window lights could not even spread beyond their own yards. Now the dust was evenly mixed with the air, an emulsion of dust and air. Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes.’

Into this nightmare landscape Tom Joad returns home, paroled from prison, having killed a man with a shovel some years before. He finds his family ready to move on, their land useless, everything that cannot be loaded onto their cheap jalopy of a truck sold for a pittance. They are joined on their journey to the west by Jim Casy, a relapsed preacher. On the road they meet other families displaced from the Dust Bowl. Everywhere they go they are reviled.

Okie use’ ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you’re a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you’re scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it.”

The family fractures under the strain of their known life lost. Grampa dies on their first overnight stop. Other travelers warn them that California may not be the land of plentiful jobs and white houses they were promised. Deprivation and setbacks dog their journey as they struggle to keep their aging, fragile and overloaded truck on the road.

When they cross the border into California, Tom’s simple and withdrawn older brother, Noah, announces he will go no further and slips off to make a life by the river. As they cross the desert, Grandma dies in the back of the truck but Ma Joad keeps it secret to keep the family going and avoid the attention of the authorities. They arrive at a migrant camp, ‘Hooverville’. Tom manages to get into a fight with local sheriff and Casy takes the rap for him – Tom is violating his parole.

Rose of Sharon (Rosasharn), Tom’s pregnant sister is abandoned by her feckless husband. The family head off to a government camp, where they are at last treated with some dignity. But there is no work and the children are dizzy from hunger. Eventually they drive north and find poorly paid work but discover they are strike breaking. The main agitator turns out to be Casy.

They say it’s gonna be five cents. We got there … an’ they’re payin’ two an’ a half cents … Now they’re payin’ you five. When they bust this strike – ya think they’ll pay you five?”

A deputy kills Casy and Tom angrily clubs the deputy to the ground. He has to go into hiding while the rest of the family pick peaches. For two and a half cents a box. Tom vows to carry on Casy work, fighting for justice for the workers.

As winter approaches the family are forced to live in an abandoned boxcar. Rose of Sharon gives birth to her baby amidst torrential rain. The swelling river sweeps away their boxcar home and they are forced to shelter in a barn.

The book ends, in the midst of deepest despair, with a gift: literally the milk of human kindness. Rose of Sharon’s beatific sacrifice shines through the bleakness with a message of hope. People this good cannot be defeated.

This is a terrible and indignant book; yet it is not without passages of lyrical beauty, and the ultimate impression is that of the dignity of the human spirit under the stress of the most desperate conditions. (ack:Guardian,George Bluestone )

check out A Night at the Movies cinebuff.wordpress.com

benny

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Collateral Damage of life

If so much as long life beyond

Mortal hour-glass may be burdened;

Each grain nudging an age thereof

Past its pursed mouth to eternity; enough

For hills to powder crumble

And the hollows levelled to brim

I shall still think: one brief hour was

All that needed for such a man as I:

An hour rounded off by happiness.

 

If so much as long life beyond

Pleasure of senses or of mind did last

Life would have lost its best part,

For a man such as I: Devoid of feel

A head though with facts be filled  

Has come far too short on living;

Unsettled as I am, one perfect hour was

All that needed for such a man as I :

An hour rounded off by happiness.

 

Wrapped in tears and laughter of mankind

Either way a perfect fit I may never find.

 benny

01-17-07

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His joining the Army was accidental. His elder brother had taken Chemistry course at the Virginia Military Institute. He had done well. When George was ready to enrol in VMI he overheard his brother telling his brother not to let George go. Because he was afraid George would disgrace the family name. More was his determination to prove his brother wrong.

 

18.

In 1902 as the second lieutenant Marshall was leading a patrol by ‘banca’in the Philippines. They were heading towards a small island where an armed band had been reported. On the way he had to cross a narrow stream but deep for fording. As the patrol got moving some one heard a splash and yelled,’Crcodiles!’. In panic men ran for safety knocking Marshall over. He quietly got to his feet and ordered them to fall in, gave them right shoulder arms and faced the river they had just crossed.’March!’the lieutenant commanded. Down they went single file into the river with Marshall at their head. Having reached the other end they were kept marching back where they started from. This was repeated before they could fall out. No more the incident was mentioned. As the one in command he merely used the reflexes of discipline to restore the substance of command. 

benny 

 

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