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Archive for May, 2008

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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It certainly is. Especially with Christmas in the offing. Capra warms the cockles of our hearts with this much loved classic as Charles Dickens did a century earlier.  Angels and Christmas are now packaged as Christmas spirit comes by an act of will as shallow as a smile. Yet new generations are added to the ideas of self-sacrifice and reward, and an oh so happy ending that could bring any suicide back from the brink. No small achievement if this were true?

 

Angels are discussing George Bailey (James Stewart), a small town savings and loan proprietor. Life is getting him down and he’s thinking of ending it all. His childhood dreams of travelling the world and doing great things have not been fulfilled.  

    I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

 He had to sacrifice his chance of going to college for his brother and despite his own aspirations he ended up marrying his childhood sweetheart (Donna Reed) and running the family business in Bedford Falls. Now, thanks to his absent-minded uncle unwittingly giving a pile of money to an unscrupulous banking rival, he’s got money problems and is ready to throw himself from a bridge.

 Enter his appointed guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), a trainee hoping to win his wings. Clarence shows George what a terrible place Bedford Falls would be if it hadn’t been for George and his string of good deeds. He’s saved lives, protected the town from the money grubbing banker Potter (Lionel Barrymore), built decent homes for folk and so on and so on.

 When, after Clarence’s intervention, George returns home, the townsfolk are there with thousands of dollars from their savings, just to save George from going to jail. He is back with his family. It’s lovely. A bell tinkles on the Christmas tree.

Zuzu his daughter says: Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

George (grinning): That’s right, that’s right. (He congratulates Clarence, looking upward and giving a wink.) Attaboy, Clarence.

Corny eh? But George has found his own rewards and gifts – life, redemption, and freedom. The swelling sounds of Auld Lang Syne build to a crescendo in an affirmation of life. [The film originally ended with 'Ode to Joy.']

The film doesn’t pretend to be arty or of highbrow. It is as honest as a fart and Frank Capra knew how it could be done as natural without offending the fine sensibilities of others. I mean he let the reprehensible act of Potter, despite stealing money from the Bailey Building and Loan go unpunished — something unusual for the average Hollywood movie at the time. The inclusion of this sop to popular hypocricy would have diluted the film message. Our lives like that of George touch everyone else’s. How the good or bad is repaid is subjective and Capra simply told a story intelligently and straight to the heart.


 This film bombed at the box office which is probably why it won no Oscars despite 5 nominations. Repeated holiday TV showings from the sixties onwards hammered home the point. A lot of people like it now. 

    This is a film that people either love or hate… it’s an unashamed statement to the innate goodness of human nature or alternatively it’s sentimental goo.

    ~ Barry Norman, 100 Best Films of the Century

Director:Frank Capra 

George Bailey: James Stewart

Mary Hatch: Donna Reed

Mr. Potter : Lionel Barrymore

Uncle Billy : Thomas Mitchell

Clarence: Henry Travers

Mrs. Bailey : Beulah Bondi

Ernie: Frank Faylen

Bert: Ward Bond

Violet Bick: Gloria Grahame

Mr. Gower : H.B. Warner

Sam Wainwright : Frank Albertson

 129 minutes

Academy Awards

Won (0)

 Nominated (5)

    * Best Picture

    * Best Actor (James Stewart)

    * Best Director(Frank Capra)

    * Best Sound Recording (John Aalberg)

    * Best Film Editing (William Hornbeck)

 compiler: benny

 

 

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Poetry Please!- An Ode

Ode To A Master-Builder

 

Strophe 

 

Bridgebuilder over sylvan shadows

What complexity shall I reckon

To St.Arachnid in part

And your native Art?

 

Antistrophe

 

 

Weave me a dream as substantial

Out of your loom:

Already I am high even as you

With pride elemental

Past the seven sisters and Orion climb;

It is your universe and my plodding mind

Think it is dew, -

Oh overlook my vain presumption:

I am merely a poet in love with words

While you create new worlds

And stay fit on your gifts.

 

Epode

 

Blustery winds from North

Do blow; If the boughs of larch

In heap fall and acorns pepper

What shall you do, spider?

Between floor-boards of earth

(Stolidity begone! ) I swim

Among clouds on warpath;

Round the Sun’s rim

One can’t be too careful.

‘Malignant be your beam,’

The spider cries out, baleful:

‘Still I must spin another

Web around my naked hearth;

As long as life has its power

From this piteous hearth 

Shall my dreams flower.’

benny

 

12-29-06

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Cicero, Marcus Tullius(106-43 B.C) Orator

 

Even as a child he won fame among his school fellows and Masters alike for his excellent wit and quick capacity to learn. It is said that the fathers of other boys used to come to school to see the boy who carried such an excellent report.

11.

He left for Rhodes to study Rhetoric under Appolonius. His tutor who was not so proficient in latin tongue, wanted Cicero to declaim certain passages in Greek. He took up the task hoping thereby his faults,if any, would be corrected. His tutor kept a deadpan expression throughout to observe in the end,”As for me Cicero I not only praise thee but more than that I wonder at thee: and yet I am sorry for Greece to see that learning and eloquence( which were the only two gifts and honor left to us)are by thee carried unto the Romans”.

12.

When he got into active politics he took the trouble of knowing the names of citizens with whom he came into contact as well as those who were influential.

He was very vain and loved to hear his own praise. After a long absence from Rome when he returned to the city he asked his friend what the Romans said of him. His friend asked,”You mean you have been

away?”It made him shut up. ( Plutarch’s Lives- Thomas North’s version. ) 

benny

 

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 Director: Grigori Aleksandrov

Starring: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky

 

Bronenosec  Potjomkin -Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary sophomore feature has so long stood as a textbook example of montage editing and with it the Russian film- maker changed the shape of cinema into a new direction. ( Previously the accent was on staging best exemplified by Weiner’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the Russian master gave in its place a purely cinematic idiom of montage.)  Another feature of this film is that thin and treacherous line that often trips up a film maker who is bent on making a propaganda film. It is to the credit of Eisenstein that he didn’t fall a victim. Eisenstein of course was working under the dictates of the party bosses and had to keep true to the Marxian ideology from their position. What made it a celluloid epic despite of their interference?

In order to understand this conundrum we have to grasp the fundamentals of film. (First of all let me make it clear as with music  knowledge of grammar is unnecessary in order to enjoy film).

A film is synthesis of several arts. In visual terms a film maker might make a political statement from any historical event. In the Battleship of Potemkin, Eisenstein is narrating a crucial event of the 1905 revolution. He can play with time as in the famous  scene on the steps of St. Petersburg. The action itself, the people running up the steps into the guns of the Tsarist soldiers actually takes place in a few minutes. The detail shots of falling bodies, feet, faces, guns are all props to give an illusion of time in the viewer’s mind. If with time he can also shift points of view back and forth. The art of film being such there is no place for dogmatic statements. It is cerebral experience as well as vicarious. It was the genius of Eisenstein that he could fine tune his control on his viewer by means of montage. Like a wizard he made the experience of the protagonist as that of you and me. Montage makes it possible to shift from objective to subjective and vice versa. Thus the Russian master didn’t narrate history of the revolution as it happened but in the context of a few characters that figure in the film. Lo and behold their situation has for the moment become yours and you have become part of the experience of the protagonist!

In order to reinforce that a film maker could create the right mood as in the case of the corpse of the murdered sailor. How can a viewer be not affected by the environment,- and the rising misty dawn over the hapless sailor simply puts the viewer receptive to what is to follow. Eisenstein portrays the revolt in microcosm with a dramatization of the real-life mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin. His genius transcended politics and created a timeless classic.

 The story tells a familiar party-line message of the oppressed working class (in this case the enlisted sailors) banding together to overthrow their oppressors (the ship’s officers), led by proto-revolutionary Vakulinchuk. When he dies in the shipboard struggle the crew lays his body to rest on the pier, a moody, moving scene where the citizens of Odessa slowly emerge from the fog to pay their respects. As the crowd grows Eisenstein turns the tenor from mourning a fallen comrade to celebrating the collective achievement. The government responds by sending soldiers and ships to deal with the mutinous crew and the supportive townspeople, which climaxes in the justly famous (and often imitated and parodied) Odessa Steps massacre. Eisenstein edits carefully orchestrated motions within the frame to create broad swaths of movement, shots of varying length to build the rhythm, close-ups for perspective and shock effect, and symbolic imagery for commentary, all to create one of the most cinematically exciting sequences in film history. Eisenstein’s film is Marxist propaganda to be sure, but as I said earlier polemics do not stand a chance against a creative genius who is in control of his medium. Naturally it is the secret of this masterpiece.

(ack:Sean Axmaker)

Similar Movies

         October  (1927, Grigory Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Arsenal  (1929, Alexander Dovzhenko)

         Storm over Asia  (1928, Vsevolod Pudovkin)

         Strike  (1924, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Tabu  (1931, Robert Flaherty, F.W. Murnau)

Movies with the Same Personnel

         Alexander Nevsky  (1938, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Qué Viva México  (1932, Grigory Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Vesna  (1947, Grigory Alexandrov)

         Strike  (1924, Sergei Eisenstein)

         October  (1927, Grigory Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Ivan the Terrible, Part 1  (1944, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Ivan the Terrible: Part 2  (1946, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Our Daily Bread  (1934, King Vidor)

Other Related Movies

 is featured in:           Seeds of Freedom  (1943, Hans Burger)

 is related to:           Reds  (1981, Warren Beatty)

           Black Sea Mutiny  (1931, Arnold Kordyum)

 has been re-edited into:           Seeds of Freedom  (1943, Hans Burger)

 is related to:           Blue Moon  (2002, Andrea Maria Dusl)

           Sergei Eisenstein: Mexican Fantasy  (1998, Oleg Kovalov

 

compiler:benny

 

 

 

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Ah, love beneath a starlit canopy-  

Like a needle bobbing awry

O’er the wobbling lp,

Hurts more than auditory nerve;

I am bionic and love must serve 

That wishy washy part of human;

Along came this fine piece of woman

Complete with controls and panels: 

Her systems were all on the go,

Every kiss, hot and wet she paid back

Measure for measure;

But when we lay skin to skin

Her kevlar skin in particular

Did something glandular:

Love was in the touch and smell  

But beyond any programme

Or back-up which made one bionic;

 Love is it? I aint daffy or a cynic

To spell out what comes natural.

 benny

12-26-06

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Life And Art

While Jesus passed through Bethany one of the local worthies took to himself to guide the master around. At one place a cloaked figure suddenly bolted out of sight. “Rabbi you see that man who ran into the alley?” Jesus stopped in his tracks.

“He is Lazarus,- the man whom you brought out from death,” said the guide,” you gave him life back so he may sin more”. Jesus already knew that Lazarus who never strayed from the straight and narrow in his life had sought pleasures, darkest ones since he got a new lease of life. Jesus sighed and said, “ I gave life since it was in my power to do so. May be it teaches him now a new way to celebrate life.” He turned the topic to something else. At one deserted place a man was trying to hang a rope from one of the branches of an olive tree. The guide said with awe, “ The man from Gadarenes. Didn’t you drive so many demons out of him?”

 Yes he was none other than the one who called himself Legion. Jesus knew he was a very brilliant performer who once earned pots of gold around Judea and in Rome by performing tricks. The man had lost his art from the moment Jesus cured him of his demonic possession. On seeing Jesus the man cringed and wailed, “ Oh Rabbi I had foolishly asked you to cure me of demons. Had I known that I would lose my art and source of income I would not have let you in.” Jesus approached him and asked,  “ Say the word, my Father will grant a new way of life and wisdom to earn a decent living”.

The man broke down and wept and said,” You and your God! Since you healed me I lost faith in God. Completely!”(c)

( Selected from my book- Fablescape soon to be published)

benny  

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