CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sundae Monday

I can say for sure that I won't be able to post again until Thursday, but by then I'll have seen The Lookout, Blades of Glory, Hot Fuzz, and Infernal Affairs, so I'll have plenty to talk about. But until then, news of Mel Gibson on a rampage has got me thinking of another oaf on the loose.

Urge to kill rising...

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Learning the Ropes

This is my contribution to the 1927 Blog-A-Thon over at goatdogblog. Check out the hub for some good reading on that most important year in film history.

The most important image in The Kid Brother is unlikely to get much notice from most people. It's a simple action. Almost an afterthought, really. When Harold Hickory (Harold Lloyd) first climbs aboard the ship where the thieves have taken their stolen money, he grabs for a hanging rope. Of course, the rope isn't attached to anything, and Harold falls flat on his back. The careful observer might be reminded of another character named Harold grabbing a rope that isn't attached to anything. Of course, this other Harold hung from a clock face, so nobody remembers the rope. But this isn't even what makes this image so important.

This action draws direct attention to the use of ropes in the film. Ropes are a recurring image in The Kid Brother, from Harold hanging the laundry up to dry to the lynch mob going to hang Harold's father, Jim (Walter James). Every time Harold uses a rope, it fails. Every time someone else uses a rope, it holds strong. Look at the opening sequence. Harold hangs his laundry to dry by tying one end of the rope to a kite. This being a silent comedy, the rope comes undone, leading Harold to go chasing after his clothing. Compare this to Hank Hooper (Ralph Yearsley), Harold's rival. Hank is also seen hanging his laundry to dry, but he doesn't need to go chasing after it. Hank's rope doesn't falter, placing him in a more dominating position in their relationship. Harold needs the protection of his brothers to avoid being beaten by Hank.

When Harold finally captures Sandoni (Constantine Romanoff), he ties him up. Unfortunately for Harold, he knot fails, and Sandoni continues the back-and-forth chase. It isn't until Harold contains Sandoni in a pile of life preservers that Sandoni can be returned to the law without threat. Harold's ropes don't work. This should probably be taken as Harold's lack of maturity. He hasn't found his place in the world, and this is reflected by his physical failures. Nevertheless, Harold makes up for it with his craft and ingenuity. Unfortunately, these attributes are not held in high regard in Harold's world. It is only through capturing Sandoni and returning the money that Harold can be a man.

Harold's maturity is shown in two different ways. First, the final shot of the movie shows Harold fighting Hank and emerging victorious. However, the ropes provide the proper context for the second way. At this point, the townsfolk have accused Harold's father of stealing the money, and they plan to lynch him. Harold saves his father's life just as the mob is marching him to a death by hanging. Suddenly the rope, shown prominently in the mob's hands as they march, is useless. All the trouble that Harold had earlier in the film is nothing. Everyone is in the same state that he once was, so he can be accepted into the community.

Harold Lloyd has trouble with ropes. At any point before the end of his movies, they fail him. They're a symbol for his weakness, but they usually come back to save him at a key time, as in Safety Last!. The Kid Brother offers an alternative to the usual tactics. Instead of the rope becoming a symbol of his power, the noose in the mob's hands become a symbol of their weakness. In this reversal, Lloyd points the finger at us, the unthinking mob. Maybe we could all use a little weakness every now and then.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Morals Last!

Saftey Last! gave film on of its most enduring images, a man in a straw hat and thick-rimmed glasses hanging from a clock. Most people think that is the only thing to come from Harold Lloyd, but he gave something significantly more important. Lloyd's creation, credited as The Boy, is a generally unlikable character. In this way, Lloyd's character stands in stark contrast to Chaplin's Tramp and Keaton's characters, who are almost always sympathetic in their exploits.

The Boy is extremely selfish, and he is punished for it. He lies to his girlfriend, so, to keep up the illusion, he buys her jewelery with his food money. In The Gold Rush, the Tramp also goes without food. However, this is because of the harshness of the winter. He does his cute little dance with the frozen rolls, and the audience loves him. The Boy, instead, gives his money to the jeweler and watches his food disappear from a display plate. Of course, the Tram wins our sympathy in this comparison, but Lloyd earns our respect by forcing us to align ourselves with an imperfect character. The Tramp is the perfect person constantly in the wrong position. The Boy creates his problems, and he needs to work his way out of it.

The Boy is a human character, which is more than can be said about other silent comic creations. He has his flaws, but he still shows his good side occasionally. The most notable point in Safety Last! comes when the Boy is at work. Forced to handle an unruly mob, the Boy is barely able to stand up. But this is where he shows his true goodness. An old woman enters the store. She is clearly too weak to make her way to the front of the mob, and the Boy notices this. He takes advantage of the other women's greed by lying about a piece of fabric that has fallen on the floor. When everyone ducks to grab it for themselves, the Boy gives the old woman the fabric she wants.

Eventually, the Boy redeems himself. But before he does, he must suffer for his faults. He is given an actual character arc, unlike other silent comics. For this, he deserves respect. Safety Last! was key in making comedies have more than just slapstick, and it should be seen for that. That and a man hanging from a clock.

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Stop! Answer Time

Another great quiz from Dennis Cozzalio, and another set of answers from me.

1) What movie did you have to see multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it?

Vertigo. The first time I was just too green. Now it's in my Top 5.

2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated

Capra-corn makes me want to vomit. The only one I've liked is It Happened One Night. It's A Wonderful Life would be great if it left any part of it in slight doubt.

3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another film or bit of pop culture within another film.

Swingers. A bunch of guys sit around a table talking about how much Tarantino rips off Scorsese. One of them remarks about how all movies steal from other movies. Cut to the guys walking down the street a la Reservoir Dogs. Too perfect.

4) Favorite Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger movie

They're high on my list of movies to see. But it's a big list. A very big list.

5) Your favorite Oscar moment

For lack of any other ideas, I'll go with the streaker in '73.

6) Hugo Weaving or Guy Pearce?

Guy Pearce is a better actor, to be sure, but Hugo Weaving has the iconic role of Agent Smith. I love Agent Smith. Agent Smith is one of the best parts of The Matrix. But I can't see Weaving as anything but Agent Smith. Guy Pearce I can see in anything. Guy wins.

7) Movie that you feel gave you the greatest insight into a world/culture/person/place/event that you had no understanding of before seeing it

I don't understand a lot of things. I'm white. I'm male. I'm from the suburbs. For the sake of argument, I guess I'll go with Do the Right Thing. From my limited perspective, it seems very intelligent and realistic when it comes to race relations.

8) Favorite Samuel Fuller movie

Alas, I have seen none.

9) Monica Bellucci or Maria Grazia Cucinotta?

I don't know who that last one is, but Bellucci was in The Passion of the Christ and Terry Gilliam's only mediocre movie. I think I'll go with Cucinotta by default.

10) What movie can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

Strangely enough, The Silence of the Lambs is my most watchable film. Hannibal Lecter can always put a smile on my face. I'm not quite sure what that says about me, though.

11) Conversely, what movie can destroy a day’s worth of good humor just by catching a glimpse of it while channel surfing?

I can't really think of any movies that can destroy my day, though anything with Hugh Grant certainly puts me down a bit. But there's nothing that I can't recover from.

12) Favorite John Boorman movie

Deliverance, the only one I've seen.

13) Warren Oates or Bruce Dern?

Bruce Dern gave birth to one of the best actresses working today. What has Warren Oates' loins given us?

14) Your favorite aspect ratio

Standard 1:1.85 is good for me, though I don't play favorites. I like them all.

15) Before he died in 1984, Francois Truffaut once said: “The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it.” Is there any evidence that Truffaut was right? Is it Truffaut’s tomorrow yet?

I don't think there's any more personality in films now than there were when Truffaut was making movies. Pan's Labyrinth certainly seems like it resembles Guillermo del Toro, but no more than Vertigo resembles Hitchcock. So, I guess, yes. But then again, I think it was Truffaut's tomorrow yesterday.

16) Favorite Werner Herzog movie

The formalist in me says Aguirre. The hipster says Grizzly Man. But really, it's My Best Fiend for me. It's a document made about his life with his best friend, and it never backs away from the truth, even when it isn't flattering to anyone.

17) Favorite movie featuring a rampaging, oversized or otherwise mutated beast, or beasts

Can these beasts be zombies? If so, I'll take Dawn of the Dead. If not, you just can't beat King Kong vs. Godzilla.

18) Sandra Bernhard or Sarah Silverman?

I believe Sarah Silverman is the heir to the Woody Allen great Jewish comedian throne. Sandra Bernhard is just annoying.

19) Your favorite, or most despised, movie cliché

Every horror movie since Alien has some sort of traitor. And you know which one from the very beginning of the movie. Pisses me off. I want a united front against the monster. No deals or anything like that. Just avoid that "twist". Please.

20) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-- yes or no?

There is just something way too funny about the fact that the PG-13 rating was designed for Temple of Doom, yet it got a PG. For being the cause of the middle ground, I would say yes. And the carts on railroads is still a phenomenal scene.

21) Favorite Nicholas Ray movie

Rebel Without a Cause, considering it's the only one I've seen.

22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated

Allow me to present Andrew Niccol, one of the great investigators of identity in modern cinema. Gattaca, The Truman Show, Lord of War, the man is more impressive than most other directors out there, and yet he recieves next to no recognition.

23) Your favorite movie dealing with the subject of television

Network may be the popular answer, but it's the popular answer for a reason. It's (in my opinion) the best movie in the past 35 years. It has one of the best screenplays ever written, and it predicted the popularization of the news and the rise of disturbing reality television. The direction is great, the performances are great, and the screenplay is, as I have said, amazing.

24) Bruno Ganz or Patrick Bauchau?

Considering I haven't seen either of them in a major role, I'm going to flip a coin. Heads, Ganz. Tails, Bauchau. Tails wins, so I guess I prefer Bauchau.

25) Your favorite documentary, or non-fiction, film

See Question 16.

26) According to Orson Welles, the director’s job is to “preside over accidents.” Name a favorite moment from a movie that seems like an accident, or a unintended, privileged moment. How did it enhance or distract from the total experience of the movie?

The best accidents are the ones where the scene just keeps going. Usually a fall of some kind, like John Belushi in Animal House. But my favorite come courtesy of General Buck Turgidson. Nothing quite as funny as George C. Scott falling over backward and continuing his line. It adds to the humor of the film, and to the development of Turgidson as a man so entirely devoted to his cause that nothing will stop him (from destroying the world).

27) Favorite Wim Wenders movie

I've seen only one, so I guess Don't Come Knocking is my answer.

28) Elizabeth Pena or Penelope Cruz?

Penelope Cruz has starred in some utter shit, but if Volver is any indication, it's all Cruz in my future.

29) Your favorite movie tag line (Thanks, Jim!)

"Makes Ben Hur look like an Epic" - Monty Python and the Holy Grail

30) As a reader, filmgoer, or film critic, what do you want from a film critic, or from film criticism? And where do you see film criticism in general headed?

I'm never quite sure what I want from film criticism. Sometimes I want someone's opinion of a film. Sometimes I want in depth analysis. Sometimes I want to know what I missed when I say a movie. Maybe I want someone to shoot down my opinion. Maybe I want focus on some symbol which helps to elevate a film to a whole new level. It's almost always different than what I wanted the last time.

I'd like to think that film criticism is heading for a greater place. Because when you get past the knee-jerk fanboy reactions, the internet can give us all views on a film we never would have seen otherwise. There are so many voices that there's always something worth reading. It makes me smile to think that every day I can find something new to read. Something interesting. Something informative. Something exciting. Maybe I'm just an idealist.

EXTRA CREDIT: Do movies still matter?

Not all of them. Some of them don't matter. But then again, some of them 60 years ago didn't matter. And some of them did. There will never be a year when no movies matter.

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Great Cinematic Speeches - The Third Man

In a continuing combined effort with Damian over at Windmills of My Mind, I present the next great cinematic speech, and one which I love over almost every other.

Note: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven't seen The Third Man, watch it right now, and then you can read this. The movie is too good to be spoiled. Please go watch the movie. Even if you have seen it before. Watch it again.

I love The Third Man, from Anton Karas' zither score to Robert Krasker's gorgeous cinematography. It is a film that borders on perfect for me, and one of the absolute highlights of the movie is the first real interaction between Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It's a scene that perfectly captures the interaction between two friends whose friendship has soured.

There are some things worth noting before even considering the dialogue. First, look at the clothing that Holly and Harry wear and how they wear it. Holly wears his overcoat over his arms, severely limiting his motion. Harry wears his overcoat over his jacket, freeing his arms for greater movement. This is indicative of their own abilities to move within society. Harry can do anything he wants because he doesn't have a normal moral compass. He is completely free of the rules placed on people by society. Holly, on the other hand, finds himself bound by his conscience. Note how in the final scene, Holly wears his overcoat over his jacket. He has rid himself of his conscience in killing Harry, so he now wears his overcoat like Harry did.

Second, note how Holly's physical gestures are so much more emphatic than Harry's. Holly shows his feelings for Harry immediately by refusing to embrace him at the amusement park. Then, when on the ferris wheel, Holly grabs at the door when he asks talks about how easy it will be for Harry to get rid of him. Though he talks in a gruff, reserved manner, his fear is apparent through the need to hold onto the door. It's this little touch that reveals so much more about the character of Holly Martins than dialogue can.

The amazing thing about the interaction here is that though Martins stands on the moral high ground, caring about the law and Anna, yet we don't think of him. We think of Harry Lime and cukoo clocks. Harry Lime is extremely verbose and extremely charismatic. His scenes manage to effectively combine the menace in his voice with his moral justification. Audiences remember Harry's thoughts on the dots on the ground, yet his "You never should have gone to the police" goes practically unnoticed. But this piece is about the speech, so let's have it.

The speech is nothing more than an attempt to justify his actions. Unlike a psychopath like Hans Beckert in M (as covered by Damian here), Harry Lime takes responsibility for his actions. He never denies that what he is doing is wrong. However, he attempts to make himself a sympathetic figure by comparing himself to governments. If a government has no scruples, why should a man? His argument is convincing, but it cannot remove the fact that he does create victims. He can try to distance himself from seeing the real impact that he has, but it is an undeniable fact that he is a cancer on society. And so we get this.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Few (Not So) Quick Thoughts

I've decided that I'm slightly changing the format of my looks at movies. Instead of just discussing a movie, like everyone else, I'm going to try to use my posts to focus on a single aspect of a film. After all, you can get a person's thoughts on a movie anywhere these days, and my opinion is probably thrown in there somewhere as well, just written by someone else. I believe that, in this new age of media coverage, we should use our words to enhance each others' viewings. I want to point you to the editing in Manhattan so that you'll appreciate it even more. I want to look at the opening music of Spartacus and try to make it more than just another chapter you'll skip over in your DVD. I've been trying to implement this in my last few pieces, but I'm going to work at doing this more than just straight film writing. I will occasionally slip back to a more traditional format, but I'm going to work on wrestling with the film until I can find a discernable meaning in some aspect. I hope you'll enjoy it.

I love Blog-A-Thons. They give me a chance to look at someone I've never seen, and they work as a form of union for the online film community. However, Blog-A-Thons should not just be for expressing your thoughts to someone else. They should be about expanding your own viewings on a subject, unless you really want to write about something in particular (like, say, the use of previous film music styles in Brick for a Film Music Blog-A-Thon) . For every Blog-A-Thon, I hope to either watch a film I've never seen before that falls into the category, or to draw a link between films I've never seen.

This week is Spring Break for me. I plan to watch a great number of new films, not watching anything I've seen before. So far, I've seen Shadows (So Cool), A Night at the Opera (So Funny), Day For Night (So Wonderfully Meta), Hard-Boiled (So Badass) and Safety Last! (I hope to look at The Kid Brother for the upcoming 1927 Blog-A-Thon over at goatdogblog). I hope to throw in a
thought on Safety Last!, what with the (arguably) most iconic image in silent film and all.

If I get a chance, I want to write a more traditional piece on The Secret Life of Words a film which got two weeks in one theater in December of last year, and after seeing it is in my Top 5 of last year. It deserves so much better than it got, and that's just unfair.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Sundae Monday

This week's offering comes from my viewing this weekend. Everyone's seen the Wes Anderson American Express commercial, yet the number of people who have seen Truffaut's Day For Night is much lower. And so I present the first scene of Day For Night.

And the Wes Anderson commercial. Because it's still awesome.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Beware the Ides of March

Everything you need to know about Spartacus you can learn during the Overture. First, by the very fact that is has an Overture (something I haven't seen outside of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia) tells the viewer that they are sitting down to an epic film. And, like Lawrence, Spartacus is a film grand enough in scale to lament only watching on a television. Scenes of the slaves' camp and the final battle are, simply put, awe inspiring in their size.

Second, the Overture sets up the general construct of the film. The Overture begins triumphantly before pulling into a slower lull. Finally, it returns to its triumpant beginning. The ending is very abrupt, as if leaving out the true ending. It is this ending that sets up the general pattern of the film. Almost every scene in which Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) succeeds is cut off either in its beginning or in its end. Spartacus' defeats, however, are shown from beginning to end. This is most notable in Spartacus' two gladiatorial matches with Draba (Woody Strode) and the two battles with the Roman army.

The first fight with Draba is a sparring match, with both using short swords. We see Spartacus knock Draba down against the surrounding gates, and the camera immediately cuts away to another scene. The second fight, probably the second most recognizable scene in the film, is the most exciting scene in the film, showing Spartacus with the short sword fighting Draba with a trident, apparently his natural weapon. Every motion is captured, both for the enjoyment of the senators watching the match and of the viewer watching the film. This is a battle the Spartacus loses, though Draba spares his life. In saving Spartacus' life, Draba gives his own. This is mirrored later in the film's most quoted scene.

Spartacus shows only two battles. The first comes against the forces of an arrogant Glabrus (John Dall), and the second pits Spartacus' masses against the entire Roman army, led by Crassus (Laurence Olivier). The viewers hear about Spartacus' battle plans against Glabrus, but the cut is not to troops marching into battle. The camera's next image shows tents blazing, Glabrus already in defeat. Sure, we get to celebrate the victory with Spartacus. But we do not get to enjoy the battle as it happens. That pleasure is reserved for the ultimate faceoff between Spartacus and Crassus. Unfortunately, the pleasure belongs entirely to Crassus.

This sad ending was practically unprecedented in a swords and sandals epic. The first such movie without the religious overtones, Spartacus splits its time between a savage critique of the (Roman) government, a celebration of a rebellion of the masses, and the near silent relationship between Spartacus and Varinia (Jean Simmons). No one in the Roman Senate is clean, the slaves are defeated and crucified, and Varinia is lucky to be able to escape with her child. Though the story is filled with tragedy, Stanley Kubrick is able to portend the doom from the very beginning, filling the overall feel of the film with a sense of dread. No victory is short enough, and no defeat too long for Kubrick. And he lays it bare for all to see in the Overture.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Happy Pi Day!

Pi is a very disappointing film. It has almost nothing to do with 3.14. And as a math student, I was desperately hoping a movie called Pi would have something to do with 3.14. But alas, no. All I got was a solid film about a man's mental breakdown. It errs on the side of the ridiculous (the scene where the Chasidic Jews save the protagonist from the Wall Street brokers with handguns seems a bit bizarre in retrospect), but it is otherwise an intelligent portrait of a man on the edge.

Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) is not a people person. He is paranoid (with good reason) and is prone to mental breakdown. His hand shakes uncontrollably when he is in situations beyond his control, and he often needs to end conversations abruptly when overstimulated. And so, of course, Max has the unique ability to create a computer program to predict the stock market and find the name of God. Why do the movies always fall for the crazy ones?

Darren Aronofsky creates an aesthetic which perfectly suits Max's story, furthering the viewer's identification with this broken soul. The film is shot in grainy black and white, mirroring Max's view of the world around him. In his mind, either everything is alright, or nothing is alright. And if nothing is alright, then Max is not alright. And when Max isn't alright, he is liable to do things he will regret in the future. In this respect, he is like a large number of us, except amplified. When his computer gives him "impossible" predictions, he destroys his computer. His world is distorted, and he can only view his world in one of those two states. In this way, the grainy black and white look of the film is perfect for immersing the viewer in Max's world.

The thing about Max is that he is not a mathematician. He is a human calculator, to be sure, but he is not a mathematician. To call him a mathematician because he can do phenomenal calculations in his head is to call Raymond Babbit a mathematician, and this is just not so. Max is a genius capable both of immense calculation and complex algorithms. He is the perfect computer programmer, but he hardly talks about math. The only chance he gets to articulate his thoughts on math come when he talks to his new friend Lenny (Ben Shenkman) about Fibonacci's Sequence and the Golden Ratio. The only other real math we get is the well known tale of Archimedes and his bathtub. It's unfortunate that so many people will think of this as deep math, when these are just stories told about mathematicians, like how Pythagoras was killed by his love of beans.

Unfortunately, math is a subject that will never be properly tackled on film, since it is, to be frank, boring. And it is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the academic curriculum. Sudoku has nothing to do with math. It is pure logic. All those stories people will tell about Archimedes and others are stories. Nothing to do with math. If you want a good read about mathematics, I recommend "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea". It is all about math, but it is in fact a history of the subject, with very minimal calculation. They even give you a proof that Winston Churchill is, in fact, a carrot. If you get a chance, check it out.

Pi is not a movie about math. It's about math the same way A Beautiful Mind is about codebreaking. However, unlike A Beautiful Mind, Pi is very well executed, with strong acting, writing, and cinematography. It takes a fractured look at a fractured mind, and all it finds is the hidden beauty in the leaves we can never see. Because, when all is said and done, that beauty will still be there. The patterns of the leaves' formation on the tree may come and go, but it won't be nearly as satisfying as taking a break and just looking at the beauty that nature has to offer us. This is the message Pi delivers in its ending, and Pi is a film worthy of this message.

I still prefer Donald in Mathmagic Land.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Sundae Monday - Best Week Ever

As a math major and Latin minor in Boston, this week is a big one. Pi Day this Wednesday (Did you know Einstein was born on 3/14?), the Ides of March this Thursday (April 15 is NOT the Ides of April. And that joke is lame anyway), and St. Patrick's Day this Saturday (The one day a year I get to be Irish. And wear green) spell a big week, and you shall hopefully get the full benefits. I can guarantee a review up Tuesday night of Pi (quite the shocker, no?), and I will hopefully also have a comparison of 300 and Spartacus on Thursday and my thoughts on The Wind That Shakes the Barley for Saturday. Those I'm not guaranteeing, but I'll do what I can. And for those who can't get enough Pi (I prefer apple . . .)

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Sundae Monday - I Am Not A Crook

I have been accused of theft by some people who shall remain nameless (AHEM) for what was in fact a loving tribute. The whole thing reminded me of an earlier incident in all of our lives. Except this is almost nothing like it. And so I present the original:

The ripoff:

The main difference here is that Ice never gave credit where credit was due. And he made money off of it. And yes, Damian, that speech is awesome, which is why I couldn't resist putting it up here, of course crediting you with the general idea.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Cause Of, And Solution To, All Of Life's Problems

This is my second post for filmscreed's Billy Wilder Blog-A-Thon. The first one can be found here. For some great reading, check out the homebase.

In the history of the Academy Awards, only one film that won Best Picture has been classified as film noir. That one is The Lost Weekend, directed by one Billy Wilder. And so, it must be asked, what is so special about this particular film noir? Hell, the film doesn't even really kick into full film noir style until an hour into it. So what is it?

Probably because it is a "message movie" the Academy likes so much. This time around, the message is that alcoholism is bad. And yet, The Lost Weekend sneaks a great deal of other ideas to its audience besides that simplistic moral statement. After watching it, the audience can't even be sure that Wilder believes what he is saying. As I showed in my last post, the most impassioned lines of the film talk about the glorious release that alcohol gives Don Birnam (Ray Milland). Don loves rye whiskey, but like most doomed film romances, he loves too much.

Don is a hopeless alcoholic, and yet he does not receive the audience's scorn. That is reserved for the low-lifes who look down on him. Bim (Frank Faylen), the nurse who treats Don when he ends up in the hospital, takes a sick pleasure from watching his patients suffer. Gloria (Doris Dowling), the prostitute who works Don's usual bar, can only scream at him when he asks for a loan. Mrs. Deveridge (Mary Young), Don's landlady, looks down on Don, only letting him live there because his brother pays the rent on time. All of these people are typical of a holier than thou society who will gladly point out a person's flaws without helping or looking at its own.

It is this society that led Don back to the bottle, as explained in a flashback to the first time he was supposed to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman). And it is this society that Wilder is truly criticizing, not alcoholism. This isn't to say that Wilder simply paints Don as the victim. There are plenty of moments, near where he reaches rock bottom, that he does horribly despicable things. He lies to his loved ones. He tries to steal from a woman at a bar. He even tries to sell his typewriter for extra money for booze. And yet, everytime he does something to earn our scorn, society rears its ugly head and puts him back in the place of the victim.

The rest of this piece discusses the ending of the film, so as a warning to those who have not seen the movie: SPOILERS!!

I would put money on the fact that the ending of the film is not the ending originally planned by Wilder. This ending, like It's a Wonderful Life and The Night of the Hunter after it, pulls back from the edge of darkness the rest of the film toes so nicely. But, unlike those other films The Lost Weekend adds ambiguity to the happiness that threatens to smother the film. Don's speech at the end of the film bears a similar tone to the one he gave to Nat the bartender (Howard Da Silva) when he swears himself off of alcohol earlier in the film. Yes, there is more of a reason to believe he will stay on the wagon this time, but there is no way of knowing how long he can go without a drink. What happens when his publisher thinks his novel is terrible? Does he return? It is a strong possiblity, and it embues the ending with a hint of melancholy that elevates the film overall.

Certainly the film I have described here doesn't sound like the sort of film that would be awarded Best Picture from the Academy. But that is where Wilder reveals his genius. Most of the points I have talked about are masked in some way. Don's speech about alcohol could just as easily be read as a drunk's rant. Bim may look down on his patients, but they are all alcoholics, and in the 1940s, that gave Bim the right to feel however he wanted. And the ending is mostly happy. Don swears off alcohol and begins the write his novel with Helen by his side. This is what got The Lost Weekend the Academy Award. But what makes it still worth watching is the way Billy Wilder embedded his feelings through subtlety and double meanings.

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Great Cinematic Speeches

This is the first contribution to the Billy Wilder Blog-A-Thon over at filmscreed. I posted my thoughts on Stalag 17 before, and you can read that here. But for now, I'm posting this in anticipation of my thoughts on the only noir ever to win Best Picture. And yes, I'm blatantly borrowing this (I swear I'll give it back) from Damian over at Windmills of My Mind.

Arthur wasn't the first lovable alcoholic. Long before he took his first sip, Don Birnam extolled on the virtues of the sauce. What lifts the speech is his eloquence. It is easily the most well-written speech in the film, and it is about alcohol. It namechecks everything from Shakespeare to Cleopatra, and it is delivered with the perfect amount of passion. It is rare to see someone on film say something good about alcohol, but to see it put so intelligently is a marvel only Billy Wilder could pull off.

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