Posted in First Take

[1959] Room At The Top

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Partly because television is afforded a wide net to expand or constrict its emotive output, but mostly because time heals/ruins all, an average two-hour time for a movie just cannot match the unfolding nature of a television program or, god forbid, a novel. The unscripted nature of reality television translates to the screen as ‘slice-of-life,’ virtually ignoring (save exposition) the setting before and after the film’s direct action sequences, but because of its constraints there can be no other way to tell a story. If we expand this notion, television and books act similarly, but the film medium, unlike any other, cuts in and out of time and deliberately expresses its message without frills or expectation. It is the essential aspect of film and deft filmmakers will achieve purpose though bounded by this constraint.

I am unsure at what point in recorded history, or between which points exactly, film’s audience depressed its desire for romanticism in favor of realism.

At some point in the first half of the 2oth century, whether it be technical or political limitation, film tended to focus on the distinction between serial drama and reality. From many angles, this method, cured and pruned, achieved success as allegory came to represent reality; almost any of the films I’ve previously reviews pre-1960 tend to be set in real-life places and times but with heavily fictionalized events or historical facets satirized and reworked as to remove the viewer from this experience and tell a story free of the constricting horror of life. We can theorize why this began to shift but in the late 1950s – 1958 to be exact – New Wave movements depicting cinéma vérité (“true” film) attempted to create a form of authorship investment in the film. Vérité‘s audiences were to experience action as if it would document each person’s individual history; it purposefully blurs “real” life and fictitious events in a documentary style. It is intended that the audience a. knows this fact but b. cannot differentiate. It is a meta-filmstyle, mirroring its own setting. Differences across cultures affect(ed) the manner in which films disseminate story, but 1959’s Room At The Top is a quintessential representation of British New Wave and, even as 55 years have limited its immediacy, we, audience, relate to the powerful themes in this story, not vicariously, but vividly.  Continue reading “[1959] Room At The Top”

Posted in First Take

[1943] Casablanca

I’ve already covered the iconoclasm of a famous quotes when writing about In The Heat of The Night, but it is patently obvious that Casablanca more thoroughly explains this point.

Casablanca is a golden film because in its case the parts far outweigh the sum. As a package, the film is more of a medium for acting, screenwriting, directing, cinematography, set design, costume design, sound editing and sound mixing, which together make a film, but separately craft a legend.

We are almost 75 years from Casablanca‘s initial theatrical run and its lore runs through film history as a standard, a candle that can cast no shadow too far upon any film that wishes itself iconic. But the film itself is a heist half-noir whose myopia falls comically short of leaving a lasting impact thematically, but more than makes up for it in its acting – specifically Humphrey Bogart. Bogart, besides having a memorable name (second only to Englebert Humperdink), pre-memorializes himself in Casablanca, perhaps changing the course of cinema down his path for the better part of two decades. He personified the damaged, irascible man as a likable character perhaps most convincingly throughout Casablanca, but certainly throughout the next 15 years. He was the damaged, lovesick, homesick man represented by so many living and fighting abroad during World War II.

The film also continues to hold allure as a film to semi-fictionalize its reality without dehumanizing it. It is a film about humanity during a time of inhumanity; personal triumph and failure over anti-Reich propaganda. Set far enough away from the European theatre, but with enough connection to it through its characters and mood that the sensation of urgency delivered through dialogue seems authentic. But we must not forget that the entirety of the film’s “plot” hinges on two pieces of paper. We would do best to forget that this entire film isn’t a character study or a masterclass in thematic pacing.  Continue reading “[1943] Casablanca”

Posted in First Take

[1966] Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The joke in 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is deeply ingrained in the small intricacies of wordplay and in ephemeral hand-gestures or sideways glances. So far buried this joke that what we mistake for plot is sad, onionic livelihood, ever unraveling from saneness to madness. What we watch is not what we see as alcohol metaphysically represents itself and its deep decline into an inebriated system of stories and layers so that this joke is simply not funny – it’s not sad either. The joke is carefully wrapped in itself, torturous and self-destructive and funny in the same way that Virginia Woolf herself straightforward. The lesson in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is not about fear of feminism and instead about questioning the motives of fear in instance.

The first joke is the set-up of the scene: George and Martha are too innocuous of names and the ludicrousness that a young couple would saunter home to them at half-two in the morning is absurd. We are to believe that these partiers, demure in nature and cruel in disguise, want to shindig throughout the evening with the most magnificent of boring. They, together, of course booze but some aspect of the scene is off. If not for the witty and rapturous dialogue, we might stop to ask: why is this happening? Where exists the humor in this evening or even a relative purpose? For whom is this entertaining? Surely the right move is to cut the scene off and move toward a more in-depth characterization of the innocuous couple; but no, here comes bright-eyed and waifish Nick and “Honey” to provide straight relief from the focal, rather cartoonish relationship. We are led to believe that George and Martha will use Nick and Honey as foil, a reflection of their joke of a relationship.

This joke is off-centre in a way that offers another vital point to the story: why are these two together in the first place? Are we supposed to see glimmers of a past relationship reflected and magnified as the two couples drink more and juxtapose? We laugh at Honey over-drinking, but doesn’t Martha consistently over-drink and over-talk? We scoff at George’s meek attempts at typical masculinity but don’t we see Nick attempting dominance throughout the film? At various points in the film, the script is patently obvious at its attempts to expose reasoning for why this particular difficult relationship – the four-way – is unfolding. It’s the set-up for the big joke, the big reveal we all know is coming in the film’s denouement. Except it isn’t funny. Continue reading “[1966] Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”