[1937.2] The Awful Truth

I will be watching all 10 nominees from 1937 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it. 

Cary Grant could have had chemistry with a dead plant. Nineteen thirty-seven’s The Awful Truth showcases the man’s ability to play deadpan earnest while playing aloof goofball. The balance is impeccable and its allows all the characters involved to shine in their respective roles. This combination of traits works well for romantic comedy; it plays foil for a lover spurned and a more straight-edge love interest. The combo is pliable, too. It allows this character to jump from alpha to beta depending on the direction plot dictates. Because the traits are so pervasive, flexible, non-conformist, what does it matter that Irene Dunne wasn’t simply a fern stuck to the wall?

Because the last and most precarious variable is the combination of time and place. Grant afforded himself a niche that continues to cut across time. His accent placed him from San Francisco through Gary down to Raleigh and up to New York. The virtue of black-and-white photography is that it allows only for a limited range of saturation and hue, while brightness is relatively fixed between the binary of zero (black) to one (bright); this is what adds a layer of complementary guffaw to the opening scene, wherein Grant, as innocuous but conveniently wealthy Jerry Warriner is asked about his “suntanning.” In order to show this effect, perhaps his skin-tone did deepen – but it is almost impossible to tell. Could Grant, as Jerry, have conveyed aloofness in another manner and in another time? Probably, but it makes its more conducive to a 90 minute slice to have all the parts functioning at a high level, with a clear start and end to the thought process. The Awful Truth is the 1937 equivalent of the points in film form. Cary Grant is the catalyst that makes this movie tick.  Continue reading

[1937.1] The Life of Emile Zola

I will be watching all 10 nominees from 1937 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it. 

J’accuse… the nonsense self-interest of the economical man; the quibbling political machinations of the machine; the political, militaristic, duplicitous charge – forward from childishness and backward from sophistication.

J’accuse… the difference between the man who acts is the man who is and the individual who collects ideas can conspire to decimate those of another tout simplement parce que.

J’accuse… Over a century later and nothing has changed and it feels as though as we get “smarter,” we can shift the conversation; there’s anger here; and the anger is, in hindsight, directed at the whole complex that General Eisenhower warned us of fifty years after the Dreyfus Affair, but fifty before the age of the militarized police. The timing of The Life of Emile Zola, 1937’s Best Picture Winner, is curious and prescient in hindsight, striking a modern nerve only compounded by technology and perpetuated by an endless and self-referential news cycle. Zola’s writ polemic, only in print in 1898, is a classic example of public momentum realpolitik to expand coverage for what many consider to be a landmark in writ opine. The Dreyfus Affair, they call it, is a century-old singularity; a case-in-point. Today, for every j’accuse…there’s plural others.  It continues to be curious, however, that the the words that rang from Paris to South America at the turn of the 20th century mean less and less. What does it all mean? Continue reading

[1996] Shine

Drive is in humans’ nature – as a quest for survival; if we don’t drive, someone else will. The degree to which our own genetics affects how we drive is not controversial, but simply unknown and mostly irrelevant. Attempting to affect the genetic makeup of a person so essentially they “try harder without prodding,” is probably more cruel than helpful, too. Drive is more importantly in humans’ nurture – as a quest to do better than our neighbors; because, rewards, earthly pleasures and money. Intrinsically, the nurture of ourselves and our kin to work harder above the average is irrelevant and misleading, but socially, in order to increase the gene pool of future generations in our species, the strong must survive. And we get stronger (and smarter) by trying harder. Succinctly, it is hard to say whether Shine‘s protagonist’s father, Peter, pushed his son, David, as he did, for on-purpose, self-actualizing, or vicarious reasons, but for better or worse Shine shows us that, at the end of all things, our choices define nothing, and that nature always wins. Shine, a 1996 Best Picture Nominee, embodies this case of nature versus nurture of the drive paradox; of the inevitability of time as sequential driver and the quest for better as disrupteur.

So why bother? It is the single most conflicting factor in our quest to be better; to move forward. We say he “was driven to madness,” but was he? Was the madness not always in him?  If we can’t drive past our own ability, no matter how prolific, and that self-actualization needs to be a natural process, why push? Because it is also in our nature to compete, on some level, with every element that provides us stimulus. It is why we have contests with ordered-prizes; permutated-lists; combinatoric groups of winners and losers; competitions with cash prizes and intrinsic accolades, like “best” and “most popular;” it is why we measure anything in the first place, because, whether we like it or not (and ironically), we measure our own self-worth in terms of others’ approval. David drove because his father demanded; Peter demanded because his self-worth derived from his son’s successes and counter-factual failures. It is again hard to say why Peter drove David into madness – or did he? – but the fact remains that through his process, the drive to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with gusto and perfection and the emotion of a man 20 times his senior and 50 his suffering, drove David past that point where he was actually able to do so. Madness enveloped him to his vanishing point. Luckily, his own drive to survive found him at the bottom of everything. He found his way back. Continue reading