[1955] Marty

Pith requires no antecedent. Shortness of sentence and completeness of meaning are compatible. Sometimes. But other times, pithy writing and shoestring budgeting hinders a process and matching mood to method becomes a challenge. Curt for curtness’ sake will ensure that story and characterization, plot and meaning, and any semiotics or symbolism are compromised. The ability to tell a concise, simple story is not an antecedent to worthiness nor is it a precursor to credibility. Audiences in the early-modern period of cinema developed an appetite for the Epic and film, especially ones that starred ensemble casts and would run two-and-a-half to four hours. The mid-1950s capitalized on this demand and also pushed length for, presumably, a multitude of reasons (unionized labor, capitalism, nostalgia, et cetera). Notable examples include: The Greatest Show on Earth, Giant, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Ten Commandments, and Ben-Hur. Almost all of these films focus on the tragedy of Human Existence or the Atlasian weight of worldly matters on the human soul. Still other films run around two hours – the amount of time it takes before a human checks how long it has been since time was last checked. Some of these films hold status as simple, yet effective stories and to wit: 12 Angry Men, On the Waterfront, Sunset Boulevard, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

And then, Marty.

At a pithy 90-minutes, Marty builds a simple and titular character and surrounds him with s vibrant story borne from stereotype. Tropes include: overbearing, widowed Italian mothers; husbands and wives quarreling over minutia [but really, not minutia]; the idealistic, unrealistic best friend; the creepy, naïve idiot-friend group; an Italian butcher; and the soul crushing loneliness when Marty Piletti continues to lament in the most honest way that he is a fat and ugly guy who does not deserve love. This last one is a trope, but a dangerous and burning one, often misplaced. All people feel it at some point; most people find a multitude of numbing tropes (like alcohol, womanizing/hooking, cruelty, violence – and sometimes all of them simultaneously), but Marty (Ernest Borgnine) does not. Nor does he sink into a massive depression. Marty is not a story of deep depression and low-brow drama, but a pithy take on the resilience of the human spirt. A simple point-to-point story sheds pretense. The audience likes Marty, not because Marty ‘represents the human spirit’ so well, but rather because Marty is a fictionalized version of the simplicity the audience all seeks. Through minimalism comes clarity – a clarity not found floating in a half-full tumbler. Continue reading

[1955] Picnic

Raise your hand if you’ve heard or seen the following framework before, then after you’re done put your hand down if you’re under the age of eighty:

The plot behind 1955’s Picnic, directed by Joshua Logan (of Sayonara fame, for one) seems innocuous enough. A rough-and-tough outsider blows through town with nothin’ but ambition and a loose connection (the “why here?” question, answered). This man spreads goodwill through a simple reading of people and immediate need; one can assume that the man’s whirlwind entrance was not his first, perhaps iterated many times while looking to pass the time before society deems him old and/or crusty enough for pity. It’s a surface plot with some predictable landmarks to hit to keep interest alive. There’s always a pretty girl bursting to get out of this small-town livin’, said girl’s parents draw their morals from the lore of generations’ ghosts.

Then there’s an event that’s the centerpiece for plot drive. The drifter inevitably gets into a situation out of which he cannot easily slither – and on to the next town – and either everyone’s lives change for the better, or they’re ruined. Somehow this story introduces enough of an environment for there to be a resolution, for what in the non-film world, would most likely be at least days of confusion and anger, or a period of calm and organization.

I use this seemingly arbitrary age marker for a reason. In 1955, the year of Picnic‘s theatrical release, an eighty year old would be right around seventeen, which is old enough to presumably understand complex human emotion, but not too old to not understand how to get online. Give or take a few years. Continue reading