Monday, December 6, 2010

The Early Moralizers

The Broadway Melody:
This is a real charmer. So much to say about what must have gone into this film. You would think it was written by Mormons! The message (loud and clear) is that one would practically be better off dead than having sex outside of marriage! I'm not saying whether that view is right or wrong, but it is fairly comical to watch a major motion picture be created just to drive that message home. Which leads to the philosophical question: which came first -- the moralizing or the musicalizing?

We couldn't help but laugh through much of the film. The 'rescue' of the star from a sexual situation (just in the nick of time -- as one today would rescue someone from a ticking bomb) is particularly dramatic.

One of the film's many ironies is that its biggest star, Anita Page, was blackballed from the movie business (by her own account) for decades because she refused to grant sexual favors to studio bosses. Even one of the 'M's in 'MGM' (specifically Louis Mayer) allegedly colluded to have her banned from films for this. Wow, a company with the audacity to make such an absurdly moralistic film while grossly violating that very message ... my, have times changed? She returned to acting in her eighties to do slasher movies. I can't decide if this also ironic, but it's pretty awesome.

The best thing about this movie is the special features! Despite this film's comical over-the-topness, what will forever stand out most about this particular pelicular (yes, I made that word up -- spread it around!) experience is the hilarious "Dogway Melody" that graces the special features on the DVD. It's the whole movie, literally acted out by dogs. Complete with songs, dances, piano playing, and culminating in that beautiful chastity-rescue scene. If, in a terrible "Sophie's Choice" moment, you were forced to choose, don't pick "The Broadway Melody" -- just watch the "Dogway" version instead. It's even funnier.

My beautiful spouse nearly killed me, however, for wanting to watch all of the (seemingly millions of) other special features. So many cute family singing acts, so little time! I kept calling out "But it's a time capsule, baby! Come in here; you've got to see this one!" We felt about the (seemingly hours) of 1930's adorability just as we feel about "America's Funniest Videos", namely opposite.

The Lost Weekend:
The other film in this category (sorry for the large time gap) is 1945's "The Lost Weekend". The best possible description of this film is: It's the "Reefer Madness" of alcohol.

I refuse to dignify this terribly drawn-out and redundant movie with much a description. It's just too boring to talk about. You can read the plot description anywhere. My contribution is the following advice: To those contemplating becoming drunkards or watching this movie: Don't.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Early War Films (Chris):

If you want the big picture of these films (plot, actors, etc.) you can google that in a heartbeat. So emphasis: subjectivity.

What impresses me the most about these early films is their existential character. I know that’s a cliché buzzword for pseudo-academics who want to sound deep. But what it means is the lack of a moral (though not necessarily amoral), the fact that life just happens ... and then ends.

Sometimes the hero doesn’t win, or worse yet, isn’t even really a hero. Time goes on with no guarantee that what happens is really the ‘best of all possible worlds’ at all.

For example, the Wikipedia description of the plot of All Quiet on the Western Front seems to cover every single scene with perfect accuracy, except mysteriously leaves out entirely one scene: the one where the ‘hero’ sleeps with a French peasant – never saw her before, never will see her again. Why have it in the film? Why leave it out of an otherwise thorough synopsis? Freaking life man!


A huge epic and a strange mix. On the one hand, it is full of all that bombastic bravado characteristic of many WWII propaganda films (you know, the ones with “VICTORY” in the title) … but under it all there is loss and devastation, covered up (as with cheap white paint) by people’s need for heroes and villains and cheering and parades.

But we see underneath the real personal devastation of knowing that there was so much more more beneath the headlines - some black smudging that white and most likely some white smearing the black on the other side of this damned yin/yang war.

So there's the existential element to a film with enough flash to please the glorifiers and enough gloom to speak to those who actually endured it -- a victory story yet with an ultimately not-so-happy ending.

Overall, quite impressive! Amazing battle scenes (a couple of people actually died in the making of this film) mixed with tales of heartbreak and coming to home to a grateful nation that will never understand.

All Quiet on the Western Front:

My grandfather served in World War two … and like many vets of the great war, he had that intimidating depth and untouchable honor of someone who had gone through the unspeakable and returned to live a new life. Their marriages and kids and houses and cars were like having grown men play children on stage.

What would I have to do today to get that kind of depth today?

This movie shows us a snapshot of that first life.

There were stories my grandfather never told.

How could you ever argue with a man like that … he knew things that you simply could not.

Nietzsche says (and, no, I don’t know where) … you cannot trust someone’s speaking unless they personally have earned the right to say it (he uses this to critique preachers, I believe).

One of the great things about All Quiet is the way the ‘hero’ in the end could not have been predicted from the characters we meet in the beginning. The ‘hero’ is simple the one who survived, which, I imagine, is so life-like. So death-like. So wartime-like.

He’s not the best one, not the worst one, not the one that makes the most sense, like a script, but just the one who didn’t happen to die. People in the late 20’s maybe deserve more philosophical credit than I expected!