Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Return to Nothing

Not much time left before the election. Like so many people nowadays, I feel, between the fate of the Republic being possibly at stake and my own special place in society due to various superiorities of my person, personally obligated to make at least one concluding statement about it. But I am not going to do that tonight, because I am so far behind on my movie notes that I have to take a couple of posts just to bring those semi-current.

Anna Christie (1930)
Adaptation of one of Eugene O'Neill's plays, early talking picture, starring Greta Garbo in the title role in what her first appearance in a sound film. Reminiscent of German expressionism, and in fact, the DVD included a German language version of the movie that must have been made concurrently, as it also stars Greta Garbo (though the other actors are all different), and the sets and scenes are more or less identical. I have read the play, but not seen it on the stage. This seems to me a more or less satisfactory adaptation. Apart from being Swedish (Annie Christie is a 1st generation Swedish-American), the glamorous Garbo does not at first seem an obvious choice to play a hard-drinking sailor's daughter who has had a hard time of it in life herself. The characters are still well on the outside of mainstream American society, certainly the respectable part of it. As with many O'Neill plays, the characters are drawn from the rougher laboring classes, and the obstacles they face, with the emphasis in this being on the woman Anna, to make their way through life with any degree of stability and respectability are largely particular to those ranks of society. The movie achieves a grittiness that is suited to the source, an ability that was lost as the 30s went on, largely doubtless as a result of the Code, which facilitated the trend towards 'overstatement' that became dominant as the decade went on,  though I also suspect that due to the inevitable improvements in production values that something of this effect would have happened anyway.

The film was directed by Clarence Brown (active. 1916-1952), who had a solid, if not quite spectacular career. He also directed the film version of the fine O'Neill comedy, Ah Wilderness! (1935) which I have not seen. Others of his movies that I have seen are The Yearling (1946), which had good points about it but was not gripping, and the 1951 version of Angels in the Outfield, a light picture about baseball, Roman Catholics and lady sportswriters, which I once watched with my two older children and they seemed to enjoy it, so I am positively inclined towards it for this and many other reasons particular to myself.

The King and I (1956)

Classic, or once-classic, musical, and the third version of the Anna story which I watched after reading the book earlier this year. While I am often pretty enthusiastic about what is now perceived as popular art from this time period, a lot of the stuff that achieved blockbuster-level success in that era has not aged so well. I would include most of the film versions of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals in this category (I do think that The Sound of Music, itself much maligned nowadays, holds up better than the others). They do not contain a lot of things that excite me at this point in my life. There is only really one song in The King and I that I like ("Getting to Know You"). I like Deborah Kerr, mainly in her 1940s British movies, and she is likable here, but it feels at times like the production is somehow not in sync with what she has to bring to it. Yul Brynner is so famous as the King and devoted the better part of his life to the role and I respect that, though I think I actually prefer Rex Harrison in the 1946 non-musical version. Even when he is humorous, Brynner comes off as being rather serious and mannered, while Deborah Kerr I think was not that way by nature, but a lot of her roles in the 50s especially took place in movies that had these kind of restraints built into them against which I feel like she was frequently mismatched.

On the whole I like the 1946 adaptation better, not that it was itself a great movie, but it is closer to the feeling of the Margaret Landon book, to which none of the movie versions in my opinion really add anything.

Safe Haven (2013)

Once in a while some odd thing like this, an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, will manage to land on my list of movies. I will watch them to make sure I am not missing anything worth noting (usually not) and to get an idea of what kinds of things people are into nowadays and how they live or aspire to live or perceive themselves as living. Nicholas Sparks is something of the Thomas Kinkade of literature, and there is nothing in the movie that would be of interest to a sentient person, with the exception of the circumstances that: (1) there is not a single person in the entire movie who is not white. Indeed there is not a single character who is not an American, or at least who identifiably speaks non-American accented English. (2) there are also no people who present as identifying as remotely gay, let alone trans or any of those other in-between genders that most people still need to be brought up to speed on. (3) This is not quite as important, but the present day southern town in which this movie was set was not only devoid of people of color, foreigners and homosexuals, but any sign of recognizable national franchises or even brands. (4) It made quite a lot of money at the box office, over 97 million dollars (it cost 28 million dollars to make), and was the #3 movie in the country on its opening weekend, and not very far behind #s 1 and 2. It's obviously mostly women, and very white ones, and not, I think, particularly old ones, who have to be consuming this slobber. Probably a lot around my age. Probably not terribly intellectual, but suffering from varieties of the same discontents and quiet desperations that afflict their more intellectual sisters, channeled in different streams of frustration, and perhaps not always as consciously apparent, even to themselves...

Given all the seeming brouhaha about the lack of representation of multicultural people in Hollywood, which nearly everyone in the industry publicly at least seems to agree with, I wonder how the actors and other professionals who work on movies like this that are blatantly and aggressively exclusive of non-white people are treated by the good progressives who as far as publicity goes dominate the scene. The star was the admittedly strikingly pretty and very Aryan Julianne Hough, native of Utah, where her father was the chairman of the state Republican party, country music singer, and two-time winner on the Dancing With the Stars television show. She has not appeared in many movies, but she gets some work, most recently in Dirty Grandpa, which just came out this year (and made about the same money as Safe Haven, though Hough was not the star). The male lead, Josh Duhamel, has been in number of productions, most notably the Transformers movies, and appears to be somewhat established as a second or third tier star. He was a fashion model, and is apparently what frustrated 30-something Middle American women envision as an ideal lover/husband. He is originally from North Dakota...

Will stop here. But there is more, much more, to come.

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