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Monday, March 23, 2015

Weekend At The Cinema

We went Sunday to see Hitchcock's Rear Window on the big screen. I have seen it at least 3 or 4 times on a large TV screen, but never in a movie theater before.

Grace Kelly is exquisitely beautiful. Having seen her on TV, I have never received the full packet of information about her. She was an arrest of the breath. I had to remind myself to inhale, exhale. Her large image on the screen was vast with intimacy.
And her presence was so very less-is-more.
Consider the hags one sees today on TV: The Housewives of New York or Los Angeles...
Think The Kardashians...
Think Bruce Jenner....  ( and I first saw The Kardashians about 3 or 4 years ago, and I asked who that spinsterish maiden aunt was, only to have She-who-must-etc. tell me that that was Bruce Jenner, Olympian!  And today it seems people are surprised that he is trans-gendering into Aunt Selma.)
Think how thick the make-up is, and how much work is done on the face, and the arcane technologies of poisons injected into sagging muscles!

James Stewart was blue-eyed iconography, middle-aged and restless; Thelma Ritter played She-who-must-be-obeyed's Aunt Stella, the visiting nurse in Manhattan; Wendell Cory was a detective who provided the male counterpoint to Miss Kelly's exquisitely appointed presence ("he was a gentleman from soul to crown..."); and Raymond Burr was the creep.
The set consisting of 31 or so apartments placed around a central green square was terrific, and the tableau presented was deep and populated in a way that TV just shakes it head and laughs at the notion of recreating it.

The color!
I have written recently about the color in La Grande Belleza, penetrating color.
We have been awash in films that are drab, khaki, grey, and dark. Even those films of the present which are not noir-ish are washed out.


Similarly, the color in Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur was startling.
I watched that film Sunday night. Color and camera.
However, it struck me as an Elvira Madigan that has hidden well any sense of life's pain and suffering. It was decidedly an "odd" film: oddly conceived and scripted, and that quirkiness of story hurt the film.
(Both Agnes Varda (Bonheur) and Bo Widerberg (Madigan) uses Mozart in their sound track, which may explain why I thought them so close.)

The NY Times reviewer wrote
Published: May 24, 1966

"LE BONHEUR," officially translated as "Happiness," landed like a cinder in the eye at the Fine Arts Theater yesterday.

The film starts with the family of Francois, a carpenter; his wife, Therese, a dressmaker; and their two children.
A review in IMDb:
A Brilliant and Provocative Film
Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.
8 July 2002
When Francois is away on business, he meets an attractive telephone operator named Emilie. Soon he declares his love for her and claims that he has enough love within him to include her in his life, "I love you both and if I met you first, you would be my wife". Being honest and open, Francois tells Therese that he has loved another woman for over a month, but says that his love for her and his family remains stronger than ever.
The love that Francois experiences is - the film states again and again - a natural occurrence, an addition, not a subtraction. However, Therese cannot separate herself from what has become her identity as wife and mother, leading to tragic consequences. She was, in the words of the lovely song, "Tree of Life", "only known as someone's mother, someone's daughter, or someone's wife."

This review, I think, repeats the error of the film.

Therese was a wife; she was a mother; she worked actively as a dressmaker.
She was a being who was actively in life.
Only in our talking about the film does she become one "known as someone's mother, someone's daughter, or someone's wife". There is no indication that Therese reflects on her being-in-life as one of motherhood, wifehood, or anything else. She is engaging with life actively!

In the film - and in the minds of many of us - Therese has become an icon which can be taken down and substituted for by a newer icon.

Therese is embodied in Life, and the film treats her as if she were not.
It treats her as a disembodied concept: "mother", "daughter", "wife".

So in the film, when Francois openly tells her about his new love, which is an addition to, not a subtraction from his love for Therese, she makes love with him in the wooded park, then while he is asleep, conveniently drowns herself.
Funeral, another marriage, a new mother, and life goes on.

I must say this film was disturbing, but I could  not put it into words beyond those which I have already written, and I felt there was more to say about it.


Then I saw White Zombie, with Bela Lugosi.

IMDb Storyline:
Young couple Madeleine and Neil are coaxed by acquaintance Monsieur Beaumont to get married on his Haitian plantation. Beaumont's motives are purely selfish as he makes every attempt to convince the beautiful young girl to run away with him. For help Beaumont turns to the devious Legendre, a man who runs his mill by mind controlling people he has turned into zombies.

Zombies, Stepford Wives, and people without souls, only monikers and roles that they play.

To be successful, a film must leap beyond the roles it creates and render the characters alive. A story needs characters, people to play the role of hero, villain, lover; it needs morals and philosophy, and religions.
But it must make them alive as beings-in-the-world, not as zombie icons without soul.
Le Bonheur was White Zombie transferred from Haiti to Paris, from black-and-white to color.

This error is repeated in much of our art, much of our philosophy, much of our religion (which interposes a church between God and mankind), and most of our politics.


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