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Royalty on Film Blogathon – The Chronicle of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Introduction

When I first read about the Royalty on Film Blogathon, one film jumped out at me immediately as the topic I should write about. Now, having selected The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Best Picture at the BAM Awards I have written about it. However, a specific piece on the royalty featured within this film, and the interesting narrative and philosophical devices they are employed in was something I couldn’t pass up.

Method

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The approach I wanted to take to this topic, because I love this story so, was to revisit the story in three different forms. Aside from a look at the film itself I also wanted to examine the two translations that any novel takes before reaching the big screen (novel to screenplay and screenplay to finished film). This is not a fanboy needing a talking down but rather a comparative analysis.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Its Royals

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Now, one thing all versions of this particular installment of The Chronicles are focused on, is the power struggle, in external terms, of the chosen monarchs of this land (the Pevensies) and the presumptive tyrant (the White Witch), as well as the one between the White Witch and the Godhead of Narnia (Aslan).

Jadis, The White Witch, Chatelain of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, Etc.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

The bones both to the story and the arc of the White Witch’s persona are not only well established in the book but they are very well adhered to by the screenplay. She: hired Tumnus as a spy, talks to Edmund upon his arrival, harps on the Four Monarchs prophecy, per Lucy and others she has “no right to be queen,” levies constant threats in true authoritarian style, establishes the Secret Police, and seeks to consolidate her power at all costs.

The bits of detail in the book are left out of the film add a bit more depth but do not really rob the film of much: on occasion she is called Lilith, after “Adam’s first wife”; she is a Half-Jinn, Half-Giantess; and was the Emperor’s (akin to the Father in the Christian trinity) hangman.

Edmund Pevensie, King Edmund the Just

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

One thing this particular filmed version of the story gets absolutely right beyond a shadow of a doubt is the complexity and conflict of Edmund’s chareacter. Oversimplification or piling on of him for his mistakes, as I witnessed in a stage version due to either the bastardized script or the unfaithful direction of the theatre company performing it; is not only a wrongful interpretation but angers me to no end.

In the novel we get insights like “Edmund did not like this arrangement at all but dared not disobey” and that “Deep down inside him he really knew that the white witch was bad and cruel.” However, simple visual literacy, as well as the adept personification by Skandar Keynes (which earned him a BAM Award Nomination as Best Actor also) make it quite clear that that doubt and conflict exist within him early on despite his regrettable decisions. In the book it’s stated in black and white he realizes he was lied to and regrets his decision. In the film there is less verbal fat and more visual fodder.

What the book includes for all the children are some of the things they either dreamed of before assuming the throne or did once they took it. Edmund dreamed of roads he’d build, a private cinema, giving the beavers lesser legal status, getting revenge, and building railways. It also describes his reign as one where he proves to be “great in council and judgment” and that he is “graver and quieter” than his siblings as he grows, no doubt influenced by these formative experiences upon coming to Narnia.

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Now, the films spend even less time with the children being actually crowned monarchs than the book does, however, what it does do to compensate for that fact is have loyalists refer to them as “King” or “Queen” or “Your Majesties” and also show where these Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve act worthy of the thrones they will possess that are their right.

Edmund later leads by example, feels pity for Tumnus who he lead to his slaughter, is condemned a traitor and is to be sacrificed for penance and never pleads for his life. His actions in battle are not only part of his redemption but Peter vouches for him. He is also spared of details of the deal the White Witch and Aslan struck. All of this is reflected in the film.

He comes a long way, the longest way of all, from the young naïf swayed merely by offers of endless Turkish Delight.
Aslan

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Being the deity of this world is frequently referred to as a king as well much in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition. He is touted as the rightful king, and in an example of terrestrial kingliness he holds private council with both the White Witch and Edmund (after his rescue). The film wisely follows the books example of having these conversations occur off (screen/page). We are witness merely to the aftermath and it adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings. His willingness to act as a sacrifice and also to want to spare Susan and Lucy the sight of his death but willing to accept their company for the journey is in essence a service a king would provide his subjects.

Lucy, the Valiant and Susan, the Gentle

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The evidence in the screenplay of the children working into their roles as monarchs is evidenced on the page as well. In one of the earlier drafts when the film version was still referred to as The Hundred Year Winter, Peter is referred to as nodding in “kingly” fashion in a descriptive the precedes the coronation. On page 68 of the script there is use of “majesties” in plural.

This is needed in the film as in the book their coronation is toward the end (pp.193, per the omnibus pagination), as are honors bestowed upon their friends (p. 194). Lewis concludes that “They governed Narnia well and long and happy was their reign” and “All foul brood was stamped out.” Furthermore, they “…made good on laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down and saved young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged people who wanted to live and let live.”

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Over the years they earned their nicknames. In the films Aslan bestows the monikers at coronation. King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Susan the Gentle, Queen Lucy the Valiant. In the film, they had to earn the names along the course of the film such that Aslan could bestow them upon them. Also, having them be assigned territories of Narnia to take special care of to shutdown the nitpicker wondering why one kingdom needs four monarchs.

Peter’s nickname is best exemplified by his leadership leading up to and during the battle. Edmund’s name of Just is perhaps the most fitting for it is through being unjust himself to start that he starts to learn firsthand what is right and proper in given situations. Lucy’s valiance is on display from the start as she never wavers in her certitude that the quest to save Tumnus, and thus, Narnia, is right. Susan’s gentility is one you have to dig for. However, its her protectiveness of her siblings, wanting to see them out of harm’s way, her needing to be coaxed into battle, and trying to avoid the conflict if it an be avoided, is where it is seen most readily.

Escalation

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In the script, and then in the film, you can see how certain aspects become emphasized. In the film there is more emphasis on the battle, which is dealt with in post-mortem in the book. In the script the White Witch more convincingly sways Edmund here than in the book because the language is simplified and less on the head. Tilda’s interpretation of the White Witch then takes the character to the next level.

In the book there is no incidence of Edmund and Tumnus in cells next to one another. This triangulation wherein the White Witch plays Tumnus off Edmund, exagerrating “He traded you in for sweets,” truly allows for additional depth for all character involved: Tumnus suffers further, Edmund experiencing this and plotting his escape aid him redemption, and the Witch is further vilified in cinematic terms.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

As they prepare for war, Edmund really comes full circle fully committing to a battle he knows he must participate in. The emphasis of screentime spent on their training adds good bonding time for the siblings.

Susan asks: “Edmund already nearly lost his life! What are we supposed to do?”
Edmund responds: “Whatever we can.”

Conclusion

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Yes, the White Witch through being the antagonist and the reigning monarch, justly or not, takes the led in this film. However, as magnetic and magnificent as Swinton is; he desires and actions are all highly logical and compelling. Having those who are prophesied to inherit a throne slowly travel from a feeling of unworthiness to a desire for and a deserving of that seat is a more compelling journey. Furthermore, the return of a God-king to a land and an ousting of the evil ruler is also compelling. There are few characters in said books that are commoners at the end, but those who bring us into the story, those we travel with are those who will assume the thrones and those we follow. Aslan’s showing favor to the Pevensies lends truth of being anointed by God to this mythic landscape and provides the perfect counterbalance in this story.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is nearly flawless tale, and a main reason for this is the unique looks at regality it affords us.

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Miriam Hopkins Blogathon

The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon: These Three and The Children’s Hour – The Adaptation of Miriam Hopkins

Introduction

One thing I must fully acknowledge before beginning was that prior to signing up for this Blogathon Miriam Hopkins was not a name I could connect to a face. When I checked her filmography on the IMDb I saw that i had seen her in a few things but it hadn’t stuck with me for some reason. At that point I thought I would pass on the blogathon. However, then I got to following links and I realized that she was in not one but two versions of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour on the big screen. The opportunity to cover the multiple fascinating angles that affords got me more into.

First of all, I find it quite interesting that both she and William Wyler were drawn to the title on more than one occasion. Second, an actor playing two parts in the same story over the course of a career is quite interesting as well. Third, due to the fact that 25 years elapsed between the films it also displays Hopkins at two very different stages in her career. Lastly, what makes these two versions of The Children’s Hour, the earlier called These Three, interesting to compare and contrast is that since the initial adaptation was made in the early days of the Code being fully enforced it’s a rather different treatment of the narrative that removes overt references to lesbianism entirely.

In the structuring of this post I will touch on all these topics while attempting to keep a bulk of the discussion on Hopkins, and extrapolate and disseminate other points from that place.

The Children’s Hour (1934 a play by Lillian Hellman)

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To start with I wanted to finally get to read The Children’s Hour. When I was in college, in one of those oh-so-wise syllabus-requirements I was asked to purchase Six Plays by Lillian Hellman even though we were only going to study the Little Foxes. I don’t mind having extra plays, it just seemed a little silly as required reading.

I happened upon excerpted reviews of the play on Goodreads before I embarked on reading it that I must say disappointed me a great deal. They did so because they said things to the extent of “it doesn’t seem so shocking now, maybe it was then…” and they would proceed to discuss why they think the play is mediocre. The issue there is that they’re missing the point entirely. Firstly, there’s only a halfway decent rationalization of the time period. Yes, discussing the subject of homosexuality in 1934 carried far more weight, however, I do not think that shock was the sole intent of the play – or even the intent, at most it’s the hook. The tale in its original form and in the 1961 film is a tragic one. It’s about perceptions, attitudes, rumors and lies. Furthermore, many of the things that Lillian Hellman wrote in 1934 are still said in America in 2015 when the topic is discussed by some the perceived relationship is described as “unnatural,” “it becomes a great deal more than that when children are involved,” “I don’t understand it. I don’t want any part of it,” “But this isn’t a new sin they tell us we’ve done. Other people aren’t destroyed by it.” Clearly we’re not as advanced as we’d like to think. Some of these very prejudices and perceptions are still bandied about like they make the most sense in the world. Furthermore, a child’s word when they do not understand the totality of what they are insinuating is the same thing that incites the recent Danish film The Hunt. Clearly I think there is still a vitality to this play that belies the date of its first production such that I wouldn’t mind it being revisited anew. However, it clearly struck a nerve in 1934 and remained relevant enough that it was deemed worth of revisiting when film was entering a bolder, new era.

Now back to the era at hand when this story first rolled onto the silver screen the liberties Miss Hellman was afforded as a playwright were not the same she would be afforded as a credited screenwriter, not to the studio adapting her work seeing as how the Pre-Code madness was snuffed out and the Code was in full force.

These Three (1936)

These Three (1936, Samuel Goldwyn)

In the initial Production Code there is a section on “Impure Love.” In that section is detailed that any sexual congress deemed inappropriate by the Bible were impermissible. It then goes on to detail how things like extra-marital affairs or pre-marital relations should be handled when necessary as plot elements. Banished from even mention in the code was homosexuality. Even miscegenation, was later addressed and strictly forbidden in an amendment. Homosexuality it was understood was not to be broached. It was in fact the “love that dare not speak its name” in his mind.

Thus, when dealing with a narrative wherein a child claims her two female teachers have an unnatural relationship not only can Martha not confess that she believes she has loved Karen “the way they said” the entire insinuation has to be struck or risk being banned altogether. Therefore, the story must be told under the guise of something that can be dealt with, but not glorified: a heterosexual love triangle with jealousy.

To make the story function in this manner two things were highly necessary: first, a meet-cute treatment for all three with Carden (Joel McCrea) being drawn to romantic interest in Karen (Miriam Hopkins), and just friendly interest with Martha (Merle Oberon). Second, Mary has to be even more the villain in this film than she was in the play. Thanks in large part to the rather spectacular scene-stealing performance by Bonita Granville that is accomplished.

Hopkins in this film has a statuesque poise and refinement that make her perfectly suited to the role. There’s a certain authority that lends her character, which while she seems affable enough she also has a no-nonsense approach to dealing with the likes of Mary and a cool patience with the flights of Mrs. Mortar (Catharine Doucet).

It would be tedious to quantify but it seems in this version Martha get a much greater share of the screen time. However, the ensemble scenes such as the initial confrontation with Mrs. Tilford (Alma Kruger) are all beautifully handled.

Hopkins certainly has no troubles engendering sympathy, and being the heroine getting for us to root for her. Now the story in this version does conclude in a standard Hollywood was (again owing to the code), however, while some say that this film reads as even more of a lesbian love story with the change in dynamics, I do not after first viewing. Yes, I did feel the insinuation nipping around the edge every once in a while, but Rebecca this most certainly is not.

The Children’s Hour (1961)

The Children's Hour (1961, United Artists)

One thing that is immediately clear to those that have both read/seen the play and seen this version is that it is far more faithful to the original text than the prior incarnation. With the transformation of the alleged transgression in the first one changing one would think that would be a given, but this film does more closely approximate the play even in its claustrophobic mostly chambered set-pieces.

Part of the film being allowed to be so faithful is not just the different era in which it was made but also the involvement of screenwriter John Michael Hayes. Hayes a two-time Academy Award nominee and WGA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient was prior to this film wrote Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and many more.

Having William Wyler at the helm again helps this film achieve far greater heights than the one before it. Those achievements further bolstered by the film receiving five Oscar nominations.

The first time I saw The Children’s Hour was during TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar and it’s interesting to note that in an interview segment with Shirley Maclaine she lamented, practically apologized for the fact that the subject matter though known to all was not discussed on set. She felt it showed in the finished product. I don’t believe it did, and it astounds me based on the results. Now that I think on that fact more that could have a lot to do with the way scenes played out on film that the cast was working under the discomfort that people in society felt in even broaching the subject and channeled it into their performance.

From Martha to Lily

These Three (1936, Samuel Goldwyn)

Not to be forgotten in the midst of the tremendous work that Hepburn and Maclaine do in this film is the contribution of Miriam Hopkins as Lily Mortar. As Martha’s aunt and the school’s elocution teacher she plays a pivotal role in the proceedings. Mrs. Mortar is a far more insidious type as she’s an aloof, eccentric actress who seems silly and harmless until she gets angry and uses the words that can all-too-easily be misconstrued, and later damns the pair with her absence.

Interestingly its Hopkins’ refined elegant air that here matured and combined with the eccentric behaviors she employs for the role of Lily that make the transition seamless. I was struck by this notion of playing different characters in the same drama ever since I saw a one-act play about an actress who spent her life in The Sound of Music transitioning from one role to another. It would’ve been fascinating to see Hopkins have completed a trilogy, but that’s just dreaming.

Interestingly, in part because as a whole the impact of The Children’s Hour is so much greater than its predecessor’s that, Hopkins impresses and sticks in my mind more in the newer version with a supporting role than in the original where she was one of the leads. This is due to the aforementioned air, the key role the scenes play and the humanizing aspect Hopkins brings to the part. It can be far too easy to play Lily Mortar as a caricature, but to make her human, understandable even if intolerable is the task of a great actress. It’s an occasion that she more than rises to, but embraces.

Conclusion

La Rumeur (The Children's Hour) (1961, Samuel Goldwyn)

It is quite a small sample size, just two of over 50 credits, but it was great to have a chance to focus on her work in two versions of the same story. It was also great to be able to focus more closely on the adaptation and film-crafting of a story that truly moves me a great deal.

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

The Billy Wilder Blogathon: Emil and the Detectives (1931) and (1935)

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Wilder, Kästner, Emil and the Detectives

For the Billy Wilder Blogathon I wanted to cover a film, in this case films, that occurred early in Wilder’s career. The reason is because while it’s nearly impossible to know film without having stumbled upon Wilder’s work (even by accident) I can’t claim any level of expertise. Furthermore, in blogathon scenarios I find that the more popular and well-known titles, in this case things like Some Like it Hot, Double Indemnity or Judgment at Nuremberg would be snatched up right away.

I was fortunate, however, to stumble upon the fact that one of Wilder’s earliest cinematic endeavors was the first-ever film adaptation of Erich Kästner’s classic children’s novel Emil and the Detectives. This particular version of the film I was able to find on a region 2 DVD set complete with the 1935 British remake, which by extension and its eerie similarity to the German version present early works of his screenwriting prowess.

In many ways Emil and the Detectives offers quite an interesting case study in a few regards: first, it is a tale of such timelessness and universal qualities such that it has been filmed many times over and in many cultures, however, it also offers a glimpse into the zeitgeist of the borderland in time and politics that was the end of the Wiemar Republic and the rise of the Nazis in Germany.

Less than two years after the debut of this film Wilder joined one of the throngs of German Jews who left his homeland for a long and successful career in Hollywood. Conversely, Kästner, while exiled and banned from publishing for a time due to his pacifism would spend the war and reconstruction in Germany to better report on events. In a hallmark of Nazi hypocrisy it has been reported that Emil and the Detectives was spared from burning in 1933 as opposed to his other books even though it, too, caused a stir.

Emil and the Detectives (1931)

Emil und die Detektive (1931, Ufa)

My first exposure to this tale in anyway was the 1964 Walt Disney-produced version. Interestingly enough it ends up being rather a hybrid of the first two adaptations of the novel onto film. The actors are American but the story is German-set. As one would expect Disney is still Disney but much of the charm of the story still exists and it was one of my favorite film discoveries of 2012.

This tale is German and translated, but with a solid cast, very well-composed cinematography and an engaging storyline it works fairly well.

Clearly the standout the first time around was the visual-flair. The kids’ world with adults on the periphery is there, it’s adventurous and fun but a safe world. What Wilder and the team brought to the 1931 tale, that is likely also part of the fabric of the book, is that there is a naturalism to it, which when dealing with a crime and solving it means there is an inherent level of danger. With Disney some of the edge is taken off and its clubhouse-like. What is delightful to see the seeming opposites co-exist naturally.

What was written by the New York Herald seems well warranted and rings true to this day:

“The great simplicity in design and execution, the perfect naturalness and the move away from that particular sentimental hypocrisy and affectation, which often viewed as an inevitable prerequisite of cinematic oeuvre.”

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

While sticking fairly close to the source Wilder taps into and accentuates some of the universal truths of this tale and storytelling for young people that this narrative highlights. First, there is the introduction of the audience to “another world.” Though not a fantasy world in any sense, but rather just the big city we are still viewing somewhere fairly unknown to the protagonist and perhaps to us as well. The creation and depiction of the outsider is perfectly played.

Something that Michael Rosen underscored that I had never quite put my finger on is the following:

“I’ve always felt that children’s books that last the best are those which engender a sense of yearning in the child: you want to be there, you want to be them, you want to be as clever or as lucky as them. For me Emil and the Detectives has this in bucketloads.”

I would go so far as to extend that notion to any great children’s literature read at any age. For example, I first read Harry Potter in my senior year of High School, if I’m not mistaken, and as I made my way through that series I had that sense of yearning also.

Now something else Disney did was to add a more fantastical feel to the tale. Whereas what was shocking and controversial about the book, and handled so well by the original film versions, was the naturalness of the setting in which these children find themselves. It isn’t a fantasy or a far off world, but rather these kids, much like those that lived at that time, much like you or I in real city with a very real problem. Perhaps it is that singular notion that has kept the story alive even through a period where the Nazis tried to rewrite German culture and Europe and the world wasn’t as willing to dabble in anything Teutonic.

Emil and the Detectives (1929)

The trajectory of the project is one that will look familiar. It’s not that unlike a hot literary project today. It was published in 1929 was an almost instant hit. In 1930 a version hit the German stage, the adaptation by Kästner himself. The film rights were then picked up by Ufa. Although, a relative unknown at this point Wilder ended up working on versions of the film with Kästner and others. The success of People on Sunday had allowed him to become a professional screenwriter that the studio would tap for such an important project as this one.

One thing that the 1931 Emil and the Detectives excels at is visual storytelling. It is one of the earliest and most important German sound films but it is not as stagebound as many early US talkies are. There are montages, moving shots around Berlin and a wondrous impressionistic dream sequence which is breathtaking. Suspense is built by watching, following or hiding and not dependent on dialogue exchanges for too much.

Film Quarterly in 1933 astutely stated that:

“It is remarkable that the cinema all but ignores the very considerable audience of children that supports it; and it is tragic that the few films specially made for children lead one to wish that they had been ignored.”

This a lead-in to praise for this film, and in many ways, that can still be true today what’s key is that that the filmic touches are left to the apt maneuvering of the crew behind the scenes and the kids for lack of a better term just have to be themselves and seem to be selected specifically to be able to “be” their part rather than “play” it.

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

As the date on the Film Quarterly review indicates the original film version had quite a legacy. While sadly many of the young actors who took part in the film would end up dying on the front in World War II it did launch an acting career for three of its cast members Hans Richter, Martin Rickelt (then Baumann) and Inge Landgut.

Such was its continued success that it was showed on Christmas in 1937 as Wilder was in the US and Kästner was forbidden to write.

Emil and the Detectives (1935)

Emil and the Detectives (1935)

This film was recently rediscovered and restored. In the wonderful BFI booklet that accompanied the two-film release, where I sourced most of these quotes, is an essay called “Emil and the Detectives: A Faithful Remake” by Bryony Dixon that begins:

“Yet, despite being four years later, and with no hint in the publicity that this is essentially a remake of the German film, this is an exact replica with British cast and crew – and I do mean exact.”

Now there are differences and she goes on to cite them in detail in the last paragraph but what she states there is essentially true. And assertions that this film was cobbled together mainly from the German shooting script, or film, or stage play in English are likely correct.

However, the success of the film was similar in England. The original film played in the UK from April 1933 to January 1934; and a production of the play from Prague aired on BBC programme in 1934.

The oddity of the remake is that though it runs about 10 minutes shorter very little of that is put to good use. A lot of that is accomplished simply by tightening the dialogue scenes. Some expedited scenes work fine, but overall the suspense is lessened.

Emil and the Detectives (1935, BFI)

The change of venue from Berlin to London also does make a difference. Some of the vitality is robbed of it. It’s not just about the connotations each city brings with it, but the look and feel of it too. The Disney version which returns it there re-captured some of that.

However, it still works fairly well and even got fairly good notices. One that was included reads as follows:

“Although acted by juveniles for juveniles; the film is by no means limited in its appeal to young audiences; it should equally delight the elder members of the family.”

It does. What I was impressed by was how similar they were and that they both work well though the British one seemed to lack that suspense and grit, but it still quite enjoyable and it’s hard to find one remake so close to another – as Dixon rightly points out – that is not a foreign version shot simultaneously.

Closing Thoughts on Early Wilder

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

When I was taking an introductory screenwriting course I remember our professor almost lamenting that we understandably were telling rather homey tales. The reason for this was that as writers having to only deal with the blank page there were no limitations. As writers the how things would happen and the cost of making them occur was really not our concern. One reason I’ve always recalled that is that is seems to be part of the path for many filmmakers. You seem to start with whatever rendition of a coming-of-age or first love tale strikes a chord with you.

One example would be in Bergman’s oeuvre: Very early on he had young romances like Port of Call or Summer Interlude or Summer with Monika and later on he’d revisit some of the themes in his early works with more sophistication as he did in Fanny and Alexander. Many will be more like Wilder than Kästner. They will tell a child’s tale when feeling there is something they can say with it, as opposed to having it be their raison d’être due to some philosophical slant.

Wilder has here a not dissimilar early career narrative to Bergman’s going from contributing to People on Sunday which was seen by many a slice-of-life of Berlin at the time. He then almost immediately moved on to sculpt another image of Berlin also real, but with flights of childish imagination that do not remove it from reality, but merely look at it in a different way.

Tales that tend to pass from generation to generation are usually either perfect dreams or perfect simulacrum. Emil and the Detectives, with Kästner’s blueprint, Wilder and the other filmmaker’s input may have blazed the trail for stories that balance the two giving an audience young and old an escape with a story that feels very real.

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

It’s perhaps more interesting to see this film now as one can clearly see how earlier works influenced it and also how it intimated things to come in the careers of the makers, in the cinematic subgenre and the careers of those involved. Emil and the Detectives is a film that would’ve stood the test of time regardless but it gains additional significance as a beacon both of a bygone time and also for the career that Wilder had in store.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012, Disney)

March to Disney: Terabithia, Timothy Green, and Other Inauspicious Ends

Warning: Spoiler alert! There is story analysis that reveals key plot points below, proceed with caution.

If there’s one misconception about Disney films that bothers me it’s the tonality myth of the happy ending. Firstly, A lot of people act as if this applies only to Disney films and wasn’t part of the Hollywood formula since time immemorial. More so that that, however, what Disney films have exemplified, especially under the stewardship of Walt himself, was that they were not fearful of putting kids through the emotional wringer because that ending was waiting – in many ways it becomes not about the the ending, but the journey. Now, I will acknowledge there is a lot of Disney fare that is light escapism, the iconic example of Pollyanna being one I’ve not yet seen. However, as I will demonstrate here, films by the company have frequently not been afraid to bring real life emotions and traumas into their stories and aren’t just fun and games.

Now, the cornerstones of my argument are two more recent live actions films, but the pattern was established long ago. Here are some quick examples:

In Snow White not only is the witch frightening but we believe Snow White will be unconscious until her eventual demise.

The Pleasure Island sequence in Pinocchio is fairly shocking to a young child.

The treatment of Dumbo’s mother and her imprisonment, when she’s labeled as mad is rather brutal, and wrenches much emotion from the story.

If you want the stakes raised:

Sleeping Beauty is the first Disney title that comes to mind with any bloodshed, as minimal as it is.

Bambi’s mother is quickly, shockingly and almost unceremoniously, killed.

A more visually realized death is that of Mustafa in the Lion King.

Old Yeller has to be put down.

And if you’re saying, OK, what about endings? I’d propose Pocahontas without going into too much detail and spoiling it. It may not be a tragic finish, but it’s certainly not a “they lived happily ever after” one either.

And in terms of shorts you can look upon The Little Matchgirl as bittersweet at best. Not only is that a beautifully rendered tale, but it does treat an Andersen tale with a pathos closer to the original than The Little Mermaid did.

Bridge to Terabithia (2007, Disney)

With these more recent titles, however, I feel there is a sort of return to that notion that Disney always implied, if he didn’t say outright. Bridge to Terabithia in some ways I feel suffered critically, and perhaps financially too, due to the known plot point of Leslie’s death. It reminds me of the debate that surrounded My Girl. Thomas J’s death was seen as a detriment to the film by some, but in essence that’s part of what makes the film what it is. You can argue the merits of killing a child character but its functionality within the plot is really what determines how well the film works. Similarly, with last year’s Brave, you can dislike what the major reveal was, but the story was built to go there, its how it operated and functioned from that point on that matters.

With Terabithia the chronicle really is about Jess (Josh Hutcherson), and the fact that both he and Leslie carry a film that does wander into more serious territory was rewarded with several BAM nominations. The story is told through Jess’s eyes. It’s his coming-of-age that is being told. He has a skill (drawing) that some look upon and scoff at; he’s the one who has to come to terms with his own personality, to follow his dreams even though he’s called a dreamer; to embrace his imagination as a gift rather than a burden. Leslie is the catalyst to him doing those things. She creates an elaborate fantasy world that they share. Jess losing her is the ultimate test of if he can accept himself as he is. Can he forgive himself or will he blame himself? Can he draw again? Will he “return to Terabithia” anew now that he lost his traveling companion? The end of the film is a redemptive one, but it’s not one I would call happy because of all that came before it.

As for Timothy Green, this was an oft-overlooked, far too misunderstood film last year. As Roger Ebert stated very well in his review, the fact that Timothy’s fairytale like appearance is left a mystery and never logically explained is a boon to the story not a burden. As magically as he appears, you can tell that his time will be limited, there is a foreboding even at the most wondrous times he shares with his temporary parents that is apparent in the film, even if you didn’t infer it from the title. His departure is heart-wrenching and perfectly portrayed by CJ Adams, Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, and the way it’s portrayed visually is even better.

Yes, the young couple in the end does get what they want. They still have the wonderful memories they shared with Timothy, but they also still bear the hurt of having known him for such a short time and having lost him. And if you think about it there are two deaths in that film.

No, you won’t always get the deepest, most intellectual treatment of every subject in a Disney film, but don’t go just based on a handful of titles and take in the totality of the entire film and not just the ending. Yes, even Disney films can feature real hurt, pain and emotions, and those that do are usually among the best.

Bolt (2008, Disney)

March to Disney: What Bolt and Dumbo Share

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

What’s been great is that I have through sheer luck managed to come across titles I had previously not seen as soon as this theme started. Just recently while browsing Netflix these two titles came up, then randomly on a Sunday morning on Disney Channel Bolt came on.

Now, again, this film came out when I wasn’t as ardently following Disney films. Since it happened to be starting I stuck with it, even with the commercial interruptions. What I hadn’t realized before it came out was that the tale, in which a dog who has been raised to believe the TV show he’s the star of is reality, is not just the set-up to The Truman Show, but in a way Disney refashioning Dumbo with a modern twist.

I saw that because the goals and the protagonists are similar inasmuch as they are unwitting stars. Dumbo is young and knows only the circus, his large ears are hidden, when they come out he’s mocked by the public he’d tried to win. When he learns to fly his unique trait is not a stigma but a mark of pride. The naïveté in the story is more about how he perceives the world.

Bolt’s reality, more modern, stylized, with action sequences, is no different. He’s presented everything as if it’s happening and has to defend his master. Granted the means of production, the stuntmen, the pyro rigs, any essentials needed to produce a TV show, are hidden so it’s easier for him to accept the reality. By chance he gets marooned out in the real world and he wants to and feels he needs to return home to the studio. He faces a lot of hard truths he has to come to terms with, the reversals of fortune are strong and quickly dealt with and the film is very funny.

While there are twists to it, like Dumbo being a more knowing participant in the circus, not that he ever “agrees,” it breaks down to the same path. You substitute a mother for an owner and both seek reunion with that figure. Both struggle against the odds and ultimately win out, gain that reunion and freedom from the life of performance that kept them trapped.

A recent New York Times article had one of the most telling quotes I ever saw, it was a discussion of both films and criticism where the statement “They don’t make them like they used to and they never did” was made. It may seem obvious that film is an ever-evolving artform, but sometimes it’s hard to accept that. There are technical and narrative trends that are the norm and en vogue in one decade and seem passé and almost wrong in another.

Dumbo is a masterpiece because of how perfectly all the elements of the story are rendered from the animation, to the emotional engagement, to the story, music and songs. Everything fits and works perfectly. I wouldn’t say Bolt is a masterpiece but it is very good, in part, because it borrows and adapts so well from a great source. Everyone borrows, self-plagiarism is style and any other quote you can think of can apply to this notion. Disney has done it before, but while it has fallen flat on other occasions like in Hercules, here it’s an infusion of technique, action film editing, humor and an updated sensibility that doesn’t seem forced that really makes it work.

Treasure Island (1950, Disney)

March to Disney: Trips to Treasure Island

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

When one looks at a studio and all the films they’ve made in a given subgenre, it could be easy to forget what the first incarnation of a particular type of character is. As I revisited Disney’s 1950 version of Treasure Island I realized that this was the Studios first treatment of pirate lore in a feature film, seeing as how it was the first entirely live-action film Disney made.

In fact, once I got the pirate notion in my head I watched with an eye for that and I found that many of the men that Long John Silver recruited, as cast in this film, seemed to be models for the Pirates of the Caribbean animatronics that would follow soon thereafter.

Disney, as it was widely reported, had been seeking to enter the live-action film world. The desire was, in part, to produce cheaper films that were easier to turn a profit on. Aside from being a first it’s interesting to note that, based on what the average production timeline on an animated feature, Peter Pan was likely already in the works. So Disney’s hand at working with a seafaring tale and representing pirates was being tested.

Another interesting correlation between those two projects is the involvement of Bobby Driscoll. Driscoll was literally the first actor to be a contract player for Disney. In fact, his loan to RKO, which earned him an the Juvenile Award at the Oscars for The Window, was thanked in the credits of that film. He voiced the prior incarnation of Goofy’s son, Junior, and also appeared in So Dear to My Heart and Song of the South. After working on Treasure Island he served not only as voice actor but also as the model for Peter Pan, which proved to be his last involvement with Disney and one of his final roles in film. The end of Driscoll’s career and later on life are progressively sadder stories. You can easily find those on the IMDb if your day is going too well and you need a depressing interlude. However, the fact remains that in participating in some of Disney’s classics and being the pioneer of actors signing with Disney, Driscoll and his films serve as milestones. In the studio era if you had no contract players you had no chance, he was the linchpin to the early parts of that plan, and certainly this film.

The film preserves Hawkins’ perspective and tells itself through his eyes such that some things are learned after the fact through dialogue. The difficulties this film faces are due to some slight pacing issues, some over-the-top performances and a few overly-simple characters, but it is and enjoyable version of the tale.

Another interesting historic note is that The Muppets, after Jim Henson Productions were acquired by Disney, did their own Treasure Island, which I just recently saw as well. It’s true to form for the Muppets down to the musical treatment, the involvement of Tim Curry and the casting choice among their stable of characters.

Disney has also put a sci-fi twist to the tale via the animation in Treasure Planet, which I need to see and is currently streaming on Netflix (US). However, currently the most well known Disney pirate property is the one one based on the ride that was, in part, inspired by this tale, The Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ve seen all those films and they go up and down quality-wise.

So here you have another Disney table-setter in more ways than one that is worth checking out for cinematic purposes as well such as the production design and cinematography.

Game of Thrones (2011, HBO)

Cinematic Episodes: Introduction

Themes are sometimes difficult to stick to. The way I usually manage to stick to them is by getting a bunch of installments written and ready and then scheduling ahead of time. Themes that I work on extemporaneously have a chance of being more inconsistent, or worse, falling into abandonment entirely.

I say this because I have had it in mind to do this idea for quite some time. I have not made the intention to do this theme known here, just in a few conversations. The main reason I’ve not announced this one to try and get this one started, and to give themes I do not consider to be done, some staying power.

Without much further ado, the idea I purport to embark upon is one I call Cinematic Episodes. This would be another cross-medium post wherein the link between cinema and another medium is explored. I have written about adaptations, films in books, characters in comics and other arts hitting the big screen. However, I recently have started to consider some of the technical, and in some ways, narrative similarities film and television have always shared and are starting to share.

It’s no coincidence that on the day I sit awaiting delivery of Game of Thrones‘ second season that I post this, HBO and other cable outlets have truly blurred the lines more so than most in the past due not only to single camera approach, but also production values and elimination of the commercial break, thus, creating a more cinematic structure that builds its ebb and flow in a more traditional three-act manner than an hour of network television does due to the crescendo to commercial, the precipitous drop upon retuning and then the rise anew.

However, many shows on many outlets come to mind when thinking of the parallels and the current landscape, which I will plumb for the examples I am familiar with. This evolution didn’t happen on its own. I will look back and try and trace, to the extent I possibly can, the evolution of the exchange of ideas.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Universal)

However, it’s not only a technique and structural focus. The first topic I thought of and will likely examine, with what I have access to are the Hitchcock-directed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. There will be other topics to examine, other specific shows, but I won’t be tiresome in listing them here.

Essentially, any other medium in relation to cinema is worth taking a look at. I’ve always viewed film as a culmination of all the other arts since the advent of sound. With the introduction of sound elements of theatre were further added, music was added as a permanently affixed appendage rather than a variable live element, through the ages an artist’s touch in framing and composition, be it in color or black and white, has been needed. As any new form of communication and/or artistic expression has come about, film has been challenged, however, it perseveres both by adapting itself and also by an eventual embracing and exchanging of ideas and symbiotic influence. It’s been illustrated before with the rise of radio and then with television, the internet is the next frontier, but that landscape is still a bit nebulous. Film is not yet truly threatened or totally changed, similarly those making content for YouTube and other such sites are progressing, pushing back and breaking through but, still being in process, the changes are not yet as evident.

Television being the middle child of “Threats to Film” has firmly established its foothold as a fixture, mostly due to its varied nature of content and usage, but on the entertainment side it remains vital. The last thing that bears saying is that the fallacious “which is better” arguement will not be found in this space – and considering the main focus of my site I doubt you want to read such an anti-climactic piece. As many similarities as I will find, and as many cases of shared influence I will illustrate both films and television work, or don’t, due to completely different reasons. If television is in a halcyon it’s certainly not due to the networks. It’s a bit like the major/indie dynamic in film. What’s pushing the envelope and advancing episodic visual storytelling is basic and prime cable original content.

The Hitchcock piece will likely be the first. I have a definitely viewing list for that and taking an auteurist approach and looking at a different kind of show is actually one of the better easier way to start such a comparative analysis. Stay tuned.

Nutcracker (Mariinsky Theatre, 2012)

2012 Battle of the Nutcrackers

Last year I took inspiration from Ovation TV’s annual Battle of the Nutcrackers for a post on a cinematic version thereof. This year I decided to be a bit more literal about it.

While I’ve known of this programming block for years, and it’s served as background, or the occasional distraction during past year-end dashes, I have never seen enough of each selection to vote. This year I wanted to do so.

Now, clearly I will look for a cinematic treatment in a selection, but it does come down to the ballet. While I, through my production company, sponsor a competition, I can claim no expertise but I know what I like and know this story extremely well.

I could give this an over-analytical approach as I tend to compartmentalize and choose which one has the best in the following general categories: libretto, choreography, blocking, set design and depth thereof, filmic treatment, casting, then with show specifics: Russian Dance, Arabian Dance, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Look of the Nutcracker and Rats/Rat King; Tree, prince casting, the snowfall; and I just might next year, but this year I wanted to just give overall impressions and why I picked what I picked.

The Australian Ballet’s rendition of an alternate take called Clara’s Story is the better of the two non-traditional selections and the most cinematically rendered. The Casting of the San Francisco Ballet may be the best.

However, the best overall production in my mind, which did have its visual allure, is the Mariinsky production. The color palette is spectacular. The first half usually makes or breaks a production, the second is the tiebreaker. The consistency of costuming and color selections ties together the seemingly disconnected pieces of this tale. Also, lending to this cohesion is that some part of the town set is always visible. The execution of the individual dances is consistently excellent. Even though there is a lot of the musical conductor it is visually intriguing because of the occasional interesting shot or movement, the sets and costumes.

Overall, it was fascinating to view each of these unique productions, to compare and contrast. It’s a story I know well and enjoy, I could’ve easily voted for quite a few versions. The winner of the vote airs on Christmas Eve at 8PM EST. A marathon of encores airs all day on Christmas Day. For channels and schedules visit Ovation’s site.

Le Grand Chemin (1987, Miramax)

Americanization: How Le Grand Chemin Became Paradise- Le Grand Chemin (Part 3 of 3)

Le Grand chemin

Written and Directed by Jean-Loup Hubert
    

Unlike Paradise, Le Grand chemin takes place in June of 1958. The back drop of the Algerian War will play a role in this film and is a cultural detail that just doesn’t translate to an American version. We open on the much cozier confines of a bus that runs between Nantes and St. Brevin. Louis (Antoine Hubert) is to be left by his mother with her friend Marcelle (Anémone) for three weeks while she waits for her baby to be born. Being that it’s 1958 and post-maternal hospital stays were longer and that anticipated birthdates were a thing of the future this is a much more plausible scenario with which to begin the story. 
    

Unfortunately, auteurship isn’t what makes the original better. Both films have auteurs at the helm, Hubert and Donoghue respectively. In the remake’s case the difficulty was in that she was writing an adaptation and transplanting the story from one culture to another. The true auteur of this film is Jean-Loup Hubert who originally wrote this film, spawned from his own imagination. At best Donoghue saw the film and thought it was underappreciated in the States and wanted to bring it to a wider audience. In all likelihood a studio executive bought the rights and hired her to adapt and direct.
    

The title of this film has been loosely translated as “The Grand Highway.” While Grand may be kept the same it can also be ‘large’ or ‘great’ but chemin was definitely mistranslated it’s either ‘path’ or ‘track.’ I had learned that chemin was a path but it was clear to me visually that the translation was wrong even if I had no knowledge of French. Hubert frames the street passing under the bus after the driver yells out ‘Le Grand chemin’ obviously making it a metaphor. This is the path that is leading Louis into this couple’s life, a convergence, and it’s also life passing us by. Pello, who was Ben in Paradise, is introduced in much the same way talking bad of the couple and then surprising Louis by being at the house.
 
I take issue with the Billie character in Paradise. In Le Grand chemin she is Martine (Vanessa Guedj) and her character is a lot more rounded and intelligent. She is the grounded realist for having grown up in the country. Martine never doubts that her father walked out on her mother for a younger woman and towards the end of the film her bluntness causes Louis to run away being that he’s a dreamer from the city. While we may even dislike her for some of her actions, like when she shoves civelles down Louis’s shorts as a joke, she is strong and independent and not weak like Billie.
    

In this film, we see Marcelle knocking a rabbit out cold and skinning it. I’ve already discussed the animal rights concerns this was likely to cause if attempted in the U.S. and the studio was probably unwilling to shoot in another country to do something that may offend the audience. However, there is a purpose to this scene. Louis witnesses it all. This serves to reinforce his bad feeling about the trip which is prevalent at the beginning of this film. While Pello did deceive him, he is the first to earn his trust when Pello winks at him so he’ll pretend it’s their first meeting. In Paradise, Willard was merely afraid to say otherwise and a bond forms later in the film amongst less natural circumstances. 
    

The involvement of the Catholic Church also occurs earlier and more frequently in this film than it does in the American version. Actually, in the classic American tradition of watering everything down the Reeds attend a Protestant church of unknown denomination. In France, there is a greater acceptance of criticism of the Church. In the revolution the Church was under attack and to be abolished, later France was the nexus of the existentialist school of thought in the 20th Century. These interpretations of the Clergy are not necessarily as negative as we may interpret them, but rather an attempt to help humanity cope when they feel religion has failed them. In Le Grand chemin, Hubert frames the priest in a high pulpit above the parishioners. He is speaking of God and the saints and of lofty things and boring everyone to death. Later, when Louis is walking around on the roof and Martine is seeking help he makes jokes about them. All this is saying is that the Church and its clergy have begun to lose touch with the reality of worshippers’ lives. It’s not done in poor taste and it does in the end serve the story. The challenge Martine placed to Louis is that he couldn’t urinate down the gutter which leads out of a gargoyle statue’s mouth. When Louis is missing at the end he is found when a nun gets a “shower.” Now a nun is a human being just like you and me, thus, imperfect and not a religious icon and it escapes the dangerous realm of blasphemy. In Paradise, the preacher is merely a talkative dolt and the challenge is merely a high wire act because I guess Americans don’t urinate until they’re of age. 
 

Another aspect in which the French film excels is in the score. The French score is evocative of childhood whimsy and wonderment as need be. It is touching and extremely moving towards the end and put a great emphasis on the ending. And it highlights the moments of high drama perfectly without overshadowing the action.

In contrasting the actors ‘The Bedroom Scene’ is where we can most easily draw comparison between how each version of the story was handled. Jean-Loup Hubert frames his actors together with minimal cutting and the tension is so thick it hits home. You hear it almost as if you’re there. Richard Bohringer’s performance as Pello in this scene is absolutely raw, you can see there’s no stopping him, there’s nothing contrived here, no acting – that we can see. Hubert also excels here at writing putting this in a more emotionally vulnerable point in the film.


 
In Le Grand chemin, we see the following scene unfold: Pello and Louis have just spent a day together. In a very warm and touching shot Louis reaches out and takes Pello’s hand. Shortly after Marcelle arrives worried about whether or not he has eaten. Later she has to go pick Pello up because he’s drunk. Here we see them really butt heads. Because Pello has made a connection with Louis and he’s always been the more forward looking of the two he pushes the issue of Jean-Pierre, their dead child. He misses her as a wife and feels she’s playing the martyr and tries to take her physically. “God won’t help you, let’s do it in the wheelbarrow,” he says. He then chases her into the house and she locks him out of their room. Upon falling to the ground drunk he finds the key to Jean-Pierre’s room. He goes in and starts demolishing it, as he expected Marcelle comes out to stop him and again he attempts to rape her. This is high drama and great conflict. Pello is living in the moment and Marcelle in the past; we see the metaphorical struggle enacted physically. 
    

Even if the American film had reached the same amount of drama that the French film was able to they still undercut the tension. In the French film we discovered the room in that scene. In the American we had a sentimental and non-essential wandering into the room by Lily. The woman’s role in this scene is the same in both films; she must be resistant, in fear, fighting back and in hysterical shock at her husband’s actions. Melanie Griffith holds her own but is unable to live up to Anémone’s example. Don Johnson, on the other hand, fails miserably in this scene giving her nothing to work off of. His diction is poor, his tonality is all off and he is scarcely believable. He comes off as a man who may be a jerk but would never be thought of as being that passionate.
 

The French film also makes the connection between Pello and Louis and it’s made in not a more subtle but a better way. In Paradise, all the bonding occurs during a fishing trip both the forming of the friendship and the big question about the dead child. In Le Grand chemin, first Pello shows Louis how to sand by letting him watch how it’s done. Here we also see Pello give Louis a makeshift wagon where he carries around the scrap pieces of wood. This allows a visual representation of the bond they had. When he gets upset near the end we see Louis leave the wagon behind in the shed. Later, we have the fishing trip where they are already friendly and he asks about the baby after a long talk. 
    

What really works well in Le Grand chemin is the story arc. He may not be the most involved character but Louis is the catalyst of this film. In one scene Pello refuses Marcelle’s idea of a bedpan and takes Louis outside to urinate against the wall. He says to him “If you can hit the wall you’re ready for girls,” and in a very humorous turn Louis leans forward trying to hit the wall. The scene begins with Pello arguing with Martine and ends with his getting closer to Louis. He sharpens the conflict between the couple and then ultimately brings them closer together at the end. In the closing scenes, he climbs into bed with them because he had a bad dream and ultimately for the context of the film he sees them as his parents. He also affects Martine while they are quite different as Louis is timid and Martine is outgoing to the point of being brash she is very saddened by his leaving. When Louis is saying his goodbyes she is squeezing grapes and mixing them with rum to drink away her depression. This is another scene American audiences would have trouble with. We’d be willing to accept underage drinking in a movie, but only at a certain age even though much the same thing must happen here. The ultimate visual representation of how he affected everyone was when he was standing atop the church and the whole town is watching him.
    

In what is a very affective sequence, Louis’s character is pushed too harshly to the truth and lashes out. First, he is listening to a letter his father wrote him, a father he always believed was a head waiter in Nice. He asks Marcelle to see the postcard he sent and sees it’s blank. Marcelle was instructed to make up a message for him to hear. He recognizes the postcard from the year before. Marcelle tries to play it cool but Louis isn’t going to believe the story anymore, he calls her a liar and then he gets slapped. He runs off and consequently meets Martine who speculates that he must have met a younger woman. While Louis is ready to accept his father is gone he doesn’t want to hear anything negative either. He calls her a liar as well and then disappears to the church. What I like about this film is that it’s one without a ‘hyperplot’ but it does move and it is very well told. The characters come together bit by bit, and you get to slowly find out what they’re all about. If this film where made in the US it would be independently produced and most likely fall through the cracks, but in France it won many awards.

Of course, the way in which this film handles both sensuality and sexuality, while also dealing with death is very adept. Love and death are dramatic foils that writers have been toying with since time out of mind. In Le Grand chemin, the theme of death is more readily handled. Pello is not only a carpenter but he makes all the caskets in the town and he is best friends with the gravedigger, Hippolyte. Combine this with the fact that they had lost a child some years ago you get quite an odd little circle. It’s psychologically subtle. When you think about it Pello in all likelihood fitted his own son for a casket, he literally buried his own son. While his best friend, who may have been the godfather for all we know, buried him in the ground. So the impact on them must have been twice as hard in this film. As for Marcelle, no one can say how hard it is for a mother to lose a child unless they’ve ever been in that situation. So the film opens with characters that are deeply bruised. The connection between life and death is blood. In Pello’s shop we see Marcelle’s ‘monthly rag’ here blood is signifying the inability to create life. And it also ties in with sex. When dealing with a scene of attempted rape it’s hard to keep sympathy for a character but Pello never really loses our respect because once we realize he’s drunk and not his usual self (not that his usual self has been that nice) we almost understand his actions. We also know that all he wants of his wife is some affection. He feels that she died with their child and he hates it. Between the children the scenes of discovery are obviously better handled than in the American version. The scene where they discuss the clap in the French film isn’t as shy or prudish as the American. Martine is a tomboy and Billie is not. She doesn’t sit like a girl or talk like a girl. She offers Louis a look up her skirt which is something which is only clumsily suggested in the American version; Martine says it with bravado and pride. Billie only wears a dress when looking for her derelict father while Martine flashes a priest. The scene when they spy on Martine’s older sister is also quite differently handled in the American version.
 
   
While the American version starts off imitating the French version with identical framing of the kids on the upper level of the barn how the coital relationship is filmed is quite different. Why it is so I have no idea? In both cases, there are shots where the children would have to be there, unless there was some sort of processing. In the French film, the boyfriend moves up from performing cunnilingus and we see him on top of his girlfriend. In the American version, they are already engaged in intercourse and we see the couple sideways. Even when depicting sexuality we must be the example of prudery and puritanical ethics.
    

Simon, Solange’s (Martine’s sister) boyfriend, is about to go off to Algeria. This was a war that was a backdrop to many French films. It was a war that eventually ended French colonialism in the nation. Many films, including Godard’s Le Petit soldat, have used this war as central themes yet in this film it’s more a background issue but I don’t believe it represents any larger symbol here but is merely a plot element. If the American version had some kind of backdrop it may have been better but it doesn’t; it’s flat and it’s all surface.
 

   

Le Grand chemin is triumphant filmmaking in which all the elements work together smoothly. Jean-Loup Hubert gets a wonderful performance out of his son that ranks amongst the great performances by child actors alongside Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun and Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense to name a few. For the adult roles, Hubert had actors who were confident enough to be able to take a scene of such intensity and absolutely live it, the chemistry was there and it was shot to perfection. The story is well-written and simply done. The music and cinematography in Le Grand chemin are far superior. If we learn anything in comparing these two films is that the original work, especially if foreign, loses a lot of it’s spirit in switching countries its culture and in many cases its talent.
 
Le Grand chemin is a beautiful film that should’ve been left alone. Some stories are only meant to be told once. And many must stay where they are born and are never meant to be imitated overseas.  

Works Cited


Chemin Grand, Le. Dir. Jean-Loup Hubert, 1987. Perf. Anemone, Richard Bohringer, Antoine Hubert

Éloge de l’amour Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 2001. 
Atkins, Beverly T, Alain Duval, Rosemary C. Milne et al.,

Le Robert & Collins Poche Dictionnaire Français-Anglais Anglais-Français. 2nd ed. Dictionnaries Le Robert: Paris, 1996.

Paradise Dir. Mary Agnes Donoghue, 1991. Perf. Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson, Elijah Wood and Thora Birch.

Comparative Analysis: How People Like Us and the Lucky One Handle Secrets

SPOILER ALERT: Since this is an analytical piece rather than straight-up review certain plot elements will be discussed in some detail. If you do not wish to know such information please stop reading now.

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I believe what struck me most about People Like Us is that while it shares a plot device with The Lucky One, namely a lie told (or if you prefer information withheld). The reason this struck me so strongly was that while this was one of the major encumbrances of The Lucky One I feel that People Like Us handled it better in many regards such that is allows the film to succeed.

Now, the first way in which the secret(s) and lie(s) in these films differ is that in People Like Us it’s a far more tangible thing. Chris Pine’s character has just discovered that his father had a daughter with another woman. Therefore, he has to process and deal with this information. He had a bad relationship with his father, felt abandoned, but never knew about this. He has to sort it out himself. Furthermore, he discovers this in light of his father’s recent passing, where he is assigned to give her money his father left to her.

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In The Lucky One we understand the plight that Zac Efron’s character has: he feels that a woman in a picture was his lucky charm, the woman being a fallen comrade’s sister. With his struggles to adjust to life as a civilian he goes to seek her out, to what end he does not yet know. Now, he does eventually come to like the woman, and not the dream, and he does help give her closure about what exactly happened to her brother. However, his secret is not only far more nebulous, but is also one he comes much closer to having a chance to say.

Essentially, if a confession in a film is a necessity you’re really walking a tightrope. The longer the protagonist is forced to withhold that information the more precarious he and his plight become. Now, the external and internal conflicts of People Like Us are so well laid out and the different avenues so well-examined that the cat’s-got-your-tongue situations end up being far less annoying in that film than in The Lucky One.

Also, in The Lucky One it’s the kind of weird thing that you can either explain right away or you know you’ll wait on. However, the biggest issue is that he was so close to saying it and he just got motor-mouthed out of his opportunity upon first meeting her. Granted it’s a hard thing to say, but in People Like Us it was hard too but the film allowed the protagonist the opportunity to make the decision to wait on his own with minimal outside influence.

Neither scenario is really ideal for a prolonged secret, however, I feel People Like Us played it better than The Lucky One did.