Author Archives: Stephanie Suh

About Stephanie Suh

I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcome.

‘Hawaii’ (1966) – film essay

Hawaii_(film)

Religion is a man-made institution that has a hierarchy with a set of values and norms as dictated in protocols. Even the reformation trailblazer Martin Luther, who protested against institutional abuses of the Church, is not entirely free from the criticism. Thus, I hold a healthy amount of preconception about a religious individual whose outwardly practice of faith incongruent with his or her inwardly reflection of personality, which is a view shared by Gandhi’s opinion attesting, “I admire Jesus, not the followers of his.” The movie “Hawaii” (1966), an American drama about Calvinist missionaries and the Hawaiian natives directed by George Roy Hill, echoes the sentiment conflated with the profundity of religious zeal and the nature of humanity laid bare in the clash of cultures.

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The epic adventure story is structured around stern Calvinist Reverend Abner (played by Max von Sydow) with his faithful and delightful wife, Jerusha (played by Julie Andrews). Abner’s devotion to the religious cause at the urge of young Hawaiian prince Keoki at the Yale Divinity School brings them to the beautiful heathen islands of Hawaii. Abner is a good man disoriented in the realm of dreary religiosity and ethnocentrism. He sees the beauty in his wife Jerusha and the land of the people he comes to serve but averts his eyes from it with the Bible on the one hand. He keeps all-natural feelings of love, joy, sadness, and even jealousy locked in his puritanical castle of mind and preaches the ire of God that imbues the natives with fear, not love. One look at him will make a man like Captain Hoxworth (played by Richard Harris) infuriated with contempt for the loss of her beloved Jerusha to such ungainly zealot. Abner is, in short, a man of God and would like to think him so as the will of God he serves.

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Max Von Sydow’s skillful performance of the role of Abner invokes both contempt and sympathy for the character who does not know how to act in the intimacy of human relationships. It seems that Sydow is particularly good at playing a clergy as he also did as veteran Jesuit Father Merrin in “The Exorcist” (1973). The tall slim figure carries the intellectual air without the pretentiousness that separates him from the mass, giving him the likeness of a suffering philosopher in the wrong place at the wrong time. In playing the internal character in the external context of reality, Sydow does a beautifully nuanced job of capturing all the inner conflicting emotions ranging from joy to disappointment, to ire mixed with envy, and to sorrow. Thus, Abner’s follies and foibles are forgivable and, in fact, a medium for his new conversion into the religion of Charity, Hope, and Faith.

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The movie portrays a realistic portrayal of a missionary living in a foreign land. The excellent Jesuit method of enculturation is possible only when he is celibate without a family to support. Then, even mastery of enculturation guarantees no eradication of racial and cultural pride of the actor. Perhaps, the wish of an entirely benign messenger of the Gospel is vain mother to the thought in the ideation of an impeccable man of God. The best thing is to accept our human fallibility by which the meaning of God and the purpose in life come to a realization. “Hawaii” shows us a process of conversion into the mystery of faith occurring not in the pagan natives but Reverend Abner in the beautiful kaleidoscope of nature’s sceneries and the people living in them. This movie deserves its merit on the list of great films of all time for the posteriority.

From the top of Mount Sinai to the shore of the Planet: ‘Charlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon’, by Marc Eliot – book review

Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last IconCharlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon by Marc Eliot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The movie stars, along with other celebrities whose livelihood is predicated on physical attributes, are not my usual figures of admiration. A biography or a memoir of personality, especially a film star, with an ostentatious narrative of “Rag-To-Riches” or “Angst-to Enlightenment,” is not a read I delve into, nor a mental pacifier to appease revolting boredom. In consideration of those mentioned above, it is a deviation from my staple reading sustenance that I read this biography of Charlton Heston by Marc Eliot to my liking and that I resolved to write about it to my surprise. After all, who would have resisted reading the elevated version of the Vanity Fair offering insightful glimpses into a story of the epochal screen face in the backstage?

Charlton Heston (1923-2008) was an American actor whose impressive performances as Moses in “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” conferred upon him armigerous status in the show business. But do not let the screen persona cloud his real-life persona as the author, a close confidante of the Hestons skillfully and fluidly relates in the book. Heston was a smart businessman, as well as a controversial figure whose political stance shifted from democratic liberalism to republican conservatism as he rode along the crest of tidal waves of time. It was Heston’s modus vivendi in adhering to his set of values and principles in the ethos of times that he believed would keep him alive and purposeful until his sense and faculty of mind would permit him. He had a reasonable degree of the screen star paranoid, which dictated the livelihood and selfhood.

In addition to the life of the Hollywood titan, the intelligence about the movie business, the cast, and behind-the-curtain tidbits related to the films Heston starred is a bonus gem of the book. For example, the reason that the west coast became the capital of the movie industry was that Thomas Alba Edison, President of Motion Picture Patents Company, expelled the prurient nickelodeon movies produced mainly by the Jewish moguls from New Jersey and New York. There is more to it. Orson Wells’s chronic bouts of erratic behaviors; Sophia Lauren’s general tardiness on sets; and Richard Harris’s perspective on Heston as being irrevocably stuck-up are amusing introspection on the personas of actors and actresses that do not seem too surprising. I believe that they played off the gleam of their real personalities in the guise of the fictional characters on screen.

This book is a comprehensive, well-written book that tells about the star of the silver screen whose roles in the movies are so monumentally remarkable that his tale of life is worthier than any of Hollywood scandals or paparazzi pictures showing celebs in lousy appearance. The contained passion from the phosphorescence of his blue eyes, the arduousness of his forward chin, and the powerful torso made Heston as the perfect Pygmalion that even the most stubborn director cannot oversee or denigrate. He was one of the few actors whose laconic flatness worked up internal aspects of the characters through voice and a minimum of gestures that did not come across as a flamboyant flair of or a lack of method acting. For this reason alone, this book is worth reading.

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‘Major Dundee’ (1965) – film essay

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Ambition, made of sterner stuff, is the solder’s virtue that chooses gain, which darkens him. Bravery, comprised of nobler spirit, is the solder’s honor that elevates the soldier’s merit to the echelon of Homeric virtue of arete, the excellence of man leading to achieving a supernatural feat of heroism. An excellent soldier with arete knows no boundary of political, religious, social, or racial division and transcends the subjectivity of time. Major Dundee (1965), an American western film directed by Sam Peckinpah, cogently translates a balanced, objective equilibrium to test the validity of the soldiers’ virtues on the continuum of the Homeric arete in the background setting of the American Civil War.

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Major Amos Charles Dundee of the Union Army (played by Charlton Heston) is a man of primitive ambition of glory sent to head a squalid prisoner-of-war camp in the New Mexico Territory. There he meets his former friend turned foe Confederate Captain Benjamin Tyreen (played by Richard Harris), who bears a grudge against Major Dundee for his betrayal of friendship. The notable tension between the two always remains even after their uneasy but necessary collaboration. Still, the esprit de corps consisting of unlikely but able-bodied characters sets to take out the Apache War Party in the new territories. Major Dundee sets out for the campaign not of pure divine patriotism but his glory despite his contentions with Captain Tyreen, who is more morally honorable and culturally sophisticated than himself.

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It is Captain Tyreen, the renegade leader of the southern rebels who embodies the model of the arete, combined with moral integrity and soldierly fitness fabulously demonstrated in his effortlessly stylish habiliment. He is a dandy gentleman with decency and learning and an exemplary soldier and leader with justice and bravery. The refinement of civility as incarnate in the figure of Captain Tyreen is vividly contrasted with the rough intransigence of Major Dundee through the exterior appearances and actions of the two opposite characters. Even Captain Tyreen’s attitude toward the colored Union soldiers surpasses Major Dundee’s languid attitude toward his colored soldiers fighting for the same cause.

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“Major Dundee” is a new type of western that abandons its common thematic elements consisting of noble savages, self-righteous lone gunslingers, the arch-villains, and beautiful women in pursuit. It is a new type of western that begins to be aware of the societal changes in the reflection of the nature of humanity with bold actions of likable bravado and admiring characters that are not circumscribed in the extreme ambit of norms and conventions with an artistic touch of vivid realism. Despite the rather unsatisfying commercial success of the film when it first came out, I find this film both entertaining and thoughtful in the historical background of the Civil War, showing true bravery equipped with respectful integrity of a person, friend or foe. There is no better sign of excellence in man than the bare demonstration of the act.

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