Posted in Film Review

‘Hawaii’ (1966) – film essay

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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.

Posted in Film Review

About ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959)

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A great film with a sincere message about life and human nature transcends a divide of time and a boundary of the territory. I believe that a good movie has a lasting sensory impact on the viewer and cultivates the mind with a visual efficacy of precipitation. In this regard, the epic historical drama ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959), directed by William Wyler, is an epitome of masterpiece cinema not for a time but all seasons. The remarkable triumvirate of the outstanding screenplay, the excellent performance of the cast, the fascinating cinematography produces supreme one of art that resonates with spiritual elements of humanity in the witchcraft of motion picture.

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The film follows a history of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince whose life is forfeited by a betrayal of trust and corruption of friendship. From the height of his prime to the fall, then to redemption, it is heroic acts of high human drama wonderfully conjoined with a tale of Christ whom Ben-Hur encounters by Providence. His wrath is untamed, and anger is the roaring of a lion. Ben-Hur chooses vengeance as a will to live in the march of death in the desert and the prison galleys on the Ionian Sea. He feeds on ire and utters curse every day until he intends to execute vengeance upon the perpetrator with recourse to the old retributory law of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Who can calm the turbulent vortex of the soul in despair and save him from the night of the soul?

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The film revolves around Christ, and Ben-Hur is another disciple of his teachings through conversion into faith, charity, and hope. The figure of Christ is the central theme of the film, but his face is unseen, and his voice unheard. We can only see his rear, but it is the mysteriousness of the person of Christ that elevates the story of Ben-Hur to the sphere of hagiography. The providential encounters with Christ in the climactic moments of his life lead him to the way of Christ, which mirrors the process of Ben-Hur’s redemption from Wrath to Grace, from Desolation to Hope.benhur-christ-a

Whether or not you believe in Christianity is not a prerequisite to appreciating this excellent epic drama because it would be a loss to any lover of arts to forego the spectacular beauty of the cinematography, not to mention the spiritual thematic of one man’s redemption from hopelessness. The grand epic scale of cinematography that depicts the tale of Ben-Hur in the trail of Christ from the Nativity to the Crucifixion is akin to watching Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes of the Sistine Chapel that illustrate the story of humanity from the Genesis to the Last Judgment under God’s mysterious plan for mankind. In conclusion, ‘Ben-Hur’ is not a movie about a hero but about a triumph of hope over the desolation that saves a man’s soul from self-destruction, resonating with ‘Dum spiro, Spero,’ meaning ‘while I breathe, there is hope.’

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Posted in Film Review

‘Intruder in the Dust”(1949), directed by Clarence Brown – film review

 

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Justice is the truth, and the truth is the satisfaction of reason. Reason complements emotions triggered by the sense and guides a man to a purposeful action as a beacon of judgment. What motivates the teenage boy Chick Mallison and the lawyer John Gavin Stevens to help Lucas Beauchamp, a respectful and affluent black farmer, accused of killing a white man, is the desire for finding justice, the truth. “Intruder in the Dust” (1949), directed by Clarence Brown, shows that the search for truth excels in the infirmities of whimsical human characters based on William Faulkner’s selfsame novel published to a wide acclaim a year before.

 

Shot in black and white, the thematic of truth in the darkness of ignorance blinded by racial prejudice manifests itself in the transparency of facial expressions of the characters like ancient Greek theatrical masks to magnify the emotions and feelings of performers on stage. Lucas (played by Juano Hernandez) is laconic like an old Spartan. Still, his a few words carry the authenticity of truth, emphasized by his dignified aura surrounding the natural, confident being that commands attention to himself. As Shakespeare’s adage of true nobility as being exempt from fear, Lucas counteracts the mob psychology driven by the vacuously temerarious inquisition of popular sentiment in poised stoicism pleading for truth, not feelings.

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The subject of humanity is likely to be invoked for the anodyne ingredient to resolve the racial tension. Still, Falkner’s “good” white folks are more driven by a curious concoction of investigative natures, intelligent propensities, and occupational instincts blended well in the egoistic sense of fulfillment wonderfully producing a diamond of truth as though it were a wondrous alchemical process. The teenage Chick (played by Claude Jarman Jr.) and Lucas’s lawyer John Gavin Stevens (played by David Brian) are conscientious and principled, with whom we can refer to “good” white folk. Still, they are not entirely free from their prejudices about the colored, especially the blacks. Even Chick becomes indignant and intentionally drops the money when Lucas declines it from him as a token of gratitude and orders him to pick it up. The lawyer Stevens is neither particularly jovial with his client in the way he would be with his white client. However, both Chick and Stevens intend to descry the truth behind the machination of unreason that rains on the minds of the white people in the town because they are inherently good, even though they are biased. They are good people because their reason prevails upon unreason, and their search for truth outshines their prejudice. It’s what matters to the justice and life of Lucas, the black man who is not necessarily a chum of theirs.

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“Intruder in the Dust” may be parallel to “Who Killed a Mockingbird?” because of its similar subject and genre of the film, let alone their original novels that were written by southern writers. But what gives to “Intruder in the Dust” is its sense of realism in the likeness of truth. I find the characters in “Intruder in the Dust” more ordinary, more plausible, and more human. This film delineates a congress of human characters amid a universe of varied emotions and a sea of dangerous adventures, which illustrates both the never-ending dilemma and possible solution. The stellar performance of the excellent cast orchestrated by the astute director based on an excellent textual basis by William Faulkner culminates in this American Classic Masterpiece Film.

Posted in Film Review

celebration of National Classic Movie Day

6 from the 1960s Blogathon
courtesy of Classic Film & TV Cafe

FOREWARD: In celebration of today’s National Classic Movie Day, this post is written as my contribution to 6 from the ’60s Blogathon for National Classic Movie Day’ as hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe. Thank you, Rick, for this awesome invitation 🙂

Ah, the 60s. Doesn’t it chime the bells of your cultural acknowledgment that resurrect all the images related to this provocative era? Whether or not you were a child of the ethos,   it was the age of new wave, it was the age of revolution, it was the epoch of change, it was the epoch of experimentation. The zeitgeist of the 1960s called for a new mode of thinking. Through the seditious waves of societal changes, the thematics of films needed swiftly to adapt to the changing circumstances. That’s why I regard the 60s as a renaissance of the film, which I dare say elevated its status to that of the classical theaters in terms of quality of the thematics that attempted to portray the complexities of human nature amid the changing social norms and values at variance. That said, here are my best films of the 60s.

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“The Hud” (1963) – Although dubbed as a western, this film betrays its habiliment by representing the eclipsed glory days of cowboy machismo that seems incongruent and anachronistic amid the rapidly changing social circumstances. The characters struggle, tenaciously gasping on their cattle and Modus Operandi, but the results are all over but the shouting. I think it is also Paul Newman’s best performance that shines through the film as a fictitious embodiment of the collapsed grand narrative of American machoism. 

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“In the Heat of the Night” (1967) – Attempts to portray social injustice are most cleverly and artistically translated in this excellent film about policemen of members on the opposite social continuum. Rather than antagonizing the characters, the film connects them with a mutual goal of finding truth and justice in their own ways that are seemingly diametric yet ironically similar in their steadfastness in upholding the most common human nature: pride, ambition, and compassion.

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“To Sir with Love” (1967) – Based on a true story, this British drama is packed full of visual and audio delicacy. This film doesn’t, however, turn out to be a grand grave social activist movie about racial tensity. It shows how a dedicated teacher with mind and heart can lead his recalcitrant but misunderstood students to responsible adulthood without sanctimonious pedagogy or reign of terror. It reflects Plato’s cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude embedded in the way the brilliant teacher treats his students despite their outward rebelliousness and general distrust in adult figures. The selfsame song by Lulu gives the atmosphere of the film all the more alluring and unforgettable. 

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“A Man and a Woman” (1966) – This French film that won a Grand-Prix in the Cannes Film Festival is an art itself, with beautifully ambient cinematography, doubled by the hypnotic leitmotif of a main musical theme that invokes the idea of ideal love that is never vociferously effervescent but quietly enduring, a perfect admixture of eros and psyche. The love between a man and woman can be this beautiful, and even smoking looks so artistically suitable to the theme of the film, making it all the more riveting.

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“The Great Escape” (1963) – What I like about this film is not the luxuriant cast of top-class Hollywood actors but the underlying theme of fortitude, courage, and patience, wrapped in a package of humor even in the times of trial. Although this is regarded as a war movie, no undertones of the campaign against the enemy or propaganda promoting wartime vitriol are underlined here as the dichotomy between the captors and the captives is often blurred by their day-to-day personal interactions within the ambit of conscience and humanity. That said, even the Nazi prison authority headed by stern but fair and conscientious officers is hard to invoke animosity or contempt.  It’s more of personal ambition of achieving success in what the characters are driven to do – whether it’s escaping the prison or preventing it – This film is not about who escaped but who survived. 

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“The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” (1966) – Who says that you have to be born into the culture if you want to talk about it? Often dubbed as a Macaroni Western, this is the most iconic western film made by a brilliant Italian director whose fascination with the Old West and artistic ingeniousness made him capable of crisscrossing time and territory as if he had been born in the 19th Century American west. Besides, unlike many American-made westerns, this film does not have black-and-white ethical characters, either extremely evil or angelically good in nature, nor does it propitiate moral values or didactic lessons. It also employs the music by Ennio Morricone as an effective vehicle for creating the mood of the film without superlative narratives or gratuitous action scenes. It’s all about the naked human nature surfacing when temptation beckons with irresistible allure. What’s more, the film was entirely shot in Spain that looked so much like California. 

In sum, the aforesaid films are innovative in incorporating visual presentations of stories with ambient music to translate the world of make-believe reality onto the screen in the most natural way. They are also bodacious in choosing the thematics that reveal the changed look on society in general, rendering the verisimilitude to the stories in order that the audience can feel relatable and sympathetic. For these reasons, my selection of the six films, I think, stand the test of time and merit their own places in the classic canon of masterpiece theater of motion pictures. 

 

Posted in book review

‘Tom Horn: The Controversial Life and Legacy of One of the Wild West’s Most Famous Gunslingers by Charles River Editors’, – review

Tom Horn: The Controversial Life and Legacy of One of the Wild West’s Most Famous GunslingersTom Horn: The Controversial Life and Legacy of One of the Wild West’s Most Famous Gunslingers by Charles River Editors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You may know what you are, but you don’t know what you may be. Things never seem to go in a way that you want them to, and life can’t always be lived at the same pitch as your heart’s content. For the fickle nature of life is beyond your mortal measure, which is called the vagaries of life according to the positions of the slings and arrows of the Wheel of Fortune on which someone’s loss can become your windfalls and vice versa. That’s why life isn’t fair, and you know it, but you just have to bear it with a grin in the manner of an obscure performer on stage getting the part you don’t like. It’s easy to be said and done, but that’s how the life of Tom Horn, one of the Wild West’s most famous and last gunslingers, seems to mirror how the play of the Fate in company of the juggernaut of an epoch betrays a man’s life despite his efforts to carve it out according to his will, which makes me question the validity of Calvin’s Doctrine of Predestination that I have thus far resisted.

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Steve Macqueen as Tom Horn

Tom Horn, born on November 20th, 1860 in Missouri, was an American scout, cowboy, soldier, cattle detective, and Pinkerton agent in the 19th-century and early 20th-century American Old West, spanning the two epochal societal and economic changes of the West that permeated the lives of the frontiersmen and women in all aspects of their contemporary life. However, nobody struggled to be accustomed to the changes more than the infamous Tom Horn, who allegedly committed 17 killings as a hired gunman throughout the west, including the dramatic capturing of the legendary Apache warrior Geronimo due to his commendable knowledge of Indian languages and negotiation skills. And yet, Tom Horn was not the usual footless gunslinger killing people for leisure or money, hanging around at saloons, or roaming about the town just to get kicks for scaring the onlookers with that usual contrived look of machismo. He was always working or in search of working out in the field, self-employed or employed, riding the horse from one end of the frontier to the other end where guns were a means of law and life. Until the U.S, Census Bureau officially closed the Western Frontier in 1900, Horn had been working as a mercenary assassin for the cattle industry whose job was to ambush cattle rustlers hired by local cattle lords. And it was during this employment that Horn was accused of killing a young boy in Iron Mountain, Wyoming as a result of a growing feud between the cattle and sheep industries breaking all borders of rationality.

Whether Horn really killed the boy remains unresolved on the grounds of insufficient substantial evidence, but upon my reading of the book in association with watching the selfsame movie, starring Steve McQueen as Tom Horn, I posit that Horn must have been framed for the murder of the boy because (1) he was always a lone wolf without attachments; (2) he had extensive working experiences of handling fugitives, criminals, and hostile natives as an expert marksman; and (3) he wasn’t as cunning and slick as others to protect himself from false accusations and other kinds of infamy.

In fact, Horn was a scapegoat for the changing social climate of the West in the transition from a lawless territory to a civilized society that slowly began to simulate the East Coast, where a man like Horn would be a subject of public farce, ridicule, and reprehension as an epitome of the barbarity of man deprived of the common constraints of civilization retorting back to the old law of teeth for teeth and eye for an eye. Horn’s glorious achievements as a dependable scout who guided the army through the unpatched perils trails packed full of unknown dangers to the frontier, a reliable bounty hunter who did his job well, and a good, conscientious employee obeying his employers were naught in the greedy minds of his cattle lords, and thus his existence was simply expendable just as another precarious serf who could be terminated for good at their wills.

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Steve McQueen during a break on the set of Tom Horn

Horn’s life was ended in the gallows generated by waters in a Wyoming prison on November 20, 1903. During his numbered days in a cell, Horn wrote his autobiography, Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter, published posthumously in 1904. Even Geronimo expressed his disbelief of Horn’s charges and the killing of the boy in a cold-blooded fashion. True that Tom Horn has become something of a Western saga with his larger-than-life figure. Nevertheless, he was not a fictional character but a real man who tried to make the best of his life in the wilderness of the West alone with what he had. I believe that Horn was a collective scapegoat sacrificed for expiating the barbarous past of the 19th Century western frontier for the want of a new zeitgeist of the 20th century civilized western society. For this, nobody sums up the tragedy of Tom Horns better than Elizabethan dramatist and poet Shakespeare: “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” This is why my resistance to the doctrine of Predestination is being inclined to the truce for consideration.

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