Tag Archives: classics

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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‘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.

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. 

 

‘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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‘Papillon (1973)’ – film review

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From Shakespeare to Hemingway, the resilient human spirit rising above life’s challenges is always a high human drama. Nietzsche said: “What does not kill you only makes you stronger.” This paean to a noble human spirit against the existential strains of life has been a paramount theme for masterpieces of arts, especially in literature and cinema appealing to the universal audiences, touching the deepest valleys of human consciousness and pulling at the heartstrings all in a polyphony of humanity. It is this very reason that Papillon (1973), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, still evokes ineffable inspiration and indelible impression so powerfully displayed on the screen with the authenticity of a true story of a real-life character.

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Papillon, a butterfly in French, is a nickname of Henri Charriere (played by Steve McQueen), a safe-cracker framed for having murdered a pimp because he has a butterfly tattoo on his chest. Henri was sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana and decides to escape from the man-made inferno where death is the only way out of the murderous maltreatment doubled with dysentery and hard labor, which makes me wonder if the Nazis, especially Himmler and his ilk of the Final Solution, adapted the French Penal Colony system into concentration camps during World War II. And yet, Papillon’s will to escape and to live as a free man supersede the hellish daily realities fraught with endlessly cruel labor, inhumane solitary confinements, prolonged starvation, and deaths of his fellow inmates, all of which seem to conspire to break his will to live to conform to the totalitarianism of inhumanity in the name of punishment of his crime that he didn’t commit. Escape after escape, hope against hope, and betrayal after betrayal is fortune’s malice trying to overthrow his sovereign state. Still, Papillon’s sturdy mind exceeds the compass of her will, even if it takes him to the furious watery main and the murderous cliff in the Devil’s Island.

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The stellar performance of Steve McQueen, playing the role of Henri Charriere, renders a sense of verisimilitude of the character and the story so convincingly that you dive into his emotions without realizing a boundary between a screen and yourself. Upon watching the film, you feel that you have contracted a severe biological strain of Stockholm syndrome with the Henri character on whose biography the film is based, which bestows the power of reality and the authenticity of truth upon your mind. Steve McQueen, often referred to as the King of Uber Cool, is excellent in portraying the convict with extraordinary feats of endurance and rebellion against the totalitarian penal system that wrongly imprisons his free spirit. McQueen’s abilities as a character actor shine when he commands his presence in a way that seems wholly authentic without overt gestures and contrived charisma but with his eyes sparkling even in the filthy prison uniform that speaks a thousand words surrounding him like a radiant halo as a token for his strong will to freedom.

This film is, in a way, reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ in terms of old Santiago’s indomitable burst of pep to fight the shark appropriating his hard-won big fish. The old man might look feeble and weak in comparison with the mighty power of the vast sea. Still, it is his will to win the battle against the force of sea that is sublimated into a victory of the human spirit with the resounding  dictum of this feat of humanity: “Man can be conquered, but cannot be destroyed.” That’s what comes to my mind while watching this excellent film about an ordinary human being with an extraordinary power of will to freedom. Hamlet uttered: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” To Henri Charriere, such contemplation is a meaningless echo of a defeatist. Henri is more of Macbeth working out on his plan for life as a free man with stubborn courage: “We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we’ll not fail.” And Lo! Did he not take the advice of the Bard! And so, splendidly!

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Author’s Note: I watched the film last night and was immersed in the characters and the story. Not that I am an admirer of Steve McQueen but that he’s one of the greatest actors who vanished like a meteor gives a special meaning to this film. It is one of the best performances in his acting career and will always linger in our hearts.