Tag Archives: films

‘Orca’ (1977) – film essay

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The Jaws is tremulous; the Piranhas ferocious, and what about the Orca? The analogy of the famed aquatic creatures may seem to be a visible cue on the a priori synopsis of a tale of horrors in the watery main. Still, it is this foregone array of the said creatures that spotlights “Orca,” a 1977 American film directed by Michael Anderson, under thematic limelight with a story told like a rime of an ancient mariner. With the image of its amiably rotund colossal body provoking neotenic affection in a sense, the Orca betrays the primal instinct that belongs to its species as well as ours and pushes us on the suspenseful iceberg to the Antarctic Ocean of Pathos.

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“Orca” is a story of love and loss, two indispensable acts in a drama of romance adumbrated by a shadow of vengeance. The story develops around the two main characters: captain Nolan (played by Richard Harris) and an orca. However different they may seem, Nolan and the orca share grief for the loss of their beloved families. While Nolan accepts the painful loss in love, the Orca cultivates it in the extreme measure of dander, forcing their sorrows in the deep blue ocean where the detritus of instinctual sensations and impending consequences is buried with the serenity of fulfilled ire. Neither of them is guilty nor guiltless by the terrible measurement of fate. In this suspenseful tug-of-war between Nolan and the orca, one must succumb to the dreadful denouement of the outcome, but who will be the one entitled to the victory over the terrible deed held in watery abeyance?

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Contrary to the acerbic reception of the film as a copycat of “Jaws,” “Orca” is a unique drama. It is visually stunning and emotionally touching with a beautifully melancholy thematic music composed by the great Ennio Morricone, who aptly translates the innermost feelings of the characters in polyphonic strands of human voice and strings that elegantly interweaves the story.

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“Orca” is a poetic film that gratifies our visual and auditory senses and perfects them to thoughts as though by reading a poem evocative of riveting images of nature that both entertains the heart and satisfies reason. It is a story of a man and a beast whose histories find each of their lives sorrow and loneliness enough to disarm all hostility and plunge all wrath into the bottom of the ocean for good with their names written in water.

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‘The Molly Maguires’ (1970) – film essay

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There are two kinds of morality: one is speculative morality by which your thinking directs you to find the truth about the way things are. The other is practical morality, in which your eyes dictate you to find the applicability of your moral precepts to real-life situations. Since your ultimate end is happiness in life, you choose what deems to be reasonably advantageous means to achieve the purpose. Now here is where your moral dilemma arises from a crossroad of modus vivendi and modus operandi often directive of ego, the appetite of the sense, in the sovereign of free will beyond the boundary of Natural Law.

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The question of conditional morality in the face of life’s challenges is the thematic context of “The Molly Maguires” (1970), an American film directed by Martin Ritt. It is a drama of the secret society of Irish immigrant mineworkers led by Jack Kehoe (played by Sean Connery) battling to better conditions in the Irish immigrant community of coal miners in the 1870’s Pennsylvania. The story begins when Pinkerton Detective James McParlan (played by Richard Harris), employed to infiltrate the organization, arrives at the poverty-stricken mining village. McParlan himself is also an Irish immigrant from Ulster and sees his fellow compatriots slaving away at the worst working conditions in the gate of a subterranean pit of anthracite with the danger of death always lurking in all wither. The proverb of “Blood is thicker than water” may have smeared in his tortured muscles because McParlan can not be immune from the anger and vengeance that binds the Mollies together as he shares his sweats and laughs with them. The Mollies sabotage the means of production in their ingeniously effective ways and even kill the members of the powers that be if necessary, to deliver their resentment to the oppressors of failed wishes and frustrated dreams in the necessity of meager livelihood. The biblical message of “Refrain from anger, turn from wrath. Do not fret” rings hollow in the selfishness of leisured life that has no regard for those whose fortune’s malice overthrows their states.

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The moral dilemma in which McParlan finds himself results from a clash of his id, speculative intellect, and ego, practical intellect, that binds him in the natural inclination to happiness, which he intends to obtain from a love of his landlady and prestige of social standing. Besides, as the fellowship of the Mollies enters a realm of his newfound fraternity of brotherhood, McParlan forces himself to subject natural human feelings to a rationalization of thinking under the sway of the reason for success. He sets his virtue by compromising moral precepts to realistic means of life in choosing what deems to be the most practical way of achieving his ultimate ends via a chariot of ambition without the charioteer.

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This film does not turn out to be a grand social movie that its synopsis seems to present but a compelling drama of human nature and actions in contemplation of what constitutes moral actions. This film is not only about the Irish immigrant coal miners but also about those whose precious dreams and wishes are hard to materialize in the harsh reality of life. You will see that values are variable, and that virtue is a settled way of performing what you think right. Perhaps, Oscar Wile is right in saying, “Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.” Nevertheless, one thing is sure that you cannot do an immoral act for moral reasons, even if every human action is just as such right, come what may.

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‘Planet of the Apes (1968)’ – film essay

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Imagine this. You are the only person marooned somewhere far away from your world. You have all heard the dystopian chimes of every brave new world from George Orwell’s totalitarian society of 1984 to William Golding’s terrifying Lord of Flies and Aldous Huxley’s eponymously prophetic Brave New World. Yet, you have not realized how it would be like until you enter such a world alone. The world you face now is the amalgamation of all the worlds described above that exist in the selfishness of lettered cases. What would be your impulsive action toward the stupendousness of the incredible event? Besides, what if your best work a la your reason and hope as good as your pride and hubris can present turns out to be a grand Faux pas?

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Planet of the Apes (1968), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, is a crackling Sci-Fi movie that translates the dystopian thematic of a world in a phantasmagorical display of primal humans and intelligent primates that upends the existing hierarchy of creations and reconstructs the fundamental doctrines of the Origin of Species. It is an advanced society of chimpanzees and orangutans that talk smart, which the 20th-century American astronaut George Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) is hard to stomach with human pride. He then becomes a deformed kind of human slave of the apes in this new brave world where from their God to a prison guard, the apes are the master of the humans. What a wonder this brave new world, that has such apes in it.

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The movie is a visually compelling Juvenalian satire that mercilessly but humorously mocks the targeted human hubris that brings about its destruction in an attempt to replace the role of God. The thinking, talking, and even kissing apes mirror the social behaviors that are no more particular to humans who fail to preserve humankind’s prerogatives by the self-destruction of humanity from catastrophic nuclear war. Taylor embodies the hubris in the optimistic veneer of audacious hope that he will find a way home, to his kinds. It is this hubris that causes the downfall of humankind and himself. He hunts desire and hopes together in the constant resistance against the apes despite the impossibility of returning to earth with the defunct spaceship. His faith is nothing but a waking dream, haughty defiance against the reality, dreaming an awareness of odds in his favor.

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The figure of Taylor is one oddly fascinating mixture of panache and wit, sarcasm, and heart, wrapped in the likeliness of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Talyor represents dramas of human characters wonderfully packed in the imposing physique, towering the apes as if to manifest the sovereignty of man over the apes. The pathos of Taylor in the climactic denouement of the movie reveals his frailty in recognization of the collapsed grand narratives of hope, disillusioned wishes, and shattered dreams as uttered by Macbeth: “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Will this be an empty outcry of failed civilization, echoing the collective pathos of the human consciousness for the corrupt world at its heart?

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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. 

 

‘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.