Tag Archives: fine arts

‘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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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.