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Archive for the ‘TEEN DRAMA’ Category

Blackboard Jungle

21 Apr

Blackboard Jungle directed by Richard Brooks. Drama. 101 minutes Black and White. 1955.
★★★
The Story: A teacher just starting out in his profession faces a rude and dangerous classroom of delinquents and eventually wins their favor.
~
The idea is ridiculous. Students are not in class to bestow favor, as noblesse oblige. And teachers are not there to win favor. Swimming pools are for swimming and schools are for schooling, and everyone who goes to either place knows that. You don’t hold beer parties in church.

This is to say that the film is forced. And the part that’s forced is the cast playing the delinquents. Most of them are a bit old for the parts. But that doesn’t matter so much as that none of the actors see their characters from the characters point of view. This allows them to drift into caricature, and what we see is a bouquet of gutter roses, ala West Side Story.

Exception must be made for Vic Morrow who Methods his character into a maniac. He is never a gutter rose. He is always a stinker. This doesn’t mean one buys his interpretation as real.

Sidney Poitier aged 28 plays the one borderline kid who is 17. This one believes, partly because decency is inherent in Poitier, and partly because, unlike any of the others, he had already played leading roles in several films and knew certain pitfalls, and partly because of his confidence, and partly because his shoulder bones show under his t-shirts because he is so skinny.

He is the only kid whose performance one buys. Oh, it’s nice to see Rafael Campos, still a teenager; he’s lovely in his big scene. But the film belongs to Glenn Ford who apparently can act anything thrown at him. His commitment, balance, focus, and drive in each of the varied scenes casts aside the inauthenticity he is surrounded with. Fortunately he is virtually in every scene. The great Louis Calhern plays the most tired and cynical of these vocational high school teachers; one always sits back in one’s chair in confidence Calhern will give satisfaction, and he does.

Richard Brooks was not a director/writer of finesse, and this is as good an example of his work as any. When the picture came out it caused riots and a scandal, but that was because of the first rock-and-roll sound track in a film, and “Rock Around The Clock” became a million seller in its day. The film made a fortune.

The work of Poitier, Ford, and Calhern is not dated, but the film is long past its shelf-life. I wonder if a film has ever been made about difficult teenagers, as themselves, not as caused by environment or prejudice, but as themselves, as individuals. I have not heard of it. Such kids are called juvenile delinquents, but neither part of that term is helpful; it finishes them off. I’d like to see a film about their seed and core. Their action in their age.

 

Snow White And The Huntsman

17 Jun

Snow White And The Huntsman – directed by Rupert Sanders. Fairy Tale Escape Action Adventure. A ghoulish queen strives to eat her fleeing stepdaughter alive. 127 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

The problem with live-action fairy tales is that they sink under the specious particularity of the naturalistic, to which by temperament they are alien. A fairy tale is like a very important dream. It is an external narration of an internal contraption. It is parsed out into characters, such as the queen, the witch, the dumb third son, the cunning daughter, the dragon in the gold, the prince, and so forth. Reading them or listening to them we know we ourselves are these things. Even though not externally, our identification is absolute and therefore hypnotic. These are the inner paths, the inner adventures and floorplan of the psyche. They are wise and cautionary stories, and they are absolutely true in the largest sense of the word, since they must be embarked upon and lived out, but they have nothing to do with realism as a style – and realism is a style which live-action cannot avoid. That is why the true film medium for all fairy tales is animated cartoon. In this picture, for instance, which is very well done, beautifully cast, expensively made, very well played, directed, edited, filmed, and scored, we at one point witness Snow White with dirty fingernails, a completely unnecessary and, in fact, counter-productive detail for the meaning and carriage of the fairy tale of Snow White, but inevitable since she has been slogging through the wilds and falling down in mud before our eyes. So there is a sense when watching such films of a remoteness forced upon us by an incorrect medium. When there camera rises high above her collapse in The Dark Woods, we see her lying screened behind the tall branches of the trees far below, and we see that, despite their cruelty, her vicissitudes protect her. That is because we are at that moment witnessing the scheme of cartoon. With fairy tales, live-action rules out identification. There’s too much unelectable detail. Disney’s version was correct. The theater would also be correct. Opera would be correct. Aside from this failure which is nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault, the pictures is beautiful in every scene and sense, rare in its display of nature and anti-nature, by which I mean the queen’s costumes. Charlize Theron plays her, and her character is given many scenes. Set before the days of face-lifts, her step-queen’s political and magical powers depend upon the retention of her looks. With her oceanic beauty, Charlize Theron really is the fairest of them all. But she is also the older sister of a brother who is clearly in his fifties, while she herself is Charlize Theron. She’s wonderful in the part, and her playing of her death scene is imaginative and unusual. The film never fails to interest and never succeeds to fully interest. It is extremely intelligent and completely obtuse. But it is not a waste of time. And as set forth it certainly supports the activism and the vitality and the cunning and the stamina of the female of the species, right along with the males who help her escape and eventually come to follow her.

 

They Live By Night

24 Aug

They Live By Night – Directed by Nicholas Ray. Young Romance Escape Drama. With the law barking at their heels, an escapee and a farm girl try for a better life. 95 minutes Black and White 1947.

* * * * *

The first film of Nicholas Ray and a good one. George Diskant filmed it noirishly, but it is not noir, it is Hollywood teen romance. But with a good script and with a powerful supporting cast on all levels, particularly Howard Da Silva who sports a blind eye somehow — he’s really something to watch as the shaky violent holdup man. But you can see excellence and power in every actor: in the tragic Helen Craig the foolish wife, in Ian Wolfe who plays the bogus preacher, in Will Lee as the screwy jeweler, in eager-toothed Byron Foulger as the motel owner, in Will Wright who plays the drunken farmer, in Jay C. Flippen as the sweet but violent ex-con. Each of these performances is strong, detailed, and eccentric, and the film is carried by them. As it is not carried by the leads Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger. O’Donnell begins well – surly, withdrawn, wary, rude – but before long she dies of saccharine poisoning. Why do actresses take that route? They begin salty and turn merely sugary. The part would have been perfect for a young Barbara Stanwyck, a lower class girl and ruthless, or Cissy Spacek, a hick. But O’Donnell is clearly a nice middle class miss, and after she gets out of her dirty overalls, she’s a right proper Hollywood glazed-over thingamajig and all reality is lost. As to Farley Granger he is quite miscast as a JD on the run. Granger was 21 when he made the picture, and he’s just a nice-looking, spoiled, middle-class NYU geek, with no liaison in the character between scenes and no underpinnings either in his own character or in imagination about the character. He plays everything manfully, though, but he is just too privileged to be imperiled. However, a good strongly written story carries them all forward and holds our attention with its unexpected narrative and its individual scenic fulfillments. The film’s a gem that shines brightly and entertainingly, even though and perhaps because it is made of paste. Check it out.

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