Blog Directory CineVerse: November 2017

The curious case of Benjamin Braddock

Thursday, November 30, 2017

There's a reason why "The Graduate" ranks at #17 on the American Film Institute's list of top 100 American films: it's a masterwork. And it's now 50 years old, believe it or not. All the more reason to celebrate a movie that, while firmly entrenched in its time period, continues to resonate five decades later. Why? Because non-conformity, rebellion, alienation and the confusion of young adulthood are themes that never go out of style. There was a lot to unpack during last night's CineVerse discussion of this movie. Here's a roundup of what was on the talk menu:

HOW WAS THIS MOVIE GROUNDBREAKING?

  • It was the first to employ “preexistent pop music to convey mood and texture,” according to Slant Magazine.
  • It’s compositions were highly influential, using multiple characters creatively spaced together or apart in the same frame as well as clever deep focus photography to draw contrasts between characters and objects in the foreground, middle ground and background.
  • It was uncommon to use a handheld camera at this time; yet The Graduate often did, conveying great subjective POV shots and you-are-there type movements to bring us into Ben’s world.
  • It’s one of the first American films to use sound foreshadowing, where we start to hear dialogue or sound effects from the next scene but played at the end of the previous scene.
  • It adopted innovative editing approaches inspired by the French New Wave, including jump cuts, temporal cross-cutting, and flash frames (of nudity, a year before the “R” and “X” movie ratings were instituted).
  • It tapped into a growing discontent among youth and their feeling of being misunderstood and hedged in; it sympathized with the growing counterculture. It also felt topical, relevant and contemporary, yet refrained from mentioning anything contemporary, like news stories, events or movements going on in 1967.
THIS FILM IS REPLETE WITH VISUAL AND AUDITORY SYMBOLISM. CAN YOU CITE EXAMPLES?
  • The moving walkway: We see Ben standing still on a travellator at the airport. “What this stationery movement, perhaps, implies is the unwillingness with which Benjamin’s life is projecting him forward…behind him is a stark white wall whose color serves as motif for expressing Benjamin’s—and eventually other characters’—bleak and lifeless state of mind,” wrote blogger Abhineet Kumar.
  • Announcements from the airport loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are descending into Los Angeles,” is an inside joke, suggesting the vapid, plastic culture endemic to the city’s culture. “Please stay to the right” can be interpreted politically, as if the forces in Ben’s world were trying to herd him into a conservative Republican WASP mindset.
  • An off-centered character: Ben is rarely seen centered in the middle of the frame in the first half of the picture; he’s typically on the right side of the frame. We see him centered more in the frame after he falls in love with Elaine, as if to suggest that she has created balance in his life.
  • The scuba diver: We first see a scuba diver figure in Ben’s aquarium, motionless, small and submerged. Soon, Ben mimics the scuba diver in his pool, pushed down and suffocated figuratively by his parents. Next, Mrs. Robinson throws her keys into the aquarium, which lands atop the scuba diver figure. This suggests that the scuba diver is the “key” to understanding the movie.
  • Fish in the aquarium: they appear to be mindlessly moving about with a focused direction or purpose, at least from Ben’s point of view.
  • Claustrophobic shots: Recall images where Ben’s mother, father, and later their guests appear to be dominating the frame and crowding into Ben’s field of view, insinuating a suffocating, imposing and oppressive intrusion from unwanted outsiders.
  • “Plastics”: A word that suggests a synthetic, non-natural, artificial and false state of being.
  • Vacant, blank or empty backgrounds. Slant Magazine reviewer Budd Wilkins wrote: “Benjamin is consistently framed in angsty isolation against blank backgrounds—white voids in the plane and airport, the watery azures of fish tank and swimming pool—using the widescreen Panavision frame to pin him in place like an entomologist’s latest specimen.”
  • Black and white stripes: We first see them in Ben’s bedroom wallpaper, implying jail bars. Later, we see that his family has an awning in this pattern.
  • A predator in the jungle: Think about how Mrs. Robinson is wearing leopard print clothing and is juxtaposed with foliage, as if she were a hungry big cat stalking her prey in the bush.
  • Caged animals: We see Ben watching zoo monkeys embracing in a cage, an unnatural setting to them that provides no meaningful existence. Likewise, Ben feels caged by mom and dad and questions his purpose. 
  • The church crucifix: Ben and Elaine use it to lock the wedding party into the church, implying that these young, free spirits will use the older generation’s religious trappings to box them into the confined lives they’ve created.
WHAT IS THIS MOVIE TRYING TO TELL US?
  • It’s hard to escape the preset paths that our parents and society try to force us to follow.
  • The transition to adulthood is a slow, pathetic march to mundaneness, conformity, and empty values. 
  • Salvation lies in nonconformity. Director Mike Nichols said in an interview that this film was about “a boy who was drowning in things, in objects, in affluence, fighting, and then finding there’s no way he could fight his way out of it except madness. And madness was what he found to save him.”
  • Yet, we’re probably predestined to turn out like our parents or the previous generation; if you rebel or resist, there’s no guarantee of happiness—consider the expression on Ben and Elaine’s faces in the final shot, as they head into an uncertain future. Even with their escape, Ben and Elaine are likely to repeat the mistakes their parents made, perhaps with Ben or Elaine becoming a philandering Mr. or Mrs. Robinson years down the road.
  • We’re mostly alone in this world; think about how alienated Ben is, despite being surrounded by many people. Consider what the compositions suggest, often showing Ben separated from characters or isolated in the shot; even the final shot on the bus shows Ben sitting relatively far away from Elaine.
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY MIKE NICHOLS:
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • Catch-22
  • Carnal Knowledge
  • Silkwood
  • Postcards from the Edge
  • Working Girl
  • The Birdcage
  • Angels in America
  • Charlie Wilson’s War

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A movie that's still trying to seduce you

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Cineversary returns to CineVerse on November 29, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Graduate” (1967; 106 minutes), directed by Mike Nichols, chosen by Larry Leipart.

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No CineVerse meeting on Nov. 22

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, CineVerse will not meet on Wednesday, Nov. 22. We will reconvene on Nov. 29.

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Moon River memories

Thursday, November 16, 2017

There's a reason why "Breakfast at Tiffany's" continues to be cherished all these years later – it idealizes the pairing of romantic opposites in a sentimentalized big city and perpetuates the "and they lived happily ever after" storybook myth that adults and children alike love. It's also a handsomely directed, beautifully scored time capsule espousing early 1960s values and imbued with eye-catching fashionista visuals and values that can lure in even the country bumpkin viewers. Here's the official CineVerse assessment of this movie:

WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS 56 YEARS LATER?

  • The film is associated with style, wardrobe and the New York fashion scene: it made the little black dress popular. 
  • New York is like a character in the story – the movie romanticizes the city and some of its popular destinations: 
  • It’s a mythologized, sanitized Big Apple: the mobsters are nice and kind, people do live happily ever after, etc.; the whole film feels like a fantasy, a surreal vision or a dream. 
  • We care about the character of Holly Golightly: she appears very superficial, materialistic and shallow, but she’s actually a “real phony” who has ensconced herself with bright, shiny, expensive things to hide her pain and fear. 
  • There’s good chemistry between Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard and well-written dialogue sourced from a Truman Capote novel. 
  • It’s a simple story, but effective, touching on themes of unrequited love, unfulfilled dreams, and the sacrificing of love and romance for pragmatism and security. 
WHAT ARE THE VALUES AND ETHICS ESPOUSED IN BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, ESPECIALLY REGARDING LOVE, HAPPINESS AND FEMINISM?
  • There is a focus on romantic, idealized love—fantasy wish fulfillment is the ultimate goal. Paul subscribes to this theory, and eventually convinces Holly of its virtues and his love for her. 
  • In this way, Holly is a wild thing that Paul needs to tame for her own good. 
  • Consider how Holly and Paul represent different animals – Holly exemplifies a wild cat, climbing fire escapes with feline grace, wearing fur, owning a pet cat, wearing a cat mask, etc.; Paul wears the mask of a dog and exhibits the loyal qualities of a canine companion. 
  • These animal alter egos play into a theme at work here, that of disguises and aliases to mask one’s true self – consider how Holly and Paul each have alternate names (Lulamae and Fred, respectively). 
  • There are other references to animals in the film, including rats and super rats, bulls, and horses. 
  • The suggested implication here is that the woman must become subservient to her pursuer’s passion and desire for her to truly achieve happiness. 
  • Before her surrender to Paul at the end, Holly is willing to sacrifice romance and love for security, pragmatic concerns and to prevent getting hurt. 
  • The moral to the story? Take a chance on love; it’s worth the risk of possibly getting your heart broken. 
  • Another moral: life is like a box of Cracker Jack – there’s a surprise in every box, and you never know what you’re going to get. Paul gets a cheap ring that he offers to Holly as a pledge of his love.
HOW IS THE ISSUE OF PROSTITUTION DEALT WITH IN THIS FILM?
  • Holly’s original character in Capote’s story is an upscale prostitute; in the screenplay, she prostitutes herself in a nonsexual way, serving as a $50-a-night escort. 
  • Paul is insinuated as a gigolo who sleeps with a married woman who pays him generously for sex. He’s the inverse of the “kept woman” character. 
  • The film sentimentalizes prostitution, glossing over a deep social problem. 
  • It’s interesting that this film pasteurizes the reality of being a hooker, when other films of the time, Butterfield 8 and The Apartment, were more frank and direct in their sexual contexts. 
  • Hepburn, it could be argued, wasn’t as willing to take a risk with her screen personality than actresses like Shirley McLaine and Elizabeth Taylor; she was also more of an introvert now being asked to play an extrovert.
THE CARICATURED PERFORMANCE OF MICKEY ROONEY AS AN ASIAN IS OFTEN CHIDED AS THE MOVIE’S GREATEST FLAW. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THIS DATED, STEREOTYPE-INFUSED CHARACTER?
  • It may have been funny in 1961, but many consider it terribly insensitive by today’s standards. 
  • It’s doubly offensive in that this character is played by a Caucasian, the equivalent of a white man in blackface exaggeratedly acting like an African American.
OTHER FILMS BY BLAKE EDWARDS
  • Experiment in Terror 
  • Days of Wine and Roses 
  • The Pink Panther and many sequels 
  • 10 Victor Victoria

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Back when Hepburn was all the hype

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Circle November 15 on your calendar; that's the date that CineVerse will feature “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961; 115 minutes), directed by Blake Edwards, chosen by Nick Guiffre.

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Time + tension = Western thrills

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"3:10 to Yuma" certainly owes a debt to its genre predecessor "High Noon." The latter set the template for higher-tension Western drama driven by the ticking down of a clock, the theme of a man abandoned by his community and doomed to go it alone against insurmountable odds, and a plaintive theme song that gets repeated throughout the movie. Yet the former stands on its own as a distinctive genre outing that presents a riveting test of wills between two very different men – a conflict that could have been transplanted to a modern setting or other genre, such as film noir.

After parsing through this picture last evening, our CineVerse group came to the following conclusions:

WHAT STUCK WITH YOU ABOUT THIS FILM THAT YOU PERHAPS DIDN’T SEE COMING?

  • While it features the visual iconography of a classic Western, it arguably feels more like a suspense thriller, psychological drama, or even film noir. Consider that this story could have been set in a modern, urban landscape. 
  • Wade isn’t your stock villain: he’s complex and somewhat unpredictable; on one hand, Wade is an outlaw capable of violence and lawbreaking, yet he has a roguish charm and capacity for civility. Criterion Collection essayist Kent Jones wrote about Wade: he’s a “charming outlaw who shoots down two men, including one of his own, and doesn’t even stop for a breath; who is prone to romantic reveries and expressions of tenderness; who shifts in the blink of an eye from the affable to the mercenary and back again…a remorse­less murderer with a capacity for awe. Critic David Thomson has complained that the film suffers from Ford’s “inability to be nasty,” but that is pretty much the point: goodness and mercy often arrive unannounced in this film, and come as a surprise even to those who bestow them.” 
    • Glenn Ford is playing against type here, as he was often cast as the good guy in so many pictures before this. 
  • The film is shot in black and white during a period when virtually all Westerns were made in color. It was also filmed on location in Arizona, not on some Hollywood backlot made to look like an old Western setting. 
    • Per Rob Nixon of Turner Classic Movies, “the exterior sequences are also very striking; Daves used red filters to give a heightened, harsher sense of a land ravaged by drought, and sets the action against homesteads and towns whose almost barren physicality and less-than-upright citizenry place them at the edge of civilization, a narrative space well suited to the story's ambiguities and tensions.” 
  • Also different from previous Westerns, this one isn’t a traditional white hat/black hat moral parable that espouses conventional values endemic to this genre, such as living by a code of honor and displaying the heroic traits of rugged individualism. “3:10 to Yuma” is a tale with a contemporary feel about two flawed and contrasting characters trying to do what’s in their respective best interests. 
  • The original tale was written by crime fiction novelist Elmore Leonard, famous author of “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty,” and “Rum Punch.” Perhaps that’s what helps him view it with a noir-ish vibe.
THEMES EXPLORED IN 310 TO YUMA:
  • Mann’s internal struggle between doing what’s right and honest and taking the easy way out for personal gain or increased odds of survival. 
  • Slant Magazine reviewer Chuck Bolan believed this film was a “study in masculinity that dramatizes a man’s struggle to balance the needs of his community – or in this case, his family – with his personal needs as an individual.” 
  • A battle of wills between two very different men – one who is insecure, frustrated and stressed and the other who is self-confident, charismatic, calm and cool. 
  • The loneliness and hardship of life in the old West. 
  • Drought – literally and figuratively. The land is desperate for rain and Dan is desperate for money and security. 
OTHER MOVIES THIS FILM REMINDS US OF:
  • High Noon 
  • Shane 
  • The Hateful Eight 
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 
  • The Proposition 
  • The Rover 
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR DELMER DAVES:
  • Broken Arrow 
  • Dark Passage 
  • Destination Tokyo
  • The Hanging Tree

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A western to set your watch to

Sunday, November 5, 2017

On November 8, CineVerse presents “3:10 to Yuma” (1957; 92 minutes), directed by Delmer Daves, chosen by Don McGoldrick. Plus: Partake in a movie trivia game for a chance to win DVD prizes from 7-7:40 p.m.

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Bank robber blues

Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Dog Day Afternoon" often plays as a comedy but ends as a tragedy, all the while ticking away as a fine psychological drama and mild thriller filled with fine performances and fascinating characters that were hallmarks of early 1970s cinema. The movie has a lot to say about the power of the media, sociocultural politics, LGBT awareness, and the deep state of mistrust and pessimism that pervaded our culture in the mid-1970s.

Here's a roundup of the major discussion points from our CineVerse meeting yesterday:

WHAT MAKES DOG DAY AFTERNOON STAND OUT FROM OTHER FILMS AND HOW WOULD IT HAVE BEEN BOLD AND DISTINCTIVE UPON ITS RELEASE IN 1975

  • It tackles the subject of a gay relationship with honesty and matter-of-factness.
  • There is no proper score written for the film, although it does feature a pop song by Elton John at the beginning. 
  • It employs an anti-authority theme that criticizes police brutality, the Watergate era, and the Vietnam war.
  • It explores the power of the media and the nature of the 15 minutes of fame axiom.
  • It has a very authentic feel, thanks to it being based on true story; consider that it’s shot on location in New York, uses natural lighting, and has a spontaneous, improvisational feel to it
HOW IS SONNY A WONDERFULLY INTERESTING STUDY IN CONTRADICTIONS?
  • He often seems to be in total control, then doesn’t have the slightest idea what to do next.
  • He’s the hero and the anti-hero of the film: you root for him, but he’s a criminal breaking the law.
  • He’s married with children yet is also married to a man.
  • He has a gay male partner and a straight male bank robber partner.
  • His greatest flaw is his compassion: he’s constantly trying to make things right for others, but things fail miserably when he does so.
  • He’s cheered on by the crowd for essentially breaking the law, yet rejected by many in that same crowd for being gay, which is not illegal.
HOW IS DOG DAY AFTERNOON SOMEWHAT LIKE SPIKE LEE’S “DO THE RIGHT THING?”
  • Both films take place in New York on one very hot summer day.
  • Both pictures end violently and tragically.
  • Both films leave us with no easy answers or straightforward morals to the story.
HOW DOES DOG DAY AFTERNOON TREAT THE SUBJECT OF HOMOSEXUALITY?
  • It doesn’t pander or resort to overplayed clich├ęs or stereotypes. Ask yourself: did you suspect Sonny of being gay before it is revealed?
  • It shows the Sonny-Leon relationship objectively, fairly, treating it impartially; it’s given equal time compared to Sonny’s relationship with his wife.
ARE WOMEN GIVEN THE SHORT SHRIFT IN THIS FILM? WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT SOME OF THE FEMALE CHARACTERS?
  • It gives somewhat negative portrayals of Sonny’s mother and female wife. They seem to be shrill, unattractive, inattentive listeners and out of touch with his needs; some theorize that these qualities prompt Sonny to come out of the closet and prefer a gay relationship.
  • Yet, some of the women hostages are shown as strong and brave.
FILMS SIMILAR TO DOG DAY AFTERNOON:
  • John Q
  • Inside Man
  • Quick Change
  • The Town
  • Rabid Dogs
  • Hell or Highwater
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY SIDNEY LUMET
  • 12 Angry Men
  • Long Day’s Journey into Night
  • The Pawnbroker
  • Fail Safe
  • Serpico
  • Murder on the Orient Express
  • Network
  • The Verdict
  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

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