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Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

The IVORY gates of DEATH


Last night I watched His Girl Friday. Isn't Cary Grant a sweetheart? More than anything, it reminded me of a Marx brothers comedy in the pace and style of the dialogue - although at times, it did get a bit...loud for me.

The most striking thing about this film was its age. Not that the comedy has dated, but the world seemed such a long time ago. All the men in hats. Casual mentions of Hitler starting another war, or "the Polish Corridor", or the acceptable use of the word picaninny. Watching how the news used to be made before 24 hour communication.

And of course, everyone smoking all the time. It's a pity for the film industry that smoking is developing the stigma it is. Obviously, it's a fatal social scourge that has to be got rid of. But in films? It's the ultimate prop. The last cigarette of the condemned man. The subtle romance of lighting one in your own lips before handing it to a female friend. Lighting up threatenly. Chewing your cigar threateningly. Dropping and twisting your foot over it to prove you mean business. Stubbing it out nervously, or again to prove you mean business. The way you use your cancer tells the audience everything - it can express nerversness, confidence, sexuality, sophistication or druggie drop out. You can have a character that doesn't smoke at all - think Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs who turns one down, briefly, because he quit. Especially now we know that smoking leads to a plethora of miseries, it speaks fathoms about a character still smoking - they don't mind, don't care, don't think about the future or whatever. Cigar? Roll-yer-own? Red Apple? Cigarette holder? They all suggest a different image to me. After a near death experience in the Godfather, a terrified friend tries to light a cigarette but can't make the lighter work with his shaking hands - Michael does it for him, noticing with some alarm that he is completely calm. It's small, but significant. And let's not get started on the artistic impact - what would Blade Runner be without all that streetfog and cigarettes smoke?

The MPAA have, rightly or wrongly, started to treat smoking like any other drug. Now, when rating films, the image or glamour of characters smoking and attitude taken towards it will all be taken into account. A period piece would get away with it; as would a contemporary piece when an unpleasant and unsympathetic character does it, or if it's a major plotpoint with a moral message. Tellingly, the previous Bond film Casino Royale had no smoking in whatsoever. Strange destination for a character whose first image was surrounded in smoke. Certainly, there will never be a lightweight good natured comedy with a shiny leading man, such as His Girl Friday, involving one ever again - the American film industry gets nervy about NC-17s! (the NC-17 is regarded as the mark of death in America - because under 17s are shut out. They'll trim for an R instead. I've always thought it bizzare - Saw was R-rated there, and an 18 here, and it didn't die at the box office that dramatically...)

So what's your favourite cigarette moment? Mine may be the Godfather example above; maybe Rachel's interrogation in Blade Runner. It's a shame this great item is going to be all but killed in mainstream cinema.



In other news - mater has brought home some really exciting videos from a jumble sale. Firstly, Song of The South. If you frequent this blog, you'll probably know of my passion for all things censored, rubbish or slightly bad taste. For those of you living under a rock, Song of the South is the Disney classic that gave us Brer Rabbit, Zip-e-Dee-Dooh-Dah, and happy, contented slaves in the post-civil war era. Hang on...as you can see, this 1940s childrens classic commits a fairly grave error of political correctness. A quick perusal of IMDB trivia reveals that accusations and anger have dogged its entire history, including a protest at the premier. Disney re-released the film in 1956, claimed it was "retired" in 1970; but then again released in 72, 81 and 86 - but never in America. With a track record like that, it's unlikely to ever see the light of day again.

As such, I was excited to recieve it on video - as part of my ongoing fascination for the banned and bad taste, not to mention how much I'll be able to flog it for on ebay one of these days. I wonder, for example, if they would recieve a higher rating if ever released again? Birth of a Nation, another classic of the "great film, shame about the content" school, is rated 15 for the racist message alone. The consensus on imdb seems to be that this is insensitive and offensive in principle, but not as bad as it could be (as opposed to, say, Birth of a Nation, which is at times hard to watch, its politics being so far removed from what is today acceptable)

Should Disney keep it locked up? That's a harder question, and one I'll cover properly once I've seen the film and come to a judgement about how offensive it is. In principle, I'm opposed to censorship of any sort. Everyone has a film they remember vividly from their childhood, which they'd kill to see again. The Plank is one of mine, as is the Through the Dragon's Eye TV program I hark about all the time. Hans Christian Anderson is another one - awful, tacky musical -but I remember it so clearly, and was lucky enough to recently discover it on video. Turns out my memories weren't so clear - I had been sure the lead role was played by Dick Van Dyke. For my mum, it's Escape to Witch Mountain. My point is, these films that children see, as adults will go to great lengths to rewatch them. It's unfair to withold Song of the South from these people, not to mention historians of film (it's Disney's first live action movie, not to mention a goldmine for people doing presentation of race)

But to turn around - in principle, I'm opposed to censorship of any sort. There are exceptions - Song of the South is a children's film, and if there is offence there, I certainly wouldn't want it affecting the perceptions of a child in a negative way.

Here's the most interesting IMDb quote I've found this morning:

"People find this movie offensive for the most part not because of Uncle Remus, who, in the african-american folktales adapted and compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, is a great character; nobody really thinks about the negative depictions of blacks because there are too many today; they get offended because Disney, (probably) without any actual malicious intent, portrayed one of america's darkest moments in history as a happy place ALL THE TIME. "

It's an interesting point which struck a chord - find me a Disney film where this isn't the case? Maybe this film gets picked on because it chooses to feature such an emotionally charged subject? Bedknobs and Broomsticks gives the Blitz the same happy-happy treatment; Mary Poppins had povertystricken chimney sweeps laughing and dancing - and lets not get started on their systematic bastardisation of disturbing tales such as Little Mermaid, Peter Pan and ferthelove Hunchback of Notre Dame into kiddie-friendly fare. Disney, as a rule, doesn't set out to address period issues or present complex moralities.

In short, I'm really looking forward to this one. Oh, other videos? She also picked up Pinoccio. I don't know if I ever told you this, but I'm a Disney dunce. No beauty and the beast, Little Mermaid, Pinoccio, Aladdin, Pocohontas for me. I managed to miss all its classics somehow. And finally, Brief Encounter, which i've been gagging to see for an age. As previously mentioned, we also found Hans Christian Anderson last week, along with Fear and Loathing.

PPS - just had the most surreal horror movie moment ever. A gust of wind shot through the window and toppled my "visible man" statue. Lungs, spleens, both intestines all strewed across the floor - not to mention a leg twisted horribly out of shape and a heart split in two. The top of the cranium is still missing as is the chest - one of the lungs has got trapped somewhere near the ankle. i feel like a serial killer in a particularly grotesque black comedy. There's this white lumopy thing the shape of africa, with an orange tube across the top, and a red lump at the bottom. Any idea where it goes?

2 comments:

Catherine said...

Favourite cigarette moment? Paul Henreid lighting two cigarettes in his mouth and then handing one to Bette Davis, in "Now, Voyager". Gets me every time.

Ninquelosse said...

When I suggested a similar scenario, the moment I had in mind was Julia and Charles in Brideshead Revisited (both book and series)

 
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