Blog Directory CineVerse

Breaking down "Bedford"

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"The Bedford Incident" plays out as a fitting conclusion of sorts to an unofficial Cold War/cautionary nuclear annihilation trilogy preceded by "Dr. Strangelove" and "Fail-Safe," both released a year earlier. All films end with nightmarish visions of mushroom clouds. But "Bedford," although arguably not as memorable as the other two films, is a meritorious vessel in its own right worthy of analysis. Here's how CineVerse dissected the picture:

WHAT IS DIFFERENT, DISTINCTIVE AND UNIQUE ABOUT “THE BEDFORD INCIDENT” FOR A 1965 FILM?
Consider the chilling topical relevance and timeliness of this picture: This was just a few years removed from the tension and terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was still fresh in Americans’ minds, and it came at the height of the Cold War when many people believed nuclear annihilation could happen anytime.
While the movie isn’t sympathetic to the Communists, the Russians aren’t necessarily depicted as the evil villains here; instead, the villain is Finlander himself and what he represents. Also, we aren’t shown the perspective of the Soviets at all—there are no counterpoint characters shown from the other sub, nor is the Big Red sub shown at all, for that matter.
Tied in with this thought is that, while the movie points a finger at the dangerous mindset and attitude of Finlander, it doesn’t try to throw the entire U.S. military or U.S. government or our country’s stance during the Cold War under the bus. Remember that Finlander receives telegrams from NATO ordering him to wait on any military action, and he was denied a promotion to Admiral based on his backing of military action during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Interestingly, the film could be seen as both an anti-war picture and as a pro-military picture that offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of a rogue leader and unchecked power of one or more members of the military. The movie is admirable for taking a critical stand of Cold War politics, especially the policy of nuclear deterrence, at the height of the Cold War.
Also, the casting of Poitier is interesting: the role was not written for an African American, and could have been played by anyone; by giving him this character, the filmmakers were demonstrating a culturally and racially progressive attitude—essentially practicing “colorblind casting (that) would mean more diversity in film, TV and theatrical productions and wider job opportunities for actors of color…the decision to ignore the blackness of Poitier’s character suggests an  attempt to create a unanimity of opposition against Finlander’s darkly ‘patriotic’ military zeal,” wrote critic Karla Rae Fuller.
The ending is abrupt, surprising and shocking, especially for its time.
The choice to use black and white is also interesting at a time when color dominated and black and white was on the decline, but appropriate, considering the documentary-like style of the movie and newsreel/news footage look the filmmakers were going for (TV viewers watching coverage of the Vietnam war on their sets were predominantly watching in black and white, too).
Lastly, this is a thriller, but a slow burn one in that it’s not loaded with action sequences or daring sub chase scenes; the pacing can be slow, as we wait a long time for action to happen. The real action here is the tension and fireworks between the characters on The Bedford.

WHAT THEMES ARE ESPOUSED BY THIS FILM?
The danger of military aggression driven or excused by patriotic zeal 
How absolute power corrupts absolutely
The danger of over-relying on technology (nuclear subs and missiles) while ignoring the potential for human error and human misbehavior

THIS STORY BEARS OBVIOUS PARALLELS TO “MOBY DICK.” CAN YOU CITE SOME OF THE SIMILARITIES?
Finlander is like Ahab—ruthless, driven, inflexible.
The “Big Red” Soviet sub plays the part of the white whale.
The Bedford stands in as the Pequod.
Munceford is a modern day Ishmael, although the former has a lot more face to face interaction and conflict with his ship’s commander than the latter. Like Ishmael, Munceford serves as the surrogate for the viewer/reader—the “eyes and ears” of the audience in that, like him, we know little about submarines or military matters, and we learn as Munceford learns.

WHAT IS INTERESTING OR INSIGHTFUL ABOUT THE NAMES OF THE CHARACTERS?
“Finlander”: makes you think of a cold foreign land like Finland; Also, “fin” and “lander” conjures up images of a master of both water and land
“Munceford”: “munce” is a person carrying out an act of stupidity, and a “ford” is a shallow part of a body of water; thus, in Finlander’s eyes, Munceford could be thought of as an unintelligent, inexperienced landlubber.
“Potter”: a potter is a sensitive craftsman or artisan who sculpts with his hands, suggesting a person who takes a more personal, human approach to his work and contact, in stark contrast to Finlander’s approach.
“Schrepke”: The first part of his name sound German, foreign, and coldly mysterious; the second part is “key”, hinting that this character, while foreign, is the key to helping Finlander make the right informed decision.
“Ralston”: In the 1960s, the Ralston Purina company was a household name known for making products like dog food. This name could connote a loyal, but lowly, lackey who becomes “dog food” to Finlander in that the captain doesn’t like or respect him, and Ralston can only exercise blind obedience without having any power.
“Queffle”: sounds like a combination between “quaff” (meaning “to drink deeply”) and “trifle” (meaning a piddling, small amount). Hence, this moniker suggests that Queffle drinks deeply of Finlander’s style of leadership, but he is merely a small, trifling cog in the captain’s wheel.

WHAT OTHER FILMS OR STORIES REMIND YOU OF “THE BEDFORD INCIDENT”?
Two previous films of this era that, with “Bedford Incident,” form a sort of Cold War/nuclear age movie trilogy: “Dr. Strangelove” and “Fail Safe”
Other submarine action thrillers like “The Hunt for Red October,” “Crimson Tide” and “Das Boot”; the latter is particularly similar in that we don’t see the perspective of the enemies of the main characters.
“The Caine Mutiny” and “Mutiny on the Bounty”, both featuring dangerously rigid captains 

Read more...

What happens when you cross "The Caine Mutiny" with "The Hunt for Red October"?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

You get something like The Bedford Incident (1965; 102 minutes), directed by James B. Harris, chosen by Ken Demski, which is slated for March 25 on the CineVerse schedule.

Read more...

A pre-code charmer

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hollywood filmmakers were able to be more daring, adult and sexually insinuating prior to the enforcement of the Production Code and onset of the era of censorship in 1934, as evidenced in films like Ernst Lubitsch's "Trouble in Paradise" (1932), quite possibly the most elegant-yet-naughty romantic comedy of the 1930s. CineVerse took the microscope to this finely tailored feature last evening and came away with the following conclusions:

WHAT EXACTLY IS “THE LUBITSCH TOUCH,” AND WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE OF IT IN THIS MOVIE?
  • Characteristics shared by many Lubitsch films, especially those in the pre-Code era, include: urbane wittiness; suave, sophisticated but sexually playful characters; ample use of sexual innuendos and double entendres; a smooth, gliding, graceful camera, simple setups, and suggestive visuals (e.g., shadow on the bed, clocks)love triangles; stories in which “an essentially solid relationship is temporarily threatened by a sexual rival”, according to critic Greg S. Faller; a feeling that romance can spring up at any time and affect anyone; and plots that blend elements of deception, mistaken identity, role-playing, and fantasy.
  • Although never definitively defined, the Lubitsch touch has been described as such:
  • A brief description that embraces a long list of virtues: sophistication, style, subtlety, wit, charm, elegance, suavity, polished nonchalance and audacious sexual nuance."   -- Richard Christiansen
  • "A subtle and souffle-like blend of sexy humor and sly visual wit."-- Roger Fristoe
  • "A counterpoint of poignant sadness during a film's gayest moments."   -- Andrew Sarris
  • " . . . The Lubitsch Touch, with its frequent Freudian overtone of revealing previously hidden motivations, the sexual story, by an adroit bit of business or a focus on a significant object. -- Leo Braudy
  • "It was the elegant use of the Superjoke.  You had a joke, and you felt satisfied, and then there was one more big joke on top of it.  The joke you didn't expect.  That was the Lubitsch Touch...."    -- Billy Wilder
  • "A style that is gracefully charming and fluid, with an . . . ingenious ability to suggest more than it showed . . ."    -- Leland A. Poague
  • " . . . a style that hinted at sex, that was playfully adult in its themes, without ever crossing the invisible boundary line that separated smut from genius."   -- Saul Austerlitz
WHAT EXACTLY MAKES “TROUBLE IN PARADISE” SO TIMELESSLY ENTERTAINING AS WELL AS DELICIOUSLY NAUGHTY, EVEN TO MODERN AUDIENCES?
  • As suggested by Criterion Collection essayist Armond White: “it is among the most astute movies ever made about the joys of sex even though it is, primarily, a sparkling abstraction. Each character’s cultured civility only covers up criminal, sexual, human instinct. Within their tuxedos and satin gowns, they reveal animal appetites, recognizable weakness, and enviable wit.”
  • The coded playfully sexual dialogue is clever and masterful: “I would give you a good spanking—in a business way, of course.” “What would you do if you were my secretary?” “The same thing.” “You’re hired.” / “Where does a lady put her jewelry in a gentleman’s bedroom?” “Uh, on the night table.” “But I don’t want to be a lady.”
  • The dialogue is uttered in a sort of natural, smooth Mid-Atlantic chic cadence promulgated by Hollywood films to make them sound and feel more European. 
  • Unlike Hollywood films of the Hays code censorship era that followed 2 years later, the characters don’t have to be moral, prudish or pay a price at the end for crimes or transgressions; Marshall and Hopkins enjoy their sinful ways throughout the picture then conclude it by going on their merry way without any remorse or regret.
  • Unlike so many other romantic comedies that followed, including modern examples, it’s arguably not as predictable, cliché or conventional. Consider what Damon Houx of the DVD Journal wrote about this film: “It communicates a sense of chance that, had things gone a little different, the results might have changed. That may not sound like much, but too often in romantic comedies there are the obvious winners and losers — one only has to look at the aforementioned remake You've Got Mail for evidence of this. From frame one of that film it's obvious that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan will pair up. However, in Lubitsch's romantic triangle, one could see Gaston heading off with either woman.”
  • Also, this film feels retro-taboo, like an artifact of a bygone time that would have rocked the boat; plus, it’s languished in relative obscurity, waiting to be discovered by modern film fans who can appreciate lesser-known but quality films worthy of their attention.
WHAT OTHER FILMMAKERS DO YOU THINK WOULD HAVE BEEN INSPIRED BY LUBITSCH AND HIS APPROACH TO ROMANTIC COMEDY?
  • Subtly sexually suggestive comedies by Howard Hawks, such as Bringing up Baby and Ball of Fire
  • The naughty comedies of Preston Sturges, including The Lady Eve
  • The comedies of Billy Wilder, who wrote for Lubitsch
  • Double-entendre-laden films by Hitchcock, especially To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest
OTHER MOVIES THIS FILM REMINDS YOU OF
  • To Catch a Thief
  • The Grifters
  • Jewel Robbery 
  • A New Leaf
OTHER FILMS BY ERNST LUBITSCH
  • Design for Living
  • Ninotchka
  • The Shop Around the Corner
  • To Be or Not to Be
  • Heaven Can Wait

Read more...

Welcome to the land of Lubitsch

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On March 18, CineVerse will revisit its current monthly series, Sophisticated Screwballs: Masterful Romantic Comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age. Part 3 of our series will feature “Trouble in Paradise” (1932; 83 minutes), directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Plus: Enjoy a  video tribute to Lubitsch prior to the film.

Read more...

Give a hand to "The Help"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

It's not an easy tale to tell or a comfortable era to depict, but "The Help" confronts the issue of racism at the dawn of America's Civil Rights Movement by presenting compelling characters and intriguing situations that force viewers to ponder on race relations 50 years ago and the progress we've made. Our CineVerse group offered the following observations on this film:

WHAT DID YOU FIND SURPRISINGLY DIFFERENT ABOUT “THE HELP” THAT DEFIED YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
  • Although it’s somber and depressing at times, it’s arguably funnier and, at points, more lighthearted than one might anticipate for a film that addresses themes of racism, oppression and the Jim Crow South era.
  • It’s overwhelmingly a film focused on women, with few key male characters.
  • You can make a case that the white females are given more screen time than the black female characters, for better or worse.
  • This is an impressively cast movie that spotlights several key actresses and Hollywood talent.
  • It concludes on a somewhat sad note, with Abileen getting accused of stealing and fired.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN MESSAGES OF THIS FILM; WHAT IS “THE HELP” TRYING TO SAY OR TEACH US?
  • We need to learn from history and avoid repeating its mistakes. The film could be begging the question: Why do little white girls raised by caring black nannies grow up into bigoted adults?
  • One person can make a difference and help reverse the damage and passed-down traditions of racism: consider that Skeeter bucks the trend and tries to gather the stories of the African American maids and nannies in her hometown.
  • According to New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis, “the white characters, with their troubled relationships and unloved children, carry burdens equal to those of the black characters. Like the novel, the movie is about ironing out differences and letting go of the past and anger. It’s also about a vision of a divided America that while consistently insulting and sometimes even terrifying, is rarely grotesque, despite Hilly’s best (worst) segregationist efforts.”
CONSIDERING THE SUBJECT MATTER AND SETTING, THIS IS NOT AN EASY STORY TO TELL OR AN EASY FILM TO MAKE. WHAT COULD CRITICS OF THE BOOK OR THE MOVIE POINT OUT AS POSSIBLE FLAWS, WEAKNESSES, OR MISSED OPPORTUNITIES HERE?
  • Perhaps the movie emphasizes the white female characters and their challenges more than the black female characters and their trials and tribulations, which can have the effect of either diminishing the struggles of the latter or overvaluing the experiences of the former. Ask yourself: do you wish the film would have concentrated more on the two main black female characters to more effectively tell this story, or was it necessary to show more of the experience, attitudes and behaviors of the white female characters?
  • The blogger Cease and DaSista wrote an interesting piece that posited the following: “Offering forgiveness is not generally bad advice on its own, but what’s done in ‘The Help’, however, suggests that black people are morally obligated to love, accept, and in essence, cherish white people.” She later writes: “It gives the audience the message, ‘See? Things weren’t really that bad. There were just a few bad seeds who made it rough for blacks, but it’s really because they were hurting inside, not because they were racist. White people really did care about black people, and black folks loved taking care of those white babies.” The blogger further offered: “The Help attempts to dismantle some of these idealized tropes that run rampant in popular culture by showing what was actually lost and who gained from sustaining the image of Scarlett O’Hara and her Tara. What detracts from that noble goal are covert ways the movie eclipses historical white racism through the absence of white men, the blind innocence of white women, and the religious obligation of Black people to heal white people’s wounds and forgive.”
  • You could also argue that, by omitting any major white male characters, the movie does a disservice to history in that it downplays the undeniable presence of white male power at that time, especially in the South.
WHAT OTHER MOVIES COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING “THE HELP”?
  • The Long Walk Home
  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • Steel Magnolias
  • The Color Purple
  • Imitation of Life
  • Gone With the Wind
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
  • The Butler

Read more...

Come see what all the Oscar buzz was about

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Been waiting to watch "Birdman," recipient of this year's Academy Award for best picture? Your wait is over. Clear your calendar on Saturday, March 14 and count on attending Cinema Chat, the Oak Lawn Library's new monthly event that follows a film screening in the lower level theater with a lively movie discussion. This free, no-registration-necessary event runs from 1-4 p.m. For more details, click here.

Read more...

Ask for "Help" and ye shall receive

On March 11, make plans to join CineVerse for a screening and discussion of The Help (2011; 146 minutes), directed by Tate Taylor, chosen by Marce Demski.

Read more...

No CineVerse meeting on March 4

Sunday, March 1, 2015

CineVerse will not meet on Wednesday, March 4. Our film discussion group will reconvene on March 11 with "The Help." Hope to see you there.

Read more...

A slap in the "Faces"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ever watch a movie that deliberately tries to get under your skin and make you feel downright uncomfortable? It takes a filmmaker with a lot of guts (and ample gumption) to attempt such a feat, considering how unappealing such a picture would likely be commercially. "Faces," by John Cassavetes, could be a textbook example of this kind of film. While it didn't exactly garner a "thumbs-up" consensus from our CineVerse group, it did provoke some cogent analysis and discussion. Here are some of the conclusions we reached about "Faces":

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SURPRISING AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT “FACES” FOR 1968 AUDIENCES?
  • The story/plot is not conventional, like a three-act play: it begins suddenly with a 20-minute scene into which we’re thrust with three characters who aren’t properly introduced; it is after this prologue of sorts that the plot, if there is one, begins.
  • There is a frankness and freshness to the dialogue and situations; keep in mind that this period was a turning point in movies toward more candid sexuality, violence and adult situations. “Faces” gives us realistic conversations, settings and confrontations about real adult issues like having sex, cheating, divorce and more.
  • This is a film that deliberately tries to make you feel uncomfortable and exhausted: The volume is literally and figuratively amped up in this picture: we hear and see a lot of laughing, singing, screaming and emotional confrontation that would have been raw for viewers.
  • The film feels unscripted, improvisational and documentary-like in how the characters are introduced, how the tone and character’s words and actions can suddenly change, how the story unfolds, and how it is filmed (in cinema verite style, using grainy 16 mm black-and-white film, often with a handheld camera, as if we’re a fly on the wall in a very private setting). Yet, amazingly, none of the dialogue or plot was ad libbed: this was a carefully choreographed story with meticulously scripted words.
  • The film’s setups primarily employ tight close-ups: the value of this is that we literally focus on the “faces” of the characters and how they emote, act and react, and we are given an intimate if not smothering, too-close-for-comfort look at their personal business and uncomfortable secrets.
  • The overall vibe and tone of the film is pessimistic and dark, which is risky for filmmakers seeking to attract an audience; also, nothing is neatly resolved by the conclusion, and the characters don’t appear to have grown, matured or learned a lesson; perhaps the insinuation is that, despite the hopelessness of the situation and the world we live in, acknowledging our dissatisfaction and ennui is honest and therapeutic.
  • Cassavetes’ style with actors/characters is quite innovative and unique. Ponder what Slant Magazine writer Jeremiah Kipp wrote of this film: “Cassavetes's characters entertain each other as a way of fending off melancholy, which is why they're often singing, telling stupid jokes, mimicking other people's voices, screaming, giggling, always chattering away, and we get the sense they're terrified to stop because then they'd have to face up to the loneliness of their lives. If they weren't in a constant state of gasbag yammering, I think all of the characters in Faces would overdose on sleeping pills. What's more, for all their avoidance of saying anything of true significance in marathon-style scenes of drinking and sloppy conduct within the confines of their spacious homes (made claustrophobic by having a camera shoved into their pore-riddled faces), they seem aching to express something more, yet when they do, it comes out in all the wrong ways. "You're a whore!" or "I want a divorce!" are typical outbursts, conveyed by Cassavetes's actors through conflict-stretching improvisations.”
  • It’s a film split into two clear halves: we follow Dickie and Jeannie’s tryst primarily throughout the first half; the movie shifts to Maria and Chet’s dalliance; Dickie and Maria are paired up again at the conclusion.

THIS FILM IS CHOCK FULL OF THEMES AND MESSAGES. WHAT ARE SOME OF THEM?
  • We each wear a mask—a false face that we show to others, especially lovers/partners. Eventually, the masks must be removed and we see the real faces underneath, which can be ugly and shocking.
  • The awful despair and depths of a midlife crisis and middle-age conformity and how damaging it can be to a couple and to each individual.
  • Life is often chaotic, vapid, and meaningless
  • How petty and insensitive people will act when they feel threatened or vulnerable—especially men, who can verbalize some very negative messages when they feel emasculated, which other men would have felt at this time, the dawn of the women’s lib movement.
  • How taking a closer, privileged, inside look at the private lives of troubled individuals like these can you feel claustrophobic and disgusted as well as fascinated.
  • As reviewer Bill Gibron wrote: “Faces is about confrontation and openness, about living the life you’ve always imagined versus the situation you’re stuck in.”
  • Gibron also suggests that a major morale to the story is that nothing is quite as it appears to be. Consider that the film opens with a question; we see men sit down to watch a movie in a theater—the word “Faces” appears. Is the movie we’re watching the rest of the way the same movie they see? Is this a movie within a movie
  • The inability of couples to communicate, compromise, nurture and comprehend each other’s feelings
  • Betrayal and infidelity: we see two comparable yet opposite betrayals—Dickie is unfaithful to Maria, while Maria cheats on him later

STUART KLAWANS, IN HIS ESSAY FOR THE CRITERION COLLECTION, POSITS THAT THE FILM CONTAINS UNIQUE MOMENTS OF UNMASKING—SPECIAL TURNING POINTS THAT “STAND OUT FOR THEIR SUDDEN CHANGE IN TONE AND FOR THEIR MOTIVATION”. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES OF “UNMASKING”?
  • When Freddie grows jealous of Dickie, he unexpectedly and rudely asks Jeannie to name her price as a prostitute.
  • Suddenly, Dickie boils over bitterly and asks for a divorce after earlier laughing and bantering playfully.
  • One of Jeannie’s male customers without warning shouts out “What the hell do we care about two whores?”
  • Later, Chet suddenly says “I think we’re making fools of ourselves” following a drunken celebration.
  • Chet panics after Maria lies helpless on the floor after overdosing on sleeping pills.

DO ANY OTHER MOVIES COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING “FACES”?
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY JOHN CASSAVETES
  • Shadows
  • Husbands
  • Minnie and Moskowitz
  • A Woman Under the Influence
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
  • Gloria
  • Love Streams

Read more...

  © Blogger template Cumulus by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP