by D. H. Schleicher
The singer in the opening of Charles Laughton’s 1955 classic The Night of the Hunter invites viewers to dream along with its young protagonist, John Harper (Billy Chapin), but what transpires in the film is a pure nightmare where religious fanaticism begs us to treat everyone like children and envision a world where everyone is fair game for evil. He’s just a poor kid whose dad was just hung for murder (but not before entrusting his son to hide his stash of money), whose mother (Shelly Winters) is helpless, and whose little sister, Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), needs minding. Into his life steps the world’s most vile step-father, Harry Powell (the magnificently monstrous Robert Mitchum) – a widow-killer and money-hungry would-be preacher who wows the simpletons of the small towns he invades with his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric. But John is on to him from the get-go (he knows this jack-ass just wants the cash), and John rails against the man and his worldview.
Woman are grotesquely marginalized by the faith-based worldview of the characters in The Night of the Hunter as well as by the time period in which the story takes place (1930’s West Virginia). Ordered to suppress their desires and obey their men, they are treated like children and called stupid and foolish, slapped around, and murdered…the slitting of Willa Harper’s throat depicted in horrifically stylized expressionistic shots, some of the most menacing mise-en-scene in the history of cinema – culminating with the famous “hair in the tangled deep water reeds” scene of her desecrated body “at rest” in the bottom of the river. Teenage girls are even stupider, and worth only their wombs that shoot out bastard children whom the righteous (be it in the form of evil Harry Powell or goody-goody Rachel Cooper) then must watch over. Meanwhile, the littlest of girls, Pearl, is just (in the words of Powell) “a miserable little wretch,” depicted without the brains to discern bad men from good (if this is innocence, then innocence must be lost!)
After his mother’s murder, John absconds with Pearl down the river in a skiff in a Grimm’s fairy-tail journey – not a single authentic shot to be found – all hyper-realized imaginings of children on the run for their lives. It’s creepy and atmospheric, and the water of the river seems to be flowing both ways in just another example of the film’s overt symbolism and weirdness that creates the greatest of unease. But John is vigilant – and always keeps a step ahead of Harry Powell. Continue Reading »
Posted in David Schleicher's Movie Reviews, Genre Countdown: Childhood Films | Leave a Comment »
by Sachin Gandhi
A balloon floating up in the sky still manages to catch everyone’s attention! Some will express sadness at seeing the balloon floating away, at the thought that there is a child nearby who is crying at seeing their precious balloon fly away. Despite all the technological advancements and flashing gadgets we have in society, a balloon is still an essential part of a child’s life. No birthday party would be complete without the presence of balloons. In fact, balloons complete a birthday party. This love of balloons would have made Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon an easy film to be included in a childhood countdown. However, the film is present on merit in the Wonders in the Dark Childhood Countdown because it is more than just about a balloon. In its short running time of 35 minutes, The Red Balloon encapsulates all of life, including all emotions associated with a child’s growth from an early age to that of a teenager. More importantly, the film’s style, without dialogue, and story make this a timeless work that is also the purest form of cinema. The film is a beautiful blend of documentary, art and commercial cinema. In addition, the template for many contemporary films, including Hollywood animation movies, can be traced all the way back to Lamorisse’s beautifully conceived short film.
The Red Balloon starts off with young Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse, the director’s son) finding a balloon tied up to a street lamp. Once he climbs up and gets the balloon, Pascal doesn’t let go and holds the string tightly, just like any child would. He goes everywhere with the balloon even opting to walk all the way to school as his balloon is not allowed on the streetcar. When he returns home, the caretaker is not happy with the balloon’s presence and goes to the balcony and releases it into the air. The balloon being sent into the air would be a child’s worst nightmare; the crushing feeling of seeing their cherished balloon disappearing. As it turns out, the balloon hovers outside the balcony, waiting for Pascal. It doesn’t take long for Pascal to figure out that the balloon can move up and down, follow him around and even obey, much like a trained pet would. This increases Pascal’s attachment with the balloon beyond the initial discovery of a toy. The balloon now becomes Pascal’s trusted companion, his only true friend, one with whom he passes his time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for other boys to be jealous of Pascal’s possession and they try their best to take the balloon away. When their initial efforts fail, they mount an ambush, overpower Pascal and crush the balloon. The death of the balloon sets off a magical element around Paris, as balloons of all colours and sizes free themselves from their owners clutches and gather to mourn the death of the red balloon. Pascal is excited to see all these balloons and grabs as many strings as he can. The balloons then fly off with Pascal, far away into the horizon, likely to a magical place, free of bullies and evil kids. Continue Reading »
Posted in Genre Countdown: Childhood Films, Sachin Gandhi's movie reviews | 9 Comments »
by Sam Juliano
Autumn has been knocking at the door and the person inside has finally responded. Mind you there is still some resistance, what with a few more days in the 70s promised for this coming week. But chilly temperatures, rain and rawness were all evident over the past weekend. Most of us are thoroughly delighted with the change, and know now some wonderfully culturally related events and releases are upcoming. Baseball and football fans are in their glory, and though my beloved New York Yankees practically backed into the playoffs with a terrible final run, I know well anything can happen now. Area fans are no doubt thrilled the Giants evened their record at 2-2 with a win over the Buffalo Bills, and the Jets are now 3-1 with a win over the Miami Dolphins in England. The New York Film Festival is underway and this coming week my kids will be attended Comic Con at the Javits Center, in what has now become an annual endeavor. Nice seeing Halloween decorations and the horror film madness that frames this time of the year too.
Alas, our long running Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown is winding down to the finish line, as we have begun the Top 10 with this past week’s reviews of Au Revoir Les Enfants and The Last Picture Show. The countdown will run this entire week and then three days next week, with the Number 1 post set to publish on Wednesday. After a lag in the middle stages the countdown has come back with a vengeance by way of comments and page views. I want to thank everyone for the barrage of comments under my own review of The Last Picture Show, which may well be my personal favorite film of all-time. Soon I want to offer up a desert island post to include all the films ever made.
Jim Clark continues with his tremendous work every other week on Wednesdays -this past week it was Roman Polanski’s Repulsion – and two very hot posts by Allan Fish, one on Steven Spielberg and the other on his upcoming book has attracted amazing response, especially the former with a whopping 111 comments to date. The site has certainly been making quite a comeback. My Caldecott Contender series will be starting soon, but it will run normally, not like last year’s torrid pace.
On a raw and drizzly Saturday afternoon the annual Chappaqua Book Festival was held inside the Bell School in Downtown Chappaqua, New York, the hometown of Hillary and Bill Clinton in scenic Westchester County. I was thrilled beyond words to meet my dear friend Barbara McClintock for the first time, and also great friends Sergio Ruzzier, Carin Berger and Jerry Pinkey. So many great authors, illustrators and books in a a premium setting. The entire family was aboard, and we were met by our WitD site friend Bob Clark. Thrilled as always to meet the lovely friend Lizzy Rockwell, a trouper of all festivals. Continue Reading »
Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »