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Archive for July 14th, 2015

empire 4

empire of the sun

by Sam Juliano

Huna blentyn ar fy mynwes
Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon;
Breichiau mam sy’n dynn amdanat,
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron;
Ni cha’ dim amharu’th gyntun,
Ni wna undyn â thi gam;
Huna’n dawel, annwyl blentyn,
Huna’n fwyn ar fron dy fam.

-Verse #1, “Suo Gan”, Wales, circa 1800

The celebrated critic Andrew Sarris, who previously had little good to say about Steven Spielberg, reversed himself in a now famous assessment of 1987’s Empire of the Sun, which the scribe rapturously proclaimed the best film of the year:  “I was stirred and moved on a scale I had forgotten existed.  The film is a fusion of kinesthetic energy with literary sensibility, pulse-pounding adventure with exquisitely delicate sensitivity.”

This glorious epic of heroism and loss of innocence is my personal favorite of all Spielberg’s films and one of the greatest pictures of the 80′s.  I well remember going on a tangent back in those days, seeing the film over and over in theaters and securing permission from my district’s Board of Education for a school field trip for seventh graders. Christian Bale’s arresting performance may still be his finest ever, the use of the Welsh hymn ‘Suo Gan’ still brings goosebumps, and Allen Daviau’s breathtaking cinematography indelibly orchestrates Spielberg’s rapturous images. The film had to compete that same year -with John Boorman’s masterpiece Hope and Glory, which broached much of the same subject matter and same period, and it was bumped for the big nomination at Oscar time in favor of the Boorman’s work, though the National Board of Review handed over their Best Picture and Best Director prizes to the film and Spielberg.

Based on the autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun revolves around the early teenage years of  a young English boy named Jamie Graham, who is living in China with his wealthy parents in the privileged Shanghai International Settlement.  The father is a British diplomat, and the young boy is hopelessly spoiled and afflicted with an entitlement malady.  He even tells the family’s Chinese maid that she ‘must do as she is told’ after she initially objects to him eating cookies before bedtime in their lavish, sprawling home, which showcases manicured landscaping and an in ground swimming pool.  While the boy can’t be held to task by the implications of racism in his precocious declaration -his behavior is after all a product of the socially condescending era he was reared in – his parents apparently balk at studious intervention at all turns, no doubt because the servants are seen as lower class, and thereby subject to obedience.  Ballard, who was exceedingly pleased with the film -he made a cameo in the costume party segment- endured the events depicted in the film, which of course was based on his writing. (more…)

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