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Archive for September 2nd, 2015

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by Sam Juliano

I am leaving behind me fifty years of memory.  Memory…..Who shall say what is real and what is not?  Can I believe my friends all gone when their voices are a glory in my ears?  No.  And I will stand to say no and no again, for they remain a living truth within my mind.  There is no fence nor hedge around time that is gone.  You can say go back and have what you like of it…So I can close my eyes on my valley as it was…….-Huw Morgan

The legacy of John Ford’s coal-mining saga, How Green Was My Valley, based on Richard Llewelyn’s novel, is mired in a negative statistic in Oscar history.  It’s is always maligned as the film that beat out the most influential and celebrated film in the history of American cinema – Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane – for the Best Picture prize.  And as such, it is a film that seems to always get the short end of the stick from film historians and some classic films buffs.  Releasing a year after Ford’s masterful The Grapes of Wrath(1940) the film was looked on by skeptics as a glossy Hollywood tearjerker that disavowed important social and political issues in favor of melodrama.  A few modern critics have derided the film’s sentimental story, with one even calling it “a monstrous slurry of tears and coal dust.”  An esteemed colleague takes strong issue with what he calls “phony Welsh accents” and the film’s preponderance of tears.

By and large, though, these negative  opinions have been avalanched in true coal miner fashion by contemporary critics, film historians and audiences who now see How Green Was My Valley as a film about ‘disintegration of family’ and of a culture due in large measure to economic depression, that still evinces its ideological world view that boasts an indominability of the human spirit and a deep nostalgia for the past and of familial bonds and sibling love. (more…)

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second-wind-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Jean-Pierre Melville’s reputation has largely had to do with the brilliance of cinematography and overall design of his films as feeding into depictions of an underworld of remarkable panache. Looking at the general commentary this dazzlingly eccentric artist has elicited, we find considerable zeal for the paradox of resolved often homicidal law-breakers taking inspiration from a code of honor comprising sensuous poise as prominently rising above betraying fellow practitioners. In a film like Le Samourai (1967) that celebrated larger-than-mainstream-life surprise has been richly conveyed by the handsome solitude of a handsomely youthful Alain Delon in the title role. In the film (Le Deuxieme Souffle [1966]) confronting us here, however, those thrilling contrarian inspirations are refracted in such a way as to result in a disclosure far from the standard version.

Melville has assisted us in withholding vigorous celebration here by bringing forward a jail break episode at the outset that recalls Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956). In that earlier depiction we also had a daring duet (our trio soon becomes a duet) composed of a very young player and a decidedly less young partner. Whereas in the Bresson film, the escapees were involved in the anti-Nazi French underground (the elder especially committed to cogent law and order), in the Melville film the escapees were intent on increasing the crime rate. Moreover, and of special significance, whereas the elder statesman in A Man Escaped was well suited to the challenges of physical strength, agility and guile amidst the angular rooftops of the jail at night, the senior partner in crime of interest to us here is strikingly in physical and emotional distress and clumsy in his procedures (being lifted by the young man as he clings piteously to a roof’s edge). The spare, geometric forms amidst that latter murky and richly vertiginous scene of desperation do not fail to add a strange lustre to the event. But whereas in Bresson’s austere account of an accomplishment of heart the setting produces a quiet intensification of a hard and essential mystery within which the players cohere to dramatic plenitude, in Melville’s scrutiny the atmospheric beauties point up the less than sterling occasion. The latter two then run through woodland; and once again there is one painfully out-of-shape laggard who, on their converging upon a freight train has the damnedest time getting a bead on the open door of a boxcar and, when finally able to cling to it, has to be lifted to safety by the younger escapee. (more…)

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