Archive for September 14th, 2015

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Patricia Perry

At the age of 12, I first pulled down a copy of Betty Smith’s beloved novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from a school library shelf.  Like many a sensitive young reader had done, before and since that day, I fell in love with Smith’s poignantly detailed account of tenement life as experienced by one struggling family, and claimed its central character, Francie Nolan, as a literary soulmate.

Seventy-two years after its initial publication, Smith’s semi-autobiographical work remains cherished and widely read, routinely included in lists of great American novels and “Books to Read Before You Die.” And the opening credits of this 1945 adaptation clue us into its literary pedigree right away: the name “Betty Smith” entirely fills the first title card, before we ever see the words “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

The film’s other claim to fame is that it was director Elia Kazan’s first feature-length film, and it is an impressive debut. In its honest, unsentimental depiction of the Nolans’ struggles, we can see the first seeds of the socially conscious filmmaking that Kazan would come to be known for.

Francie Nolan, a character created from Smith’s own experiences growing up in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, is a sensitive, starry-eyed bookworm – the type of child who presses a favorite book to her chest while sighing in ecstasy or makes impassioned, teary-eyed declarations in the classroom that confound her exasperated, overworked teachers.  She deeply loves her charming alcoholic father, Johnny, responding to his flights of imaginative fancy and his gregarious personality with wholehearted affection. Still a child, she cannot yet grasp the toll her father’s drinking and unreliable employment have taken on his marriage and the family’s finances.  Late in the film, after her father falls ill and dies while looking for work, Francie sobs out loud to God that “no one else loved him like I did,”  which is both true and untrue.  Francie’s love for her father is idealized and untainted by disappointment, while her mother’s deep love of her husband is complicated by her resentment at being the family’s breadwinner and ‘granite rock.’ (Both Johnny and his wife, Katie, want their ‘nice kids’ to have opportunities and do well in life, but only Katie is clear-eyed and realistic about their chances.) (more…)

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goodnight mommy

Capture from taut Austrian horror film “Goodnight Mommy”

by Sam Juliano

As we approach the mid-way point of September, we are still mired in oppressive heat, though some rain in the metropolitan area has managed to cool things off a bit on Sunday.  Still, temperatures in the mid 80’s are predicted for the coming days.  While summer refuses to relent, other ninth month habits are unfolding: the baseball season moves closer to the playoffs, the NFL season has begun, the movie season is starting to heat up and various film and book festivals that annually stage at this time are close to launching.  As always we will be heading down to Princeton and across to Brooklyn for the children’s book Festival in a few weeks, and I hope to see something at the New York Film Festival.

The past week at Wonders in the Dark yielded some of the very best reviews in the on-going Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown.  Kudos to Lee Price, Brian E. Wilson, Aaron West and Stephen Mullen for their brilliant writing.  I also would like to extend my deepest thanks to the site readership who provided a barrage of glowing comments and page views under my review of Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea.  The piece was as dear to my heart as anything else I have ever written at this site in over seven years, and I was moved by the extraordinary response.  The countdown has suddenly come alive in a very big way over the last two weeks, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Lucille and I saw two films in theaters this past week, and interesting enough both were in the horror genre.  I also completed the marathon Shakespearean series AGE OF KINGS, and hope to offer up a detailed round-up soon.  The series winds up with a five-star rating.  I also saw a few other films, two of which are directly connected to the countdown. (more…)

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