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Archive for the ‘author Jon Warner’ Category

Street3

”Everywhere….in every town….in every street….we pass, unknowing, human souls made great through love and adversity.”

 

One of Allan’s greatest gifts was sharing his passion for films long forgotten or never fully appreciated. In keeping with that theme, my review highlights a film never before posted to this site. Certainly not made for cynical audiences, Borzage represents a style of filmmaking that has mostly fallen out of favor. Here we have a director who pulls together themes of love and hardship, complete with expressive use of atmosphere: streets, apartments, rooftops filmed with scintillating panache. Then, throw all this together with heavy doses of melodramatic plot twists that are simply too crazy to believe. Melodrama, in the hands of Sirk or Fassbinder, tends to be something that modern audiences have welcomed. Their use of color and symbolism adds a layer of subversive commentary that Borzage lacks. But, Borzage excels at a certain kind of irony-free, old-fashioned story-telling that to my mind is worth championing for its propellant emotional energy.

 

Street2

Although 7th Heaven gets most of the attention, and Lucky Star is a hidden gem, Street Angel is my favorite Borzage film and is a romantic masterpiece of the highest order, provided you’re willing to suspend disbelief. It is the story of Angela (Janet Gaynor), who in need of some money to purchase medicine for her mother, attempts to prostitute herself on the street. She winds up getting arrested for robbery and sentenced to a year in a work house. She runs off before being imprisoned, escaping to find her mother dead at home. She avoids the cops and runs off to join the circus, where she meets a painter named Gino. They strike up an awkward friendship but soon bond and fall in love. Their blossoming love and impending marriage is threatened when the police find her again. She is taken to prison while Gino is unaware. He thinks she is lost forever, and things get really interesting when she is released from prison a year later. (more…)

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boyhood (1)

by Jon Warner

When I recall my childhood, there is a remembrance of a certain feeling I used to have as a kid. I used to feel like the years dragged on and on and never seemed to end. Christmas never came soon enough. Birthdays took too long to come around again. Summer dragged on in a stream of endless days. Boredom often creeped in and time seemed to go so slowly that I couldn’t stand it. I’m not sure if that’s a common feeling that many of us had as children, but it’s certainly something that came to my mind often. There was something that always made me feel like I wished adulthood would come soon. But it seemed so far away. Flash forward to my current existence at the age of 35. Months seem to flash by in the blink of an eye. There is never enough time to do everything I need to accomplish or want to accomplish. It seemed we were just getting our two girls to be potty-trained and now BOTH of them will be getting on the bus in September. It’s getting so I can hardly remember how my girls behaved and acted when they were younger. At some point in time, our lives go from dragging on slowly, to flashing in front of us so quickly that we can hardly keep up. I can’t pinpoint when that changed for me, but it certainly has and I have no doubt it may be many years again before time slows if it ever will.

Some might focus on the fact that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a story of a young boy and his growth from small child to young manhood. With my current perspective as parent, more so than child, the film plays more for me as an example of just how quickly time passes, how fleeting our family units can be, how so much of life becomes a blur, and especially from the parental perspective: how quickly our children grow up. In this way, it simply, but devastatingly examines  childhood as if we are loving relatives, guardians or parents, viewing the story of Mason Evans through our own lens, wherever we may be on that spectrum. For me it’s clear that Linklater, who was the father of his 8 year-old daughter Lorelei whom he cast in this film in 2002, was influenced by his own childhood, but also by his own sense of parenting a child. For many parents, every year that passes can be marked most often by things their children are doing. Boyhood can be viewed in nearly the same way and is the mode of reflection that resonates most with me. (more…)

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shane1

by Jon Warner

Note:  This is a slight revision of Jon Warner’s western countdown review of the film posted last summer at WitD.  It is unquestionably one of the author’s grandest essays and is again offered up here to readers.

There are westerns with greater size and scope (The Searchers). There are westerns that are more taut and suspenseful (High Noon). There are westerns that are more pure (Seven Men From Now) and filled with more psychological depth (The Naked Spur). But there is no other western that is as emotionally resonant as Shane. Weaving throughout its running time is a point of view of a young boy, perhaps not so dissimilar from young boys over the last 150 years or so, brought up first on dime novels and cheap western stories and then eventually silent films and the boom of Hollywood cinema, pushing a brand of western and selling a mythology that continued to further the daydreams of millions of youth across this nation. I too fall into that group. I can remember playing in the backyard with my brother when we were kids growing up in the 80’s. Inevitably we would end up playing cowboys and Indians or some sort of old west themed adventure, utilizing things we’d picked up in movies, tv, and books in order to build a repertoire of dialogue and action, that in our minds resembled some sort of reality, when in fact we were recalling a western mythology, and even though this mythology has basis in reality, it became larger than life through stories and lore that were told and retold generation upon generation. Shane is in fact a film about the mythology itself, taking an examination of our western hero worship and adding incredibly rich layers of emotion which remain remarkably effective in their ability to maintain an honest sweep, unchallenged by any other film in the genre, with everything seemingly put together to achieve a definitive emotional arc.

Taking Jack Shaeffer’s novel “Shane” from 1949 and improving it for the screen, was director George Stevens and screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. The plot actually resembles stories of chivalrous knights in shining armor, roaming the countryside in search of people in need of help. Shane begins at this sort of moment, as a lone gunfighter rides down from the mountains into a valley, where a young boy named Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde) is watching him from his family’s farm. Shane meets Joey, and his parents, Joe (Van Heflin) and Marian (Jean Arthur), but before he can be properly welcomed, Joe mistakes him for being part of the Ryker gang, a group of bullies who happen to arrive to Joe’s claim moments later. They charge that the Starret’s land belongs to them. Joe nearly runs Shane off his land. But, Shane senses trouble, hanging around the back of the house as the Rykers catch a glimpse of the mysterious stranger and ride off. Joe realizes his mistake and invites Shane to stay for dinner, and soon asks Shane to stay on as hired help. From the word go, young Joey and Marian are in love with Shane: Joey, idolizing his gun and mannerisms and Marian showing off for Shane, bringing out her fanciest china for dessert and enlivening her femininity. It’s not long before Shane becomes a family favorite and entrenched in the local atmosphere, trading in his white buckskin and gun for farm clothes. This attempt at normalcy for him is continually threatened, as the Rykers to try to push Joe and all the other homesteaders off the land, finally resorting to hiring a cold-blooded gunman out of Cheyenne named Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) to do the dirty work. As one character remarks, “That’s the trouble with this country. There isn’t a lawman for 100 miles.” Joe is soon prodded to come to town one night to meet with Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), but Shane realizes this is a suicide mission for Joe and comes to grips with the fact that he’s the only one equipped to save the Starretts and the other families in the valley, strapping on his gun and white buckskin, heading into town for a final showdown with Wilson and the Rykers. (more…)

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Beast2

By Jon Warner

 

Few films brim with the kind of cinematic magic as Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete. For it’s entire 93 minutes, Cocteau implores us to view the proceedings with childlike wonder and suspension of disbelief. His call to order in the prologue asks us to indeed suspend our disbelief, but even more than that, it’s a request to hearken to our recollection of fairy tales as children and to adopt that sense of respect for the significance of imagination. As children our first encounters with the concept of “falling in love” involve fairy tales, and stories of princesses and princes. These archetypal stories create a larger than life sense of grandeur and most often, unrealistic portrayals of true love. Still, our early lives can be shaped in this way. I’m often reminded of this when I watch films like The Little Mermaid or Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with my daughters. Cocteau asks us to adopt this sensitivity when watching his film. Therefore, Belle’s compassion is unquestioned and The Beast’s good heart shines through and we know things will work out in the end. This is no knock on the film. For although La Belle et la Bete is a fairy tale with some predictability, the elements are plenty dark and sinister enough to lend themselves well to the sense of imagination and surrealism that Cocteau brought to his cinema. Thus, the sense of childlike wonder we adopt while watching it is coupled with our adult awareness of sensuality, carnality, and ambiguity, giving the film just enough of a subversive angle to mess with our heads.

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cap244

By Jon Warner

 

Back in college I got a film recommendation from a very dear friend of mine. She talked admiringly about a film that she said was basically, “two people talking and walking around the whole movie”. Before Sunrise is that…..and oh so much more. I think back on that initial viewing and recall the freshness and genuineness that the film spoke to. It was a film that held me in its romantic grip like very few films ever have. Throughout the last 20 years, this work and it’s sequels have come to gather additional weight and impact with the passing of time. As the real-time examination of a long-term bond between two people has played out, The Before Trilogy is one of the most significant film achievements of its time. In many ways, I admire each film of the trilogy for different reasons. I have passed on a love for these films to others…..my sister loves them and my wife adores them as well. In fact, both my wife and I have seen the last 2 films in theaters together, and have continually held each of these films dearly to us. If pressed into a decision, I must say that the original, Before Sunrise, is my favorite and can stand alone all by itself. It is a fully self-contained work that doesn’t necessarily need the other two films for immediate impact. Additional resonances are and insights are to be found when discussing the trilogy, but this review will focus specifically on Before Sunrise alone.

 

Before Sunrise is a film about talking and listening, of profound discussions of life, death, and love, and a relationship that is born, blossoms, and within the context of this film alone……closes within 24 hours. We’re introduced to Celine (Julie Delpy), a Parisian, on a train in Europe. She is reading a book in her seat, but is bothered by the arguing couple next to her. She picks up her stuff and moves to the back of the car and sits down on the seat across from a guy named Jesse (Ethan Hawke). He and she notice each other. He strikes up a conversation with her. This conversation will last for something like the next 24 hours. They flirt and make small talk. Then, suddenly, he convinces her to get off the train with him in Vienna where he needs to catch a flight back home, instead of her continuing on to Paris, which is her final destination. They both realize the next day they will part ways, but in between they take a spontaneous chance to see what happens. They spend the entire day, night, and next morning talking, listening, and falling in love. When he asks her to go with him to Vienna, there is no risk to him. He’s got nothing to lose. Celine’s acceptance of the improvised moment, to leave the train with Jesse, is her leap of faith to accept his trust without question. Their timid and awkward first moments after getting off the train soon lead to letting their guards down, to sharing their inner beliefs and dreams, leading to undeniably romantic passages of the film as they realize they might be each other’s soul mates. Linklater’s technique doesn’t artificially trump-up the romance or create a voyeuristic sense of preoccupation for the audience. These two are awkward with each other and don’t always have the right answers. But we feel that Celine and Jesse earn each other’s trust because they are generally interested in each other as equals. This is all done through patience and observing human nature as it unfolds: jokes to break the ice, tentatively giving complements to the other, being respectful of the situation and not taking advantage of the other. (more…)

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My Darling Chico,

You have been away from me for nearly 2 years now at war. I simply can’t believe you’ve been away that long. It’s also been so long since I’ve heard from you. I miss you so much. We parted on our wedding day and I relive those last moments together as if they exist outside of time. I wonder how you are and pray to God that you will return home soon. I long for you to hold me in your arms. So many moments of our short life together come flooding back to me. I woke up on the street that day to you holding a violet over my face to wake me up. Words can’t express how much I wanted you to take me in your arms and carry me away to safety. I had hardly met you but quickly I knew you were something special. You so selflessly gave of yourself to me, saving my life, when even I didn’t think it worth saving. Claiming me as your wife to keep me from going to jail….. I could tell you had a good heart right from the start and I knew we were meant to be.

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By Jon Warner

Is there a romance that is as cute as this one? I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I think this film is immensely delightful. It’s unabashedly sentimental and romantic, yet the earnestness of the filmmaking propels it onward and upward. It’s also one of cinema’s great romance films, and one of its most unsung. Romance films can be accused of being too manipulative, sentimental, and slight and when done poorly. True they can be. However when done right, there is an intelligence, a wit, and a keen perception of our humanity on display. I think of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, or even Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The two stars of Lonesome, Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon, don’t have nearly the same cachet as other classic on-screen pairings, but they sure give it the old college try in this lively and charming, late silent film masterpiece. Until Criterion’s release a few years ago, this film had little exposure. It sure deserves it’s high ranking on this countdown, and in my personal opinion, ranks right up there with the best of them. (more…)

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