Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Romances’ Category

humphrey bogart, claude rains, paul henried & ingrid bergman - casablanca 1943
By Marilyn Ferdinand

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Although director Michael Curtiz and the rest of the team involved with making Casablanca could not have known it at the time, this last line of dialogue from the film perfectly characterizes the love affair movie audiences have had with this quintessential World War II romance since it premiered on November 26, 1942, in New York’s Hollywood Theatre. During the war, audiences were hungry for news and stories about the war, and films like The Battle of Midway (1942) and Mrs. Miniver (1942) mixed with documentaries like The Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress (1944), frankly racist anti-Axis cartoons, and newsreels to keep the public informed and morale high; Casablanca was timed to appear about the same time as the Allied invasion of North Africa on November 8 and the presumed liberation of Casablanca itself. While other wartime films have lived on, none have generated the ardor fans feel for this story of “three little people” caught in a love triangle. What makes this film so compelling that it lands regularly among the top romances of all time?

Millions of words have been expended on this classic film, so it would be pointless of me to rehash what has been said better by others. What I will do is zero in on the subject of this countdown: romance. Casablanca is much more than just a boy-meets-girl kind of romance, and to show that, I’m going to have to go all schoolmarm on you. The birthplace of most of the philosophies that guide Western societies is Greece, and the Greeks had four terms for the main types of love human beings experience: agape, eros, philia, and storge. Agape means love in a spiritual or humanitarian sense, wanting the good of another. Eros, the most common love in Hollywood romances, is the passionate love of longing and desire. Philia is more general and can extend to family, friends, or activities. Finally, storge is natural love, as by a parent for a child; importantly, Greek texts also use this term for situations people must tolerate, as in “loving” a dictator. Casablanca activates each of these forms of love, giving audiences a quadruple whammy of loves so powerful that the film has become the stuff of legend, with well-remembered quotes that distill the essence of these forms of love. (more…)


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Brief Encounter 7

brief encounter 1

by Sam Juliano

A steady drizzle and overcast sky suffused the late morning hours of Saturday, 17, August, 2013, in the town of Carnforth, part of the northwestern county of Lancashire, England.  The gloomy weather is pretty much normal for that region and that time of year, but somehow it atmospherically accentuated the twenty or so mile trek we embarked on from our home base of Kendal in the county of Cumbria.  Our destination was a seemingly sedate and rustic train depot on the outer fringes of a parish populated by barely five-thousand, and geographically distinguished by hilly terrain and its close proximity to the sea.  The Carnforth Railway Station, which has a history dating back to the mid 1800’s was used as a waylay station for soldiers during both World Wars, and served as a junction on the London, Midland and Scottish railways.  It was refurbished in 1938, and subsequently entered the movie history books after it was chosen as the primary setting for one of the most famous films ever made – David Lean’s timeless classic of repressed emotion – Brief Encounter, which was filmed during the last stage of World War II in early 1945.  The location was chosen by film executives, because it was far enough away from major cities to avert blackouts which were common during the war years.  Said Lean: “the war was still on and the railway people said, ‘there may be an air raid at any moment, and you’ll have time to put out the lights in that remote part up in the north.  We’ll know when the planes are coming.’  We were a blaze of lights from filming.’  More recently renovations were completed to the Brief Encounter refreshment room (the tea room in the film) and the “Heritage Center” that are now places of pilgrimage for the film’s fans.

Upon entering the station proper, my tourist party -which included my wife Lucille, son Sammy, and site colleague Allan Fish and his maternal aunt and driver Ann Cafferkey – we were all taken with the imposing overhead platform clock,  a powerful icon in the film.  It did send shivers down my spine to contemplate that one of the greatest films of the British cinema, and surely one of the two or three most celebrated screen romances was filmed around that very spot.  A further investigation of the station unveiled a Brief Encounter souvenir shop, the beautifully restored former tea room, where much of the film’s drama was staged, and lovingly adorned open-ended screening room that offers up a continual showing of the film from start to end and them over and over for the duration of the station’s hours of operation. Alas it was here, while sitting down with Sammy while the others engaged in another room that featured an elaborate miniature train –Brief Encounter epitomizes David Lean’s lifelong fascination with and affection for trains-  and other film memorabilia, that I nodded out after a sleepless night into a dream world of David Lean’s poetic masterpiece, one that commenced over seven decades ago…..  (drifts into sleep) (more…)

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by Maurizio Roca

What is it about a dream? Half remembered, maddeningly elliptical, hazy in its details. Snippets of information that one must process slowly as memories are recalled suddenly…sometimes never. Vertigo, for all its attributes, is best approached this way at first. It is a part of Hitchcock, but also separate, holding a certain position in his filmography that can feel isolated and distinctive. It’s not just out to entertain us, but to probe something mysterious and elusive within—a personal exploration through obsession that feels repressed, almost necessarily so by its author. When reality becomes too hard to face…maybe only a dream will do.

What is it about the wordless segment of Scottie tailing Madeleine throughout San Francisco that sinuates deeply into the viewer’s equilibrium? The aura that is permeated from Bernard Hermann’s exceptional score as we journey through a flower shop, then a church, followed by a graveyard, next to a museum, and finally into the McKittrick’s Hotel where eleven minutes of silence are suddenly breached. A conversation with a front desk clerk seemingly designed to arouse us from a blissful slumber back to the waking world.

What is it about the way Hitchcock methodically transforms the film from a mystery to a haunting look at infatuation? Making the likable Scottie slowly reveal a tortured preoccupation with control and sexual fantasy previously hidden. As his façade of normalcy gets stripped clean, we are witness to some endemic perversions he cannot conceal. Increasingly he falls deeper and deeper into his own personal abyss…a ghastly nightmare he cannot wake up from. (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe

“This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time. […] For wherever the sun rises and sets … in the city’s turmoil and under the open sky on the farm … life is much the same: sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.”

Dubbing F.W. Murnau’s 1927 silent opus, Sunrise, a “song” is an understatement. It is a grand aria of the human condition, with a distinct lyricism that is reflected in practically every aspect of the film’s production, from the performances to the German expressionist-inspired staging to the work of the camera itself. Sunrise is an elaborate, orchestrated dance that shows us what it is to love and to be loved, to be strong and frail and conflicted and certain all at the same time–to be human, with all that it means. The anonymous characters and undefined location lend an air of universality to the movie; as the title card excerpted above indicates, Sunrise could ostensibly be about any people, anywhere in the world. (more…)

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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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by Ed Howard

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the most moving and heartbreaking love stories in the cinema, an absolutely stunning musical masterpiece that sets its bright, colorful visual palette and sweet, soaring music against an increasingly bittersweet emotional range. Divided into three parts — departure, absence, and return — Jacques Demy’s sublime musical is the story of a love affair haunted by the separation of war. Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) is a young girl madly in love with the mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), but their sweet, innocent affair is torn apart when Guy is called up into the army, sent to Algeria for two years. As in so many French films of this era, Algeria looms large, a tear in the fabric of life, an absence that’s felt at home in the missing young men, the years of longing and waiting.

The film is an interesting type of musical in which every single line is sung, but it rarely feels like there’s a proper song: instead, all of the dialogue is more-or-less naturalistic speech that’s simply sung instead of spoken. Even the most banal lines, like Guy’s interactions with customers and his boss at the gas station where he works, are liltingly timed to Michel Legrand’s alternately jazzy and romantic music. This style can be somewhat distracting and artificial at first but it quickly comes to seem as natural as if the characters were simply speaking. By setting everything to song, it never seems as if the music is interrupting the diegesis, cutting off the naturalistic flow of life with a musical number. Rather, life itself, with all its joys and tragedies, its banal incidents, its great loves and great sadnesses, has been transformed into one big musical number, a 90-minute musical number that encompasses both the innocent sweetness of young love and the much more complex, melancholy, mysterious loves and losses that build up over the course of the years. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The following is the transcript of an interview held on August 12, 2013 with the last surviving lead performer of the 1939 Hollywood landmark ‘Gone with the Wind.”  Olivia de Havilland, who lives alone in the U.K., decided to grant a rare interview in deference to her continuing interest in WitD’s Romantic Films Countdown.  Ms. de Havilland was 97 years old at the time, but sprite to a fault.

SJ:  Ms. de Havilland, I want to thank you so much for allowing this interview, especially as I know you need your rest, and rarely grant one-on-ones anymore.

OD:  Well, Mr. Sam, I am pleased to be of some assistance.  Your site’s Greatest Romantic Countdown has attracted my interest, and it is one of the places I have been visiting during my limited on line sessions.  I have been mightily impressed with many of the reviews by a bevy of writers.  You people have really taken this project seriously, and should be proud of what you have accomplished.  I read somewhere that a man named John Grant suggested that you seek a publisher for the whole lot.  I must say I heartily agree with the bloke.  And please call me Olivia young man.

SJ:  Thanks for the compliment Olivia, but I am not so young anymore.  I think Mr. Grant came up with a very good suggestion there, and I will certainly be looking into it.

OD:  Before we go on could I order you any refreshments?  There’s a good fish n chips shop two blocks to the south, and they deliver.

SJ:  Thanks so much Olivia, but I did have something about an hour ago.  I’m good.  I was told you lived in Paris since 1960, but I was told by a reliable source you moved to London eight years ago.

OD:  That’s right Mr. Sam.  I was being heckled by the paparazzi.  They always want to exploit my non-relationship with my sister Joan, and frankly it is none of their business.  A friend helped me to secretly make passage from Paris to London using a disguise and a fake passport.  Only my daughter Giselle and a few very close friends know I am here, and one was your contact.  (editor’s note: Joan Fontaine passed away four months later in December of 2013 at the age of 96)

SJ:  Absolutely Olivia.  I can’t say that I blame you at all.   I guess you know what film I am here to talk about then, right? (more…)

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By Stephen Mullen

There is a strange irony to love stories. To be stories, something has to change – and so it seems if you want the film to end with lovers together, happily ever after, they have to spend the bulk of the film apart. Enemies, even. And on the other side – if you show the lovers together, show their happiness in the film, the story demands that something changes – they have to be parted. And so the irony – the most powerful depictions of love and desire in films are often in the doomed love affairs, while in films with happy endings, lovers spend the whole show fighting – a merry war perhaps – but war, any any case… Tragedies and romantic comedies – Romeo and Juliet; and Much Ado About Nothing – the models for so many love stories, in their broad shape at least. Blissful lovers parted; bickering enemies united.

But that offers a challenge to a clever storyteller – how do you show people in love and still have a happy ending? How do you honor the conventions of romantic comedy (about what keeps people who belong together apart), while showing them actually in love? I suppose there are as many ways to do this as there are romantic comedies – mistaken identities, amnesia, class expectations, the comedy of remarriage – or – this one. What if the lovers are pen pals? what if they have never met, but have fallen in love with one another in words, two lonely, clever people stuck in their hard lives in the big city – who find they have a bond? What about that? And then – they meet in the real world – and take a dislike to one another – and – then you’ll have a story! You’ll have a story where they are in love with one another from the start, and enemies from the start; they can be as romantic as they want; they can bicker and fight and put each other down to their heart’s content. (And cleverly – well enough they start to be impressed with their mutual nastiness.) Yes – then, you just have to play it out, the revelations, the consequences of lies and truths and self-deception – until, of course, it all comes together. (more…)

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by Mike Norton

In early twentieth century Vienna, a washed up concert pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jordan), emerges from the rain soaked streets into his apartment, after confirming a duel the next morning that would undoubtedly end in his death, to find a letter waiting for him. The first lines of the letter, read in voiceover by Joan Fontaine, state simply and grimly- “By the time you read this letter, I may already be dead”. Fontaine plays the titular woman sending the letter, Lisa, and her narration sets in motion the main plot of the film, told in flashback from Lisa’s point of view. What follows is an epic melodrama bursting at the seams with emotion, expressed evocatively by director Max Ophüls’ camera poetry and the complex screenplay from Howard Koch, based off the novella of the same name written by Stefan Zweig. It is one of the most acutely and devastatingly felt American romantic films of all time.

We first meet Lisa as a teenager in Vienna when a dashing new tenant moves into her apartment complex. It’s Stefan Brand, a successful and talented concert pianist, and Lisa quickly becomes entranced by the man, despite never coming into direct contact with him. She listens yearningly to his playing of the piano, which she describes in her voice over as the “happiest hours of my life”. If melodrama is a genre based on bottled up emotion, than Lisa represents the perfect melodrama heroine. Her passion for Stefan starts off innocently enough, but when her family moves to Lintz and sets her up to marry a sweet, if dull, Army Lieutenant, she flees back to Vienna to be with the man who she truly loves, even if he still doesn’t know she exists. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Ridgefield Park Rialto closed its doors on June 13, 2008.  This local institution was the last single screen theater in Bergen County, New Jersey, and the only one in that domain that had shown art house movies.  Opening in 1927 as a vaudeville showcase, it was soon enough transformed to a movie house in the late 30’s, and was purchased in the 70’s by a single owner.  That same person held ownership with his daughter all the way to the final days, showing mainstream fare until the mid 90’s, then catering to the Indian community for Bollywood features until 2001 when the schedule was comprised exclusively of foreign language and independent films.  The experiment yielded mixed results, though there were times when the 600 seat auditorium sold out, if the film was an appealing one.  The inevitable cessation of operations signified the end of an era, and left bewildered customers waxing lyrical about their own personal stories related to their attendance at the venerable institution.  The common lamentations were along the line that larger multiplexes had made it financially incompatible for the smaller operators to earn their keep, and equipment had become antiquated.  In any case the closing of the theater was an emotional time for workers and customers, and it had some regulars scurrying for souvenirs that included posters, marquee letters and actual seats that were unscrewed from the floor by employees.  Any token, big or small would provide some tangible physical evidence well into the future of   a place that helped formulate dreams and escape, a movie house mecca that in the end that left a more lasting impression than even the splendid product it served up to the public. (more…)

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