Friday, October 30, 2009

Casablanca improves as time goes by

Casablanca | dir. Michael Curtiz | rel. 1942

Film class is warming up. I'm still barely learning anything, other than some mildly interesting Hollywood gossip, but the quality of the films we watch have significantly improved.

After completely destroying the thirties for me in a matter of a few short weeks, my class delved into the forties. And boy, were things different. Great films, such as Gaslight and It's a Wonderful Life, entered my existence.

A perfect film, Casablanca, was rediscovered. I finally learned how to appreciate one of the most iconic classics of all-time.

I was thirteen when I first saw Casablanca. I thought it was decent, but I was barely paying attention. I was probably daydreaming throughout the entire film. I probably wouldn't have been able to summarize the plot for you back then if you asked.

There is just something about Casablanca. It just doesn't hit you that the film isn't really filmed in Casablanca. Or that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are far from the picture-perfect Hollywood movie couple. Or that the plot itself is somewhat outlandish and coincidental.

Casablanca is like a great Shakespeare play: things don't seem absolutely logical or perfect, but there are just some great moments that cements itself in your mind forever; all those little things create this amazing whole.

Casablanca is a truly timeless film. It's as simple as that.

World War II has been portrayed on film countless times since 1942, the year Casablanca was released. The setting of Casablanca, a place where refugees once passed by in hopes of obtaining visas to travel to America, is exotic, intriguing, mysterious, and foreign.

An audience also loves a sentimental, tragic hero. Always have, always will. We all have this instinct to side with the underdog, especially when the underdog is a glorious cinematic character. Bogart's Rick Blaine fits the description perfectly.

Add a beautiful woman, a long-lost Parisian romance, a bar full of intrigue, several sentimentalists, some great, boozy jazz music--and you have a complete marvel of a film.

If you think Casablanca is a cinematic atrocity and feel no reason to reconsider, I have nothing to say to you. If you don't remember Casablanca being a great film, I urge you to reconsider. If you have never seen Casablanca, I urge you to see it now.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Out of Bedford Falls, into modern day cynicism

I was eleven years old when I saw my first black and white film in its entirety. The film was It's a Wonderful Life. I was able to catch the annual NBC broadcast that year and I was fully blown away by Frank Capra's sentimental ode to the precious gift called life.

Even then, I somewhat related to James Stewart's underdog hero, George Bailey. I wanted to get the hell out of the suburbs--which may or may not be worse than the film's little piece of Americana, Bedford Falls--and seek greater things. Like most pre-teen girls, I wanted to be famous, important--anything but an ordinary person. At the same time, I couldn't shake off the connection I had for the suburbs. It was my home, a place that I was familiar with.

It's a Wonderful Life became a holiday "home" for me. Every time I watched it, I felt like I was revisiting a lovely old friend. Watching it in the middle of October was no different.

After enduring the ridiculous crappiness of Sergeant York and Boys Town in my BS high school film class, It's a Wonderful Life felt like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I don't care if I wasn't going to learn anything new, I was just grateful that I was going to watch a movie that I knew I was going to enjoy.

Being the cynic I am, I realize that it was completely ridiculous that Bedford Falls would be so different without George. I don't think that if George never married the sweetly radiant Mary (Donna Reed), she would become an old maid and librarian. I don't think Mrs. Bailey would turn into such a stern-faced lady either just because her darling son George doesn't exist.

But I understand Capra's point that every individual's life has the power to impact the world. It's fueled with the kind of optimism that modern audience, like myself, have to struggle to accept.

Then rolled in the happy ending: George's friends helps him raise the $8000 the villainous Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) stole; the Building and Loans can continue its hopeful existence. A bell rings and our favorite second-class angel, Clarence gets his wings. Merry Christmas to all.

It was my fifth viewing. I didn't think I was going to once again shed some tears.

I wonder if this kind of heartstrings-pulling, tearjerking optimism can ever work in a modern film. I'm not even sure if it quite works with a modern audience. My classmate told me he thought the ending of It's a Wonderful Life is silly and emotionally manipulative.

Critics and audiences complain that "happy endings" in modern films are cliched, sentimental, and trite. Modern romantic comedies with happy endings are often considered dumb and uncharming (and the truth is, many are). Serious filmmakers tend to avoid making those kind of films. Steven Spielberg attempted to revive the spirit of classic romantic comedies and underdog stories with The Terminal several years back. I think I was the only person who enjoyed it.

Is this generation so pessimistic to the point that we can rarely appreciate a winning hero and a losing villain? So how long will it be until amgiuous, unsatisfying endings become a tired fad in so-called "quality" films?

I understand that relentless originality is in demand. The era for Capra-esque films are long gone. But there are some people who still want to see a great film about the victorious underdogs or a couple who ends up together in the end of the film. I want to see another Forrest Gump (I know some people feel otherwise) or another When Harry Met Sally. I'm not asking for more silly, ditzy feel-good flicks, but I'm asking for the kind with a genuine heart at its core.

Happy endings don't have to be crap, if that makes any sense...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Film class blues

I haven't blogged here in quite a while. Maybe it's because I'm busy. Or maybe it's because I just haven't felt like blogging in a very long time. But I feel like venting a little, so bear with me here.

I just wanted everyone to know that the class entitled "Film of the 20th Century" at my school is useless. I would know this because it's part of my daily academic schedule. It is the most mind-numbing, ridiculous class I've ever taken.

We sit there and watch movies, but we never really discuss anything. We have tests about the actors in the movies and the scandals the actors were involved in. Of course, classic Hollywood scandals are fun to hear about, but they're not really beneficial in appreciating the art of film.

There is sort of this ongoing "joke" in that class, though. Well, I guess I'm the only person who finds it remotely hilarious.

Instead of watching actual Charlie Chaplin and James Dean movies, we watch movies based on their life. Although I'm not complaining--watching Robert Downey Jr. and James Franco play Chaplin and Dean, respectively wasn't too horrible; at least I wasn't watching Jennifer Love Hewitt play Audrey Hepburn--I think it would make more sense if we actually watched some Chaplin and Dean movies.

All we've done is watched this Chaplin short film and five minutes of East of Eden. Come on...

It's not really the "20th century," by the way. It's more like, "the 20th century starting from the 1930s." We've watched sentimental pieces of mush, such as Boys Town and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. We've watched the mildly amusing and funny My Man Godfrey. We watched a mediocre gangster flick, The Public Enemy. And we watched the fairly epic (for its time), King Kong.

Now we're in the 1940s, and we're in the middle of a fairly boring film called Sergeant York. At the end of this film, I'm supposed to think Gary Cooper is awesome, but I think High Noon would've been a better example of Cooper's acting abilities.

So how is everyone doing?