Fantasia – Magic

Thoughts On: Fantasia

An experimental combination of music, abstract animation, spectacle and fantastical story telling.

Fantasia

Artistically, I think it’s safe to say that this is Disney’s greatest film. In short, this film is insane in so many ways, it’s utterly mesmerising, dumbfounding, awe inspiring, and a plethora of other things. I never used to like this film though. As a kid it was just boring, disjointed and meh. I think this is because this isn’t really a kids film. It’s conceptually complex, and when you don’t understand what the artists are trying to achieve you just see a conglomeration of shorts that can’t make up their mind as what they want to do. However, as I grew up, I began to understand the purpose of the film, it’s intentions toward bringing music to the screen, visually portraying sound – which it does perfectly. That said, there’s not much I can really say about narrative messages with this film, so we’ll look at it in parts and discuss ideas around it for this Thoughts On: essay.

We’ll start with the introduction. This is the easiest section to criticise (along with the other transitions) from a modern perspective. These are the parts of the film that haven’t aged well because how we consume film has changed drastically. Fantasia of course came out in 1940 where going to the pictures was a big event. There wasn’t video, T.V or DVD. You’d see a film when it was in select theatres and then never until it was possibly re-released. (Or until you got a T.V). This means Deems Taylor, the presenter, was there to mimic a real show, to guide an audience through an abstract piece of film they may only ever see once. Moreover, all original content has this element of Psycho in it. By this I mean the expositional ending of Hitchcock’s 1960 classic. Audiences were assumed not to be familiar with Norman’s condition, or the concept of psychosis, being a transvestite, Freudian psychodynamics and so on. But, with Psycho and psychological dramas becoming a huge hit in the 60s that lead cinema further away from monster pictures and toward slashers, the world became all the more accustomed to these abstract concepts. Thus, Psycho hasn’t aged perfectly (though, in my opinion, very well). The point is, we just don’t need the ending explained to us 50 years on. What has happened with Fantasia however is not the saturation of a market with films like it, but mere exposure. Also, music videos. I’m not sure of how you’d measure the influence of Fantasia over music videos and animation overall as it wasn’t a great success upon initial release, but what this film essentially is, is a conglomeration of astounding music videos. To a modern audience, Fantasia needs no introduction because… I don’t know, Kanye West. I mean Bound 2 (Explicit). Speaking of things ageing, yeah, no, Kanye West will not stand the test of time. At least he shouldn’t. This guy’s an idiot. And I say this purely based off of this video. We don’t need to get into Kanye West when talking about Disney though. So, to make the point again… Anaconda. If we can accept this without explanation, there’s no way we need Deems Taylor. So, in an around about way, that’s why the intro and proceeding transitory segments don’t work so well.

This brings us to the first short accompanied by Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. This is a perfect introduction, easing us into the abstract elements of the film. My only criticism is that this opening is a little too strong. It is utterly mesmerising, staying true to the music, allowing the images, colours and movement to work with note, rhythm and beat. This is, without a doubt, the best segment of the film. The artistry demonstrated with each and every frame of this opening segment blows my mind. There is unquestionable genius imbued in every brush stroke, colour choice, line of movement. Unquestionable genius. The juxtaposition of images in small parts is a little jarring, meaning the jumps from red to blue can be a little too explicit, but I feel it works into the tone of the song, keeping a solid sense of rhythm, bounce and fluidity, keeping the eye locked onto the screen and ear on the song. All in all, the opening sequence is one of the greatest segments of cinematic history. I have few adjectives left, so let’s just leave it at that and move onto the next sequence with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. This is another great sequence that manages to sustain the level of atmosphere and tone of the opening. It’s not as poignant, but of equal quality. My only issue with this segment comes with the fact that I love this piece of music. When you say you like a classical piece, what you really mean is you like a specific recording (maybe one or two) of it. At least this is the way I feel. There’s inherent beauty in the liquid free-flow of Tchaikovsky’s composition, layering of strings and winds and his sprinkling of light percussion. There’s just absolute quality embedded in his writing. However, some interpretations are going to be better than others. The recording of The Nutcracker by the Philadelphia Orchestra is ok, but I am not a fan of the nuances found in their emphasis of beats, and handling of undertonal rhythm. I’d only exhaust myself and you by pulling apart specifics, but suffice to say the music lets down the animation a little – and does so throughout the film, which is a real shame. Nonetheless, the opening two sequences are dazzling as they hold up to the eye down to the tiniest detail – especially the Toccata and Fugue short.

Next we have the pivotal short with the Mickey Mouse as a sorcerer’s apprentice who decides to bring a broom to life. There is a tonal jump here into the story-telling, non-absolute, program music. However, this is handled well with the set-up given by Taylor (maybe he’s not so useless) and the slow ease into action. The integration of music and story is also flawless here, so what we’ll do is pick apart the narrative it tells. To give a quick summary, Mickey has to haul water from a well outside, inside for the sorcerer. After a while, the sorcerer having retired, leaving his hat behind, Mickey decides to use the powers given by the hat to bring a broom to life as to do the work for him. Mickey then falls asleep waking up to a flood which he can’t stop as he’s forgotten the magic words to de-animate the broom. Instead he chops the broom into hundreds of pieces which of course just come back to life and drown the place. I’m not sure if you picked up on it, but this is a very common plot found most famously in Terminator. This is about automation. Whereas this archetypal story used to mean having others do work for you, or simply taking short cuts, is a not a great idea, with the technological progression of the present day this idea of automation is very real. This doesn’t mean we’re going to drown ourselves with electrical brooms, but, as the plot lines in Terminator implies, maybe it’s A.I that gets us. So, the allegory told is pointed towards an idea of work, of doing it yourself in the simplest terms. However, there’s a contradiction in the telling of the story in Fantasia that reveals a greater truth. The wizard is using Mickey just like Mickey was using the broom. In this sense, Mickey’s mistake was the mistake of the sorcerer – I mean, wasn’t he the one who left his hat behind? This turns the allegory into one of trust and responsibility. Automation isn’t a bad thing, A.I isn’t our inevitable apocalypse. Neglect is what kills us, not automation. In short, if you want your head in the clouds, fine, just make sure you at least peep down to Earth once in a while.

The next short is where the film looses audience members (especially upon initial release). Here there’s a jump into a scientific exploration of the young Earth set to Stravinsky’s, The Rite Of Spring. There are so many things I love about this section. I love the balls it took to make this, I love the atmosphere, I love the design of almost all of the dinosaurs. In fact, stylistically, the dinosaurs constructed for this short are my favourite attempt toward their animated portal in all film. The only one I don’t much like the look of is the T-Rex. His body is too squashed, off balance and stumpy. But, remember now that this is Disney’s third full-length animated feature. Before this there was Snow White and Pinocchio. There are mature subtexts to both of these films, but neither were so explicit to show animals (dinosaurs) killing one another. In fact you never see anything like this from Disney ever again. This is the main reason behind the tonal jump not working well. In Bambi there’s death, but it’s all implied (which makes it so poignant). In Cinderella a cat’s thrown out of a window to splatter, in Lady And The Tramp two dogs go at, in Tarzan we see his two dead parents, in Lion King there’s even more murder, but none of this hits the audience, and none of it is as up-front as Fantasia. No one is pulling any punches with this film and that’s admirable. But, it’s for this reason that the film probably failed in 1940. My only personal criticism of this segment. however, is that the music falls into the background. In fact, from this point on, the integration of action and sound is lost. Story takes over and it’s more like watching a silent film – which negates the purpose of the movie. However, we’ll come back to this, what’s interesting about this segment is what it makes so clear about animation as a whole. Animation has always been immersed in science – especially in dinosaurs. The first animated film with a true character was released in 1914 and called Gertie the Dinosaur. But it’s not just dinosaurs we’re interested in, it’s biology, it’s animals, creatures, monsters. Look at the top 10 highest grossing animated films of all time:

1. Shrek 2

2. The Lion King

3. Toy Story 3

4. Frozen

5. Finding Nemo

6. Despicable Me 2

7. Inside Out

8. Minions

9. Zootopia

10. Shrek The Third

(Taken from IMDB)

What connects all of these films? A significant element of monsters, animals or dinosaurs. The same is true for 43/50 of the highest grossing animated films. Each and every one has anthropomorphised animal characters or creatures. We seem to love them. Why this is, can’t be said for definite, but I think it’s clear that animation is intrinsically linked to fantasy. What’s the point of creating your own worlds if your not going to break some rules? But, fantasy is inevitably going to have its basis in reality, so, to convolute the process of inspiration, why not be inspired by the most alien things we know? Why not use dinosaurs, an amalgamation of humans and animals? We’ve been doing this as a species for as long as we have been telling stories. Whether it’s the buffalo on the caveman’s wall, the Egyptian Gods, creatures of folklore embedded in all cultures, books, plays, films, we’re fixated with the inhuman as a vessel to tell human stories. This has a lot to do with reality and how hard that is to accept for some people. When we look up at the sky and see tonnes of water that just floats, an apparent blue protective cap, balls of gas burning at thousands of degrees, huge suspended shining rocks, other distant rocks and clumps of gas somehow spinning around us, an infinite void containing… I have no clue,.. beyond… well, it’s a bit hard to comprehend to say the least. But what’s harder is accepting it, accepting the idea that this is all here for no apparent reason, that we may or may not be alone, that reality is nothing more than a question. When this is so hard to accept, we turn to the unreal, the intangible, ineffectual. This is true for all difficult apparencies in life. We turn to Hulk, Iron Man, John Wayne, John McClain, Keanu Reeves for heroes. We turn to Godzilla, zombies, mutants, ghosts to symbolise tragedy in its many forms. By distancing ourselves from reality we gain perspective and can begin to handle bigger concepts. That’s why fantasy is so important, that’s why cartoons resonate so well with children. With ineffectuality comes levity, there’s no real fear, but entertainment, and all the while we’re (kids are) subconsciously dealing with major issues. That, again, is why fantasy is so important, but also so dangerous. Fantasia’s use of science massively contributes towards its lack of success and all because it was a little too close to reality to fool us all into learning something, into seeing and imagining new things. This is the ultimate danger, the thin line animation treads in its poignancy and precision.

I feel like we just peaked there, but hold on we’ve still got the second half to do. So, let’s try do this a bit quicker. This strange ending of the first half leads us onto a small short that’s suppose to act as a palette cleanser. I’m talking about the soundtrack portion. This steps up the animation again with some ingenious characterisation and demonstration of sound through images. But, from this point onwards I feel that the film dips into a lower quality band. The sequence on Mount Olympus is quite disinteresting to me as it’s just things happening. The same can be said with the dance routine and ending. There is no support given by the music here, just mood. The music element falls away and the film becomes nothing more than a good silent film with a clever accompaniment. This doesn’t mean the film is bad overall, it just doesn’t live up to what it sets up with the first half – the introduction especially. What’s most interesting about these last shorts are the references Disney makes to themselves which demonstrates just who they are. We see this throughout the film in fact. There are a myriad of examples I could give ranging from the fish seen in Pinocchio, the dinosaurs in Dinosaur, the use of the bigger mammals in Dumbo, the use of mythology in Hercules, and many other small creatures used repeatedly across Disney’s entire cannon of films. If you see this once you’ll see it a thousand times, and it seems like Disney are referencing themselves here, but to link all of these together is not something I can do right now. Instead, I think the crossovers in design make clear the Disney style. In saying that, it becomes obvious that Fantasia really is a focal point of the Disney library. This is where everything truly original and nuanced that we get from them comes to the forefront or is at least implied. It’s with Fantasia that we can see the essence of Disney’s magic.

This leads onto last words. Magic is the central idea of this film. It’s through fantasy, tone, rhythm, sound and movement that Disney plays their illusion, making us believe, feel, an idea of magic. Irrevocable levity, that’s what you get from Disney. In  the end it’s a shame that this film isn’t water-tight, but perfection is a lot to ask. This is because perfection is a matter of subjectivity. This is also why, for me, Fantasia is a little lacking. It wants to please a wide range of people. It wants to have something for everyone. That’s why there’s a strong use of both religion and science, of abstraction and story telling. Fantasia’s main fault is that it’s trying to do too much, but, nonetheless, this is an astounding picture, leaving me the question: what do you think?

 

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Pinocchio – An Imperfect Wish

Thoughts On: Pinocchio

A woodworker prays to a star, wishing for one of his puppets to come to life, to be real boy.

Pinocchio

This is a really tricky film to pull apart. This is because it seems so simple. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you it’s about right and wrong. To those people: have you watched this film?? What does Pinocchio learn? He learns that if you behave like a jack-ass you’ll become one, but, really, he doesn’t learn this. He sees this and then only just avoids becoming a full blown donkey. He learns nothing. Every mistake he makes is fixed by the fairy, or by some weird writer’s device… and then… the whale? The line through this narrative with the idea that it’s about right and wrong is very weak. It doesn’t explain all the crazy jumps in logic, all the insane imagery, the mixture of fantasy, absurdism, surrealism and a weird sense of hope. Nothing makes sense about this film when you take it at face value with its apparent themes and plot. My initial response to this was just a huge: WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!? But, I’ve been going over and over and over the film, and I think I have a grip on it. Before we get to that, I’d like to say that this is a pretty open film – as all films are to be honest. I wanted to mention this in the Snow White essay, but it didn’t fit the tone. Either way, let’s get it out now. I appreciate that Disney films are kids’ films, that they have a target audience. This means that whilst they have more complex meanings to tease out, they also have a simpler child friendly concept readily available. In other words, (forgive the metaphors) you can see a Disney film with your heart, or you can watch it, pick it apart with an analytical eye. If you watch Pinocchio with feeling, letting the narrative message guide you emotionally, then you’ll probably see it as a film about right and wrong with a few fun moments that don’t need to make sense. This is how most people watch films, with feeling. This isn’t wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. Art is founded on emotion, it’s how it translates its ideas. We have to feel what the artist wants us to feel. But, moral lessons are weak when based on feeling. I want to say that’s just my opinion, but… no. I have confidence enough in the concept of pragmatism, of sense and rationality, to say that life isn’t meant to be lived the way you want, by what feels nice and comfortable. I mean, that’s a key idea in the film with the whole concept of pleasure island. But, right now I’m talking about something a little wider than childish indulgence. I’m talking about intelligence, about being able to look at the world, not just wander through it. If a film has more to offer than entertainment, it makes sense to chase that down. Even if we are manufacturing meaning, if we are taking away from a film more than it thought it offered, what’s the harm in that? Films are like dreams. They are fantasies, these weird things we create and project to let us slip away from reality. So, maybe Freud is nuts. Maybe dreamwork is unscientific nonsense. Maybe it’s sniffing a brain fart and…

smelling the fart.gif

smelling the fart 2

… faking it in other words. But that’s all besides the point. The point is that we got from A to B. The road taken may have been weird, possibly wrong, maybe we were wearing the wrong boots, maybe there was a clearer path. But, we got to a better place nonetheless. All I want to say is that it doesn’t matter where the EUREKA!! moment happens. If it’s in the bath, don’t you dare hesitate, forget the towel, run down the streets and scream. Be careful though. Pneumonia and such. Anyway, let’s not get lost. Let’s get on with it.

If you don’t want to see Pinocchio as a simple story of right and wrong, you could take a more mature look at the film. In other words you fall into the trap of the phallic imagery. There is sense in this theory, and a succinct take away, but, well, let’s just pull it apart first. In short, seeing Pinocchio’s nose as a symbol of puberty reveals some dark , possibly homophobic, messages. There’s quite a few nudges and pokes toward the parents in the audiences with Jiminy, faces going red, cute women figurines and such. These could be seen as a reinforcement of Pinocchio’s sexuality. This is emphasised with the goldfish and Geppetto being alone. Without a mother, it’s possible Geppetto has a fear that his son doesn’t become a real boy, in that he may grow up gay. This means that show business and being an actor is both an insinuation of pretence and homosexuality. Pinocchio lying when he is saved by the fairy, his nose growing, is another double-entendre. It both implies an erection, that Pinocchio is maturing, but also that this expression of sexuality only makes it even more obvious that the kid is gay. This turns Pleasure Island into god-knows-what. It could be a trap, some kind of sex trade ring, or it could just be a place for boys to–I’ll leave it to your imagination. In the end you can either see the film from this position as either homophobic or tolerant. We see this through the whale which represents depression in Geppetto, but also an aggression. This comes with the realisation that his son is gay. For Pinocchio to help him out of this ditch, but then die, could be a metaphor for complete transformation. He becomes a real boy because his sexual preferences magically changed. Or, you could just see this as both Geppetto and Pinocchio facing this challenging moment and coming away all the better, Geppetto accepting his son as a real boy, as gay. Like I said, this is a valid interpretation of the film, but it does take quite a lot of assumption to start it rolling as well as a fair bit of attribution without sound evidence. You could also make the argument that this kind of a message is a bit before its time. Either way, from where you sit, you can see the film however you want – I’m just offering what I think is an interesting interpretation. We’ll move onto what I think is the most solid take on Pinocchio however after a quick Easter egg. Does it count if Easter egg isn’t even in this film? I don’t know – and no I’m not talking about Tangled with Pinocchio sitting up in the rafters of the Snuggly Ducking Inn. I’m talking about Shrek. So, of course in Shrek there are a plethora of references to fairy tales–especially those adopted by Disney. The huge outliers (non-references) in the movie are Shrek, Fiona and… not Donkey. He is a character derived from this film. On Pleasure Island some of the boys aren’t fully transformed into jack-assess, they can still talk. I won’t take it any further than that, but try watching Shrek again with the idea that Pinocchio is about coming out and the island is…. I don’t know… comment below, tell me what you think…

donkey - pinno

Ok, let’s get to it. To me, Pinocchio is best understood as a tale of inadequacy. Firstly we have Geppetto, a man that possible can’t reproduce, or simply never found a wife to raise a child with. This is symbolised with his work shop. He manufactures toys for children, keeping clocks for himself. He surrounds himself with an idea of time, time lost, time wasted, time to be wasted. This is a man living a pretty empty life. His only companions are the cat and the fish. The cat is a representative of himself, it’s playful, a little self-centred, but ultimately in search of affection. The goldfish is a projection of a woman. It’s a captive idea of a female presence in a lonely man’s house. It’s all really rather depressing to be honest. What Geppetto wants is a little boy, another version of himself possibly to live through. His vicarious experience of life through a child is what the film is centrally about – it’s about wanting to be a parent. But, we mustn’t forget Jiminy here. Jiminy is representative of the control parents wish they had over their children. Parents wish they could be there to watch their kid, to guide them through their personal moments of stress or strain. The core conflict of the film however comes with this, it is Geppetto. He doesn’t know what he’s doing as a parent. He’s just as naive as Pinocchio. This explains the disjointed logic of the film and the irrational plot lines. The biggest mind-boggler comes with the first seconds of Pinocchio’s birth (if you could call it that). Having one of your puppets come to life is not something you’d easily accept, you would not be dancing with a strange creature in the middle of the night minutes after you witnessed the horrifying miracle that was its animation. Chucky anyone? By seeing Pinocchio not as a puppet that’s come to life, but an idea of parenthood, this moment is much clearer in terms of character motivation. The second biggest what the fuuu….??? moment is the very next morning. Geppetto has just witness the impossible, he watched a toy, a few chucks of wood come to life and speak to him, and then he decides to send it to school. What!? I could easily write three films about the implications of the thing coming to life. Think of all the questions you’d have. Think of how the world would respond to this thing. Let’s not get into that. In fact, have you read my Bill & Ted post? If you liked the alternate history/fan fiction story line I constructed comment below or tell me on Twitter if you want to see the same thing done with Pinocchio. But, not seeing the film literally, the next morning is representative of Geppetto’s need for his child to be integrated into society, to grow and learn.

So, we’ve established that this film is about Geppetto’s fears as a father. All his fears are realised with the absurd diversions Pinocchio takes on his way to school – toward education and growing up correctly. Geppetto takes blame for this, which brings us to the end of the film. Before that we need to look at the key metaphor that is Pinocchio himself. He is a puppet. Seeing a child as a mechanism for your hands to work, to contort and control, is what Geppetto must learn not to do. Becoming a real boy is not just Pinocchio’s responsibility. It has a lot to do with how his father perceives and raises him. That understood we can come to the whale. The whale, just like with the previous theory is representative of Geppetto again. It’s here that you can say that you could adapt some of the interpretations of this analysis to strengthen the previous, but that’s all up to you. So, what the whale represents is depression again. It’s also the father Geppetto doesn’t want to be. This is linked to his cat and his goldfish. The cat has a few aggressive moments, but it is under Gepetto’s control. The whale is a whole other beast. Everything docile about it is torn away leaving behind pure hatred that consumes. The concept of everything being trapped in the whale’s stomach is thus linked to Gepetto’s home and life. His family become trapped in the pit of his failure. This is Geppetto as a bad parent, a parent that let his kid become a diligent, a parent that cannot run a home. The fish consumed by the whale are also representative of sexual frustration, of the proliferation and objectification of the goldfish metaphor. The end of the film is in turn Geppetto facing himself with the aid of his child. He learns that he may not know what he’s doing, that he too is a naive party in the parent/child relationship. This is what ultimately allows him to see Pinocchio as a real boy. The realisation of this is also what allows Pinocchio to figure out right and wrong. What’s right is that he sticks by his father and does what he is told. There are huge lapses in logic within the film for this very reason. There is also no solid ending. Jiminy gets the medal for doing nothing essentially because being a parent is 90% just being there. This is the crux of the film. It’s about endurance, of wanting imperfection, about wanting to try for a better life. Geppetto’s dream isn’t perfect, neither is the way he raises the kid, neither is the kid himself, but perfection doesn’t exist.

So, in the end, Pinocchio is a film about learning by not learning much, but by experiencing and altering the way you approach yourself and those around you. What all the characters learn is that we don’t always understand what we wish for, but better be grateful for the things we have and get. This is what makes wishing upon a star acceptable. It’s not about wanting the ludicrous, it’s not about wanting perfection, it’s not even about wanting something better. It’s about wanting another option, another path.

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Thoughts On: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

**Note. This is quite a big post. There’s lots of words and it’s a bit nuts. However, the end result is an absurd theory you need to know. So keep with me.

The fate of humanity and all hopes of a peaceful future rely on that Keanu Reeves impression we all do, you know, the ‘No way…’ one, and Alex Winter. The two, to put it politely, enthusiastic, but not so smart dudes are about to fail they’re history class. But, with the help of George Carlin – Rufus, they can ride a telephone box through the circuits of time, collecting and uprooting historical figures for a truly excellent oral assessment that’ll save the world.

Bill and ted's ex

Why am I analysing this film? Firstly, I like it… a lot… a bit more than maybe I should. I grew up with it, so, what can I say? But secondly, I think it’s quite profound in that–BUT IT’S BILL &TED! Ok. Yes, this is a dumb movie, but only in tone – and possibly intentionally. I am not about to look too deep into a film here. Unconsciously or not, art is art. This film, in a certain sense, is no different from Eraserhead or The Mirror. Yes, I just cited Lynch and Tarkovsky. But, listen. Both directors created their films with reflex. Lynch calls it think-feeling (with a lot of hand gestures underneath). Both auteurs simply try to express what they and their characters feel through the medium of film, not paying attention or wanting to give explicit black and white meanings. So, their movies are great because of something inherent within them. They have stories, visions, we all want to know. In this sense we can see two types of artists. There’s hackers who work a rough formula and find some success with a bit of luck. Then there are those who work at their craft, nurturing what is best defined as talent. Talent is quite an abstract idea, but one I believe in. I think there are some people who have qualities that make the stories they want to tell in the way they want to tell them, so appeasing, so attractive, absorbing to a mass audience. Look at Bruce Lee here. I don’t think he found the success he did just off the back of his skill as a martial artist. He is notoriously one of the most charismatic figures of all time. This must have been a factor in his success, made him persuasive, a great screen presence, someone others would worship and idolise. We see this all the time. Who are your favourite actors/actresses? Common answers include Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Aniston. Why? Firstly they are all perfect human specimens – unbelievably attractive. But secondly, the way they carry themselves, talk, interact is incredibly charming. From Leonardo DiCaprio’s calm and control to Jennifer Lawrence’s chaotic honesty, these people can put up facades that win huge masses of people over, have them hide in bushes to get pictures of them and a myriad of other weird things. What has this got to do with Tarkovsky and Lynch? Moreover, what the hell does this have to to with Bill & Ted? Well, in all celebrities there’s just something intangible, something special – a quality that all of us just don’t have. It’s in their genes and in their persona. In the same way this idea fuels a celebrity’s facade, it fuels an artist’s creative core. Lynch and Tarkovsky just have something other directors don’t have. Now, the link to Bill & Ted here is that whilst Stephen Herek (director) Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson (writers) may have intentionally, or to the best of their ability, come up with something quite absurd, there’s something inherent about them that produced something that’s also secretly quite profound.

Now, before I go on, I obliviously don’t know Stephen Herek, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson. I wasn’t there when they made and wrote this film. This means I don’t know how intentional everything we’re about to get into is. This is the beauty of art though. It’s not just an artist’s work, it belongs to both artist and audience with the product being open to interpretation. Moreover, all but Matheson went on to make other quite good films (Now You See Me, Men In Black, Critters, The Mighty Ducks). So, there is something of talent here. The main take away from this idea though is that we may all have a masterpiece in us, we just need to find it. Also, as Mark Kermode says, making a film doesn’t mean you understand it. Watching is an art. Finding gold in the rough, being able to pull apart a piece of work is what makes critics artists in a certain sense. This means that watching films, T.V, reading books, seeing plays, paintings, is just as important as actually creating them. You need to be able to pull apart your own work, being able to see it as a (‘talented’) audience member does. Linklater makes a point of this. As a young filmmaker he would watch one, two or more films a day, making numerous shorts – and for years. This all led up to Slackers which is kind of amazing and proof in itself that whilst there may be something inherently special about Linklater as a writer/director, it had to be nurtured. Just food for thought. Anyway, let’s get into Bill & Ted. We’ll start with the opener. There’s a strange gold thing that floats into frame that turns out to be the time travelling device. What is interesting is the parallels of this opening image and that of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The way it slowly moves onto screen from the left with a faint glow reminded me of the entrance of the Star Child over Earth. But over that was not Also Sprach Zarathustra, oh no, it’s Big Pig’s, I Can’t Breakaway. It’s at this point I wanted scratch out the note, but I stopped myself. It makes perfect sense. This film is about the world being altered hugely, evolving almost–but not to the music of the stereotypically clever, but the stereotypically more average – kind of dumb in the case of Bill and Ted. This idea is perfectly captured by the movie’s tagline:

History is about to be rewritten

by two guys who can’t spell.

The crux of this film is essentially the anti-parallel of Idiocracy. In short, Idiocracy is set in a world where the clever guys die out leaving the idiots to watch the world deteriorate. The idea behind Bill and Ted is that the ‘idiots’ have a philosophy that can make the world a better place. And so, to change the future, history needs to be rewritten, monolithic historical figures need to change massively. What on Earth could provide such a profound shock to a system as to change a person’s entire outlook – the way they impact the world? I don’t know… maybe travelling into the future. Pretty deep, huh? So, before we jump into it, I’ll just surmise. To create a perfect future, the past must be altered by two well-meaning, but slightly idiotic individuals. A good question to ask here is, how did who figure this out? The film has no answers, but maybe there was a trial and error process, or with some amazing computer program made available with ‘modern technology’ (that capable of building time machines) an algorithm could be derived to create a perfect present from the past. This would explain why everyone has such confidence in time travel and are never worried about screwing up the space time continuum. Everything that happens has been perfectly mapped out. So, what I’m about to do is try my hand at figuring out the knock on effects of this movie. I am no history major, but, with the aid of Google, I think I’ll be able to produce an ok argument. Before that, I open up this idea to whoever’s willing to run with it. Hopefully someone who knows more about history will put me to shame here, but let’s not put me down before I get started.

The farthest back in time Bill & Ted go is the stone age, 1,000,000 B.C. This is a quick pit stop where the antenna of the time machine must be fixed. The traces left behind are minimal. However, two cavemen see the phone booth disappear AND they also have gum. Let’s look at the gum first. Ancient (and not so ancient) civilisations chewed a version of gum made from the sap of trees: Greeks, Mayans, Northern American Indians, American settlers. Modern gum is supposed to have many bad side-effects – most due to additives and sugars. These problems are, in part, negatable as sap from trees doesn’t contain artificial additives. There is however the claim that excessively chewing gum causes jaw problems, giving headaches. The, hold you breath, temporomandibular joint (TMJ)…

… controls jaw movement and over-strain of muscular fibres connected to this can contribute to headaches. Now, hold on to that thought. Our two cavemen witnessed a phone booth disappearing. That’s a major event. Especially when considering the entire human population in 1 million B.C is thought to have been around 18,000-20,000 in total. (P.S this is where things get creative and come down to interpretation). Ok, so if two cavemen saw a phone booth flash out of existence, the only way they’re going to be able to explain this phenomena is with magic. They’d create a myth, maybe a religion, centring around these beings that left them gum. The phone booth would become a religious symbol and chewing gum a ritual. There is only one piece of gum in all the world though. The archetype if you’ll have it. Where will they get more? Tree sap. But, some sap is poisonous. Let’s say this religion kicks off with a few pockets of humans over the generations, reaching a couple hundred individuals. We’re going to have a tribe of hunter gatherer searching for the perfect sap, the one that doesn’t kill them, that tastes as good as the archetype. A holy grail of sorts. When they find the variety of trees that give the closest resemblance the trees too will become holy. Over generations and generations the idea that trees and their sap are holy will strengthen. But, at the same time, the constant excessive chewing of gum may be causing a lot of headaches. Now, in short term, headaches may be attributed to a holy experience. People may seek out other means of getting them. Maybe smashing rocks, bits of wood together, making music, loud music, REALLY LOUD MUSIC!! Is that the seed of heavy metal? Is that what will popularise the music Bill and Ted love so much over time? Maybe. But, over the generations, the human’s skull structure may change so that headaches aren’t so common. This rift in people, those who get headaches and don’t, may lead to holy wars, the punishment due (great reference, huh?) would be the eradication of a type of person, getting rid of a certain skull type. Who would win? Well, let’s assume that the adaptation wouldn’t be wide-spread and so the adapted individuals would be defeated. Maybe certain races flee to wider corners of the globe. What’s left may be a huge group of religious cavemen who chew gum, get headaches, love them, and are quite good at war. They may form a huge empire, ruling a middle Earth of sorts. This leads us on to the next point in history…

410 B.C is where Socrates is picked up and most probably dropped off. Now, here’s where huge problems open up. What happens with the timelines and everything that changes? Well, this is ultimately down to the imagination. But, let’s assume that Rufus and the future human beings want to change the past with their time machine. Why? Their timeline couldn’t possibly be changed by going back and helping Bill and Ted. Also, Bill and Ted don’t go back in time in chronology, as in, they don’t go back to 1,000,000 B.C and then 410 B.C. They go all over the place. This implies that the effect of time travel isn’t felt in a current time line. Moreover, let’s look at the end of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey here. Chuck De Nomolos also goes back in time. Are Bill and Ted also working against someone in their excellent adventure? I think not. Whilst it is shown that they can effect their own time line with Ted’s dad’s keys and most notably in the end of their Bogus Journey, they aren’t always doing this. The most sensical explanation to this is that they are not effecting their own timeline. What we are witnessing is an experiment meant to change another time line. The people of the future society must love how their timeline turned out. In said timeline (a different universe) Bill and Ted were successful. Now, by some multiverse theories, there are infinite other universes with every single possible possibility played out within them. Remember that computer thing I was talking about, and how the future people may be constructing a perfect timeline? Well, maybe they are changing other timelines. Why? To replicate their own. We can see that, with this theory and their ‘modern technology’, the time machines must be able to not only pass through time, but space. If you can pass through space, why wouldn’t you be able to pass into other universe? How? I can offer many explanations based off of ideas of black holes being roots to the other universe. I may also claim that it doesn’t matter how. There is no clear force acting on the jump between spaces. What should it matter how far they go? However, it’s never really paid attention to in the film. I’m sure that that’s just because there wasn’t the budget to do so (I joke). So, Bill and Ted can be thought to be affecting two timelines. There’s their own (which we’ll come back to later) and the variable, experimental one. You may even argue that each figure comes from a different timeline and so the effects of them being taken lead up to this calculated future identical to the one of the future society. This argument would mean that the society is creating multiple universe similar to theirs. Why? Well, if the world and universe beyond in 2688 are in peace, with alien races being contacted, then some amazing shit’s got to be happening. What if the whole universe is connected, in complete peace? Don’t let that blow your mind yet. What if multiple universe were connected, and in peace? Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what we could be dealing with here.

However, there’s still the argument that Bill and Ted are only affecting two universes. I think both are theories are valid and interesting so we’re going to consider both throughout. We’ll be able to see the additive effects of their time travel over time in one universe (single universe theory) then also the implied evidence of the one point in time affecting a universe enough to give the desired future (multiple universe theory). So, to reiterate, there are two theories that’ll be working side by side. One which will result in one universe being changed by Bill and Ted’s time travel (single universe theory). And then there will be a formula in which multiple universes are affected (multiple universe theory). With the idea that only one universe is being affected, that Beethoven, Freud, Lincoln and so on come from the same universe, we have to consider that the time has stopped. They are all extracted at the same time, and then put back simultaneously. This will allow a knock on effect stretching from the caveman forward. To clarify, the affects of going back to 1,000,000 B.C could be that the loud sounds and headaches inspired by Bill and Ted’s contact, with their religion dominating throughout humanity, could lead to the desired future. In short, the seed of metal, and so the key to peace, was planted. But, let’s consider the additive effect. Let’s go back to 410 B.C….

So, Socrates has just come back from the future into a new world. This world is possibly similar to that of of the ancient Greek, but with a different religion of course. We can assume that Socrates would be able to fit back in. Now, there’s got to be a lot of assumption here as we can’t possibly consider all the factors of the imaginary situations–just the main ones. It’s safe to do this though as we’re not battling chance, the end goal is supposed to be a perfect civilisation calculated by that super computer from 2688. We’re just joining the dots. Ok, Socrates rejoins society with his new found incite of the future. He tells all those who listen about the future, about the architecture, about electricity, food, the way of living in San Dimas ’88 – which he loves. Maybe he revises his Socratic Method. The way in which he debates would be seriously affected by the fact that he knows what is to come to pass. What would he come to teach Plato and by virtue Aristotle? I won’t attempt to get into the mind of some of the greatest thinkers of all time. Instead, let’s use what the movie gives us. The core philosophy of the film is:

Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes.

Now, this all draws back to previous talks I’ve done. All the world’s problems are so easily solved. All we have to do is agree not to do stuff like kill each other, rape, pillage, such and so on. The solution sounds stupid though because it goes against human nature. We have an inherent element of destruction about us. But, hold on, how could we change this? Well, surely it would take thousands of years of tentative social conditioning. Maybe that’s what Socrates kicked off, what Plato, then Aristotle gave to the world. With this message we could see that (with the multiple universe theory) this alone could lead to a perfect society. However, what if the idea didn’t take at first? What if Socrates was shunned, seen as a disturber of the peace, contorting the minds of youth. Maybe he’d meet a similar end to that we know. Maybe he become a Jesus-like figure, founding a new religion, a new way of thinking. Socrates would be able to confirm the already present beliefs, that there were these two figures from the future with a phone booth and gum. He would again divide the world leading to more holy wars. He may be killed as a heretic, but his ideas aren’t insane are they? Maybe a lot of people agreed that maybe we do just need to be excellent to each other and have a good time about it. Maybe these folk won the holy war. How?

1209, Outer Mongolia. Holy war rages and one of the fiercest, empire founding, human beings ever steps into the picture – Genghis Khan. With added knowledge of skateboards, ice hockey, aluminium bats, fire arms, electricity, cars and so much more this guy is going to fuck some shit up. Major. Even if he is placed back in his actual place in history, he still has this knowledge. His Mongolian Empire may last forever, and led by a man with a new set of ideals. Maybe he doesn’t completely subscribe to the ‘be excellent to each other’ mantra, but, ‘party on’? Sounds like a fun period in history. But, let’s jump back to the single universe theory. Let’s say he annihilates the opposition. He’d obviously be sided with the Socratic descendants and so, when he takes over the world, that religious sect would reign. But, over the decades, centuries, the religious beliefs would be diluted slightly. The ‘party on’ factor, would start to quash this idea of being excellent to each other. So, to counter balance, let’s jump forward again…

1429, Orleans, France. War again, war that may last a 100 years. It’s being fought by fundamentalists and liberals. One side is more chaotic, the other seeking more peaceful times. Joan Of Arc comes back into the picture, her visions of what she assumes to be Gods (Bill & Ted), those of the Socratic fundamentalist description, tell her to join the war. She has great effect, rallying the fundamentalists, pulling the war back in balance. But, shit, she’s captured by Khan liberals! They burn her at the stake and at only 19 years old. Her effect on the Socratic fundamentalist however, as said, was great. She implemented pioneering, rigorous, training programs, the knock on effect creating what was almost the perfect army. With their ex-leader as their new Saint to be avenged, they go on to win the 100 year war, quashing the Mongolian empire, re-instilling the Socratic ideal of being excellent to one another. Before moving on, let’s deal with the multiple universe side of things. If Joan Of Arc was sent back to her real time and place, implementing new training programs, maybe the real 100 year war would have ended differently. And again, Joan carries the mantra of both being excellent and partying on. Without the Khan fundamentalists she wouldn’t have to repeal that idea of partying on. She could lead the world toward world peace.

We’re making good pace here, but the next stop in time is going to confuse things a little. Next we come to 15th century England. Now, it’s never specified who’s ruling England or the time. But, we can assume that the answer is that King Henry VII, and that we’re in the late 15th century. We can infer this as he’s referred to as King Henry and his daughter are 521 years old in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Take 500 from 1988 and you land on Henry’s reign. However, Henry didn’t have a daughter named Joanna, only Elizabeth. Now, I could dive deeper here, possibly coming up with a ludicrous solution, but I won’t. This is because these two figures aren’t essential to the single universe theory or the multiple one. Instead, I want to remind you that in the single universe theory there is actually two universes being manipulated. There is the one Bill and Ted come from as well as the variable one enduring Holy Wars over jaws, music and so on. To change the universe Bill and Ted are in, and to have the plot of the Bogus Journey happen, we need Bill and Ted to mature. This is done by giving them girlfriends. And so, the way in which Bill and Ted’s reality reaches peace is the ridiculous story in the Bogus Adventure. But, there’s one detail I skipped over here. The ambiguity given by this segment of story (there being no time references given) comes down to the fact that we’re in an alternative universe a little different from the one we’re used to. In this universe King Henry had two daughters, one named Elizabeth and the other Joanna. Why could this universe be disturbed? There’s a gap for you to fill. I assume it must be worthwhile collateral damage. Either way, the two women are there to contribute to the peace of Bill and Ted’s universe. That settled, lets move on…

We next come to a crucial moment in the history of the single universe. Over the last 400 hundred years the world has been working well toward world peace, but there are still a few issues. After overthrowing the Mongolian empire, as inspired by Joan, Socratic fundamental law was rewritten, putting emphasis on being excellent to one another. There were contractions though and the remaining Khan liberals were put into a judicial system by which they essentially become slaves. Over the years, this became less acceptable. Once the empire had settled, some thought law needed to change. People started to revolt. Civil wars broke out across many states, the largest of which was in what we call America and France. It was all over the enslavement of Khan liberal descendants and the laws that needed revision. In comes Lincoln and in comes Napoleon. Lincoln first in 1803, driving a whole content away from ideas of slavery, inspiring a nation with the forgotten mantra: be excellent to each other (and this was the bit Lincoln really love to emphasise) AND PARTY ON, DUDES!! Civil war died down, plans of a better future were given rise to. A radical section of Socratic fundamentalism was revisited by Lincoln. He emphasised this idea of the future, technology, a civil and developed world. America industrialised rapidly under Futurist Lincoln ideals. This too would happen in our multiple universe theory. The Futurist ideals lead America to the forefront of the world both technologically and morally, eventually allowing the nation to secure world peace.

Meanwhile, across the pond, (back in single universe theory) revolutionary wars aren’t going well. America is changing but Europe holds on to it’s fundamentalist roots tightly. France is the capital state leading a conservative, ‘excellence before partying’ ideal. This is held onto tightly with Joan Of Arc as the lasting image of the nation. War only worsened. 1805. Napoleon returns from the future. He does not like the elitist society, he has no time for conservative, purist law. He wants to build the worlds largest water slide park. But, issues concerning sanitation and the fact that the French are not going to let a country full of people run around half naked in and out of water, are stopping him in his tracks. Yeah, Napoleon is not happy. He doesn’t accept France as is, he revitalises the revolutionary war and in a matter of years the fundamentalists are out. Immediately, Napoleon’s implementing plans to create his water park, reinstating the ‘party on’ mantra. There are major issues with sanitation however, Europe is falling apart. Futurist America looks on, unwilling to help, busy expanding their own economy. With a jump to multiple universe theory, if Napoleon came back to his own time with this absurd idea of water parks and fun before anything, well, he would have changed the world, driving it toward world peace eventually possibly. His campaigns in the revolutionary war would become a smidgen on his record. A French Empire may rise, teaching the world the importance of good food, fashion and water parks.

Back to single universe theory. 1810. The world’s not in great shape, it’s splitting into a clear East and West, but not in the way we know it. The West consists of America and part of Asia. First Japan and then what we call China took on Futurists ideals, this solidified the west. The east were led by Napoleon who was growing slightly mad with power, commanding Europe and a large bulk of Asia. In the west (America/Asia) Futurism was giving birth to amazing technology. In a matter of years quantum theory was born and made huge leaps, the electrical age was born. Meanwhile, the east is really falling behind and they don’t know how to reach out for help. Back comes Ludwig Van Beethoven. He’s seen the future. He knows of the miracle that is electricity, and how it affects music. His country is in ruins though, he turns to religion for answers, trawling through old and new texts, coming upon ancient traditions of music, of rituals of spiritual enlightenment through chronic headaches. In an immense burst of creativity he writes and writes, composing masterpiece after masterpiece, but, it’s nothing he can play with the crappy technology his country has. He reaches out for sponsorship, to the west. Scholars see his work, they bring him out of Germany, giving him access to everything he needs to record his work. Years down the line, his works are published, the world is given the most excellent music it has ever heard, we’re talking Moonlight Sonata extended across a dozen albums infused with electrical vibes, turned up to 11 with crazy heavy metal influences. His beliefs system starts to take too. At his concerts he adheres to old traditions, playing music to the point of giving people headaches for the sake of a spiritual experience. This aligns perfectly with Futurist ideals, the forgotten but not lost idea of chewing gum comes back in a massive way. With Beethoven as the front man of the endeavour, chewing gum is reinvented. It’s better than anything we could imagine. Beethoven is a huge political figure by this point. He urges that his homeland be given aid. And so the west moves into east, treaties between Napoleon and Lincoln are signed, Beethoven played the biggest concert ever recorded at the signing. A year down the line he tops it at the opening of the world’s largest water park. Over the decades, the strides towards world peace are immense. It may not last though… Before that, let’s look at the multiple world theory. If Beethoven was sent back in time to revolutionise music as we know it, well, as the film makes clear, music is the key toward world peace. And who better to give us that than Beethoven?

Ok, we’re running up to the 20th century in the single word theory, and it’s 1879. Billy The Kid is beamed back to a world that’s entirely nuts. The Beethoven craze still has a strong hold. Small pockets of people are taking religious belief to extremes though, they are dying, sacrificing themselves with over-exposure to loud sounds. They’re essentially melting their brains. Coupled with this there’s a huge cover up in the chewing gum industry. Research is starting to indicate that the artificial additives being consumed in the hundred of megatons, daily, is not too good for people. It’s contributing to jaw cancer, lesions in the brain and obesity. The world is so consumed in itself that very few want to accept the fact. Billy The Kid comes into the world with dry eyes and is completely flabbergasted as to how the world got into this state. He joins a small group of people who see the terrible effects, who suspect governmental corruption. With Billy’s aid the organisation grows exponentially, but they are seen as nothing more than delusional extremists. With Billy as the CEO of the corporation, he’s growing crazy. No matter how much credibility his company gains, no matter how much research they produce, the world laughs. After 20 years of trying Billy withdraws. He leaves the company and they start to decline. The world only grows worse. The hysteria, religious extremists, corruption deepens… no one cares. Everyone is being excellent to one another, and damn do they know how to party on. But they just can’t see how they are destroying themselves and their planet. Now, Billy’s story in the multiple universe theory centres on the Lincoln County War. With knowledge of past and present, Billy becomes very interested in law, politics, philosophy, looking up his old pal, Socrates. On the fourth day of the Battle Of Lincoln a ceasefire was called, negotiations were held, but Billy deceived the law, took over the county, but he didn’t run rampant. He was transfixed by this idea of civilisation, of philosophical debate. He changed the world.

1901. Single universe theory. The world is a mess. Billy’s gone, his company is sinking. Back comes Freud. The mass hysteria to him is solvable though. Over many years he published numerous books on the subconscious nature of the human mind. The near dead company Billy set up gains interest over Freudian theory. They give him access to their facilities. Over half a decade the company is reborn and with new cause. The Napoleonic conglomerates are starting to fear what the company are capable of. Plans are implemented to have them be quashed again, but, out of hiding Billy comes. With a small militia, he assassinates numerous heads of state, huge businessmen, revealing millions of pages of documentation, exposing the lie the world lives. He’s executed a martyr. The world is however given perspective, the extremist religious views die out within a few generations. Religion itself is rationalised, Billy’s old company, lead by Freud goes on to form the first scientific political party. Decades down the line, the world has united, governed by science, keeping religious teachings close to heart…

Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes.

In the multiple universe theory. Freud when sent back dedicated his life to the revision of his psychosexual theory. He was tainted by the memory of Socrates looking down on him, calling him geek. How could one of the greatest thinkers of all time look down on him? Theories he developed were all centred on male/female relations and how best we must get along. With his fundamental ideas, feminism was negated, no one needed it. Through Freudian theory came an idea of equality and peace that no one could refute. World peace was born from relations between the sexes.

Wow… we just went on some trip. The end results are either a vast network of universes connected by the great ones, Bill and Ted – or just three (single universe theory). Either way history has been rewritten. Now, whilst this is all good fun here, basically fan fiction, the message of the film is very clear. Whilst the back story is down to us, the idea behind Bill and Ted is peace, is this simple endeavour for a universal agreement on what we want from from life. We want fun, and we want comfort. That is the crux of the film and by feeding through variations of time travel theory, this is what becomes obvious. So…

Am I insane? Did I look too far into things? Have I missed something? Could my version of this back story be better?

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Captain America: Civil War – Whew!

Thoughts On: Captain America: Civil War

Stuff about collateral damage–but who cares!? Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Ant Man, SPIDER MAN and other superheroes are in a film, they hit each other and yeah, let’s get on with it.

Civil war

If you’ve read my Batman V Superman posts (which I highly recommend) you might think I hate superhero movies. I don’t. You’d have to be an idiot to say you hate a genre or category of movie. That said, I don’t even dislike the majority of superhero films. I don’t know why I’m defending myself, just… keep that in mind as you read the Batman V Superman post. The reason I brought up Batman V Superman is because Civil War is almost exactly the same film. But it’s not bad – not at all. Sitting in the theatre for the first few minutes of the film and I was just hoping and praying we didn’t get the same dark, serious and boring movie. After about fifteen minutes it kind of looked like that was going to happen. Then, explosions, guns, excitement, but, oh, wait, humans die. Oh, no. And then the movie devolves, it does turn into Batman V Superman for a while with a lighter tone and better, much better, sense of structure and pacing. So, the first act is… meh… it’s ok. But, then something magical happens. We’ll get into that in a minute though. I’m not going to spoil the film at all here by the way, to be honest there’s nothing much to spoil–oh wait… or is there? Either way, no spoilers. I will be talking specifics though. The first set of specifics come with the opening act. This is, in my opinion, not a very good looking film. It looks much like all that came before with a bright, flat and textureless palette. Most Marvel films, especially the Avengers look like they were shot with the same lighting systems used for T.V–you can even see it in the poster up top. The lighting isn’t at all realistic. Yes, this is fantasy and I don’t want things to be realistic, but they need to make sense. For instance, there’s a few important scenes at night time. Watching the characters faces and how they are lit, there is just no verisimilitude – you don’t believe it. Look back up at the poster and you can tell Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and so on standing in front of a green screen with a huge light being blasted at their face. That said, many movie posters are absolute horrible in this respect. That doesn’t mean it should translate to the movie though. Whilst I’m talking about technical details, you’re probably expecting me to rant about CGI. Not at all, I have no objections to the form in itself. In some respects practical effects do look better and are more believable, but not always – and CGI’s constantly evolving. The CG throughout this film is obviously quite good. There are, however, some laughable moments that don’t work on the big screen. Quite a lot of the physics – especially in the first act – is bad. The way characters jump, hit the ground and so on is clearly a mush of pixels. The physics does get better throughout the film, especially entering the second act – where the film really steps up a level. For the first act, however, there will definitely be parts where we look back in 10 maybe 5 years and wonder how they got away with it. There’s a part where characters are running faster than cars in an underpass and it looks a segment from Kung Fu Hustle. It’s really bad. They flit past and the camera half pans along as a intentional mistake and… yeah… I felt embarrassed for the movie.

So, the movie doesn’t look great and the CG isn’t always there (but I’m talking mainly about the first act) there’s a few more things wrong with the movie though. The mixture between drama and comedy at a few points doesn’t work, especially for a very important moment for Robert Downey Jr. Obviously there’s a big speech moment (there’s quite a few) but one in particular went in with the wrong tone. It jumped from joking to very serious in a way that didn’t work that really plays down on the acting. I wasn’t taken in by any serious moments and that’s because they’re all based off of conflict between Iron Man and Captain America. As we all know, Stark/Iron Man/Downey is where the sarcasm comes from. But there isn’t a balance in this film, he’s too sarcastic for the tone they want to go for – which is Batman V Superman-esque – which was completely joyless. So, in terms of acting, nothing impressive in the way of drama – it’s on the edge of melodramatic even. Which is a shame. The comedy hits though and in the mid-section it hits hard. Most comedic elements in Marvel movies come from smart-ass screenwriters. I mean, Deadpool. Almost all jokes are for fans or anyone who’s seen a CinemaSins video and has been inspired to be a bit of a dick about movies (like me). I was getting tired of this with Avengers 2, but then Deadpool happened and slapped my mouth shut. I didn’t have many problems in this either. But, I’m slightly worried (scared for the screenwriters) of Deadpool 2. If its comedic game doesn’t take a step up it’s going to bomb. The same goes for the Spiderman stand-alones/future pop-ups. This is because the jokes centring around Hawkeye explaining how absurd it is that he’s on a floating mountain thing, fighting A.I robots with a bow and arrow and oh, yeah, why is he in the Avengers? is clever, but not sustainable. It’s the screenwriters taking shots at themselves so they don’t have to fix problems. You see this also with them trying to explain away plot holes. It should be done cinematically – made obvious with images. Leone does this best by the way. There’s a lot Marvel could learn from The Dollar Trilogy, especially with the Hitchcock influence sections. Anyway, the jokes are tantamount to cop-outs and while we can laugh at each new original version of this smart-ass’ joke, the more they make them, the more offended we as an audience will probably get. This is because they are leaving in mistakes, or at least oddities, without fixing or even attempting to solve them. Ok, we’ve got one more negative to do, don’t worry it gets really positive in a bit.

This negative is a big one. The directors of this film, Joe and Anthony Russo… yeah… I’m not a fan. In fact, I’m quite annoyed at these two. First, because of the way the film looks. Not great, but I can deal with that. Secondly, these two show no talent at directing action set-pieces at all. They can visualise them, but that can’t execute them. The fight choreography – especially of Black Widow – is mind blowing. BUT YOU RARELY SEE IT! The editing and direction is so frustrating. The final action scene (don’t worry, no spoilers) is one of the best directed and is because it’s in a closed space and the directors choose (are forced) to utilise a wide angle. We can actually see things happening. At almost all other points in the film the camera is doing way too much, it’s too close and it’s honestly just a shame. It’s like watching a kid spend hours painting a beautiful picture. It’s got his mum, dad, sisters, his dog, Rustles, and his house – just like you’d expect. They’re standing in a line next to their home on a green strip, with a huge blue sky behind them, a massive yellow sun beaming down from above. The kid’s just about to put the final black ring around the sun. But… splash… he knocks over the pot, spilling black paint everywhere. It goes all over the table, the floor, his clothes. But that doesn’t matter. It ruined the painting. That makes you mad, it was just what you wanted it to be – a few mistakes, but he stayed inside the lines where you didn’t think he was going to – but then he went and ruined it. You want to be mad, but you just can’t. You have to sigh and put up with it… that’s how the direction made me feel. Just… disappointed. What’s worse is, like I said, some of the action is absolutely great. Some of the set-pieces are truly original – some, however, not. There are elements of the other Marvel films and even Batman (Dark Night) in the highway/underpass sequences. There’s very nearly a scene stolen from Ip Man where you see a few hits and shots almost directly lifted – but it’s cut short. There’s references to Tarantino’s Kill Bill with the fight in front of windows, just like in one of the newer James Bond films (sorry, I can’t remember which). On top of this there is camera direction lifted from The Raid, but completely bodged. I’m talking about the move where the camera falls down sideways with a character. Yeah, that’s attempted, but it has no effect as it’s cluttered and messy. There’s also a moment where I thought they were going to go into the amazing bit from Old Boy with the long tracking shot – didn’t happen. Some of the things that you do miss are acceptable though. You know that in a teen’s film your not going to get excessive face pounding and truly hard hits, so… what can you do? The only upside to the direction was the movement through the plot. It was efficient – not so fast that it was trying to hide mistakes, but quite quick. That said, the plot isn’t strong – I can’t get into that though. Suffice to say if this where a thriller or mystery then it would bomb. Logic stretched over the narrative is not great.

But, let’s jump into what is great, almost perfect, about this film–so much so that I’m getting shivers already just thinking about it. Spiderman. Wow. The first two Spiderman movies are my favourite comic books films ever–I like them more than the Dark Night Trilogy. And the second he comes on screen, the film steps up–many levels. His suit does looks crap, it’s textureless and… nah. It is implied that it’s not the final design and I just hope they improve it. That said, damn! Everything about the character is perfect. Toby Maguire’s Spiderman and Peter Parker are great. But, they are Toby Maguire’s. Spiderman and Peter Parker (forget Tom Holland – though he did do a good job) are great in this film. I’ve never read a comic book in my life, but I hear fans like him too. So there’s that. Also, Paul Rudd and Ant Man… YES! These two characters in the mix with all the others shine brightest. When watching them I had a very rare reaction. It was the kind of joy where your face get’s really hot, you’re heart starts beating harder, your hair stands on end and you just smile. Joy is simply the best word for the mid-section of this film. From Spiderman’s intro until the end of the main fight (of which we all knew was going to happen) the film is perfect. It does devolve a little afterwards and we’re going to go into why in a minute, but first I want to talk about a few more characters. I do want to say a tonne more about Spiderman and Ant Man, but I can’t without spoilers, just know they are great. Black Widow is quite good, her fight scenes especially. Everyone else? Save Wanda, they were fine. Nothing remarkable. Iron Man was quite interesting, but Downey’s acting brought him down a bit. Captain America… there’s not much to say if you’re not a huge fan of the comics. He’s simply the good guy archetype. The same goes for almost every other character. To be honest, they aren’t characters, more so superpowers. But, I have absolutely no problems with that. We don’t need complex, brooding, multi-layered (whatever that all means) people. The lie that I hear a lot about comic movies is that the characters should be deep, complex and interesting. First of all, they never are. Second, we don’t want them to be. Heroes aren’t supposed to be human, they are our projection of perfection. That doesn’t mean they can’t face challenges and be beaten down (please let them be). It simply means that there should be a clear rift between human and super-humans as expressed by the complexity of character – archetypes are what we need, what we fall in love with, what we root for. More on that in a second. Before that, Wanda Maximoff as played by Elizabeth Olsen is laughable. The accent sounds like a joke (just like those in Ant Man). And the hand thing with the orb and mind control? No. Every single second of acting during her action based moments is horrific. Ok, it’s not horrific, but it is bad. Pay attention and it gets an awful lot worse. I can’t go into too much detail, just say that she is probably the worst thing about the movie–which isn’t too bad overall.

**VERY MINOR SPOILER**

Oh! I almost forgot. Aunt May as played by Marisa Tomei? Whew… I can say with all confidence that Scarlett Johansson is not the screen presence I’ll be waiting to see in the future. Damn. You can argue personal preference here, but I’m not listening. Tony Stark saying she’s a sexy Aunt is an understatement. I think that Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation stands a chance against Marisa Tomei, but… questionable. I don’t know tell. Comment. Tell me I’m wrong or a misogynist pig. I’m not even sure if this counts as a spoiler though. Either way, on we go…

**VERY MINOR SPOILER OVER**

Now, if this film were put down on a graph. This is what you’d get…

… a very simply bell curve. Ok, maybe this is all not that simple, but if you imagine the x-axis was the run time and the y-axis was an ambiguous scale of how good the film is/how much you enjoy it, there’s a rise and fall. It starts out ok, then Spiderman steps in and there’s a brilliant set-piece. The film sky rockets here. Then it peters out again. This is because of everything I put forward in the Human Cinema aspect of the Batman V Superman talk (I’ll link at the bottom again). This film starts out on a serious note, grounded in reality. There’s a lot of talk about politics, the U.N and other stuff I don’t feel belongs in a fantasy film with characters with names like Iron Man, Ant Man and Spiderman. We don’t get incredibly political, we don’t fall into a court room drama, but at points it feels like you could. This doesn’t make for a boring film, a film that is disinteresting, but when you promise fantasy, that’s what we’re buying. Notice I didn’t say action. Yes, I went into this film wanting to see faces get punched, guts kneed, thighs wrapped around heads, cracking necks, elbows dislocating jaws, metal fists shattering… all that good stuff, but I wanted it from superheroes. For comic book movies to be films, they need to incorporate dramatic narrative devices with a sense of pacing and flow. A perfect example of this is Spiderman 2. The criticism behind this film is that it’s got too much Peter Parker – too much Toby Maguire. That is, however, why I and many others love this film. Chris Stuckmann probably says it best here. Peter Parker is just beaten into the ground over and over, so much so that he loses his powers, gives up on being Spiderman. Yes, the film is quite cheesy, but I love what Sam Raimi done with it. What this film demonstrates best is how to induce the dramatic elements into a comic book movie whilst sustaining fantasy. By drawing conflict from the human side of Spiderman we’re kept centred with character. When multiple extraneous sources of conflict are introduced (the U.N, law, rules, regulations, the world as a whole) you are not just taken away from characters, but from the fantasy. This is what killed Batman V Superman. There was just too much news and studios apologising to sensitive audience members about senselessly killing people. And in the process they give Batman a gun. What the fuck? Let’s not get into that. Captain America keeps its characters on screen with the political elements, but it does not keep the fantastical elements. This all comes down to the idea of consequence. There needs to be consequential parts of films – it’s best when it’s between characters and when action peaks. Consequence is supposed to remind us that superheroes aren’t invincible. Whilst Spiderman 2 does this perfectly, Captain America beats us over the head with a half-assed idea of this.

The consequential in this film is there to take our archetypes away from us. They literally say we don’t want you to be superheroes. This takes you out of the film, massively. The tone just doesn’t work. This isn’t nit picking either, not only did I feel this, but the full theatre I was sat in did. The atmosphere throughout the first act was of simple contentment. Most where happy watching the film. And then Spiderman comes in and there was a buzz, everyone was laughing, leaning forward, locked in on the picture. You couldn’t help but feel that absolutely everyone was enjoying themselves. This happened because everything became inconsequential for a moment. We had Tony Stark making a few cheeky jokes and then absolute hilarity with Peter Parker. This was followed by the introduction of more hilarious characters culminating in the inevitable conflict of the film. All rules where forgotten, no one was thinking about the U.N, about world treaties, no one was worried about the buildings that were crumbling, the structures being destroyed. We were given fantasy, a moment to breathe. Levity! After that mid-point came a lull, consequence started to seep back in and the film turned ok again. This is all about fantasy. Think of some of the best fantasy films of all time and you get E.T, Wizard Of Oz, Labyrinth, Bill and Ted (talk on that coming soon) then almost everything by Disney and Pixar. What all these films have in common is their own sense of verisimilitude. They create the rules of their worlds and abide by them. The sad thing about this film was that rules of the modern world where being applied. When watching this film I was thinking about ideas of chaos, justice, boundaries and so on to talk to you about. But this film isn’t that complex, it doesn’t present questions in a profound manner – but that’s completely ok. We have genres so writers and directors know what to focus on, so an audience knows what kind of ticket they are buying. When you start grounding a fantasy film you screw with its tone. Yes, the fantastical can happen in realistic circumstances, but it should be our focus. Spielberg made sure that you were locked into E.T by taking the adults, newscasters and wider consequences out of the film. When you don’t have that noise you can fall in love with the fantasy of the movie, believe for a moment that this alien might just exist. Cinema is an allusion, but so is the stuff David Blain does. But, what dos he call it? MAGIC! There is so much emotional investment behind having a card appear in your pocket somehow because you’re locked into this idea of fantasy. But say David Blain does makes a card disappear, everyone is wowed, he then want to sit down a play a game of poker with you. But, oh, no, we’re missing a card. How can we figure this out? Well… maybe–no! Boring! You’ve done your tick and that’s good enough.

Let’s not get too emotional though. Overall, Civil War is a good picture. It’s ok at points, quite good at others, but amazing in certain sections. Most of its problems are technical and overseeable. Most won’t pay attention to how it looks, or the minutia of the acting. The particularly bad direction at certain points in action will frustrate most viewers, some would say it’s a bit long, but everyone will feel the bell curve. Fantasy needs to stay fantasy is all I want to say here. Just… please.

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The Good The Bad And The Ugly – The Moral Trichotomy

Thoughts On: The Good The Bad And The Ugly

The legend. Arguably the best western of all time. Quite obviously the most popular, the most iconic. During Civil War time, three figures risk life and limb in search of a grave holding hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Good

Leading on nicely from the talk on For A Few Dollars More we can jump right into the themes of greed. Money as motive in a narrative is often approached in two or three ways. There’s the It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or The Wolf Of Wall Street approach where money is shown to truly posses characters – and to destructive or absurd lengths. Then there’s the Pursuit Of Happyness or Bicycle Thieves approach where money is in dire need by the good guys with poverty being the looming threat. On top of that there’s the third (and quite similar) narrative you can see in Spiderman 3 or Oceans 11. In these films money is in dire need too, but by what we can assume to be bad guys. So, to summarise, there’s the money as incentive approach and then there’s the money as conflict approach. It’s either a need or want. We see the first approach applied in comedies and crime pictures. These are films in which morals and belief are suspended slightly. The second approach comes largely in drama, or in the more dramatic segments of a film. They rely on moral investment – which is often fuelled by verisimilitude. The best two examples are probably The Wolf Of Wall Street and Bicycle Thieves here. With these as representatives of the two categories I ask: where does The Good The Bad The Ugly Sit? (P.S we’ll call it The Good from now on). At first thought The Good sits well with The Wolf Of Wall Street, but, whilst you may not care as much for Blondie or Tuco finding their money as you would do the Riccis finding their bike, it has at least a foot in the other category – we care for these characters. The same could be said for It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and could be put down to good character work, but, in It’s A Mad World as in Wolf Of Wall Street, Home Alone, Goodfellas, Citizen Kane there’s an element of excess. This manifests itself in the form of comedy or literal excess in the way of hundreds of nude women, drugs, money, possessions. In all such films there is a downfall. In Citizen Kane we have a man dying with words of his childhood making clear the waste the majority of his life has been. In Home Alone cops come take the beaten, bruised, burnt, bricked (Home Alone 2) criminals away. In Scorsese’s gangster pictures someone always oversteps the mark, people end up dead and others in ruins. There is always moral confirmation (the bad guys losing) and/or moral levity (the money hungry idiots being beaten down and left with nothing). The Good is one of a few good films that gets away with not doing either. There are enough serious moments in this film for it not to be considered a comedy, and the bad guys kind of get away with the money in the end. I can hear you stirring already about ‘bad guys’, so what this takes us to is the characters themselves.

Be honest and ask yourself if Blondie really is The Good. He exploits the law for thousands of dollars at a time, impersonates officers and probably doesn’t pay taxes. He’s not too great of a person. But, what makes him good is relative. He is the Good because Tuco is the Ugly, but also because he won’t cross the line and kill him for his own gain. It’s that moral boundary that can allow him to abandon Tuco 70 miles from town in the desert, but not shoot him as he hangs or just leave him. His boundaries even allow him walk through the desert as Tuco’s hostage. Blondie has transparent principals. This is what makes him Good. What comes into question here is why Angel Eyes in then The Bad. He too has principals. He always finishes a job he’s been paid to do. Is it just that he kills? Possibly. But, to complicate the films ideas of Good, Bad and Ugly further, let’s reintroduce For A Few Dollars More. In this film we also have a Good, Bad and Ugly element. It is much more clear cut in this film however. The Man With No Name is the ugly because he does what’s right (takes in criminals where the law can’t), but only for money. Mortimer is the Good because he was forced into becoming a bounty hunter both by the changing society and his sister’s assisted suicide/murder and rape. El Indio is the Bad for obvious reasons. Compare this with The Good. Blondie has not been wronged. Tuco has his past, and so why he is who he is, explained. Lee Van Cleef is playing the same character, the only difference being a lack of back story. There is almost no tangible justifications for their titles – Good, Bad and Ugly. You could say this is down to bad writing, but, would Leone really be so audacious as to name his film and then book-end it with ‘The Good, The Bad, The Ugly’ when it made no sense? I think not. As I’ve said before Leone’s westerns (especially his famous four) are very similar in how they blend this idea of good and bad. With this in mind we can begin to take them a little more seriously, accepting that he has intentions toward a message of sorts. Furthermore, Once Upon A Time In America, the full directors cut, is one of the most overlooked gangster pictures of all time. This has a lot to do with how it was hacked down for original release. But, in this film Leone demonstrates a complex moral understanding of his characters. I’ll stay on this film shortly as we are amidst a western series, but, I only need to point to one of the most shocking scenes in the film. This is the one in which Noodles rapes the girl who never gave him a chance. I won’t delve deep into character motivations, but through a complex and rich narrative, Noodles’ reasoning for doing this is very clear. That doesn’t justify anything, but it is a very hard task to make a rapist anything more than a one-dimensional piece of filth. Other attempts toward this come with A Streetcar Named Desire and The Woodsman. Both films deal with equally heavy ideas, Streetcar being rape and The Woodsman paedophilia. Both are very mature films and like Once Upon A Time In America show a shade of humanity in what are so easily dismissed as monsters. A director of this calibre, comparable to works such as Streetcar and The Woodsman, is someone I believe deserves to be taken seriously – especially when his forte is morals.

That said, we can begin to pull apart the complex mesh of good and bad in Leone’s Dollar Trilogy. To do this we’ll have to make clear that these films are largely about greed and revitalise a good old adage of mine: selflessness doesn’t exist therefor selfishness isn’t all that bad. To explain real quick, all we do is to survive, to fit in, to live as apart of, in line with, despite of, society. This means that when you save a kid from an oncoming car you may be risking your own life, but only because the term ‘hero’ is so revered, is so imperative to the part of us that wants to fit in, be of significance in a huge society. Everything we do is for selfish gain. This may make people frumpy, huffy, depressed and all ‘what’s the point?’, but this idea doesn’t reduce the world to pointless desolation. For the same reason, it’s ok if God doesn’t exist. This is all because one cannot deny reality, they may merely accept it. You may hate the idea of taxes, but, come on, what are you going to do about it? You carry on. You tell yourself taxes aren’t so bad or just moan about them. Moreover, the norm, to a healthily mind, should never be considered bad. What you are essentially doing is denying reality. By saying that it’s bad for us all to be selfish when (as I think) we quite obviously are, you are saying we are all capable of better. People love to say this kind of thing, but such statements are empty. There is good and bad, suffering and levity, in everything. I mean, pure world peace isn’t just unachievable, but would just be boring (just like complete equality). You couldn’t punch your friend in the arm, bully the fat kid, shout ‘you fucking limey cunt’ once in a while (I’m British so that one’s fine). Sure these things are a little nasty, but so is Jerry Springer, NASCAR, action movies, fail videos. But, we all love them. Without aggression, without wanting to see worse situations, cars crashing. people dying (even pretending to) or just getting hammered by their own stupidity, we’re not human – not people recognisable as such. This is why selfishness isn’t bad. But we also have the element of God to discuss. Before proceeding, I only mean to discuss present ideas of what God is in the form of religion (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism…). God as a creator is a valid and interesting idea, beyond that, with the dress-up of religion, I lose interest. And so, it’s fine that God, heaven, hell, karma, fate, prayer don’t exist because meaninglessness is ultimately bliss. The main argument against disbelief is the lack of morals, justice and meaning. However, (as in all likelihood) the reality of there not being a man in the sky but just a big empty universe is something we shouldn’t try and refute. We shouldn’t try to fabricate our own reality but try to come to terms with it. This is just like trying to take blame for a tragedy or something going seriously wrong. It’s not our fault that the universe is empty and pointless, we don’t need to take the burden onto our shoulders. If we accept that idea as an inevitability (like taxes) we can just get on, or, as is probably put best by Samuel Becket (under my interpretation), we should all be ‘Waiting For Godot’.

What all of that should make clear is that I’m only really writing essays because I firstly love writing them, but mainly because I used to get in trouble for taking huge tangents in my English Literature classes. Who’s going to stop me or tell me I shouldn’t here? (Shout-out to all the teachers that put up with me). Anyway, this is all of relevance. With themes of greed and religion put forth in the Dollar Trilogy coupled with the last paragraph, the trichotomy (3 categories) of morality becomes all the clearer. Morals are right and wrong – a left and right of sorts – two extremes in short. This is where our Good and Bad come from. The Ugly originates from a grey area. Now, this scale of Good then Ugly then Bad is shown to be relative by Leone. This calls back to the fact that the Dollar Trilogy is not a traditional western. Traditional westerns are quite civilised. Leone drops civilisation to reflect present day. In my books, ‘civilised’ is a tradition, it’s an idea of knights, princesses, kings, queens, chivalry, fearing God and knowing your place in society. Note, I said idea. This fantasy probably never existed. It did however have gravitas, it did have appeal back in ‘the good old days’ (when, I won’t try to specify (I’m no historian and won’t use Google to pretend to be)). Before we get lost again, Leone’s idea of Good then Ugly then Bad is relative. So, in the wild west, Blondie is good when the others in question are a ruthless bounty hunter with principals (Angel Eyes) and a worm without many (Tuco). In a civil context, like in most traditional westerns, High Noon for example, the good is clearly the hero who makes the right decisions. The bad is the black hat criminal and the ugly are those without a spine who sit on a fence when maybe they shouldn’t. Leone knows this, and so, The Good The Bad The Ugly reflects a lot about its audience. We live in a dog eat dog, follow back or I unfollow, world. The internet is our wild west and it is not very civilised. Of course, ‘The Good’ predates such an invention, but it is still relevant and very popular. Moreover, the film is about the same morality or mindset behind the shit-storm that can be the internet, that was also present in what we think of as the wild west. So, what this film represents is a change in cinema, a move in the world toward individualism and today in short. With this idea we can see that on the internet the good are responsible content creators, the decent human beings, the ugly are the trolls and propagators of the bad, which are those who just want to watch it all burn. If you zoom in here, let’s say to a negative comments section, the good becomes those who say one or two nasty things that are quite funny, the ugly are the viewers who indulge them, adding to the mess and then the bad are those who take it a step to far and mean for death threats to seriously affect. Am I making a clear point here?

What I am trying to make clear here is Leone’s expression of relative morals, and the idea that all situations can be understood by his good, bad and ugly trichotomy. This is all noteworthy because the film almost comments on itself. Morally, this film, as a western, is pretty ugly. It’s not as ugly as Wolf Of Wall Street, but it isn’t Bicycles Thieves. What we can, however, consider ‘bad’ is the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or The Human Centipede. However, Cannibal Holocaust is in a league of its own. All I can say is animals being killed, stabbed in the neck over and over, is nothing I want to watch – especially in the respect of an exploitation picture. Suffice to say I have no interest in getting through that film. On that point, we come to the truly interesting aspect of this film and its idea. Who decides what is good, what is bad, what is ugly? Us. Me, you, the audience. Why can Leone’s stories be so simple, so entertaining, but be so morally complex (not necessarily in a good way)? The same can be asked of most blockbusters. Heck, we can bring Michael Bay back up again. Good in Transformers is the Autobots defending us Earthlings. Bad is the Deceptacons trying to kill us. And the ugly is a lot of the Bayisms like casual racism, sexism and childishness. What Michael Bay represents is the growing prevalence of the ugly in modern cinema. It started with the antihero’s popularisation. This evolved into individualist teen cinema that flourished in the 80s and with that came the loss of the clear-cut. The ugly weren’t always gangsters, idiots or guys with a problem – they started to become us in our worst lights. I draw your attention here to Michael Bay’s characters, those in Twilight or even those in Spring Breakers. As ‘ugly’ characters, the likes of a Mikaela Banes, Sam Witwicky, Cotty, Brit, Candy, Bella, Jacob, Edward aren’t treated as such by director and writer. The same could be said for a Ferris Bueller, Gary Wallace (Weird Science), Chris Parker (Adventures In Babysitting). You can find these ugly characters in mainstream cinema before The Good The Bad The Ugly most notably those in screwball comedies. But, that pulls back to the top of the essay. The comedy aspects justify the ugliness. That said, there’s still Scarlett O’Hara in one of the most successful films of all time. Well, again, she’s not dealt with in the same respect a Man With No Name or Ferris Bueller is. Through writing and direction she is clearly very ugly. The fact that an attempt toward black and white right and wrong is being lost with the likes of a Twilight, Transformer or even Breaking Bad if you want to bring T.V into this, and they are all so immensely popular, shows that the growing individualism in cinema is something to watch.

This all raises very interesting ideas in respect to the audience. Is it because of modern individualist cinema that we are being better represented and that characters are becoming more and more ugly? The main criticism of The Wolf Of Wall Street is that fact that it didn’t condemn Jordan Belfort. I don’t agree with this, but only because I like the film so much. I would however say that Twilight is kind of fucked up in the way everyone treats each other. But, don’t think I don’t see my own bullshit. here Jordan and Bella are both ugly, but huge masses of us are willing to overlook that. That’s the paradigm I’m trying to make clear. Condemnation is a huge aspect of older pictures. I cite Citizen Kane as an example. Moving forward we have The Good The Bad The Ugly where of course the bad guys get away in the end – and we support them all the way through. This deepened with the likes of Taxi Driver, more so with Ferris Bueller and even further with Transformers. There’s little consequence to being a bit of a dick in these pictures. And of course that ‘bit of a dick’ quotient is increasing from Travis to Ferris to Sam. An interesting paradigm, no? It’s now that I’ll try to take this all full circle with the idea of the helpless and the ruthless to explain why Leone’s spectrum exists. Firstly, this idea of the helpless and ruthless is expressed through the following iconic lines:

There’s two kinds of people in this world: those who have a rope around their neck, and those who do the cutting.

There’s two kinds of people in this world: those who come through the door, and those who come through the window.

There’s two kind of people in this world: those with loaded guns, and those who dig.

Poetry, huh? What each of these lines make clear is the weak and the strong. But what they don’t account for is:

Those who miss.

That cannon that blasts through the wall.

Angel Eyes, who also has a loaded gun.

Each of these are visual responses to the quotes up top. Yes, Blondie may be the one who shoots the rope around Tuco’s neck, but only until he chooses to miss. Just like Tuco may be able to sneak in the window, but Blondie gets away when that cannon hits the house. Just like Angel Eyes had to complicate the discovery of the money. To reiterate, we have two extremes and then a complication. Leone uses these to create conflict, such as Blondie standing on a stool, Tuco shooting at the legs, the noose around Blondie’s neck tightening. He then breaks it up (with the cannon) so his story can continue, taking us to the ending of the epic – resolution. Extremes nullify each other for the sake of narrative flow. So, there can be good and bad, but things figure themselves out. Here, we come back to the ideas that selfishness isn’t bad and neither is it such a disaster if God doesn’t exist. Each of these men are outwardly selfish, but, only in context, in their little circles. Their fight for the money doesn’t cause any one else much harm. This is why their selfishness is acceptable by the standards of the audience. Moreover, this is why films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Taxi Driver, Twilight and Transformers are successful. They deal with context. All ugly characters stay in situations where they don’t make the jump to bad – they don’t let us label them as such because: ‘but look what she did’. The religious elements of this film are also there to show this same kind of leniency. We see this with Tuco’s interaction with his brother. Tuco is the way he is because that’s how he survives. He lives in a harsh, ungodly world. But that’s ok because he still finds joy, he still finds purpose in the material and equally meaningless – money. This is why Leone satirises religious imagery throughout the Dollar Trilogy. First it shows a lack of religion in the characters, but secondly it shows that they get on despite that. Leone’s lasting image is an idea of an automated process. His narrative contains conflict and aversion (the italicised bits up there) for resolution – so that The Good The Bad and The Ugly can sort each other out. In Leone’s universe there is always moral complication, but, it always fixes itself. There seems to be an underlying mechanism by which evil is conquered and the sustainable live on. This is why The Ugly is left to his loot, but the relative Good is the focus in the end of the film. His journey, where he goes next, matters. Similar could be said for For A Few Dollars More. The Ugly, The Man With No Name again, has won his loot and is going to use it to live the life he wishes – the sense given is that he’ll stop bounty hunting becoming more moral. Tuco on the other hand might not. Either way, in all narratives, the bad guys get it. That is what matters.

All in all, the Dollar Trilogy is about inevitability. It’s about the acceptance of the negative aspects of the world, but also seeing things in context, the small victories, the human tenancy to quash the bad – whether it be accepting them as ugly, being able to indulge in the mischief or laugh off the absurdity. Morals are relative. This is what Leone makes clear through the idea of Good Bad and Ugly. And… wow, that’s the dollar trilogy done. A long final post, but we’ve still got Once Upon A Time In The West to do and the western series to round off, so, stick around for that.

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For A Few Dollars More – Death’s Price

Thoughts On: For A Few Dollars More

For A Few Dollars More follows two bounty hunters butting heads as they close in on a gang of criminals worth nearly $30,000.

For A Few Dollars More

To me, For A Few Dollars More is title that really doesn’t do this film justice. The film is best surmised by it’s opening text:

Where life had no value,

death, sometimes, had its price.

That is why the bounty killers appeared.


That is, in short, the crux of the film. But, before that, it has to be said that this film is the one to prove that Leone truly is a masterful story teller. The plotting of this film is immense–a true masterclass if ever you need one. In terms of technical plotting this film is probably Leone’s best, and despite this For A Few Dollars usually falls to fourth place when Leone’s filmography is ranked. The Good The Bad The Ugly comes first, Once Upon A Time In The West second, (usually) A Fistful Of Dollars third and For A Few Dollars more fourth. This comes down to The Good The Bad The Ugly being so iconic with its score and riveting (yet simple) narrative. Once Upon A Time In The West is the best directed of Leone’s western pictures – in my opinion – but it hasn’t the star power, loveable characters or iconic imagery The Good The Bad The Ugly has. A Fistful Of Dollars is what made him and Spaghetti Westerns famous. And so, that kind of explains why For A Few Dollars More comes fourth in ranking. However, I’d say that For A Few Dollars more needs to go up at least one place. It’s a rare example of the sequel being better than the original. This is because it’s not really a sequel. It’s a film of its own. Leone had more money and a similar story to tell. Usually this leads to a relaxed director, just mailing it in – and is why sequels are rarely better than the original. But, Leone was holding out on us with A Fistful Of Dollars. For A Few Dollars more has more flare, spice, grit and bite. Leone took quite a few chances in this film. The most obvious will be the increase of violence especially that of a sexual nature. Marisol was probably raped in A Fistful Of Dollars, but this was never expressed in the same manner it was with Mortimer’s sister – we even see the gun wound that ended her life. Also, women are shot down quite brutally in Fistful, but a woman and child–a baby–are murdered (off-screen) in For A Few Dollars More. Leone definitely grew braver with this film. But we can see this most clearly in his plotting and decision to make as pure of a narrative as possible. The first time I saw this picture (I was quite–probably too–young) it confused the hell out of me. I didn’t know who was good, why who was doing what or even what was going on some of the time. This is because of Leone’s refusal to explain anything with more than images. This is pure cinema, it’s what makes the likes of The Godfather, Psycho, most things by Chaplin, Keaton, Murnau, great. Cinema is used as designed; stories are told frame by frame – not with dialogue. This is what makes Leone’s cinema great.

There’s one more thing to add about the plotting – this also comes back to the title of the film. It should have been called… drum roll… The God The Bad The Ugly. Why? The opening few scenes. First there’s Mortimer, the hard-ass bounty hunter. He is the Good. Then comes the chilled Man With No Name. The Ugly. This is a beautiful opening. It sets up a key conflict of the film whilst perfectly demonstrating just who the two main characters are. There’s the no bullshit, efficient and calculated colonel. Then there’s the relaxed, talented, but sloppy kid. They’re both after money, and so in comes the $10,000 – right above it – the face of El Indio. The Bad. This dynamic of the good guy, the bad guy and the questionable one (the ugly) isn’t a mind blowing revelation though. It’s obvious in both this, The Good The Bad The Ugly (duh) and Once Upon A Time In The West. This is because Leone is, in short, telling very similar stories. He does this to bridge away from the westerns that came beforehand–it’s what let him revitalise the genre. Classic westerns have your good guy and your bad guy – the black hat and the white hat. Simple. Leone adds into the mix his iconic antihero – often The Man With No Name. This is what allowed cinema as a whole to really open up. With antiheroes new themes and ideas can be explored that you can’t with black and white story telling. Antiheroes obviously gave us A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas (all talked about in the link above). However, the opposite could also be argued here. Maybe antiheroes dumbed cinema down. As a blanket statement, obviously that’s wrong. But, look at all the ‘dumb, fun’ movies that come out today–look at the majority of Seth Rogan’s filmography. They all contain antiheroes of a sort, just look at The Interview, Superbad or Pineapple Express. This movement toward the stoner comedy (everything Seth Rogan) coincided with move into the 80s – Cheech and Chong, Up In Smoke anyone? By saying this I mean to make clear that antiheroes aren’t just artistic and profound devices used to explore the depths of human nature in all its contradictions. Sometimes antiheroes just entertain (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). You can see this also in For A Few Dollars More. Some of the ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ parts of the film are supposed to entertain with the camaraderie, almost playful deception and dark humour – just think of the act Indio almost gets away with after killing two of his own men. Comical, right?

What this all feeds into is the narrative purpose of the film. Whilst this is a fun, popcorn movie, it does say something quite bold about the dynamic between the questionable and the good. In short, this film is a perfect example of both the use of an antihero to entertain and explore. All the way throughout this film there are blatant religious images that are almost desecrated. One of the opening shots is the Bible and then Mortimer as priest bounty hunter. Huh? And then there’s shooting at church bells, the constant cross image (especially when shot into the stolen safe), also Indio posing as a kind of Jesus preaching to his men, surrounded by, what I assume to be, religious statues. Again, this is bold, but, it also cites a loss of religion – with that, a loss moral guidance. From Leone to 21 Jump Street and Korean Jesus, we can also see the ‘evolution’ of the antihero in respect to disrespect – even if it is for the sake of comedy. Not that I criticise anything here–I have very little stake in the way of religion. Anyhow, what Leone is trying to demonstrate is a progression in time. Westerns are always about change whether it be with the image of war or the train. It’s change that cowboys often fight against, but in For A Few Dollars More, they embrace it. The cowboys essentially become criminals and bounty hunters/killers. This is where the good and ugly come back in. Mortimer represents the good mainly because he’s from a time before The Man With No Name. He’s a bounty killer for similar reason as ‘Manco’, but with one key difference–the watch on his hip. The Man With No Name is, in spirit, ugly because he does what he does ‘for a few dollars more’. With that idea we can see the double meaning in the opening lines of the film (at the top of the essay). Death having a price sounds ominous and dark. It implies anyone can be killed – just for the right amount of money. And whilst this is true in the film, it’s not the only price willing to be paid. Mortimer is willing to pay for the death of Indio with not only his own life, but his own half of the bounty. This is why the title isn’t entirely apt, and brings the film above the rank of ‘dumb and fun’.

For A Few Dollars More centres around a question of bounty hunting. Is it good? Is it bad? Who is right? The question of course isn’t asked explicitly, but comes with a question of character. How can we root for Manco and Mortimer if we don’t first assume Indio is worth killing? That bounty hunting is right? How can Leone create tension without us too wanting The Man With No Name to get away with thousands of dollars for killing someone? What this reveals in the audience is our intangible, ineffectual, but present nonetheless, acceptance of this idea of murder for personal gain. Of course the posters say dead or alive, but we’re all thinking ‘just shoot him’. This period of cinema is reflected on by Eastwood himself with Unforgiven. His character, Will, is The Man With No Name, but old and constantly tortured by what he used to do. What this cites is the self-destruction in destruction. That killing someone else can haunt you. I know we’re going off on quite a tangent here, but the point I’m trying to make centres on this idea of right and wrong. We assume that the ending is happy because Manco gets away with tens of thousands of dollars which will let him lead a comfortable and quiet life. But is that the end all and be all? Is the end supposed to be of consequence? You could argue here that I’m thinking too much into things, but GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!! I don’t know exactly what that meant–but it’s true. Anyway, what the horizon Manco trots toward has to do with is the horizon Mortimer travels for. This is why thinking of beyond the film is a relevant point and also comes back to the price of a death. Mortimer killed Indio to avenge his sister – he was willing to risk his life for peace, but only because his life maybe had no value. The implied undertones of this movie as given by the opening text are very existential. Essentially, we have two suicidal characters. They don’t see their lives as having any worth and neither those of the people around them. Their lives are worthless, yet death can have a price because, through death, these two characters can almost start living again. Mortimer, once avenging his sister’s forced suicide can go on with his life. Manco, with money in his back pocket can begin living. This is why bounty killers exists and it also hits a lot closer to home than we probably realise.

What this film is essentially about is risking one’s life for material gain. It’s about putting everything on the line in hope of some return. What this film talks to is an idea of capitalism, of getting rich or dying whilst you try. This idea is encompassed by The Man With No Name–comfort at any cost. He is nameless for the same reason we use zombies to comment on consumerism. There’s a contradiction in risking life and death now for what could be comfort later on down the line when you live in the old, slow west. Instead of being almost mindless like a zombie though, The Man With No Name is entirely emotionally disconnected. But, what Mortimer represents is the heart of a capitalist. He wants it all not ‘just because’, but for someone, some purpose. He wants to almost take back what he’s lost. This idea is deeply ingrained into Leone’s westerns. They aren’t just about the old west, the wild west, simpler times. They aren’t even about refusing change, or at least not wanting to accept it – as most westerns are. Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns embrace change – as do his characters. The Man With No Name doesn’t care about the train, he’s got his mind on his money and… you fill the rest. Overall, bounty hunting is tantamount to capitalism in For A Few Dollars More – in a western – so the individualist rise in cinema and culture could be perfectly exemplified. This isn’t to say that all westerns previous to this were communists–John Wayne would probably turn in his grave if I dared say that. But, what I mean to say is that knights of the desert primarily cared for communities, morals, respect… not so much money. Look at High Noon, Rio Bravo, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach. All prime westerns and none really about making money or dying to get it. You can even look at The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. All about gold and how it can destroy people. Juxtapose this with Leone’s Dollar Trilogy and then take a look at yourself. What does Trilogy say about us?

I’m going to leave you in suspense here, but only with the promise for conclusion in The Good The Bad The Ugly. Before I go and to wrap up For A Few Dollars More, what we have here is a preemptive to The Good The Bad The Ugly. It pushes the bar on what audiences will sympathise with or will root for. All in all, with For A Few Dollars More I see stunning technical craft in the way of story telling, Leone’s style strengthening and, most importantly, a commentary on the audience brewing.

 

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Intermezzo – Cinema Of The Romantic

Thoughts On: Intermezzo

This is one of the greatest romances ever conceived. It centres around a love affair between a piano teacher and her student’s father, exploring the idea of a mistake and of the intermittent.

Intermezzo

I absolutely adore this film. I know it’s a remake of the Swedish film that Bergman also starred in, but I’ve never wanted to see it. I don’t know, maybe just in the hope that it’s not better than this. I don’t know what that says about me. Anyway, this film is a masterpiece in my opinion. It’s stood the test of time, but not in the respect it deserves. To me, this is… get ready… this film is Citizen Kane meets Casablanca meets Gone With The Wind meets The Magnificent Ambersons meets The Wizard Of Oz. What the shit did I just say!? Yeah, I said it. And to be honest, this film trumps all but two of those mentioned – The Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind. Citizen Kane is a masterpiece, truly brilliant – you’d be a fool to deny it. On a technical level, I’d say that it’s a better film. But a film is not a mathematic equation. It doesn’t all come down technical detail. Let’s go into the cross-overs though. In the same respect Kane deals with longevity and collapse, so does this. It’s also very divisive, Kane has its Rosebud and Intermezzo it’s camera. The link to Oz is in the idea of fantasy and its conflict with reality. Moreover, the musical influence on both film’s narrative draws them very close tonally. The Magnificent Ambersons connection comes with the idea of family, of mistakes and how to handle them. Again, tonally, there are links here, but through the moral teaching and incite. The Gone With The Wind elements come with the sweeping romantic beats and the questionable nature of attraction and of love. Finally, Casablanca. This is an undeniable classic. A brilliant film. But Intermezzo blows it out of the water. No question. Not one. Intermezzo and Casablanca are the same story, but told from different perspectives. The Bogart character is, in part, Edna Best who played Leslie Howard’s wife. Bergman is Bergman (Anita), and Leslie Howard (Holger) is an amalgamation of the Bogart and Henried characters. Both films deal with the idea of cheating and doing the right thing. The romance elements of Intermezzo make the Casablanca love scenes boring. We all know the Simpsons joke of Casablanca being an old person’s film that bores younger people to death. Well, show them Intermezzo. It’s better paced, better structured, with stronger romance, more poignant questions and a much better pay off–a thousand times more enjoyable as a whole. I would happily watch this film over Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Magnificent Ambersons any day. Any day. Moreover, I could talk about this film for an age longer, I could easily dive into much deeper analysis. For this, Citizen Kane and Casablanca can keep the spots as best films of all time, but only because treasure shared is treasure lost. To me, this is undeniably the artistically better film.

For me, this film represents something imperative to cinema – romance. I’ve said it a thousand times, but cinema is fantasy –  and romance is just that. Some of my favourite films of all time are the likes of The Shining, Requiem For A Dream, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Lord Of The Rings, Godfather, Repulsion, The Good The Bad The Ugly, Donnie Darko… the list goes on for quite some time. But for each Requiem For A Dream there is The Crowd. For each Taxi Driver there is Gone With The Wind. For each Lord Of The Rings there’s an It Happened One Night, My Man Godfrey, The Lady Eve, Some Like It Hot, When Harry Met Sally, Indiscreet, My Fair Lady, Before Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Roman Holiday… again, I could go on and on and on–but I might just end up blushing. It’s in the middle of Die Hard or The Raid that I like to stop myself and say, ‘but you really love Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans–and a bit too much’. Strange, but enough about me. Intermezzo is a quintessential romance. I dare say possibly the best ever. Yeah,  I know there are a trillion other candidates, I’ve probably named a fair few, but what makes the likes of a Titanic, Gone With The Wind or even Casablanca great is the supporting elements of adventure, scale, thrills and action. Boil it down to your core romances like Pretty Woman, Brokeback Mountain, Bridget Jones(ish), Blue Valentine or Lost In Translation, and Intermezzo rises to the top. This is because of what Intermezzo represents. No, it’s not just love, rainbows and kisses, but romanticism. It’s the rainbows, birds, poetry, dazzle, splendour, undercurrent of melancholy and pretension all stuffed into duvet cover of chocolate, comfy socks and snuggles, all on the brink of a whiplashing cringe, but so enchanting that you’re easily lulled away from violent reflex. A great romance is one of the hardest things to pull off. This is because of the recoil an audience is so easily prone to. Yes, you could argue the opposite – that romances are easy because of the malleability of a romantic audience – but I said great romance. Great romances must win us all over. This is why the category dilutes itself when reaching high – it’s also why audiences are split. Again, Titanic, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca. They have guns, action and male leads that appeal to both male and females alike–no, not in that way–but… Clark Gable? Leonardo DiCaprio? Let’s not kid ourselves. Anyway, the films become more universal or they split an audience. I for one hate, HATE, The Notebook. I can’t sit through it. I know others who feel the same way about Pretty Woman, so, yes, I understand how you don’t get a person liking so many romances but not The Notebook.

Intermezzo is a great romance. I wouldn’t stretch to say it’s nearly as popular as it maybe should be to be considered great, great, but… semantics. However, what I want to talk about with this film quickly is the idea of romance and how modern romances aren’t much in the face of the classics. I’ll preface this by saying the Before trilogy is one of the greats as is Blue Is The Warmest Colour and Blue Valentine. Classics are always a mark above the average films of its time and usually act as an amalgamation of all that’s great about them. But, the three modern classics just mentioned aren’t very conventional. Not at all. If you wanted to argue a modern romance that represents modern cinema you could say The Notebook, but, as is obvious, I don’t agree. What my point here is, is that modern cinema can’t produce great romances like the 30s, 40s and 50s. Two words: screwball comedy. Compare that to romantic comedy–which is the same thing, but in modern terms (as well as seriously lacking censorship)–and something falls flat. Spoilers, it’s the rom-com. More than that, what really kills modern romances is their audience. No, I’m not attacking them, but the direction filmmakers feels they have to aim. One of the biggest demographics of classics films, of the cinematic golden age, were considered to be women–they always have been to be honest. What has changed is the age bounds. Classic films were more mature, but for the sake of family. Modern films less so. Yes, we get sex and nudity, but that isn’t maturity. How you deal with it is maturity. That doesn’t matter. I don’t want to fall into semantics here, merely say that romance has dumbed down, have appealed to a specific niche of teens. This isn’t a point that really needs proving though. Firstly, Twilight. Secondly, one word: poetry. Where has that gone? Yes, cinema and numerous other forms of ‘easier’ entertainment killed poetry off (in a general sense) but look at the dialogue in this film. Come back to Casablanca here even. ‘Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine’. Compare that to ‘You, complete, me. You, complete, me’. It’s kind of reduced to an ‘I love you, I love you, I love, I luuuuuuuve you’ from Singin’ In The Rain, no? What I mean here is that poeticism has been lost a little. Eloquence is often met with a scoff–or at least all attempts toward it–in modern cinema. Short and concise. That’s how we want it. What this links to is the pop song and the deep dive into this film…

Music is a key feature of this Intermezzo, as it is in many romances. You can even look at 50 Shades Of Grey. They decided to stop the film for 3 1/2 minutes to have a helicopter buzz about, drowned out by some crappy pop song. It’s a terrible film, but the point stands. I know very little about pop songs of today, let alone throughout the ages, but the dumb-down paradigm has obviously struck in this region too. I mean, compare Mozart to Miley Cyrus. Unfair, but who do you think would have more twitter followers? Here we can link together the two key elements that make this film brilliant. There’s the music and then the mature, controlled tone. I don’t just mean music in the sense that Bergman plays the piano and Howard plays a violin–we’re not going to end up talking about Dirty Dancing or the band camp elements of American Pie, don’t worry. The film itself is like a piece of music. Before getting into that we have to quickly go into something else. The biggest down falls of romances are that they are romantic. Romanticism is icky and, as has been said, it’s very hard to hit the sweet-spot just before cringy and clinging but just after cold, distant and creepy. Just think of the three words, I love you. Have the likes of Orlando Bloom–Orlando Bloom in Troy–whisper that in your ear. Whilst some may swoon, it’d get weird and uncomfortable for most. On the opposite end of the spectrum imagine Steve Buscemi (in Fargo) saying he loves you–yeah, most of us are running away. We’re getting off point though. What I mean to say is that romance can be hard hard to swallow, but at best it’s predictable. But, that’s the joy. We all love the boy meets girl pictures because we know were getting what we paid for. We don’t usually like a Romeo and Juliet sprung on us without warning–why’d you think rom-coms are so popular? Coming back to it, the musical elements of Intermezzo come with its beat. You can almost feel the screenwriter tapping to a metronome. The same goes for the acting. Now, we all pretend to know what good acting is. Suffice to say, I probably don’t, but I am aware of style. You become very aware of this by watching older films. Modern acting has to be as real as possible. Classical acting is more akin to the stage with emoting being primary. You can see this best in Bergman. If you watch closely–which is no task–you can see her mannerisms crossing over her pictures. You can also see a hint of the cogs working behind her eyes. The same goes for romance in general. You can see the inner workings – the beats to come. This is the musical element of this film.

With acting and story you come to expect a rhythm and rhyme and get it. What then becomes primary here is execution – which can only be judged by how much you enjoy the film. For me, this resonates deeply, when I watch it, it almost becomes an old friend. (I don’t know what that one says about me). The same goes for the downfalls of romance. It’s largely about reception–if it creeps you out in a Steve Buscemi sense or it gives you those unwanted Bloom chills or… I don’t want to fit a simile into the last one–something about McConaughey or DiCaprio that doesn’t make me sound gay. So, by getting the rhythm of the film right, what matters next is tone. This is where that idea of maturity comes back in. This film features incredibly enraging themes. No one much likes a cheater or someone who abandons those who love them – the film is fully aware of that. This is what makes the film artistically brilliant. It’s easy to say don’t cheat and treat your family right. It’s in this sense that it’s easy to be a romantic. What makes Intermezzo work however, is it’s fall away from romanticism (in the guise of true and/or eternal loves). What modern and more basic romances do is appeal to the son and daughter’s mentality in this film. The boy hates his father for leaving with the piano teacher. He refuses to see him as a person who makes mistakes, that risks stupidity. This doesn’t justify anything, but allows the film to say something true. The idea here is that despite the intermittent, family still clings together. The ending of this film doesn’t affirm that everything will be all right, simply that the family is willing to try. More than that, the film makes clear that family cannot be entirely broken from. This is a common theme in romance, just look at Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans. This is also why Holger and Anita eventually have to part. Family ties become an inevitable wall. The mature and toned-down approach to this common idea is what separates it from your average romance–the same goes for Casablanca, but Intermezzo does the better job. Ingrid Bergman said it herself when she didn’t expect the picture to have done so well. What allowed it to do so was the strength of that core idea, the style and execution–but all bettered by Intermezzo. Rosebud was Kane’s crux, his link to childhood. The camera in Intermezzo isn’t featured as heavily as rosebud, but is just as effective. It’s a symbol of the image itself. Of a captured moment of the past, as opposed to current and living. The girl wants a camera to remember her father, but in getting it will only be short-changed. Her accident in the end of the film, though clearly a writer’s device, is justified by what it means. Had she received the camera, her father would be nothing more than a picture on the wall–like she sees him as. But through tragedy, the family is brought together. This is the Us vs. Them elements explored in Sunrise.

All in all, it’s the constant movement of plot, of sound, of emotion coupled with the romantic lighting, the soft, angelic glow (given what is probably the most beautiful women ever filmed) and the eloquent, mature conduct used to handle what is little more than bad conduct that makes this film great. It sums itself and romance up best with its one word title. Intermezzo. A connective piece of music, light, yet dramatic. Romance binds reality with hope for the sake of entertainment. What makes it poignant is not weight, hard notes, big trumpets or a thousand piece orchestra, but that one violin and accompanying piano. If it resonates, it resonates. You just have to get the tuning right and then hit the correct notes.

 

 

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