SFC12: All About Eve

[Note:  I wrote this review in mid-October and, because of technical issues that have all but sunk our Podcast, am only just posting it now.  Sorry for the delay, hope you enjoy the review, and expect the rest soon!]

With the fall semester well under way, I continue my regiment of reviews with the sixth and final classic shared between Ryan and I.  We have seen a couple of really great films (oh and Field of Dreams) over this Challenge and both of us have enjoyed crossing a few more flicks off of our AFI’s Top 100 count.  Now we turn to our last Classic and I must say this film surprised me – and not in a particularly good way, either.  While the title rightly implies that it is All About Eve, I really do wish it was not.

By all rights All About Eve sits amongst the Pantheon of classic American cinema, reveling in its own self-satisfying vainglory.  Containing all of the proper elements to make it beloved of the Hollywood Elite, this film proves that all it takes at base to get the Academy’s attention is to make a film about film-making.  And while it stands similar to Sunset Boulevard with cynical, self-analyzing tone, it fails to do so in a way which seems original or engaging.

Allow me to further delve into what bothered me about this film for a moment by saying that I found the characters extremely hard to like.  Starting with the title character, Eve did exactly one interesting thing:  she compared the vocation of acting to the process of what is called a “long con“.  I found this juxtaposition fascinating, as it brings to light the complexities of contorting one’s self into someone else for a time so as to deceive an audience into believing what is at core a lie, and for that I thank Ms. Baxter.

Yet, despite the fact that I am not supposed to like the other players, I found them to be more than just cautionary; they dipped into the realm of annoying.  First, let me say that if I ever become as conceited and pompous a critic as Addison DeWitt, I shall give up the medium entirely.  His arrogance transcended the somewhat necessary confidence required of a Broadway or Hollywood critic to the point of permeating his entirety and making him fully despicable.   Concurrently, Bette Davis is a fantastic actress and one whom I have great respect for.  I think she played the role well and was properly frustrating to watch.  However, and perhaps I should blame the writing for this, my jaw hit the floor when she started talking about the proper place for a woman:

“That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman.”

The film promotes a strongly negotiated read on the roles of women in society – at one time lauding female stars for fighting their way to the top like the men, at another saying they properly belong in very traditional standings.  This, when combined with DeWitt’s horribly intense sexism towards Eve (and her equally melodramatic reaction), tells me that the filmmakers intended to comment on the subject lightly, yet managed to fall hopelessly off the wagon.

Again turning slightly, what truly bothered me about this film was the impossibly obvious cyclical ending.  The first scene clearly sets up the film as one that will end in that moralistic cautionary tale (cf – Sunset Boulevard).  Yet, the ultimate conclusion did nothing but annoy me.  How is it possible that the supreme expert of weaseling into power and fame can miss that this very deed is being done to her?  Many would say that she sees it and is simply too broken to engage the problem, and this is certainly an understandable read.  However, I would argue that at some point she would have to address the issue which she did definitely see occurring, and that would be far more interesting a story than what we got here.  What is fantastic about other de-evolution or degradation stories is that moment in which the issue is blatantly and directly dealt with – Tony Montana getting gunned down, Lester Burnham giving up his dream when Angela Hayes tells him she is a virgin, etc.  It is that moment of powerful character transformation or of definitive conclusion to a cycle that makes the story worthwhile and All About Eve falls very short in that regard.

Let me retort to my own argument and point out some of the excellent elements of the story which did impress me.  Just as a quote nearly destroyed the film for me, one said about the nature of fame and humility in Hollywood floored me:

The minor awards, as you can see, have already been presented. Minor awards are for such as the writer and director, since their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it. And no brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve Harrington.

Speaking from the perspective of an Assistant Director, I can witness to the validity of this statement. Films, plays, albums, and most other forms of art require the combined talents of the many, which ultimately builds the glory and egotism of the very few.  A wonderfully tongue-in-check joke, this is one of the few reflexive moments that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Also, the irony in this film is brilliant!  Miss Casswell, the wonderful young woman trying to break into Broadway via DeWitt’s guidance, is played by none other than that proverbial “Eve” herself – Marilyn Monroe.  This being one of her first roles, she was reportedly extremely nervous and Bette Davis certainly didn’t make life easy for her.  She is said to have needed 11 takes for the scene she has with Margo in the Lobby of the theatre and was so “cowed” by Davis that she had to leave the set to puke. And to think that in just two years she would marry Joe DiMaggio and become one of America’s greatest icons!

Overall, I would say that I did appreciate the film, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected.  Not to say that it wasn’t fun or engaging – my opinion of this film is that it is a good commentary on humanity’s drive for fame and glory, a great story of the de-evolution of a group of people, and ultimately a well-trod narrative about the cyclical depravity of Hollywood.  I am just over this message and the way they tell it.  It offers me no hope and therefore (the inner young filmmaker is screaming at me for saying this) I found it less worthy of my time than it could have been.

Rating:  6//10

Watch your step: This picture is dripping with Irony

And thus another review bites the dust which means I am one step closer to having the Summer Film Challenge 2012 all wrapped up.  Now that I have polished off all of the Classics, I will be turning my attention back to the Brothers Coen, though in a markedly different fashion than the other film.  I mean it is set in the Southwest for heaven’s sake!  So, join me again soon for my breakdown of their comedic hit, Raising Arizona.

[UPDATE:  Here is the podcast.  Hopefully we will be able to proceed with them but until I know for certain, I will be working on my last couple of review thinking their will not be a podcast attached.  I apologize to the two of you who listened to it ;)]

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Brokenness & Love

Hey Yall!
It has been a while since the Modern Warfare 3 review and it is good to be back.  I got a chance to see three amazing films over the past few weeks and I wanted to share my thoughts on them.  They really cover the board – Film Noir, Oscar Nominated, Experimental – and yet I found that all of them really deal with the same themes.  I have been really looking forward to these three films and am excited to cross them off my list, but beyond that I am happy to report that each of them was really good!  So, without further ado, please enjoy this review trifecta on stories of Brokenness and Love.

Sunset Boulevard

I know – not what first comes to mind when you think of a love story but I assure you it is there.  The Hollywood classic about Hollywood itself, Sunset Boulevard was an incredible homage to the film world of yester-year as told from the 1950’s.  It centers around fading Silent-era star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her decline into madness as her need for love is slowly denied.  She clings desperately to hope that failing writer Joe Gillis might be able to revive her broken career and her broken self – falls for him.

The film is a beautiful example of Film Noir used outside of the standard, gritty detective story.  It is about how fallen we are, pointing to every flaw and trouble that a star in the spotlight (or out of it) faces and reveals exactly how cut-throat the movie world really is. Because no love is shared by either of the protagonists, the film depicts the tragedy of a world without love and the terrible affects love and lack of it can have on people.  It is a beautifully dark film that shows us how fallen we really are.

I really enjoyed the film for what it was.  Noir isn’t my typical style, so I always have a bit of trouble getting into it, but Sunset Boulevard really captured my attention and was absolutely amazing to watch.  I recommend it as a classic that any true fan of film should see and as an interesting look at a world without true (dare I say, Christian) love.

Rating:  9//10

The Artist

That is Right!  I got a chance to see the front-runner for the Best Picture Academy Award before the ceremony in February and I have to say that I absolutely fell in love with this film. It was beautiful, it was respectful, it captured my heart and reminded me why I make and study Film.  And it perfectly fits into the themes of brokenness and love.

In case you haven’t heard about this phenomenal picture, The Artist is, like Sunset Boulevard, an homage to Hollywood’s glorious birth during the silent era.  The film is shot in black and white, in the classic 4:3 picture aspect ratio (Standard instead of Widescreen), and the story is told with absolutely no audible dialogue.  The do break a few of the original Silent Era filming techniques (for example – complex moving camera shots) but the overall feel is not that it should be a silent film but that it is paying it’s respects to the origins of Hollywood cinema and the stars that made it big.

What captured me most was the beautifully archaic story it told and how it made use of modern techniques and sensibilities to recreate that style while allowing the medium of the visual motif to tell the story.  In essence it is a good old-fashioned love story about a man and woman who grow closer to each other from a chance encounter.  Yet, the filmmakers were able to work in a fantastic plot element of role-reversal and they wonderfully chose to up the stakes by making the man extremely broken.  Jean Dujardin’s character slips further and further into pride which leads him deeper into depression and the only thing able to break him out of it is the redemptive and forgiving power of love.

Not saying more on the story to avoid spoilers, I HIGHLY recommend you take the time to find a theater showing it around you and see what I, for one, hope will be the Best Picture of 2011.

Rating:  10//10

Paris Je T’aime

No, it’s not Black & White and no, it isn’t Noir.  In fact, in almost all ways it isn’t like either of the two previous films.  I had seen parts of it before and had left it with a faulty memory of it being…I shall call it “morally questionable”.  However, upon revisiting the film, I found it to be absolutely gorgeous snapshot of Humanity – capturing as many sides of the amalgamous thing we call love.

Beautifully orchestrated, the series of short vignettes directed by and starring famous individuals gives the viewer at once a broad overview of the desire we all have for personal connection and individual case studies into small aspects of it.  I love that we get the traditional romance stories mixed with tales of what we are willing to do, sacrifice, and fight for love.  My personal favorites are  “Loin du 16o”, “Parc Monceau” – directed by Alfonso Cuaron, “Tour Eiffel”, and “Place des Fetes”.  Each segment is stunning in its own way and truly beautiful.  I adore this film as I adore the city which I only yet dreamed about and I recommend it to you if you want to be reminded that their is some good still out there in the world.

Rating:  10//10

Ah! L'amour.

So there you have it!  Three films fitting by happenstance into one glorious pattern.  As Blaise Pascal said, which I love to quote, “Greatness, wretchedness. The more enlightened we are, the more greatness and vileness we discover in man…”.  In our search for truth and understanding, we find ourselves drawn to how utterly broken, alone, and terrified we are — blind people flailing about in a dark forest, trying to find a path.  Yet, as each of these films points out, there exists a great, glowing, wonderful thing by which we can all find hope.  And that thing is love: pure, uncomplicated, and entirely unfathomable love which unites all people.  From the world without in Sunset Boulevard, we see how desperately we seek out the light emanating from another person’s heart.  The Artist reminds us that even though the twilight is upon us and things only seem to be getting darker, that if we are willing to reach out a hand and grasp another’s things can only be bright.  And finally, the City of Love itself shows us how wonderfully complex, infinitely deep, and impossibly joyful is the simple soul-touching of love.  Perhaps I am just a Romantic by pen but deep in my heart I know I long for this sort of connection to my friends, my family, and my God.  That is what keeps me going in the hard times, gives me joy in the days of ease, and drives me onward in my study of the magical bonding found by storytelling.

That felt really good to gush like that. 🙂
I hope you enjoyed my reviews of the three films and, as always, I invite you to leave your thoughts down below on any of the three films or my analysis of them.  As the weeks roll on and I am able to catch a few more of the Oscar contending films, I will try to post my full reviews of each in comparison to each other and then make my predictions for who will win each category.  Maybe.

Also, I am busy working on a Quickee post for Art of the Trailer so be looking for that soon. Thanks for sticking around and I look forward to bringing you more reviews soon!

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