I have mixed feelings about I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), Again I came to this having read a short interview with Christopher Lloyd and the trailer for the film which really was selling me a very different film. Like anything you’re sold, you want to believe the advert or promotion portrays a positive and accurate spin on what you have bought into. Which was a disturbed teenager who sees a few murders and becomes fascinated by them, and becomes inspired to follow in the serial killers footsteps, were we seeing his victims as the trailer progressed. I was miss-sold this film. Even the small role that Lloyd was supposed to be playing.
Moving on from my initial complaint I need to lay down a few points as to what I received in the full film. I came to this film bringing my thoughts from having recently revisited Shadow of a Doubt (1943) which I can only draw minor comparisons too. Looking at the dark conversations between our disturbed teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) and Max (Raymond Brandstrom). (I’m wondering if the lead characters names inspired by the serial killer John Wayne Gacy) There was a relationship based on the dark murderous content of their conversations. Reminiscent of father Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) and his neighbour Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) which begins as playful, a way to unwind and let the imagination run wild, Which disturbs Josephs daughter Charlie (Teresa Wright) whose very concerned about her Uncle Charlie’s (Joseph Cotten) motives for staying with them. That dynamic is not really developed further than a few scenes at the start of the film. Probably to tell us that John has serial killer tendencies trying to lead a normal teenage life, that’s against the backdrop of all the murders.
The Hitchcock connections don’t stop there, from the trailer we could be looking at a Norman Bates type, the quiet boy next door who doesn’t get out much. Yet this one does, spending his free time helping his mother April (Laura Fraser) at the funeral home. An early joke about the home not going out of business anytime soon, two bodies in a week. We are however allowed to see the start of the embalming process, with a focus on the blood-letting process, it’s not properly explained but filmed with a fascination that stays with you – there’s a small positive to take away from the film. It’s the first time we are given no real explanation of whats going on – that’s the main fault of this film.
Moving away from the master of suspense to look at the John himself, we’re told he has all the makings of a serial killer, so already we are looking to him to potentially kill someone, he likes to hang around with his mum at the family business. His social skills are limited to alienating bullies who find him to be an outsider who they spend very little time on. I see a young man who is deeply troubled yet fascinated with death and human anatomy. Spending so much time with the dead has a turned him into an anti-social loner who is trying to function among his peers. Being presented with a possible future that he’s trying to prevent. Yet the events of the present could easily mold him into a different more dangerous person complete with murderous tendencies which are simmering on the surface.
The murders at first are mysterious, the victims arrive at the funeral home, usually already open and a few organs missing, soon its arms too. John’s fascinated by the freshly delivered corpses, wanting to explore them in more detail. The closest he gets a first to the killer, to understand his methods, exploring them like a child would their food, in short he’s a disturbed guy. However we learn far too early on who the serial killer is – it’s the old guy living across the street – Mr Crowley, but that still doesn’t explain the black oily gloop that can be found at the scenes of the killings. If only we could wait a little longer to discover the killer. It’s the curiosity of John the drives him to keep looking, spotting odd behaviour and following him from a distance to what is grisly end in the snow. Taking us out of straight forward crime thriller into I don;t know what – supernatural bizarre maybe. The killing is over in a flash, like a poorly shot YouTube video, I couldn’t believe my eyes
We go into a the second half of the film to a game of innocent chasing the guilty, trying to catch him out and get him arrested, it’s not as easy as he hopes it would be. A could be killer following a killer in action. The danger of finding and understanding him is too much to pass-up, just as he wants to control and prevent that future happening to himself. It’s like a Luke Skywalker constantly being tempted by Palpatine to join the dark side, yet his humanity and the lighter side of the force sees him resist the temptation.
Admittedly there are moments of real dread, from the imagined death that’s described to John lashing out at his mum. However it’s when he almost crosses the line from his potential to certain future, trying to understand the psychology of a serial killer he tests a theory out that forces emotions that could see him enter a darker part of his life. For a few moments such as this we are given some real thrills, its too far and between to really make it worthwhile. The deaths and danger gets closer to home, then we reach the really weird ending which at first is shocking, we see John taking control, clear headed as we’ve ever seen him. He’s saved his mum but at the cost of revealing the killer and what is actually going on. I’m left scratching my head, wondering what the hell just happened. The final images stay with you, but given no real explanation for them, which is frustrating beyond the fact that the beast inside Crowley has been harvesting organs because he is dying. Nothing more is given, the loose ends aren’t tied up, we’re left with more questions and leaving us with The Spirit in the Sky to play out the film.
There’s some potential in the film, as much as there is for John to go either side of being a serial killer, exploring a future that’s being played out before him. It’s pure temptation, it’s just a shame we see little of that after the reveal, going into hunting him down, trying to understand him, which we don’t get to. It’s frustrating really and little time is given to explore other characters and how they are affected by the murders. I wish more time was given to his friendship with Max which is just 4 short scenes, his only link to the real world – or normality. It’s dark at times, and very flawed trying to be more than it is with so much there to work with. I have to admit that the cast of Lloyd in the villianous role is something I have forgotten he does so well. He’ll be forever associated with Doc Emmett Brown, however he has before and since played the weird and wonderful and the bad-guy so well so long. His height and face have allowed him to to produce some memorable roles, I can safely say this role can be added to the list, its the film that lets him down.
I’ve been meaning to revisit Network (1976) partly because it celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, another being that it’s an important film that sometimes becomes overlooked with all the 24 hour sensational news we have today, I wanted to see how this prophesying film has come to reality. As I sat down to watch it I realised much I had forgotten on this dialogue heavy film. I had lost practically all of the first hour, waiting for the “Mad as Hell” speech, which I admittedly did again, but was taken aback by the other scenes and build up to what is ultimately a scene that changes the course of the film and the direction all of the characters are going on.
It’s a very human film, going back you could say to Citizen Kane (1941) the need to be loved, the need for attention is at the heart of the film. It’s not human love or attention that most people strive for here. To be embraced, understood, cared for, listened, ultimately to be wanted and loved by another in the world. This is the cut-throat world of ratings, point share and audience percentages. A very cold world where what your station transmits makes the difference of the image you project to the world. The content that for the fictional station of UBS is becoming too much when it comes to news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) who I forgot how incredible a performance he gives. Where he character begins and ends in the film which is central to the stations rise and fall. Beale is a dead man walking when the film begins, he’s just been fired by his old friend and boss Max Schumacher (William Holden), the two men drown their sorrows before he faces his final weeks at the station. Filling him with a sense of uneasy freedom that we all get when we know that what we do will have none or little consequence that a period in our lives is coming to an end. “I just don’t care, I’m going anyway”. First saying on air that he will commit suicide, a surefire boost to the ratings. That’s before the powers that be begin to pay attention. Sadly this comes after the events that are depicted in Christine (2016) of a TV reporter who actually committed suicide on the air. Dark subject matter that Sidney Lumet can’t help but use to satirize the TV news industry. Satire isn’t a word that really sits well with this film though, it’s too dark, shocking and I didn’t laugh once. Instead I was fascinated and drawn into the insidious world of the media. It’s a precursor to a future that has all but happened today.
When the outbursts start to attract attention, numbers start to go in the right direction which means that Beale stays, just for the sake of more promising ratings. Of course it makes sense to keep on the air what grabs an audience’s attention. However it’s the content of the outbursts which is really concerning. He knows there are troubles in the world. Network was made in an era when Watergate shook the country, and the Vietnam war coming to a bloody and very climatic withdrawal. The country is filled with suspicion and disillusionment, ripe for someone to vent on a platform that can reach a massive audience. The news is the perfect position for such an individual, who is fighting for their professional survival.
It’s at out the halfway mark that really marks a striking change in tone. “Mad as Hell” as I learned came more from an spiritual possession of Beale who is no longer himself, more a vessel to express the insecurities of a nation still coming to terms with the greatest country in the world being turned upside down at home and abroad. History is about to repeat itself in some form or another. Trumps Administration is cracking at the seams and the situation in North Korea could easily end very badly for the planet. Lets hope things don’t get that bad though. Back to the fictional 1976 we see behind the scenes at the offices of UBS in fighting for control of the news. An internal war for control both creatively and financially. Mainly between content director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) and News director Max Schumacher Beale becomes a pawn in a giant game from ratings, as UBS improves financially and in terms of its position – I still get confused with all the media talk. Maybe that’s the point. Its a different world where people don;t really matter, they are disposable if they are not in the best interest of the company.
UBS becomes a network for the lowest common denominator, airing content for shock value alone, which was years ahead of what we have now. Not as extreme but this is a filmic world where anything is possible. Making deals with political extremists for content that is brave and pushing the boundaries, but showing how far they will go, not caring how they influence society politically.
With the introduction of the board of directors and a foreign takeover bid – Arab money. Money that provides Beale with his best material or intervention, preaching to his audience to rally behind him and stop the takeover. Writing to the White House to stop the bid being approved. It’s a prime example of getting carried away with a good thing, it will always bit back. There’s a scene very late on when the chairmen of the board Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) explains how the world works. To him its not based on a community of countries that try to cooperate and live alongside each other. Which we know is a hard task at the best of times. I was first shown the scene outside of the film in a lecture, it didn’t really make sense outside the context of the film. 3rd time around I now understand the speech and it makes more sense, money is how the world functions, countries are just places to deposit it within.
Looking back I can see how much Network correctly predicted, the war of the ratings will never end, pandering to the lowest common denominator will not go away until tastes change. I see a man whose used for the sake of grabbing attention, By the end of the film, he’s no more than a disaster, toxic to them and had to literally be killed off. The scene where the murder is arranged is always shocking, cold and organised so that they all get away with it. The room is filled with people who are soulless, no life outside of the industry, I’m relieved that Schumacher was fired allowing these amoral characters to carry on. I didn’t forget the weird affair between Schumacher and Christensen which was built on drive and passion that turned into a one-sided empty relationship where nothing can survive. Taking the affair on it’s own it shows how two very different people working in the same world are so far apart. One driven by quality, heart and warmth, the other driven by stats, ratings and positions. A montage sums up how little passion there is between them. Network holds up pretty much if you ignore the political extremism, there will always be infighting, pandering to the masses not to the intelligent audience that is craving to learn, not just be herded. The power of media manipulation is rife, we have to choose carefully what is not “Fake News” today. Instead of quality news coverage which I think we’ll never really have from one source. The film has allowed for a whole sub-genre of New room drama’s which mock the media so successfully today.
I just caught Remainder (2015) purely on recommendation from Mark Kermode a film he compared with Synecdoche, New York (2006) another film that caught my imagination in terms of how realities are constructed, both within the film and the theoretical consequences of those constructions. When Tom (Tom Sturridge) suffers brain damage in an awful accident in London, his whole life becomes fragmented. Having to start over again really. Learn to walk, move, to be him again, which is something we never really see, more a version that is after the accident. After a massive payout from the accident he’s in a financial position to try to understand what happened to him. That’s before we see a guy who alienates his brother, his ex and those who just want to help him. Is this him before after the accident, an abrasive guy who just can no longer function normally in society. You would want to steer clear of this guy for a while at least, could it be the brain damage that has altered his personality? None of these questions are really answered.
Instead with a payout (around £8.5 million) he sets about reconstructing a fractured memory. With the money behind him he can start to realise what is going on in his tormented head. Turning to Naz (Arsher Ali) who is quickly hired as his PA, producer and general assistant who takes more than he really has to. A guy who is the conscience of the film – not that you’d really know as he is rather passive unless really needed, You could easily read a sexual relationship of dominator and dominated – Naz being mostly dominated throughout this odd yet rather fascinating film.
I would like to have known how the accident first occurred as we discover it acts as time-loop that would in theory allow the events to unfold infinitely which would allow for a more horrific and disturbing film than what we have. So what do we have when he’s back on his feet. A loner with financial freedom to try and reconstruct his memory, or one specific one, as the clip above begins to really move the plot forward which up until then does drag, as we like Tom are unsure of where things are going, just as much as we are. After the meeting which goes pretty well, we begin to see the perfectionist really breaking out, the control freak who through ear pieces and pure power, his memory starting to resurface. It’s rather odd to see an old lady being told at whim to move forward and then in reverse, to have the sound levels reduced, everything is at his whim. It’s not virtual reality – or is it. It’s a reality that he has constructed to allow him to explore what is or what.
I’m very much reminded of Synecdoche, New York when a theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) construct and direct a whole world. Yet there’s more creative freedom in this controlled environment. He allows his actors to bring their own interpretations of the roles. It’s a collaborative construction, not one that’s dictated. He has the remote control. There’s no delegation here. The similarities lie in the loss of time, it has no meaning here, only to allow us to re-enact what is going on in and now outside of his head. Both are driven for the truth and at great cost to the men. Before long we see him paying actors to play-out a more intimate moment in his flat, is his torturing himself or wanting to understand this moment in his life. He’s deadly serious and shows no or little thought for those who are part of his recreations.
The action moves from the block of flats to a reconstruction of a bank where a robbery took place, Tom’s fascinated to understand what went on there, how it played out. But why, and how is that connected to him. Only a guy he knew – Chris (Jumayn Hunter) whose killed and believed to be linked to the crime. It’s an avenue he must explore, an instinctive urge within him to explore. He doesn’t care what lengths he goes to, he’s almost suicidal in his acts. The robbery becomes the central focus of the film as Tom begins to pay for a full-scale replica of the bank, the street it’s on and the sky above. It’s like a film set without the cameras to capture the action, no audience to witness the crime, just actors who blindly replay the scene over and over again. A time-loop which can be controlled at his whim.
I was disturbed at the lengths he goes to, the control freak nature of the character makes him very unlikable, yet we carry on watching as we want to know what is this all about. A clinically controlled set that is carrying out the same test right up until the final test where reality is the new variable, shaking up the cards, going out to the real location, the actors have been lab-rats in one giant laboratory experiment, with no real purpose more than to explain the fragments of the mind of a guy that you come to really dislike. It’s the whole process and methodology that keeps you involved in the dark film that really gives you little to work with.
Patients who suffer with amnesia would relish being to have the freedom to re-enact scenes from their fragmented or lost memories in hoping to fill in the lost parts of their long-term memory. I was drawn to the low-key initial creations, the drawings and cardboard models that allowed Tom to start to piece together his past, which turns out to be a vicious circle he is doomed to repeat, there’s no room for change here, not like in Groundhog Day (1993) which allowed weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) to relive and learn from the day and improve himself in order to finally escape this loop which first was too much to handle. Tom is nothing like Phil, who was just as unlikable to begin but finds redemption in his ability to learn and grow. This is pure sci-fi that shows sometimes are destiny can sometimes never be altered. Flawed yet deeply fascinating, with questions that are left unanswered after seeing a guy we hardly know become someone you care little about yet your hanging onto know whats going to happen
Just recently I’ve been watching quite a few foreign language films that have all been very engaging, the one previous to The Deep/Djúpið (2012) was Julieta (2016) which I remember being discussed on it’s release in the UK. I must admit that I did try to write a review yesterday but failed to have the fire in me to get past a few paragraphs to really make it worth my time. I may return to it as and when. Having seen Deep/Djúpið I was unaware of what I would really expect, knowing only that there was a ship wreck, beyond that I knew little else. I think going into a film, foreign language or not its best to know as little as possible as it can really raise your expectations. I had very few beyond the description that came with the recording. Over breakfast I was taken back to 1984, and to an Icelandic Island where a tragedy was about to unfold.
We meet a group of men on a night out, it’s cold, snowing and tempers are running high at the time. I’m already thinking how are they not wearing more layers than they are here. I’m not considering that they are used to these temperatures so its nothing new to them. Unusually for a film we are following the more unlikely of characters, a man whose more rotund, not your the kind of man you expect to see leading a film, which in itself refreshing. Gulli (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) whose an average guy enjoying himself on a night out. Away from Hollywood representation of men at least is more true to life. For now we don’t know that the focus of the film is on him, as we meet 5 other men who we get to know before they set off on another fishing trip. Ironically the only real connection to Julieta. We see a few of the men back home, Palli (Joi Johannsson) who has a wife and kids. A man whose loved by all he knows, these moments are all important as we lead up to our time at sea. We also have a young chef whose about to be pushed by his new captain. All these moments allow us to get to know the men before they set off for the North Sea.
The look of the film is semi-documentary, not really getting in the faces of the characters, allowing them to just get on with life on the fishing boat. I was reminded briefly of the visceral imagery in Leviathan (2012) that took us into the silent world of fishermen at work, given only the images and silence between conversation aboard a ship. The audience is teased very early on into the trip as a net gets caught under the surface. Thankfully the first time they are able to save themselves from capsizing. Making me wonder why they would cast their net in such an area, aren’t these experienced fisherman out on another trip. It shows how incompetent the crew might be, do they not know the waters well enough to avoid this section of the sea. It’s a flaw in the film that is not explored. We are left wondering just why did they do this in the first place.
The second time around the net is caught and it’s too late, the winch is still going out and they are slower to react. We have been waiting for this to happen really, what will they do, will they get themselves out of this incident. It’s how the react that is the direction the film leads us. We see a father and son loose each other, a chef never to cook another meal whilst Gulli tries his best to rescue the remainder of the crew. Breaking Palli free before the real drama begins, going into survival mode. I forget this is the North Sea, becoming more about wanting these men to get back out of this cold water. 3 men soon become one – Gulli is the sole survivor of the crew, the man we weren’t expecting really in classic film terms. It’s awful seeing him all alone in the freezing water, with only a seagull to keep him company, for without the bird we would be in the world of Robert Redford‘s All is Lost (2012) and surviving at sea.
Its a different kind of survival, there are no books, no kit to work with, just pure instinct and the need to stay alive, to stay sane in the ice cold waters that has just taken his five colleagues. You could say it’s the Gull who saved him, kept him talking. Ignoring that seagulls come out to sea to die, he obviously close to land. His life does flash before his eyes in super 8 format, something you either go with or see as contrived as we return to this method a few times to allow flashbacks to happen. We are taunted with another boat that is so close yet so far away. Gulli has to swim to stay alive. Time really is drawn out before he finally spots land and faces another battle, the harsh rocky landscape and the tide that throws him about like a bit of drift wood. He finally makes it back to familiar ground, with bleeding feet and exhaustion.
He soon becomes the talk of the island, the loss of 5 men at sea and one survivor, something professionals all believe to be a miracle to survive from. You start to think about how and why he survived and it becomes glaring the obvious the more time we spend with Gulli, his extra weight acted as an insulator, not the scientific community reach that conclusion for sometime. Instead he’s invited to take part in medical research. We are wasting time here as we don’t need to see him treated like a lab-rat, the miracle is not a miracle, even to those who aren’t medically trained. It’s the weight, the fat that insulated him – they call it Seal fat, which is laughable as his parents would have to be Seals and we would have to be the world of Men & Chicken (2015). All I can think of now is puppy fat in children which is nonsense too.
Anyway flaw found I move onto see a man whose been poked, prodded and tested until he can take no more. Wanting to get on with his life. Do what he promised God he would, allowing others and himself to grieve and move on. To finally go back out there and put his life at risk once more, a fisherman a trade he cannot give up. It’s his life and the only one he knows, it’s a dangerous one which we have seen affect him far greater than we could imagine. On balance The Deep does have good intentions and have real heart. It fails to explore why the men cast their net twice is low areas, instead it focuses on the ‘miracle’ that was an overweight guy surviving in the North Sea. Common sense could have saved us a lot of time and given is a very different film. We do however really care for Gulli whose not allowed to process what’s happened and to get on with his life.
Admittedly I am very late to the Woody Allen films. I only started earlier this year, picking up Annie Hall (1977) which blew me away in terms of comedy, writing and just pure originality. For it’s time quite and could easily knock some contemporary comedies out of the water. My next Allen was far more recent with Irrational Man (2015) which was another kind of Allen, a murder mystery – of sorts, A lite comical murder planned and committed by Joaquin Phoenix whilst having a fling with one of his students. The soundtrack stuck in my head, a clever use of Northern Soul. In short I was hooked on the director and wanted more, more than I could find. I bought a box set which I am eager to make my way through. With the re-release and remastering of Manhattan (1979), which quite honestly not just blew me away but took me to another place that I had not seen in film. A romantic comedy with an affair and the neurotics of Allen paired with Diane Keaton could work in a perverted where having an affair was kind of OK. The dynamics constantly changing, such a dark part of adult of life treated with a light touch. It was note perfect, and visually spellbinding – even on a small TV I was in awe of it all.
Moving onto my next film Cafe Society (2016) didn’t take me long to see the similarities between this Hollywood period romance and Manhattan. Yes it’s another compare review, which’s going to be a challenge – bring it on. What begins as a period piece, once again in the golden age of Hollywood, we are at a party and introduced, not to one of the leads but the uncle and agent Phil Stern (Steve Carell) who can;t help but name drop, actually all them in L.A. can’t help but name drop. The aim to immerse us into the classic world of the big names that we associate with that era. You can see which ones that Allen grew up with, thankfully none of them make an appearance, it’s an exercise in nostalgia for the writer director who has nothing to prove now really. Stern takes a phone call from his sister back in New York advising him that her son, his nephew Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is coming out to live there, or as we find out to escape his old dull life.
We go into the classic routine of exploring Hollywood, Beverley Hills, the Walk of Fame – all the touristy things, except this is all happening, histories being made whilst Bobby is finding his feet in the city of dreams. In between doing jobs for his uncle he’s being shown around by Stern’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Things are starting to look very familiar as we replace Keaton with Stewart and Allen with Eisenberg. It first hit me when he talked himself in and out of having sex in 2 minutes, it’s just typical of Allen’s own on-screen roles (that I have seen so far, limited I know), transferring from older to younger, the emotions and persona of a vulnerable yet confident man remain, minus the intelligence of the older that would make Eisenberg look arrogant in this role. Stewart doesn’t even come close to the free-spiritedness and independence of Keaton, yet the younger pair do have chemistry and that matters in any romantic film.
The next really strong connection to Manhattan was the reveal of the man who Vonnie said she was going out with – Sterns, yes it’s an affair. This is the journalist boyfriend whose always traveling to be seen. The affair dynamic really shows up how strong the plots are similar, yet the way this relationship works it’s not as polite and open between the two men who shared Keaton’s Mary between Isaac (Allen) and Yale (Michael Murphy), obviously at the same time or an audience just wouldn’t accept the film, one relationship ends before another. In the Hollywood of Society we see the woman being shared, yet torn between the two men. One experienced and able to provide a good and stable life and on the other hand you have a dreamer who is full of passion – which would you go for. Well this crazy lady goes for the guy who couldn’t make his mind up for a year. Just h=shows how imperfect we humans can be. That;s one of the rare sentiments you can take away from this film, more so in Manhattan when the realisation of what you had been so much better you’ll do anything to get it back.
I next noticed when the action moved and stayed in New York we have the horse and carriage ride in Central Park. It feels like Allen’s just going back to old imagery – as much as he tells us he doesn’t hold Mahattan in the same regards as everyone else, he knows what works and reuses it. I was reminded of the gorgeous black and white cinematography, that conjured up nostalgia for the older scene that has cultural resonance not the newer film that merely recycles a cliché.
Yes I am only four films into Allen’s overe and may find this repeated over, it maybe just that being in central Park invites you to use this cliché time and again, I just hope I’m proved wrong. I don’t think it helped that it feels like a reworking of the classic in bright colour which doesn’t help my viewing.
Away from the comparisons, it relies heavily on narration, by Allen to progress the plot, it feels like we’re being insulted, as it pushes it along faster than we need it to be. Again Allen narrated the earlier film, well he introduced chapter one, which showed a vulnerability of the writer whose about to open up. Except here the ego of the director creeps in here, nearing Quentin Tarantino territory when he takes ownership of the film, not only did he write it, but he has to read aloud too. That point aside we have see Bobby’s gangster brother getting into trouble and finally caught. For a while I was wondering why were spending so much time go back and forth between New York and Hollywood. It does build up what is going to happen as a Jewish family is somehow unaware of what he’s been up to. Which really sums up how naive Bobby really is to life and those around him. He has experienced to worlds, one of excess and glamour, another of corruption and crime, all of which don’t really effect him. He’s more than happy to live in them as long as he’s not really affected by it. When Vonnie and Stern are in New York we can see how far the characters have come and what they have achieved. Leaving me disappointed really as the two could have got back together but we are left cruelly and frustratingly in the dark. It does set the two films apart, that there is no satisfying conclusion – both the guys get the girl, well the girl they started out with.
On balance Cafe Society takes the same basic story and attempts to reinvigorate it, with a tonne of film nostalgia which is absorbing. With an ensemble cast where you get to see enough of everyone to make it worth them being there. However the basic plot smells of Manhattan which really disappoints me, maybe it’s just my lack of knowledge on the director, does he recycle plots or was he just taking one that works and twisting it for a new film. Please tell me he was just having a bad day.
As soon as I saw the description for A Song is Born (1948) I knew it sounded very familiar, so familiar that I saw the original only a few months ago – Ball of Fire (1941). Both directed by Howard Hawks and written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. I saw the original more for the smart writing than the direction. However I needed to see A Song is Born purely for comparison, what else I get is a massive bonus from a winning formula. I know that Hawks later remade Red River (1948) a few times as Rio Bravo (1959), El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970) of course after the first two the returns on entertainment were diminishing, but that’s a different conversation to be had. I considered talking about Ball of Fire back in June however, the writing, the comedy and the chance to see two of the golden ages finest on-screen together Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper; both versatile actors having fun.
My feeling on remakes or reboots is very mixed, first its not original to go back to the same plot and simply re-produce it with different actors. However it was just not long after the war and audience taste had changed, new actors were entertaining them. Could an old favorite be dusted off for a new audience to enjoy? That’s a risk that Hawks was willing to make. Ball of Fire one of the latter Screwball comedies, everything thrown at you, high-concept ideas and fast gags. Ball of Fire sure fits the bill, with out-of-touch professors who have lived together for too long now. Writing an encyclopedia, the professors each taking a few specialist subjects – Prof. Bertram Potts (Cooper) the linguist specialists and the youngest of the men, who were all born in the 19th century. It’s only when he hears slang that is fresh to his ears is is mind opened to a new world that he had ignored up until now. Going into the outside world for research, handing out his card to those he ear-wigs on, new words and phrases that he wants to understand more about – inviting them for group research. Its really quaint when you look at it now. All this before he ends his day at the nightclub where he discovered club singer Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanwyck) who delivers line after line of slang that makes little sense, but livens up the whole film from just being a ‘got to save the day’ film to something far more exciting. I’ll leave the synopsis there for now.
Now turning to the remake A Song is Born in more detail, you have a tried and tested duo in Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo much like Cooper and Stanwyck, both couples having chemistry. The similarities between the two films are quite striking from the beginning. I could list them all but that would be tiresome. Instead I’ll focus on a few. The first being the setting of the research institution is the same in terms of the set-design a quick recycle and change of plaque on the front before the daughter Miss Toten (Mary Field) who played the same role in both films. Now does this show clever thinking or laziness in not recasting and refreshing the role. The re-use of the set is easily explained as cost-cutting, unless we are seeing into Hawks thinking, is he trying to perfect a film the film that is in his head, based on “From A to Z”. The threat of funding being withdrawn is exactly the same too, leading to Toten being charmed by Professor Hobart Frisbee (Kaye) who she’s secretly attracted to, but exploited here so much. I’m starting to see the differences, the book they are working on, has a greater focus on music, an encyclopedia of all knowledge which only as out of touch as those writing it. Both groups of men are so wrapped up in the past they have forgotten the world outside.
Music is a stronger focus for the characters than just EVERYTHING, still very niche and rich, it allows the Kaye return to a world he is very much associated with, the musical. All courtesy of musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey. Of all of the musicians I’ve only heard of Armstrong, all of who though assume the roles of working club musicians, playing Jazz, swing, doo-wop etc, all exciting Frisbee, inviting them back to the institution, not for a Q & A but a performative exploration of music. Taking away the old blackboard and chalk and replacing them with a recording system.
All this before I’ve reached Virginia Mayo’s role of the club singer and gangsters girlfriend. On reflection I feel she was mis-cast in the role that is too dark for her. She does her best by playing up the comedy and musical numbers to compensate. More there as part of a package deal, you want Kaye, you get Mayo, it’s a partnership that’s proven, so why change it? What really lets her and Kaye down though is the recycling of script that is hardly altered really. On the surface it may sound different yet it leads to the same conclusions and jokes. There is a wonderful breakfast scene when Kaye comes down stairs to completely mess up his meal, unaware of what he’s doing, wrapped up in his new experience of love.
The film has it’s positives but I feel it’s weighed down by deja-vu to really be an original and fresh film. I feel that Hawks was either trying to work out a bad part of a film, ironing out the faults to deliver something better. Is that just for his ego though, or was he told by those higher up, your making a film with these two, think of something fast. And here’s the result. A film that has a good formula, with plenty of jokes, I did actually laugh and in the right places. However I was constantly comparing it with whats ultimately a far superior film which sparkles and crackles. An interesting early Wilder picture, who had to wait until 1942 to direct. His original script is merely re-used and reworked, which shows how fast the remake was put into production.
Like I wrote earlier I could go into detail on every scene but that would serve little purpose and I wouldn’t enjoy doing it, finding fault in a minor film that forms a body of work in a director – Hawks who could produce some classic films that stand the test of time, lets call this a mis-fire and move on.
Seen as an important early Western as the genre began to find its feet as Hollywood was starting to accept the genre to be taken seriously. All due to John Ford‘s Stagecoach that took not only a chance with a genre which had taken on the form of period epics of the Victorian era, such as Gunga Din (1939) and Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). All the basic elements that were refined in the silent era were recycled and reshaped as legends waiting to be retold. So with Stagecoach blowing the dust off the boots and spurs, the reins tightly held in place, the hat sitting a top the gunfighters head, the guns loaded once more, studios had to wake up and react to what was the rebirth of the Western. Warner Brothers delivered Dodge City (1939) in reaction to the tightly written multifaceted drama of misfits and outsiders, with bursts of exciting action.
I have been aware of this film for a few years, but never really took it seriously, it was only when I read about it in Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin I had to get hold of the film and watch it. With stronger foundations of how the history of the West was written and perceived at the time – the Myth of conquest’s seen here in terms of progress, the United States on the up after the Depression.
The film opens up in spectacular and very idealised. A steam train pounding freshly laid tracks that are about to meet at the join between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, complete with the nailing of the golden spike being hammered in completing the line. Before we see the that much forgotten, much passed spike there is a really nice piece of golden age Western cinema, a race between a stagecoach and a steam train. Nature vs. technology, progress out racing what has gone before. Its breathtaking to watch and daring to capturing on film, fair enough there was some camera trickery with the help of a rear-projection, however you can see that it was carefully staged, pushing both horses and the train out on location. You could imagine such ill-fated races occurring all over the country, as riders wanted to prove their relevance in an ever-changing country. Ultimately the train wins the race as it makes its way to the unnamed towns of wheels that have followed the lines production. All of this celebration even before we have met Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn) in his first western role, a position that actors were all getting ready assume and have fun with in the coming decades, at this point it’s all still to come.
We meet him at his two sidekicks Algernon ‘Rusty’ Hart (Alan Hale) and Tex Baird (Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams) out near free-roaming buffalo, acknowledging the effect of their hunting on Native American’s, which leads him to lead a sheriff straight to Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) and his henchmen who are too casual about it all. Of course there is little that can be done without a jail or a court, law is still a few years off reaching this part of the world, it’s an idea that can be easily escaped on horseback. Hatton is not yet ready to assume the role of law. He’s far happier wandering from job to job, bringing with him his own legend, originally from Ireland, fighting in Cuba, before the Civil War, he’s lived quite the life before hunting buffalo for the railroad. A life that most audiences would be envious of, to those around him its hard to believe they are standing in his presence, he’s a living legend whose about to write a few more pages.
It’s very easy to draw comparisons between Watton and film versions of Wyatt Earp, which I will draw upon later. Before he takes up the badge he has to live his own life before living in the cause of others. Whilst he’s off the town of newly named Dodge is thriving and growing, seen through a humorous and rambunctious montage that depicts numerous saloons, bars, dance halls, this is a boomtown that is really brought to life for a minute or so. We see some of the footage used again, probably a last-minute creative addition which doesn’t detract from the film, however without you wouldn’t see a town in a state of such rapid growth and social collapse. The violence depicted has now become cliché but was brand new at the time of release. With all the violence going in it takes the elders, the businessmen of the town to come together to reach out to Watton to leave his job behind and tame Dodge City.
Watton is already having to tame those who he’s working with, a wagon train and cattle drive combined – not much is made of the wagon train, with more emphasis on the effect that a drunkard is having on the cattle Lee Irving (William Lundigan) trigger happy is unaware of his actions, it takes a near death stampede and a shoot or be shot decision to stop him dead. Watton is the reluctant killer who in turn horrifies Lee’s sister Abbi (Olivia de Havilland) who sees only a killer not a peaceful man doing the right thing. Protecting everyone around him, making the hard decisions that others aren’t prepared to. This decision-making is soon applied to Dodge City after chaotic barroom brawl that leads to Rusty nearly being hanged by Sturrett. It’s an act that Watton can’t be ignored. He has to assume the role of law which was taken on and abused by Sturrett. Bringing me back to the Wyatt Earp connection, a reluctant lawman whose brought out of retirement to slowly bring Dodge in line with the rest of the country, wanting to be civilised as the East. Bringing back settlers who we learn had been leaving in their droves before. He single handidly transforms the town into a safe, profitable and safe place to live, gun control and a shed load of laws which we see going to the extreme at times.
I have to mention the role of Abbie Irving who began as a grieving woman to taking on a prominent role at the local paper. Yes its the women’s gossip column, but its a woman in the work place, communicating with the community. She’s not a woman to be walked all over, not even Watton until he has won her heart somethings never change. Looking at the other “prominent role” by Ann Sheridan as barroom singer Ruby Gilman whose connected to Sturrett, but her character is not really developed to be of any real consequence or danger to Watton who doesn’t even meet her. That’s the only real flaw in a Western that is brimming at the seams with ideas that are either explore or enjoyed. It’s having a lot of fun, you can see cast all are, and all in technicolor too, creating some classic imagery that has been repeated ever since.
Looking back at the film over a day later I can see a film with so much to talk about, I could be writing for days, I hope I have pinned down some of the main ideas of transformation, progress as well as the division still there after the civil war. The country maybe reunited politically and geographically the links are getting tighter by the passing of the years. Socially and lawfully there’s still away to go. Dodge City is one of the lesser known classics today, yet made during that incredible year of 1939 which transformed the medium and the genre, it can’t be forgotten.
A few months ago I caught Jackie (2016) which for a prolonged scene/montage we saw Jacqueline Kennedy beginning to grieve, preparing for her late husbands funeral. Playing throughout the scene and on the soundtrack is the stage version of Camelot as performed by Richard Burton. We learn later on that JFK saw himself as Camelot, clearly inspiration for him politically and ideology. The track – Camelot stayed with me for sometime after I came out of the cinema. I had to download it to satisfy the ear-worm that was now taking up residence in my head. It’s been about 6 months since I saw both the film and first listened again to the track. It’s been on a number of times in the car. Listening to the track out of context of the musical which I knew still nothing about. I find myself singing along to the track, picking up odd lines, still not ready to take it to karaoke yet – I will be one day. Listening to the lyrics I began to understand part of what the world that Richard Burton was trying to paint to his Guenevere, as if he was selling her his form of paradise. The climate in the kingdom of Camelot is ideal throughout the year. It’s all in decree by the king himself, making sure its all orderly, very British, allowing us to get one with the more important things – like afternoon tea.
Translating this back to the later film I have already got a better understanding of the film and the short-lived presidency of JFK, who dreamed of a utopian new America, which a large number bought into during the cold war, that’s ignoring his many critics who would rather him be out off office. Still that leads into the realm of conspiracies which I’m not going into/entertain. Anyway moving away from the more recent film connection, I first attempted to watch this musical over a year ago. It didn’t go well if I’m honest, it lasted less than 5 minutes before I gave up. The idea of Richard Harris singing it didn’t sit with me beyond the description in the listings. Then somewhere down the line I saw Paint Your Wagon (1969) where again I found actors who aren’t really suited to this world of the all singing and dancing numbers. But I stayed with it due to my curiosity for the film. Both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood would never have claimed to be singers. They were passable with a lot of training to put it politely, they were having a ball making the film. The much can be said for Camelot, a cast that is not really known for their singing abilities.
I think this time around with Camelot (1967), with the later film and the curiosity again I actually told myself to sit through it, plus wanting to see Camelot and sing along to the number above. It’s not really a song that on the surface is too hard to sing (not suggesting training went into the performance) however it has that William Shatner sound of talking the words which he aced with his rendition of Rocket Man. Could this be a speaking musical – if such a term exists? The main casting of this film is rather unusual yet I stuck with it. I found Harris to be a decent King Arthur without chewing up the set. Vanessa Redgrave‘s Guenevere wasn’t such as easy fit, more suited to drama’s I guess this was a finding her style role, seeing if she could, which to a certain extent she does. The musical numbers aren’t the grandest songs in musical history.
I did find myself still drawn to the Jackie connection, how did the Kennedy’s connect to the musical? For me it was the idea of uniting all the counties, each fighting among themselves. Arthur decides to unite the fighting knights to fight for right. Inviting all the knights of the realm/country to join him, lay down their arms and join him around the famous round table. One that I saw a recreation in Winchester a few years ago, hanging up and looking like a precursor to a dart board. Flyers go out across the country and before too long we see men riding in full armour towards the kingdom. Thats not before one of the flyers reaches France into the hands of Lancelot Du Lac (Franco Nero) yes a french knight played by an Italian whose not even trying to do the accent, probably because it would have sounded worse. I for one was constantly thinking about him dragging a coffin through a town in Django (1966). He just was poorly cast for a Frenchmen, probably seen as way to boost his international profile Hollywood. Better working with Sergio Corbucci, the role would have been better served by Omar Sharif in terms of accent – maybe. However Nero did bring an air of mystery, the practically unknown to everyone until Arthur remembers what Merlin Laurence Naismith predicted that he would sit with him around a table (not knowing it was round). This is naughty love interest for Guenevere that soon takes hold as she starts to pit others against him in hopes of driving him away or to prove to herself if he’s worthy of her affections, that were too quickly won by Arthur and his selling of paradise.
It’s this idea of paradise that he wants to spread across the country, the start of modern Britain, lawmakers and government not just by one monarch which is essentially a dictatorship without the advisors. Bringing all these knights likes Senators of the 50 states of America together in Washington for greater good than they’d been doing before obviously inspired. Was JFK essentially dreaming of a better world that was now entering the 2nd decade of the Cold War. He oversaw the Cuban missile crisis, encouraged the space programme among other things. Now the use of Camelot in Jackie makes a lot more sense, enriching the film in terms of the relationship that’s now being grieved for. It’s a reminder of what’s essentially a reminder, a memento of stage production, and inspiration for a man. I come away with all of this after a film that is definitely watchable, lots if a fun and songs you don’t really need to have a great voice to have fun with.
I watched Leave her to Heaven (1945) but unlike other films it’s stayed with me. I had every intention of watching The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) that night, I changed my mind at the last-minute and what a chance I took on this very dark yet starkly colourful film noir. I was considering how it would look if I was to convert a short section to the traditional black and white, so it would conform to the visual style of the genre. The longer the film was playing I knew that such an intervention would only be detrimental to the film. The contrast too high, the use Technicolor the dazzle and lure you into the dream world that is little more than an illusion. For what lies beyond the lake in the opening scene is trap which an innocent man falls into. What looks like a treat, the wide open countryside, the greenery hiding narrative that is about to unfold before us.
A quiet man – Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) lands of the water from a biplane that has brought him back home, a place that holds bitter-sweet memories and the start of a new chapter in his life and his new-found freedom. The lake I know is where the iconic boating scene takes place, but that has to wait, I want to see how it all unfolds, courtesy of his old friend and lawyer Glen Robie (Ray Collins) who allows us to flashback to their first meeting on a train. It’s all by chance that they meet, two strangers, but that end there when she’s Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) reading his novel on the train. This is only revealed in a later scene, but allows him to get closer to her, using a passage from his book to hook her under his own spell.
The chance encounters allowed to continue as the train stops in New Mexico, even staying at the same accommodation so far its a really nice coincidence that these two have met and been able to see each other is all pure Hollywood. As the Bernet family have come to a resort to scatter their fathers ashes. A connection to the late father and Richards made, they look the same, its uncanny or fate, I’ll let you decide in a bit. It’s clear that he’s falling for her, and she’s reeling him slowly as they get to know each other at the resort, its casual yet there’s an air of mystery. He’s enjoying all of this and even the temptation of her sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) who doesn’t even know he’s being tempted. Its one holiday brimming with 1940’s style temptation, something I’ll return to later.
The honey trap is finally triggered with the arrival of ex-lover and lawyer (running for district attorney) Russel Quinton (Vincent Price) when out of nowhere Richard and Ellen announce they are getting married. A shock not just to us, but to Richard whose as shocked as us, we have entered the realm of melodrama, the fast-moving unpredictable (take that lightly) world of storylines going off to the deep end. Have we just met the ultimate femme-fatelle of film-noir. This the first sign that this woman is not about to be walked all over. The traditional role of the man proposing to the womans dismissed, she is wearing the trousers in this relationship. We can see that Russel is no longer the object of her affections and this act tells him that she no longer wants him, its final, its fast its fantastically come out of nowhere to end one relationship and further another one, simply by moving her net from one man to another.
The melodrama element of the film is cleverly enhanced by the Technicolor, signalling the look of Douglas Sirk’s in the following decade. If we look even further forward to Gone Girl (2014) which I will touch on later we can see how the manipulating woman can really screw over her husband. Leave Her to Heaven is the first time we are really seeing a woman manipulate a married man. Sure film-noir is full of women who use and abuse men to their own means, usually the men are either single or on the run, or hopelessly in love with the women of the film. The man object of desire is the woman’s object of control, leaving the man broken and unable to go on. The trap laid here in New Mexico see Richard being emasculated, becoming the stay at home husband. When they finally marry, we meet his brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) who has spent the last few years in a sanitorium, having lost the use of his legs through unmentioned accident, it’s all about his recovery that speeds up with the arrival of his brother and new sister and law. She makes her mark in his life, she’s playing the big sister, wanting to earn his love. It doesn’t take much, this is the beautiful Tierney who glistens in a rare colour film.
Danny’s introduction in the film shows how Ellen’s starting to get into the family, adapting to married life, or adjusting her plans. We next see her in the doctor’s office, who she manipulates to withhold Danny’s discharge, before Richard enters when she announces that he’s coming home. Completely having control over the men and the situation in this scene. They are left bewildered and surprised, again another example of emasculation, the fear that women can rise up from the kitchen and take control, this shows the male fear of how far it could go. And boy does it go off to the deep end as the film progresses from the death of Danny that she doesn’t prevent, allowing him to drown, only looking on with cold contempt for the innocent boy who has given her only love. A classic scene that stays with you long after the film is over. She only gets worse, as she falls pregnant, however that would only bring more people into the relationship that she wants with Richard, keeping him solely for herself. Committing this awful acts, not so much for attention but to ensure Richard’s commitment to her, not so much the marriage but to stay under her control. Is this psychological domestic violence, it surely comes close.
The final nail in the coffin, literally and metaphorically is a suicide that she frames as murder on her sister. Seeing how the couple after seeing Richard drift away and back towards the temptation that is Ruth who has been around since Danny’s death. It’s a cold and calculated and all for maximum effect. Her death sparks a court-room drama ending that begins to answer the opening of the film, where has Richard been for two years, and how did he end up there. What makes it worse is that Ruth’s framed for the murder. Allowing for Vincent Price to return in what is probably a pretty substantial part for the actor even in a supporting role, he tears up the set with his performance, he’s in control, this is his world where he can see justice carried out against the family that had cast him aside in favor of the stranger. It’s just full of classic court-room scenes, adding to the drama that has already happened as we get closer to answering that question of how and why.
Coming back finally to Gone Girl which sees a manipulative wife, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) who frames her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) for her murder. Of course the structure and plot are very different, combining flashbacks to explain how they both met, whilst also showing how both are coping and understanding the situation. Amy enjoying sticking the knife into his back for his infidelity. The use of media who share the “story” as it unfolds in the modern-day world of fast-moving over dramatised news, all for ratings. Amy and Ellen both have the upper hand over their husbands, more literally in Gone Girl when he finds a gift of Punch and Judy puppets. Nick begins to understand what is going on and knows ultimately hes trapped unless he can find a way to break free. Ellen goes even further, shes doesn’t just plan her death meticulously, she sees it through and is twisting the knife from the beyond the grave. Amy is not that brave, preferring to come back and honor the image of marriage. No such thought goes through Ellen’s mind. If anything Leave her to Heaven is really the darker film, if ever remade it would be far darker than Gone Girl leaving it in the dust in terms of psychology and violence. The media in the latter film really makes it more contemporary, it wouldn’t be needed for a Heaven remake. I just hope they never do that.
Taking the time to watch The Stepford Wives (1975) tells me fire sure that it’s far superior to the 2004 comedy remake really pales in comparison, the feminist bite that I found here is watered down substantially. The original even just on the surface is darker and sinister. I’m not going to compare the too, I just don’t see the need really when the original’s packed full of ideas, which I’m going to explore. I will however start by comparing this sci-fi paranoia with Westworld (1973), the amusement park populated with android hosts who are at the beck and call of the human guests whim, be them violent, sexual or anything in between. The idea of the android being used for human pleasure was only scratching the surface of how far it could be explored. Of course in the theme park a malfunction saw the robots take over and that was that until the poorly made sequels (that no-ones ever seen). In the theme park we acknowledge early on that these are not humans, in on the illusion, waiting for it to go horribly wrong. For new visitor Peter (Richard Benjamin) he is all too aware of the possible consequences of his actions, using and abusing these hosts who at least look human. He wont kill any of them, even when the safety features are in place. The illusion is all too real for him.
It’s the illusion that photographer, wife and mother Joanna (Katharine Ross) who moves with her lawyer husband from New York for a new life in the suburban town of Stepford. On the surface you have the idyllic American dream, the big house, the kids and if your lucky the perfect wife. Well most of the other residents do. All with perfect bodies and spotless houses, funny how they all live within a few miles of each other. This gated community living the dream. Joanna however starts to see cracks in the dream, with all the spare time on her hands she finds herself starting to go mad. For me I think part of that illusion and mystery is lost due to the knowledge of the remake which gives away the plot. It was about rediscovering how Joanna came to that which made the revisit worthwhile.
Leading up to that discovery she befriends recently moved in Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) who shares the same concerns start to look at little closer at the wives of Stepford who would rather live the life of the ideal wife, keeping the house spotless, makes cakes and talk as if they were selling a household product. They are living adverts for the ideal married life… for the male anyway. Perfect in every-way for the husband to enjoy, having less to worry about at home, coming back from work to a clean house and a woman who worships him. Honestly every man does want that but ultimately that’s just a childhood fantasy. The generation depicted in the film, grew up in the 1940/50’s with stay at home mothers who only ventured out to get groceries and pick up the children. An image and ideal woman who according to Freud all men look for, their mothers, someone to compare to what is basically an impossible goal to reach. These boys who become men desire that in the women they meet. Who in-turn want the father in their husband – that’s if we are looking at a heterosexual relationship. In Stepford that ideal becomes a reality for the men who are rarely at home, either at work or the men’s club.
If in Westworld the desires of the guests; male or female are met, then in Stepford only the desires of the men are being catered for. Its a male dominated environment, that reflects reality of the time. The Women’s liberation/feminism was in full swing. Women fighting for an equal voice, to be taken seriously in a male dominated society. Looking back, how much has really changed since that time. I don’t think I am really qualified to give a definitive answer. I can say in short that there is still a way to go. The workplace has made progress, the depiction of women in film and TV has improved if only slightly. Print and digital media is also slowly catching up. Its about keeping the ideas alive and fighting for what is basically equal rights, respect and representation in society as new generations grow up.
Stepford Wives is full of fear, the fear of unknown if women were allowed to be free thinking, independent people, free to act, work and dress as they please without fear of being objectified, ignore and treated less than their male counterparts in life. The ideal, yet softened feminist for the screen. Both Bobbie and Joanna represent women who can think for themselves, have a laugh and see the town for what it is. They become fixated with the wives who they can’t really hold an intelligent conversation with. We see one wife Carol (Nanette Newman) whose clearly a recovering alcoholic malfunction, or so we are lead to believe, her reaction is more robotic, there’s nothing human about her beyond her form. Her presence is rather sinister, perfect hair and body, she has achieved the ideal that adverts and the media promote, and so have all the other wives. Joanna and Bobbie then encounter Charmaine (Tina Louise) who comes with her own marital problems. Then a few weeks later a trip away and she’s transformed into a new woman, blossoming almost, yet under the facade is another shallow obedient wife.
I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy the fictional Barbie doll complete with pull-string that allows her to talk. Playing archaic female stereotypes that are being fed to young impressionable girls. Lisa takes it upon herself to design and sell her own doll with her own independent thinking and sayings. The little girl playing the giant toy company at their own game. Only to come back with the same doll, this time wearing a hat. Showing how easy it is to sell to children and how little they really care about the impact they have in their development. The men of Stepford are the same really, taking the women they met, and improving in their desire image, having overall control over their wive. The men are once again in charge. Leaving all the women subservient, quiet and of little hassle to them.
It’s in this fictional American town there’s the illusion of hope for the men, restoring order to things so they can go about their lives not needing to progress socially, science has caught up enough to allow them to turn the clock back on the women who’ve been fighting them since the 1960’s. Feminism has no place here, its fought and won with male ingenuity and science – and because they can. It’s that easy in science fiction to solve a social problem with technology, now just wait until it malfunctions.
On reflections Stepford Wives is a very dark film, drip feeding to you the suggestion that something is wrong, socially critiquing a small town in suburban New York state. We see independent women being stripped of all they have fought for, rewinding the clock to the 1950’s. There’s no hope for any of them here in the cinematic world, filmed like a cheap TV movie the ideas are even sharper because you don’t expect to find them. Even passing the Bechdel test too with flying colours which is even rarer for it’s time. A film that looks dated on the surface with razor sharp contemporary ideas, now when is it being rereleased?