Not my usual type of film, but I thought with Maggie Smith in the lead, it has to be good. My suspicions were right, in the lead role of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) she gives her first Oscar winning performance as the inspirational teacher of an all-girls high school, teaching them not just about English, but Love, art and beauty. It seems the extracurricular subjects consume her time. Seeing herself as a role model to her young girls who she can mould at the right age into great women of substance. Could she be a feminist at heart? that’s what I thought at first about the women who was always telling us she was in her prime. A role that can be seen to have either made Smith’s career or stereotyped it for her, strong-willed woman who never gives up in the face of adversity and never lost for words. Unless she is after Gordon Lowther (Gordon Jackson) or art teacher Teddy Lloyd (Robert Stephens) who will do anything to rekindle the summer of love they had once.
What seems to cover a year or maybe more we see the eventual fall from grace of Jean Brodie who wishes to impart on her students more than just the essential curriculum. The learnings of life, the more exciting parts that make it worth living. I feel she gets carried away, taking four young impressionable girls who are special to her. Going on school trips that enrich them in ways they never thought possible. With a woman who believes she is in her ‘prime’ an idea she clings too, and never describe. It could be seen as a thin veil to hide her ordinary family past, painting it as more. To be unreachable by those around her. She creates her own aura that girls look up to, wanting to be this woman who creates her own destiny.
Romantic notions that lead to her downfall. She forgets her own duty to her students, especially that to Mary McGregor (Jane Carr) an impressionable orphaned girl who soaks up all that she has to say, before leaving to Franco’s spain to be with her brother. A journey she should never have made in the first place. Set between WWI and WWII much is going on in the world which Brodie is ignorant of, not really paying attention to, instead romanticizing the world to a that of heroes and villains that are found in classic art.
Whilst the other three girls start to question their teacher as they become more aware of the adult world around them. None more-so than Sandy (Pamela Franklin) who become the lover and muse of the art teacher, something that Brodie wanted to happen for Jenny (Dianne Grayson) who is still too innocent to be aware of what may ahead for her. At such young and vulnerable ages the ideas that shouldn’t be so freely aired, which Brodie does so liberally, acting as if she has a duty to. Sandy grows the most of the girls over the course of the film, learning to think for herself and see beyond the words and search for the meaning.
Whilst Brodie has a fight to deal with from Headmistress Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) who at times appears to have a vendetta to oust the liberal teacher. Unaware of what she has taken on. A woman who uses her words to talk herself out of most situations with ease and cheek, something which is rarely seen. Two strong-willed women who wont give up easily. One with experience under her belt, whilst the other had the confidence of youth and blurred ideas.
A strong film with a rare near all female cast that shows what teaching can be, what you can learn and to find balance. Maggie Smith makes herself known to the world, with all the sixties colour in this period film that is drenched in Edwardian values which she is fighting. I cannot help but think of the male equivalent Dead Poet Society (1989) which took a boys school in the sixties with a radical teacher who brought to life the subject of English and a real passion for poetry. Fighting a stuffy education system that didn’t understand his teaching methods. It was a passion for the subject that was his downfall, giving real purpose to his students, a creative outlet. Whilst Brodie was ahead of her time in her thinking and her teaching, it was thrilling to see her fight every fight with grace, always perfectly turned out for the world.
After being stuck in what seemed like the 1950’s for my film viewing recently, I needed to be pulled almost bang up-to-date with something that I had been finding the right time to watch, which this time was Argo (2012) this years Oscar winning film, after being snubbed in all the major categories bar the really important one – best picture, which is won. Somehow after getting up from it, I would have gone for Life of Pi (2012). I can see how it won however, the old Hollywood loving itself number which they pull out every-so-often. And it allowed actor/director Ben Affleck to still pick up one of those trophies. I could spend the review trying to argue why it shouldn’t have won, in place of Ang Lee‘s masterpiece of storytelling, but that argument has probably been had by now.
Instead I’ll focus on why it won beyond the point I just made which is blinding the obvious as C.I.A agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) is given the job of providing the best worst option of rescuing 6 hostages from Iran in the 1980 when Iranian and American relations were at their worst when America was offering asylum to one of their leaders. Add to that the coup they helped to pull off with the U.K. years before didn’t really help matters.
The idea that Mendez brings to the table is as crazy as it gets, to set up a fake movie, complete with crew as a cover-up in order to get the 6 U.S workers out of the country to safety. At first the idea is seen as a joke, the only joke that is serious enough to be given the green light. Allowing Mendez to fly off to Hollywood and set up this fake film. Which sounds odd when you think about it. (I could go on forever explaining the falseness of the film, when films are just illusions). Where he meets make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who finds the idea exciting, believing he will fit right in. Knowing that if they are to pull this off they need a fake crew and production company. All the back-story and material to make this all seem real. Even going as far as having a script reading at a convention. There is a clear counterbalance between the madness of the idea and the political tension that leans to madness in Iraq, needed to ease the situation. Turning then to find a producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) who would be mad enough to go along with it all. I’m not sure why Arkin was nominated for his supporting role which was more deserved by Bryan Cranston who had more screen-time and was with Mendez the whole way on the operation.
Once the plan is set-out and in motion in Hollywood, it’s time to head over to Iran to meet and train the hostages in order get them out with plausible stories, knowing their aliases inside-out and back to front. There’s a leap of trust that needs to be made by all of them, something that comes easier to some rather than others, especially Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy) who first persuaded them to leave the U.S. embassy when the riots began. his judgement is questioned when he fails to trust what is essentially their last hope to exit the country alive. If we didn’t have this tension the film would lose its attraction and become predictable. The rest of the hostages are more willing whilst still scared, especially when they go on a location scouting trip where things really heat up for the team.
The sense of danger is always there, even when we don’t see it, we feel it in the other scenes making all the more believable. The look of the film with the blend of new and archive footage is not that of seamless, instead an acknowledgement that this really took place, just being adapted slightly for the screen ratio. Whilst other footage is sewn more seamlessly to create the atmosphere of the time. Of course theirs a sense of nostalgia which goes with any film set in another period, mainly in the fashions and the set design. It all works perfectly.
Why did this win the best picture Oscar then? It was because Hollywood was part of a successful C.I.A mission and they wanted to celebrate that fact, It’s also a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s not too flashy and not too dark. Even with Affleck in the lead role he doesn’t come across as he owns the picture and no one else can touch it It’s about the hostages and how there were saved, giving them ample time. Whilst its competitors which I saw had their strengths, Life of Pi in the art of story telling and the use of C.G.I, whilst Lincoln was a superb depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) to abolish slavery and end the civil war, it was too long and taxing on the audience with all the speeches which can overshadow the grand and classic performances. Whilst I never saw nor was interested by Zero Dark Thirty, the discussion of torture may have hindered any real prospect of getting that all important award. Leaving it between Argo and Life of Pi for me.
I have just viewed this video that like so many in the world have just been made aware of the VFX crisis in the U.S. right now, protesting outside of the Awards, Ang Lee not acknowledging them when he picked up his Best Director award. I guess he got swept up in the moment, but it’s no excuse really, they made Life of Pi (2012) what it is, earning an incredible profit at the box office.
What the VFX community need to do to secure their future us to unionize to ensure they are fairly treated and represented. They have the writers and actors guilds, even animators have unions since the 40’s.
They are all artist in the film industry and must be respected for their work, not being forced to such strict deadlines that they produce shoddy or poor work that can potentially ruin a film. I’m not the biggest fan of VFX, even writing my dissertations on Models vs CGI, but I have learnt that the worlds that film create are fake, but to make them believable you need effective VFX that will enhance the audiences experience.
- Life In The Movie Business: An Inside Look At The VFX Crisis (gizmodo.com.au)
- OSCARS: ‘Life Of Pi’ VFX Winner Played Off While Thanking Bankrupt Rhythm & Hues (deadline.com)
- Occupy Visual Effects (badassdigest.com)
- On the Visual Effects Artists Protest Outside the Oscars, and the Dire Financial State of the VFX Industry (slashfilm.com)
- How the Oscars proved Hollywood is killing the VFX industry (io9.com)
- Upset in the Visual Effects (VFX) Industry – Change is Coming (prweb.com)
- Is The VFX Industry Going Extinct? The Dark Shadow Of Rythm & Hues (awesome-robo.com)
Every time I think about Of Human Bondage (1934) I find that I am drawing comparisons between the one sided relationship between Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). However it takes Clark Gable‘s character the duration of the film to come to his senses. Unlike in here as the medical student Leslie Howard not half as long. And having more demons to overcome than to simply win the heart of the waitress Mildred (Bette Davis). A stronger man who has the ability to move on from his mistaken romance that nearly caused his future career as a doctor.
What could be mistaken for a British film Of Human Bondage (1934) has an almost completely british cast, with Davis putting on a convincing cockney accent as she takes on one of her first tpyical roles as the bitchy woman who fights back. Here the cold hearted waitress takes all she can get from her men who treat her better than she has been before. And she is slow to realise what she really has until its too late. Also in her first Oscar nominated role too, taking this film from being routine to a whole new level of performance, every time she appears on screen she owns the camera.
Whilst Howard takes on a more passive role that grows over the length of the film to realise what he really wants and has as he moves on from his lusting and dreaming to a more grounded relationship with a rivals daughter Sally (Frances Dee) who at times can see right through him.
Whilst the old flame of the waitress takes a downhill turn towards her dramatic demise from lung cancer. Life goes on for Philip (Leslie Howard) who overcomes his clubfoot to live a happier life. Even though he could lead a perfectly normal life with it, he feels dragged down by his ailment. Philip grows the most even though he really doesn’t show it, able to shake off and learn from his mistakes during his time at medical school to have a woman who loves him for who he is and not what he can do and give.
- “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” (wonderfulladventures.wordpress.com)
- The Amazing people who Made Gone With the Wind (starhistorian.com)
- Of Human Bondage (1934) (patdanbow.wordpress.com)
- Of Human Bondage. (teenytweenyandi.wordpress.com)
- Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (lnatal.wordpress.com)
The first and thought to be only silent film to win the Best Picture Oscar in 1929 along with Best Special Effects. Until The Artist (2011) swept the board at this years Oscars. Wings (1927) is a part of Paramount’s restoration programme of a number of films being restored. Wings being the only silent so far. Is this an early indication, besides the triumph of The Artist that the silent film has a place in contemporary film? I would like to think that beyond nostalgia silent films could be resurfacing more often.
Or is it a fluke with Wings being released remastered on Blu-ray as apart of Paramount’s centenary celebrations. Only time will tell. Will its release encourage more silent films to be remastered, be that including the BFI‘s remastering of Hitchcock’s early films from his British period Champagne (1928) and Blackmail (1929).
The Artist was seen as a love letter to Hollywood film set on the cusp of the sound era. It’s been proven that silent films can still draw the crowds. Some may say that being a love letter, the Oscar voters were smitten to vote for, a form of flattery. However if the music, action, plot etc are compelling enough, we will engage as an audience with a silent film.
There’s also the novelty factor, seeing a silent is at the moment rare unless you seek out the films that have been archived well across the world, such the full version of Metropolis (1927) found in South America a few years ago. From these silent films, we may find something lacking in todays films, with all the drive for maximum profit and blockbuster films that can lack the substance of a classic of the early sound era. That could just be taste.
I can’t wait to see where this release will take the film industry, more silent films being made, or the classics being restored; cultivating a small but strong following of fans who have been wait for such an opportunity to come to a store near them.