The Palm Beach Story (1942, directed by Preston Sturges)
From my review: This is the ur-text of screwball comedies, every core element boiled down to its purest essence. There are pratfalls galore, windows getting smashed, and people confusing each other for others. It exists as both an ode to the comedies of mixed-up identities from Shakespeare and commentary on the late stages of the Great Depression. This film will inspire future pictures like Some Like It Hot and Intolerable Cruelty, but it doesn’t put on airs of being profound or world-changing. This is a pure character-centered comedy that understands how important it is to have a diverse variety of roles.
The Apartment (1960) Written by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond Directed by Billy Wilder
As we come to the end of this Billy Wilder retrospective, we get to what might be the most excellent comedy of his later years. It’s so interesting how we began with the dark & bleak Double Indemnity and come to this comedy-drama. That isn’t to say that The Apartment lacks maturity. It’s a finely developed and sensitive picture about adults and the complexity of relationships & sex. The two films have more in common than what you might think at first glance as they are both about the darker side of adult relationships, one more outlandish than the other.
The Cow (1969) Written by Dariush Mehrjui & Gholam Hossein Saedi Directed by Dariush Mehrjui
When attempting to convince the American population that war with another country is a good thing, our intelligence community and media outlets try to Other-ize our “enemies.” They report about these nations as if they are some hive mind of villains devoid of art & culture. If you listened to them, you’d think a place like Iran is full of people just sitting around thinking about how much they hate America. Now, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for Iran to hate America, and I’m sure some people there are focused on the conflict. However, Iran has a vibrant cultural history, and they have a very lush film industry as well. They aren’t making cinematic universes full of CG explosions, but I see that as I plus. I will be spending this month looking at just some of the great films to come out of Iran. I think it is essential to explore the art of people we are taught to see as enemies. As Roger Ebert said, “[…] movies are like a machine that generates empathy.”
Elmer Gantry (1960) Written by Richard Brooks and Sinclair Lewis Directed by Richard Brooks
When you look at the Joel Osteens and megachurches of our time, you need to understand they came out of the evangelical Christian movement. This fire & brimstone rhetoric taught people that the path to material happiness was through submission to the Lord primarily through giving up their income to the Church. Little was offered in exchange, save a euphoric fervor that lasted long enough for the revival grifters to make tracks to the next town. Then the wave of spiritual enlightenment faded, and the townspeople waited until the next grinning preacher came riding into town with promises of a cure for what ails you.
The Children’s Hour (1961) Written by Lillian Hellman and John Michael Hayes Directed by William Wyler
The Bad Seed is an iconic film that established the trope of the evil child with actress Patty McCormack delivering a stunning performance. I have to believe this movie was the inspiration to bring The Children’s Hour to the big screen. Originally a stage play first performed in the late 1930s, The Children’s Hour is a melodrama with witch-hunt elements. But the catalyst for all the conflict is an evil little girl, a truly despicable young lady who I’m sure you will grow to hate as much as I did.
Two Dollar Bill (2016) Written & Directed by Hannah Marks
Hannah Marks was born into the industry, the daughter of actors, granddaughter to a musician. She made her debut in 2006’s Accepted, a middling Justin Long vehicle. Along the way, she became interested in directing and has jumped into the deep end. After a series of successfully received shorts, she’s made a feature film with another in the pipeline.
While the larger world seems to be bathed in darkness these days I decided to do a small marathon at some point this year with films that don’t hide from the bleak parts of life but showcase how hope can emerge from such circumstances. Some of these are films I’ve seen before, some I never have. This will be the first collection of movies under the banner of Hope in the Midst of Darkness. As I learn of and remember more films that fit the moniker, I’ll return in batches of five or six.
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) Written by Horton Foote Directed by Robert Mulligan
Author Harper Lee died in her sleep on February 19, 2016. The preceding year had seen the publication of her second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” a text steeped in controversy and dubiously released to the public. HarperCollins had received a copy of the manuscript after Lee’s lawyer had found it while appraising the writer’s assets in 2011. Accusations were made that the lawyer had coerced and abused an elder, Lee’s health and mental state were said to be in poor condition in her latter years. The state of Alabama found these charges unfounded, but doubts still remain as Lee has consistently stated she had no additional novels to publish since Mockingbird. Since Lee’s death, more information has come to light that Watchman was an earlier draft of Mockingbird, but the damage had been done. Despite this abuse in her final act, Lee will still be remembered as the author of one of the seminal books of the 20th century, which became a critically lauded film two years after it’s publication.