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Ford, Capra, Wyler and 3-D

Two — count ’em — two stories in the New York Times’ special Oscar section this week: one on the top three Oscar-winning directors and their films on DVD, another on the past, present and future of 3-D (all in 1200 breathless words). Above is a poster for William Wyler’s too-often overlooked “College Capers,” one of his finest works and a milestone in stereographic cinema.

147 comments to Ford, Capra, Wyler and 3-D

  • > gang-bang viticole irrésolu

    Dear me, I must have been snoozing through part of this film when I watched it.

  • Peter Henne

    Michael, It’s interesting you say that, and in general I like those Rohmer films. I say that as someone who has an MA in Philosophy. Just as Rohmer is nonjudgmental, he is not using any of his characters either as mouthpieces or opportunities to pursue academic thought (as Godard might). What I love is the strivings by those characters to clarify themselves and give whatever they can fathom in philosophy a truth that makes sense for their own lives. I wonder if adding some personal touch to the major philosophical concepts isn’t after all what we all do, philosophers included? I can think of two of my UCLA professors who offhandedly, in moments of humor, said the same in graduate seminars, in two classes on Wittgenstein (maybe no big surprise there). I think Rohmer distrusts rigorous discourse and favors the loopiness of his characters who can land on a surprising insight that may not have been reached by the methodical way. And since several people just brought up Jon Jost in the last thread, the character Beth-Ann in FRAMEUP must be counted as one of the most dimwitted chatterheads for a lead in American film history, but what she says facing death and accepting it is frighteningly deep to me. Wisdom can come from fools as soon as the erudite, and I find Rohmer and Jost’s reminders of that notion refreshing.

  • Joseph McBride

    Junko, the bloodthirsty line you quote from THIS IS KOREA! is indeed indefensible (what we actually hear as American troops use phosphorous grenades and flamethrowers against dug-in enemy soldiers is “Fry ’em out — burn ’em out — COOK ’em!”). It largely put me off to the film when I first saw it. In my Ford biography I mention the line as the “low point of Ford’s filmmaking career.” Nevertheless, I generally admire the film and over the years I’ve come to appreciate it even more. As Blake notes, Ford’s war documentaries are often simplistic (and jingoistic) in a way his features on war are not. There’s a schizoid quality to the war documentaries; what I call the “evil twin” Ford sometimes comes out. But THIS IS KOREA! is stunning for its candid, unrelenting depiction of the utter hellishness of the carnage and its tragic depiction of the American involvement. This is rare in a war “propaganda” documentary — Huston’s SAN PIETRO is somewhat similar, but even there the filmmaker doesn’t question the ultimate purpose of the war he is depicting. THIS IS KOREA! indulges in some anti-Communist rhetoric but emphatically does not take a propagandistic pro-war stance. It shows the American involvement as futile and a failure. Its daringly fatalistic narration at the end (delivered by Pichel) asks the audience, “Well, what’s it all about? You tell us. Ask any of these guys what they’re fighting for, and they can’t put it into words. Maybe it’s just pure cussedness and pride in the Marine Crops. A job to do — and duty.”

    When Ford’s friend Brigadier General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller (U.S. Marine Corps) heard the Korean War described as a stalemate with the forces of Communist China, he snapped, “Stalemate, hell! We’ve lost the first war in our history, and it’s time someone told the American people the truth about it. The Reds whipped the devil out of us, pure and simple.” That truth still eludes most history books (though David Halberstam’s book THE COLDEST WINTER: AMERICA AND THE KOREAN WAR also captures it; we still have many troops in Korea), and it’s one reason THIS IS KOREA! is so powerful. Tag Gallagher noted, “Characteristically, Ford had found the moment of defeat.”

    The film also pays Fordian tribute to the sacrifice of the common soldiers. While showing American troops encamped in blizzard conditions, the film says, “You remember Valley Forge? Well, look at it again.” Audiences at the time didn’t want to see it because it was so frank and rough. Ford directly addressed and challenged that audience by having the narrator demand over footage of casualties being treated at a field hospital, “Aren’t you glad you gave that pint of blood last week? Or did you? But you will now, won’t you?”

    One reason the narration seems schizoid is that it was written both by the liberal Frank S. Nugent and by James Warner Bellah (whose son called him “a fascist, a racist, and a world-class bigot”). Bellah supplied the stories for the Cavalry Trilogy. He was good with plots, but Ford and Nugent not only eliminated the racism in “Massacre” while adapting it into FORT APACHE but transformed it into a pro-Indian film.

  • Alex Hicks

    It is both plausible and suggestive of some lack of historical sensitivity, or specificity, to regard “The Iliad” as poetry at the service of war. It’s plausible because because Homer has no particular antipathy toward war. It’s arguably a tad a-historical because societies were almost invariably been warrior led and largely warrior shaped modes of social organization in seas of war during most of human history until modernity (or little enclaves of it) arrived.

    The stylistic beauties of “The Illiad” are largely one of descriptions of violence confrontation far closer to those of “Dawn of the Dead” than, say the mythological evocations of Cocteau’s “Orpheus” and of the astounding dignified compusure and courage that characters exhibit, to use Marine jargon, “in the shit.” (These dignities are at times entirely beyond us, as in Homer’s seeming admiration of the magnitude of Achilles’ rage as he goes about for week killing Trojan infants every monring to express the magnitude of his grief and rage at the death of Patroklos.

    The very extensive impression of “The Iliad” as close to the mythological nicities of Edith Hamilton is one of the great offuscations of literary education.

    Romero’s finely detailed, gorily details and vigorously cadences “Dawn” combats —especially against he biker gands (for which the zombie are large a psycholoical prep) provide some small cinematic sense of what a film true to “The Iliad” would feel like. So do Kubrick’s psycho-anthropological jumps in “Full Metal Jacket” (into the party for the dead NVR party guest– “Charlie here is the finest human being you could ever hope to meet,” into solidaritic furies of “Animal Mother” at the service of the wounded, into Squad’s brief but total compassion for the dying Hue sniper girl)

    The best sort of advise I can recall for enjoining the quesy to take the sort of jump that “The Iliad” requires is Pauline Keal’s recommednation somewhere that women consider reading “From Here to Eternity” as they would science fiction. (Combat in “The Thin Red Line” has a touch of the Homeric, which “The Aeniad” has not –at least not in any translation I’ve read.)

    The challenges confronted and dignity shown by the Jeremy Renner character in “The Hurt Locker” are pretty Homeric, which is to say, among much else, hardly anti-War.

    Do Ford’s war documentaries ever get in close to the action for long? Do anyone’s?

  • This thread looks at both the Oscars and violence/war. Hmm…
    A check back through the Oscar nominees for Best Picture reveals the following patterns:
    1927: Wings and The Racket – heavy violence.
    1928-1959 Very little violence in Oscar nominees. Most violent: Gone With the Wind, hardly an orgy of violence. Hollywood thinks non-violent pictures are the Best.
    1960’s: Big War pictures get nominated: The Alamo, The Longest Day, and Lean epics win. But most of the films are not real violent. These war picks are exceptions, to what is mainly non-violent classical Hollywood. business as usual.
    1970’s: “My eyes are blinded by a rain of blood” (T.S.Eliot) It’s wall-to-wall gore at the Oscars. In general, the 1970’s are the most overrated period of Hollywood history, IMHO.
    1980’s A surprising return to non-violent traditions. An exception: Platoon.But the 1980’s are more drama than gore at the Oscars.
    1990 – 2008 Gore, violence and war. Endless pro-violence propaganda (eg Braveheart).

  • Brian Dauth

    dm494: “This is my basic problem with ideological criticism–it always meets with artists like Homer, who override objections to their systems of value by the force of their artistry.”

    But artistry does not inherently contain an attribute that overrides these objections; a spectator arranges her aesthetic engagement to situate the “force of artistry” so as to be in a position to override these objections. The balance can be arranged however a viewer desires.

    Dave K: for mono-language paupers such as myself: what does “gang-bang viticole irrésolu” mean? Also, I loved your obit for Rohmer and loved that you noted that we have lost both a great critic and a great filmmaker (his “Taste for Beauty” is a book I return to time and again).

    As for TALE OF AUTUMN: what I loved best was that I thought the movie was about one of the friends when at the last minute Rohmer reveals (though it had been there all along if I had just paid attention) that it was as much about the other friend as well. I cherish that last scene on the dance floor as the premier expression of Rohmerian joy.

  • Brian Dauth

    Addendum to what I just posted: I think it is possible that at the end of the movie, the friend herself realizes that what has happened was just as much about her marriage as her friend’s being single.

  • Blake Lucas

    “Blake, I can’t figure out what your preference for the Ford over the Welles has to do with the old complaint about the Welles being robbed of the Oscar by the Ford.”

    Good point, and they are two separate things.

    But this began in relation to Dave’s piece about those directing Oscars for Ford, Capra, Wyler and even he cited the old cliche about KANE/VALLEY, even if doing so with warm words for the Ford and without playing favorites between the two (as I read it). It was someone before me that noted who that there are in fact those who prefer the Ford to the Welles, so I did support that, though not in a way I felt was unkind to KANE.

    But the more important point to me remains that I’d like to see films written about without these kinds of cliches about which won an award and which didn’t. I didn’t mean for these two things to be treated as the same because they are not.

    My preference for VALLEY is personal and not that big a deal. Everyone prefers some films to others, even between two films widely considered great by many. I think the important thing is the films themselves–how one loves them and what one loves about them, whether it’s CITIZEN KANE, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, LE RAYON VERT, INTERIOR NEW YORK SUBWAY, HIDEKO THE BUS CONDUCTOR or GLEN AND GLENDA. There are some films there that were never going to win any awards and they aren’t less for that.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Brian, don’t bother about “gang-bang viticole irresolu” — some people may find it clever and fun but I’ve rarely read or heard anything that stupid. You have to know about the “Liberation” state of mind to appreciate that kind of smartaleckism. Anything for a laugh… Oh well…

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Good list of also-rans Blake. And don’t forget I LOVE MELVIN.

  • Barry Putterman

    Blake, I’m in complete agreement with your overall stance. But I’ve really got ask; if your preference for VALLEY over KANE is no big deal, why bother bringing it up at all?

    As a baseball fan I find it frustrating that so much of the conversation revolves around whether So-and-So deserves to be in the Hall of Fame rather than appreciations of how he goes about playing the game. But at least baseball is based on competition and the ultimate objective is to win the game. What’s our excuse here?

    We aren’t going to stop others from pitting one film against another and measuring validation in terms of awards. Nor should we want to. However, we can refuse to add to the problem by not participating in the practice ourselves.

    That’s just one of the other reasons why I have no interest in ten best lists or Sarris styled categories. It seems to me that one of the least illuminating things you can do with a group of film titles or director names is to form them into hierarchies.

    For the record, in no particular oder, I love New York in June, a Gershwin tune, and Melvin. How about you?

  • Barry Putterman

    Indeed, no particular oder. Nevertheless, many will claim that it stinks.

  • Joseph McBride

    I’m guessing Blake may have more fondness for HOW GREEN because it’s warmer than KANE. But that’s just a description, not an evaluation. And the more one watches HOW GREEN, the more harrowing and disturbing it seems. Talk about a bleak resolution. The fact that it ends by evoking the afterlife only underscores the utter desolation of the story. Ford made it just before he left for war. He knew that he might not come back and no doubt designed it as a suitable valedictory film. That helps account for its great emotional power. But Sarris noted that Ford and Welles both in the same year were dealing with the cinema of memory. Ford was middle-aged, and Welles was young. But Welles had always felt old and identified with old people, which is one of the most endearing aspects of his work.

  • dm494

    Brian: I think I agree with you–it’s a matter of individual taste whether one responds sufficiently to an artist’s vision and skill to look past his values in cases where they seem objectionable or worse. If Homer’s artistry isn’t to your taste, then nothing compels you to suspend (in some sense of that word) your objections to his system of belief.

    Junko, you’re right, ideological criticism is a useful corrective to views which take the existing order of things as natural and therefore necessary. I don’t dismiss all of it, and there are a number of critics whom I admire who put ideological issues at the center of their criticism–the later Robin Wood, for instance. It’s with the rigidly ideological critics that I part company, because they feel bound to reject a work of art which advances views they disagree with–they can’t admit that there’s an irreducibly aesthetic component in art. For myself, I can’t go along with the idea (and I’m not saying that you do go along with it) that works of art are nothing but instruments for communicating ideologies.

    But it’s complicated. Take STRAW DOGS, for example. I feel that if I were to go along with Peckinpah there, I’d be endorsing some kind of formalist aestheticism divorced from considerations of basic decency. I’m not even sure if the artistry he displays in the rape scene doesn’t make that scene more immoral than it would be as directed by an inept hack. The film’s aesthetic virtues, far from overcoming my ideological qualms, may actually amplify them.

    Peter, as one ex-philosophy student to another: whom did you study under at UCLA? They’ve had some really distinguished people there, Kaplan, Donnellan, and Terence Parsons among them.

  • Blake Lucas

    “Good list of also-rans Blake. And don’t forget I LOVE MELVIN.”

    No, I’m not. As a matter of fact, I thought about this later and thought a good counter-example re the old KANE/VALLEY cliche would be for you to complain that FROM HERE TO ETERNITY won the Best Picture Oscar (and Best Direction too) in 1953 while I LOVE MELVIN was not even nominated. And I believe in that case many of us here would agree with you. But again, would there really be any point. Would MELVIN be less,
    or ETERNITY be more?

    Barry, in your always eloquent and gentle way, you have properly reproached me for speaking that preference. I innocently wanted to support something someone else had already stated, and these kinds of prefeences are indulged in here all day long, not to so great purpose I agree. In any event, I only wish I had written yours of
    8:45 because in fact it speaks perfectly for me, as I hope my last paragraph of 6:39 made clear.

    But, Joseph, please don’t guess about my reasons. That can become a presumption. In fact, I don’t think HOW GREEN is the warmer film and don’t think of it that way, and I agree pretty closely with your own description of it. I might add that I don’t view Huw as someone pathologically lost in romantic nostalgia, as Tag Gallagher argues in his book (he and I argued this point a lot when I met him), and you also perhaps. I do see a double vision in the film, but to me it’s his own as well as Ford’s (in fact, I think he may be the character closest to Ford in all the films). I think Huw sees clearly everything that is going on, every change, and the whole nature of the change, and that this is the nature of things. He makes choices within that which I believe are quite comprehensible and human within the film, but not in the least delusional. That he reserves a special corner of himself, somewhere in his soul, to have affectionate memory of people and to deeply value it seems a positive quality, and I’m empathetic with it.

    I implied the reason for my preference before–and just take it for what it’s worth. Ford’s style is at completely at one with the film, and that to me is the ideal. Welles, no less creative, does many things in KANE just because he can do them–his style is somewhat more melodramatic than the material, and in a way that makes it always engaging, but for me less deep. You know, it’s not a film I want to get after because I do like it very much and always have and have seen it many times. I hope no believes it’s just sacrosanct or something.

  • Joseph McBride

    I didn’t mean to be presumptuous but had been wondering why you would make these comparisons between HOW GREEN and KANE, which seem such different films despite their flashback structures. I’m not sure I know what you mean by Welles’s style not being in synch with the material in KANE. Welles’s style is always expressionistic, bravura filmmaking, as it is in KANE, which is, after all, about the media and a larger-than-life press lord. I think Gallagher has a good and provocative point about Huw. His decision is disastrous. Even his father thinks it so.

  • Barry Putterman

    Blake, I REALLY was hoping that you wound not see it as a reproach
    as I believe that I didn’t mean it that way. I knew we were in agreement. And analytical distinctions implies preferences, so we would be being less than honest if we didn’t acknowledge them where they exist.

    I understand your reasoning in preferring VALLEY to KANE. I would only say that for me KANE’s style in portraying a character whose tragedy is in part caused by the fact that he does so many things just because he can, is equally at one with the film.

  • Blake Lucas

    Joseph, with all due respect, you and Barry and everyone else make all kinds of comparisons between very different films as well as different filmmakers all the time. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but it is done all the time by everyone. I think I’ve explained more than once how this came up in the first place with these two films. And I specifically noted myself the first time around that these ARE two very different films and doing different things.

    In his book on RIO BRAVO, which I’m guessing you have, Robin Wood compares RB, calling it his personal favorite, to consensus favorite in all the polls as the greatest movie ever made, CK. And he does it at the very end of the book (and even says which Academy Awards he would have given to RB in 1959 too!) He too says some things as to why he thinks his choice is the better one. And again, those two films are not alike either. I don’t say it was the strongest point in that book but I didn’t mind it. This is something people do. And I also understand people’s protectiveness toward films they love. But CITIZEN KANE? It can take care of itself, can’t it? And by the way, I like it, better than Robin Wood did I believe.

    And yes Welles tends to be expressionistic and bravura and I find this very appropriate in noirish melodramas like THE STRANGER and LADY FROM SHANGHAI and MR. ARKADIN and TOUCH OF EVIL, more than in KANE. But note that AMBERSONS, his next film, is much less like that, relatively quieter and subtler in its style, and was much slower coming to the kind of critical celebration KANE enjoyed from the beginning.

    Now, much more important…

    Re Huw, this is his decision to make. No matter what his father thinks. Or his mother. Or anyone else in his life. Or don’t you think people should make their own decisions?

    But even if you think it’s the wrong decision too, and feel you or anyone else has a right to make that call on someone else’s life (even if he is just a cinematic character), it’s quite a jump to turn a sensitive, conscious person like Huw into someone who is somehow psychotic, the visualized narrative somehow completely at odds with his narration as if he has no idea what’s going on. Joseph, do you really see him that way? In your book, you said, and I agree, that Roddy MacDowall gave the greatest performance ever of a child actor (he was 12)–do you think he plays it that way? Or isn’t what I’ve said and am saying about it closer to the truth–that Huw is an intelligent, aware boy who will become an intelligent, aware man, but one very sensitive to certain things and making that sensitivity a part of him. Do you think the films laughs at him when he says he is in love with Bronwyn? When he sees how sad his sister and the preacher have become? When he holds his father in his arms coming out of the coal pit the last time with deep, mature grief on his face?

    My argument with Tag, by the way, I should hasten to add, was in the context of my writing him a very admiring letter about his book, which for the most part I do greatly admire–and in fact think the part on STAGECOACH was as good as anything I’ve read on any film, and was and am generally in sympathy with his view of Ford. But he kind of fastened on my difference of opinion on HOW GREEN, a small part of the letter, and then signed my copy of his book, “He only read three books in his whole life…” I prized this affectionate inscription and still do, but the reality is that even visually within the film there are more than three books that Huw has on his shelf, while his narration makes clear these books were the beginning and he went on to read many more! The director of course was also extremely well-read, and I will stand by what I said earlier that there isn’t a character in his work more deeply close to him, one reason I believe (without taking away anything from the acting gifts he displays in the role) that MacDowall’s incarnation of the character is so extraordinary (as MacDowall always liked to say: “He played me like a harp.”)

    I would like to conclude this on this note, and wish I had said it this simply in the beginning, without any comparisons to any other film regardless of what comparisons others have made through the years: HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is the single movie to ever win the Best Picture Oscar (I’m leaving out the problematic first year of course) that was unequivocally my own favorite of its year and the one I would have voted for myself (so perhaps it’s ironic for me that it seems to be the one most often reproached for winning in accounts of the Oscars). But that doesn’t mean that there were not other movies I love that occasionally won too, as opposed to many more that didn’t win and many more than those that were not even nominated. But the fact that it IS the only one will give an idea why I think so little of awards, and Academy Awards especially, and tire of hearing them treated as important. I’d love the movie as much if it had won nothing.

  • Kent Jones

    “Welles…does many things in KANE just because he can do them” – Blake, I’ll have to part company with you there. He certainly does a lot of spectacular, eye-catching things, but I don’t think there’s one aesthetic element that’s there just because he wanted to show off, from the low-angled shot looking up at Welles and Cotten to the screaming bird to the optical of glass/Dorothy Comingore/Welles busting through the door. I absolutely agree with Barry – Welles is just as much at one with the material as Ford is with his.

  • Blake Lucas

    Barry, again, I really liked that earlier post I referred to. I meant that in a light spirit about a reproach. I usually like what you say (and thought what you just said about KANE was perhaps a very sharp one line defense of its style

    I hope you noticed that when you observed in the previous thread that “not everyone” was playing the INSIDE DAISY CLOVER gave that you were not alone.

  • Blake Lucas

    “…the INSIDE DAISY CLOVER game…”

  • Brian Dauth

    dm494: “I think I agree with you–it’s a matter of individual taste whether one responds sufficiently to an artist’s vision and skill to look past his values in cases where they seem objectionable or worse. If Homer’s artistry isn’t to your taste, then nothing compels you to suspend (in some sense of that word) your objections to his system of belief.”

    I do not think it is so much a matter of taste, as the choice of personal aesthetic approach. Also, for me it is not a question of responding sufficiently — such a notion would mean that if a viewer can just respond sufficiently enough, then problematic matters of content can be surmounted. By this formulation, it is a matter of a specttor having the correct equipment, properly developed.

    In the case of Virgil, I am fully equipped and respond more than sufficiently to his vision and artistry, but I still find that vision problematic. In fact, no matter how great his artistry or how capacious the sufficiency of my response, I would still have the same problems.

    Why? Because I do not employ an aesthetic approach where force/power of artistry is understood to overwhelm problematic vision/content at some point. Nothing about a creator’s artistry can compel me (or any spectator) to suspend objections. Other people may use a different aesthetic which contains some threshhold which, when crossed by the force/power of an artwork, opens on to a place where objections are suspended. It is all a matter of the particular aesthetic approach that a viewer uses when engaging a work of art.

  • Barry Putterman

    Blake, I listened to Tag Gallagher’s video essay on my DVD of LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, and his main thesis seemed to be that the Joan Fontaine character was nuts. So, seeing as how he is your friend and all, maybe you can tell me; what’s psychosis to Gallagher or Gallagher to psychosis?

    It is hard to keep track of everybody on this site, but there are five or six people I can think of immediately who I know weren’t playing the INSIDE DAISY CLOVER game (you among them of course).

  • Joseph McBride

    I am not sure I would diagnose Huw as psychotic, but he certainly has a romantic distance from reality, which is part of the reason (blind allegiance to tradition) that he goes “down the colliery with you, sir” rather than taking his chance to escape his dead-end surroundings by going away to school (his ugly experience at school in another town is part of what influences him as well). It’s clearly a tragic decision, even if it comes from good intentions, as many such decisions do. Gallagher notes that “once again in Ford it is a question of duty and tradition gone astray.” Huw’s father is enough of a realist to know that Huw is making a bad choice. Of course Huw makes up his own mind — that’s what tragic protagonists do.

    Does that mean I don’t like him or don’t think McDowall gives a great performance? What has one of these points to do with another? By the way, when I worked with Roddy McDowall, who narrated a documentary I wrote (on VERTIGO), I took the occasion to tell him I thought he’d given the greatest child performance in the history of the movies. “Oh, no,” he replied, “Jackie Coogan in THE KID.” That’s another reason everyone who met Roddy McDowall loved and admired him.

    Philip Dunne told me, “I always felt that Roddy is the real auteur of the picture,” because when Dunne and William Wyler found him in a screen test, they realized the film should all be about Huw as a boy. As Dunne recalled, “Later, when I went on the set with Ford, he was rehearsing the scene where the cruel teacher [Morton Lowery[ tells Huw to sit on the dunce’s chair. Ford said, ‘Watch him feel for the chair with his ass. He knows how to act, this kid.'”

  • Blake Lucas

    Barry, if you read Tag’s book on Ford, he explicitly compared Lisa/Joan Fontaine in LETTER to Huw and made his case that both films worked this same way, really the psychosis of the narrating character. I don’t agree in either case–I disagree just as emphatically in the case of LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.

    It just amazes me how much people want to judge the human failings of others–in relationships, in their decisions about the lives, and such things, even when it’s just a film and no one has asked you to judge them, but simply to try to understand their experience as best you can.

    To me, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN is a film about a relationship between two attractive and sympathetic people, both with flaws and limitations of his or her own. These flaws and limtations don’t make me want to judge them or feel superior to them or be so sure I would do better because I know I probably wouldn’t. They share the tragedy of the relationship as it plays out and I feel Ophuls make this very clear.

    Since I tried to make clear before how I feel about Huw and how I see him, and this seems to differ from Joseph McBride as well from Tag Gallagher, I don’t propose to go over it all again. Maybe I didn’t do a very good job. I don’t see any tragic decision by the way–he is leaving the valley at the end, and will probably become a writer as Richard Llewellyn fairly evidently is this character as far as I understand it. I will add this note–he did seem to make a decision to stay while his mother was still alive; that’s how I read the film.

    So I’d like to make very clear that I understand this decision without feeling any special empathy for it; my mother was not like Beth Morgan, she was more like the mother in PILGRIMAGE. So maybe you can understand why I don’t like anyone trying to make decisions for their children or anyone else, or impose on them what is the best way to live.

    Barry, I don’t know how to answer your question about Tag and psychosis. I don’t know him well enough, and it’s probably more accurate to say we are friendly than friends (have met only a few times and do correspond given common interests). I don’t relate to this idea obviously, but as regards his books on both Ford and Rossellini (I just crossed the finish line with the latter a few weeks ago and highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it), I’m deeply in sympathy with the spiritual values he finds in the work of both directors.

  • Joseph McBride

    Tag refers to Huw having wasted his life, and that certainly is true in spades of Lisa in the great LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN. She throws her life away for a man who is not worthy of her and, indeed, hardly knows her. The film is about the futility of romantic obsession. At least Huw in middle age is starting over, as you note. One reason HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY affects me so is that I come from a family of Irish immigrant coal and sliver miners. My great-great-grandfather died in a coalmining accident in Pennsylvania. My great-grandfather died of miner’s consumption. The only way we escaped that fate was by my mother going to college. So I am see mining as the worst possible job, a nightmare occupation, and regard someone’s choice to go into the mines and forgo a chance to go to college as a terribly misguided idea. This shows how films touch deep personal bases in us, and the ones we like are often the ones that do so most strongly.

  • Barry Putterman

    What has always interested me is how you get almost the mirror image obverse of HOW GREEN IS MY VALLEY in THE CORN IS GREEN and nobody ever questions the decision making there. Here we have the movie star schoolteacher giving the gift of her magic to these simple souls and convincing everybody that they must sacrifice themselves for the sake of the golden child. Of course, the fact that we know beforehand that the child will grow up to be the one and only Emlyn Williams may have some baring on this. Had anybody considered the possibility that the situation was more likely to turn out the way it does in Ozu’s THE ONLY SON, some doubts might have entered the picture.

    But basically, I don’t think that anybody questions this because it conforms to what we consider to be the “normal” function of family life. The parents sacrifice so that their children can have a better life and grow up to be parents who sacrifice themselves so that their children can grow up to be parents who sacrifice themselves….Could there possibly be something “psychotic” at work here as well?

    As for Lisa in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, I have no doubt that she could have had a more fulfilling life doing psychological critiques of movie characters and making up ten best lists. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering whether she experienced and came to understand life more deeply in her own misguided way than many of us less “psychotic” folks do.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘It just amazes me how much people want to judge the human failings of others–in relationships, in their decisions about the lives, and such things, even when it’s just a film and no one has asked you to judge them, but simply to try to understand their experience as best you can.’

    I am glad you said that Blake. I am studying quotation book, there is this quotation: ‘I have endeavored not to ridicule, bewail, or disdain human behaviour, but to understand it.’ It is by Baruch Spinoza 17th century. I would like to be like that.

    Also was this quote: ‘Here I am a barbarian, for no one understands me.’ Ovid. I hope I am understood even with bad English.

    > I can’t help wondering whether she experienced
    > and came to understand life more deeply in her
    > own misguided way than many of us less
    > “psychotic” folks do.

    XU Jinglei’s recent adapatation of Zweig’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (in which she also starred as the grown up version of the protagonist) tries to present the character’s choices as being (reasonably) positive and fulfilling. This film (beautifully shot by Chris Doyle) is well worth checking out).

  • Blake Lucas

    “As for Lisa in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, I have no doubt that she could have had a more fulfilling life doing psychological critiques of movie characters and making up ten best lists. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering whether she experienced and came to understand life more deeply in her own misguided way than many of us less “psychotic” folks do.”

    As usual, Barry says it perfectly and with some wit that I wish I could summon more often.

    Joseph, I appreciate your personal note about the background of coal mining in your family, all the more because I revealed something about myself in my own previous post I rarely do, and was perhaps even more personal than it should have been (though now it’s out, it gives me a chance to say something about another film we both love so read on).


    “She throws her life away for a man who is not worthy of her…”

    drips with condescension and uncalled for moral judgement about both Lisa and Stefan, and even a kind of heartlessness about these two characters that kind of dismays me (if Stefan is so “unworthy” of her what does that say about his realization at the end, and the action he then takes, and why does Ophuls realize this resolution is such an affecting, beautiful and telling manner?). It’s exactly the kind of thing I was complaining about before, that Barry did articulate so well. I wonder if such an attitude as the one you express (and Tag’s as well) really allows the richest experience of the film, or the one Ophuls worked so hard to make possible for us.

    (I have no doubt, I might add, that Stanley Kubrick or the Coen Brothers would certainly have taken this attitude if they had made the film).

    A film I know you admire, and I do also, is the sublime BANSHUN/LATE SPRING of Ozu. In that one, unlike HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, the father does make the decision for his daughter (to get her married), although he succeeds in doing it only by lying to her, saying he will remarry. I won’t make the mistake I accuse you of judging the character for what he does–his motives are good, and of course, since it’s Chishu Ryu we’re supposed to love him, and be affected by his martyrish decision to do what’s best for his daughter. But if I don’t judge him, I will make a moral judgement on his presumption, and it’s one I believe Ozu makes possible and that his mise en scene (as well as the scenario) in so many ways supports. Ozu probably subscribes to the traditions of Japanese society, with arranged marriages, children moving on to them, and so on, just as Ryu’s father daughter, but he shows all too sharply that the daughter Noriko/Setsuko Hara is an individual, one who has made conscious choices, some of them painful and perhaps mistaken (her refusal to go to a concert with a man we know she likes because he is already engaged), but the one to stay with her father seems to go something deep within her, somewhere where someone might want to make a psychological judgement about her attachment to her father that I refuse to make, because I accept her as she is. Here, with Ryu’s father, are the “good intentions” you spoke of before really being manifested–for just as some film critics are sure they know what’s best for someone, so does he? But I think the film makes that deeply questionable–and the resolution a challenging one even if you believe in every tradition the film might seem to support. You can like the man, and understand why he feels it’s his duty to impose his own view of what should happen on his daughter, and still leave the film that he has been wrong to try to make determine someone else’s life, no matter how much he loves her.

    One thing I will say for both Huw’s mother and father, no matter which one you feel is right in their point of view about Huw’s future–they leave it up to him to decide, and his decision is his own.

    As Noriko’s should have been, as Lisa’s decisions about his life are, as hopefully yours are and also my own. For good or ill.

  • Blake Lucas

    Junko, I just read your post and appreciated (and was not surprised by) your support for what I have wanted to express, and which in his way Barry has also expressed.

    As someone far more knowing of the culture in which it was created, I hope you will be moved to
    share any thoughts of your own about LATE SPRING. And Michael Kerpan too–I know he also loves the film.

  • Blake Lucas

    Re longer paragrap on LATE SPRING, I should have read that more carefully (at 1:11)–if anything is too unclear or too garbled, please let me know and I will be glad to send a fixed version of it but I assume for now that at least the ideas are clear.

  • Blake Lucas

    I’ll add that my carelessness may owe to a little excess of passion at the moment. As Joseph did rightly point out “films touch deep personal bases in us, and the ones we like are often the ones that do so most strongly.” And since my mother at one point tried to impose her own judgment about what was best for my life, though in the opposite way of Ryu’s father, it really hits a nerve. Like Hannah in Ford’s PILGRIMAGE, she tried to impose a negative judgement on a relationship of mine that was important to me; only I didn’t let her succeed. And maybe my acceptance of Hannah and willingness to follow her and care about her on a human level as she came to terms with things has had some positive effect on me, as LATE SPRING also has in another way. Of course, art does this in its own way, which is hard to characterize since it’s not its essential purpose but may somehow be a part of it in a way that is meaningful.

  • Ozu never lets us know whether Noriko’s father has made the “right” decision — at least not in the confines of Late Spring itself. We only know that when all is said and done, the father does not appear to be happy at all. And we know that Ozu showed us (soon afterwards) the dire results of pushing a daughter into an unwanted marriage in Munekata Sisters (though this film was one over where Ozu had none of his customary control over the script).

    Because Ozu leaves the question totally open, I don’t presume to be able to discern any answer. I suspect Ozu wanted to leave us unsettled. It is the open-ness that (perhaps) makes this film (seemingly to me) infinitely re-watchable.

  • Blake Lucas

    “Because Ozu leaves the question totally open, I don’t presume to be able to discern any answer. I suspect Ozu wanted to leave us unsettled. It is the open-ness that (perhaps) makes this film (seemingly to me) infinitely re-watchable.”

    I basically agree with this, Michael. I don’t think there is a definitive answer either as to whether Noriko will be happy (and agree of course agree the father is not, but he seemed to bargain for that). My point is that regardless of whether it is the “right” decision for her, I feel a deep unease that he would presume to make this decision for this daughter he loves. And in so many subtle ways–in gestures, expressions, images, framings–I do think there is a critique of it built into the film, even if ambivalently
    (but ambivalent art is always best, perhaps).
    I don’t want to impose too much my own belief that people should determine their own happiness or lack of it, and make their own decisions, and I hope I’m not. But when I first started watching Ozu years ago, the common view was that the traditional ways are always right, the parents and children must always separate and the children get married, however painful this might be to someone. And experience of his films has shown me it is just not that simple, nor does he want his films to make it so. If it were, Ozu would not be the artist he is.

  • Blake Lucas

    The above is especially meant to affirm that in your reply I think the key word is “unsettled.”

    To me, that describes it. And “unsettled” does not mean “comfortable.”

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Bary, what makes you assume that we, the list-making folks, are less “psychotic” than Lisa in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN?

    I defend my right to be as psychotic as anyone else or more.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘regardless of whether it is the “right” decision for her, I feel a deep unease that he would presume to make this decision for this daughter he loves. And in so many subtle ways–in gestures, expressions, images, framings–I do think there is a critique of it built into the film, even if ambivalently’

    Blake, I agree about that and what Michael wrote that you quoted.

    I want to add some things about BANSHUN. Noriko is recovering from war period famine and forced labor illness. In 1949 people was still suffering from those kind of illness. If woman is getting married, there was the worry about good health to have children. It is background detail, but it is something Japanese audience would think about.

    Because it is middle class family, there is not so much Noriko can do except take care of father or marry. If she runs away, she is ostrasized. (I would run away, but I am not woman from that era.) Ozu is knowing this, and especially at this period, conservative tendency was becoming stronger in Japanese society since “reverse course” that Occupation decided with conservative leaders.

    Ozu is using tempo of noh drama, people in this movie is like noh character with stylized expression and voice. There is scene at noh play, it is cutting from long take of noh drama to Somiya and Noriko, showing Somiya polite nod to his fiancee (that Noriko thinks), then Noriko nods, but she is angry and will not look at her father. This 7 or 8 minute scene with one emotion shown, audience can be aware of social space that contains emotion, and there is social space that contains possibilities of life choice. I want to say it contains and limits possibility, just like noh scene conatins and limits emtional expression. That is subject of the movie. There is many example from the movie showing this. That is why it is ambivalent.

  • Last year our family was had the great good fortune to see the Noh play Kakitsubata performed live — and it looked and sounded just like the excerpt featured in Late Spring. ;~}

    I think one has to understand that as much as Ozu loved and savored tradition, he recognized that change was not only inevitable but often desirable. He appreciates both — and understands how people can be torn when having to choose between old and new.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘You can like the man, and understand why he feels it’s his duty to impose his own view of what should happen on his daughter, and still leave the film that he has been wrong to try to make determine someone else’s life, no matter how much he loves her.’

    That is showing contradiction of Somiya. He is liberal professor belonging to P.E.N., having concern for human rights. He is writing article on progressive economist that he admires because he resisted authority of bureaucracy. He saying this to Hattori when electric company employee comes to read meter and interrupts, then interrupts again to warn about over use. It is bureaucratic interference that Somiya obeys. He does not protest.

    Somiya is doing what society thinks best for Noriko, not what he thinks best. Maybe he does not know what is best. This giri-ninjo situation, resolution is catharsis in Japanese drama. It is conflict between social expectation and human feeling.

    When war ended, Japanese people wanted to express human feeling, there was discussion of shutaisei, self-determination of individual person, no longer obeying Emperor or government, but having individual conscious. At this time ‘I novel’ was becoming popular. But then there was conservative reaction. That is situation background of BANSHUN in 1949. That is contradiction of Somiya.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Ozu probably subscribes to the traditions of Japanese society, with arranged marriages, children moving on to them, and so on’

    That is so, but from end of war Japanese traditions are re-examined, because there is the question of how much belief in tradition led to people’s support of war. Ozu is making this re-examination too in BANSHUN.

  • Blake Lucas

    Junko, thanks for all that you have said, which has added to my understanding of the film, and within the understanding of it I felt I did have already. The more nuances of cultural history one can bring to a film the richer it can be. And I think what you said about the extraordinary scene at the Noh drama was conspicuously insightful.

  • Joseph McBride

    That’s a fantastic sequence at the Noh drama. I run it and the film for screenwriting students to show them how powerful oblique storytelling can be. Another great moment, one that is comical yet heartbreaking and that I think encapsulates the entire film, is the tag of the sequence of Noriko dressed up for her wedding and thanking her father for all he has done for her. Ozu has them leave the room and then has the aunt circle the room to see if they have left anything behind. It’s just the kind of thing we all do, and the kind of homely touch that makes Ozu’s films seem so real, and when you think about it, it’s also a metaphor for Noriko having left nothing of her old life behind.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I run it and the film for screenwriting students to show them how powerful oblique storytelling can be.’

    Yes, it is powerful way to show historical moment in Japanese history through oblique story of family drama. It was not history in 1949, it was reality of life at that time, that is one reason it is great movie.

    One more powerful scene to mention is night time scene at Kyoto ryokan (traditional style hotel.) It is when Noriko apologizes to her father but he has fallen asleep. Noriko has small smile looking at cieling, then there is 5 second shot of vase on window sill. Then there is shot of Noriko close to tears, follwing is 10 second shot of vase. It is showing confinement of emotion seen from outside. The vase is witness.

  • Bill DeLapp

    Didn’t want to clutter the Rohmer thread for this, but it seems someone was napping at Turner Classic Movies this morning. The 3:30 a.m. broadcast of “The Strawberry Statement” was a TV-edited print, with excised nudity and cussing. A complete version can be glimpsed on Google’s video section, sourced from a TCM European broadcast, with what look like Swedish subtitles to these peepers.

  • Barry Putterman

    Bill, editing and Swedish subtitles could only improve THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT. I went to see it at age 18 in 1970 because it won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, and my attitude towards awards was forever transformed by the experience. For which I am eternally grateful to THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT.

  • RvB

    Realizing I should have cited Late Spring when writing about 35 Shots of Rum. Also (to touch on this thread’s original topic) I still feel the ultimate use of 3D is the Three Stooges’ short Spooks. Moe’s fingers coming out of the screen sums up the essence of the medium.