Early Oshima

“Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties” is a fascinating box set from Criterion’s budget Eclipse line that offers five films from Nagisa Oshima’s most furiously creative period, when he seemed to be tearing up the playbook with every new project. It’s a crazy bunch of movies, of which the craziest is probably “Three Resurrected Drunkards,” a 1968 effort that begins as a zany, Richard Lester-style comedy starring a forgotten pop trio whose specialty seems to consist of rendering Japanese drinking songs in the style of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and evolves into a wild provocation centered on Japanese racism and the Vietnam War. My review is here.

137 comments to Early Oshima

  • Barry Putterman

    I think that it should be noted that George Wallace’s record as governor of Alabama is actually quite similar to Patterson’s. However, his place in national history lies elsewhere. I suppose that it is good to know that Patterson is still alive. I rather wish that Richard Kiley was as well.

    Junko’s point is well taken. Period films are often used to reflect contemporary society in ways that would be less universally acceptable if confronted directly. For instance, how many westerns were made which metaphorically dealt with race relations or the Vietnam War? Of course, as Gregg points out about 70s paranoia and vigilantes, that was not the only thing going on in those films.

    Yann, it has been a LONG time since I’ve seen KLUTE. At the time, Pakula’s stylization of the material seemed as annoyingly affected to me as the similar stylization in THE PARALLAX VIEW later seemed appropriate. I’m open to a re-evaluation if I can work up enough interest to see the movie again. Kubrick, the Coens and Spielberg are not universally reviled here, just endlessly debated

  • Nathan

    “Are you saying that the representation of a historical period should strive to be more contemporary based on when it was made and not when it took place? How could this not be anything but dishonest?”

    Surely when the film was made would influence any perceptions of the era it depicts. A great director would probably problematize that to a certain extent, acknowledge the gap between when the film takes place and when it was made, leading to the inevitable conclusion that depictions of the same era on film would have to depend on when each film was made. That would strike me as more, not less honest, no?

  • Blake Lucas

    Brian, we’ve probably talked over this enough, because it just seems to me sometimes you want a film to be about something other than what it’s about. Within the focus it has, which chooses to be narrow yet perceptive within that, the black characters in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD are portrayed with dignity in my view. The fullest of the characters is Tom Robinson, on trial for a crime of which he was innocent but as it involves a white woman he knows he’s in a very precarious position and understandably reflects this. I always thought Brock Peters was, as usual, excellent.

    I’ll add this–I like the earlier Mankiewicz NO WAY OUT very much too. Sidney Poitier does indeed play a professional man, a doctor, who does everything he can to control his life in the way he wants in a difficult and challenging situation. He too faces racism, not glossed over in the least (much to the film’s credit), and you might agree that if this were not a movie, one which Mankiewicz wants to end on a positive note, the Poitier character could easily become a victim to racist violence and be killed. I don’t see that the two movies, though each an individual work, addresses the realities in their stories so differently.

    Just a note about Alan J. Pakula. I didn’t blithely dismiss him, as was said. The fact I don’t think he is a director on the level of his former partner Mulligan doesn’t mean I’m saying he was negligible. I take films individually, and already said I liked his first two films as director THE STERILE CUCKOO and KLUTE, so I certainly give him credit for those. I’m interested enough to see the handful I missed too. But all the later ones I have seen seem very conventional “A” productions to me when contrasted to the films of Mulligan (PRESUMED INNOCENT, which I reviewed for Magill’s, is a good example–I just reread a little of what I wrote and it’s consistent with the view I’ve expressed here). I don’t think I’m the only one to observe that he’s “cooler” than Mulligan, but that isn’t a value judgement at all, just an observation. I think he’s capable but wish he were more interesting. To say that I most value him for films he produced that Mulligan directed is not a slam–he deserves credit for what he contributed to those projects, and producing good films is an achievement too. It’s never easy to launch a movie and it surely took both men to get those films made.

  • Blake Lucas

    I’ll add this and hope Joseph McBride is still following this. The last two lines of mine of 3:05, though they were meant lightly, were, I will acknowledge, perhaps uncalled for. But I realized later I was reacting to this from Joseph:

    “…a cinematic wet dream fantasy if there ever was one.”

    No matter what one thinks of SUMMER OF ’42, this kind of characterization seems really uncalled for. This is the film of a 45 year old man of considerable life experience and whose previous dozen films, as well as earlier work in television, show a person with a mature, discerning view of life and the world of some real depth, and one who has continually worked to find the cinematic means to make this understanding artistically expressive. To imply that this is what someone like him would want to give his talent to at this point in his life (“…a wet dream fantasy…”) is just a little personally insulting as well as insupportable and really I don’t know how you can justify it.

    The phrase above is something I’d expect from Pauline Kael, Joseph, not from you.

    I know that’s about the worse thing I can say and not where you want to go in your writing, so let me emphasize that this is not what I expect from you and not what has characterized all the fine film criticism for which you have been responsible.

  • Michael Worrall

    Nathan wrote: A great director would probably problematize that to a certain extent, acknowledge the gap between when the film takes place and when it was made, leading to the inevitable conclusion that depictions of the same era on film would have to depend on when each film was made.

    What I am objecting to is when the depictions of the era are falsified to satisfy a political view. The Right is not alone in the practice of being dishonest with the representation of history.

  • Sure , Barry – here’s a link to maybe stimulate your interest again:

    http://www.dvdjournal.com/reviews/k/klute.shtml

  • dm494

    Well, I’ll volunteer some comments on Pakula’s style if no one else will.

    Pakula is fond of very wide, often high angle, shots, at once ominous and detached, which convey the paranoid suspicion of lofty observers or even the perspective of God dispassionately watching ant-like humans yielding to the pressures of necessity. One shot which I particularly like, although it’s been a while since I’ve seen it and may be wildly misremembering it, is in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. Pakula has Redford at his desk pursuing leads on the telephone; he films this in a long take at a slightly low (but hardly ostentatious) angle, and the static, lingering camera, the subtle oddity of how it frames the actor rattling off dialogue, creates an effect of neutrality mingled with hints of something ever-so-slightly off. This is not a blaring technique at all–in fact here it’s an actor-centered visual style–so I don’t quite get Blake’s comment about Pakula’s flashiness. Compared to Scorsese, De Palma, Coppola, Altman, Peckinpah, or Monte Hellman, Pakula looks positively low-key.

    That’s not to say I’m a huge admirer of Pakula’s, but I do think he is interesting from a formal point of view, and I find him a more compelling director than Mulligan. Pakula also happens to be a sensational director of actors. He even gets remarkable things from Harrison Ford in his glum, sad-sack mode: Ford’s reading of the last line in PRESUMED INNOCENT–“There is crime…and there is punishment”–manages to put across the grim finality of the pain those words imply.

  • Blake Lucas

    Your first description of his style does indicate for me the flashiness, relative to Mulligan anyway–it also ties in with what I said before, because the style is so attuned to those paranoid thrillers that in the long run seemed most to define him if anything does. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it gets less interesting as it goes along (though my own piece on PRESUMED INNOCENT is balanced I believed, it points out the film’s limitations as well as its virtues, and compares it unfavorably to De Toth’s PITFALL among earlier films on a similar theme), meaning his thrillers follow more familiar and predictable lines after KLUTE, a film with a visual style that I did enjoy a lot, and must say I enjoyed reading D.K. Holm’s thoughtful piece on it.

    Of directors you named, I readily agree that Pakula looks “positively low key” next to any of them except Hellman, who is always the subtlest of that group by a long way. Meanwhile, I get it that there are people who prefer Pakula to Mulligan. That’s fine of course. I’ll admit that personally I can’t understand why.

  • Joseph McBride

    Blake, since you seem to be descending into personal abuse, I will just
    quote Sam Goldwyn: “Include me out.” Vigorous critical debate about films and filmmakers is
    one thing, but personal abuse during a debate is another thing, absurd though it may be. It’s the
    kind of flailing-about that signals a failure to win a debate.

  • Blake Lucas

    It was about what you said, Joseph, not about you. I think that was clear. It seems to me the only “personal abuse” was you toward Mulligan with that “wet dream” line.

    There are directors I intensely dislike for style or sensibility or both, and I know it’s up to me to say why as best I can. But there isn’t one of them who I would characterize in that kind of way or sully what I acknowledge is a genuine artistic intention even when I believe they completely fail to realize it.

    I agree there’s really nothing else to be said on this.

  • Brian Dauth

    Blake: I am interested in investigating a film’s representations in the areas of race/gender/class/sex as they present a filmmaker’s worldview. You perceive the representations of the Black characters in MOCKINGBIRD to be done with dignity. I think that there is a lack of dignity in terms of the denial of self-agency in these portrayals (not to mention their being historically off-base). I think you would agree that there is no one right response.

    The best way I can detail the differences I believe to exist between MOCKINGBIRD and NO WAY OUT is to cite the reactions of my husband, relatives, and friends. As a white guy, I have a limited ability to ascertain how well these films capture the reality of Black lives and thinking, and need to supplement my understanding with that of others. With regard to NO WAY OUT, people are amazed at how many nuances of Black behavior/experience JLM captures in the film. The film recently played in New York City, and the friends I went with said that Mankiewicz accurately depicted both the attitudes and gestures Blacks adopt when interacting with whites, and those behaviors they engage in among themselves. They saw subtleties that eluded me.

    The Black characters in MOCKINGBIRD strike them as variations on the stereotype of the Noble Negro who stoically/passively endures his oppression. There is a homogenizing heroicness to the portrayals that works against the actual complexity of Black lives. My husband puts it this way:

    “In MOCKINGBIRD, Blacks are portrayed as the perfect victims. They are self-reseved, have taken everything that white men have thrown at them over the years, and are so forgiving that when whites finally stop stepping on their necks, they get up and kiss them in gratitude. Finch treating Blacks as they should have been treated by whites all along, does not make him special or worthy of honor and praise. He is merely doing what he should be doing.

    “The noble reception Finch receives for doing what he should have done embodies the heart of racism itself. Finch is portrayed as being noble simply for helping to correct wrongs that should never have occurred. One white man doing right by one Black man is not enough to make Blacks stand up and praise him. Praising someone for righting their wrongs shifts the focus away from hundreds of years of wrongs that have yet to be corrected, and focuses it on a solitary instance of one man doing the right thing. This approach posits a notion that not being racist is something to be praised, while not being racist should be seen as the bare minimum of normal, everyday human behavior.

    “Blacks did not suddenly start fighting for their rights in the 1950’s. As far back as the 1870’s Blacks formed groups and committees to fight for justice. It is this tradition that Martin Luther King and others built on. Black people did not survive by passively sitting back and being humble.”

    Michael: the question is about Mulligan’s falsified depiction of Blacks as completely lacking in self-agency in those years. While their options were circumscribed, they were not sitting around waiting for a white savior to rescue them.

  • Joseph McBride

    Blake, what you write about your emails is just not true. Read them
    again. Comparing someone to Pauline Kael is pretty low!

    Brian, your husband’s comments on racism and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
    are truly eloquent and moving.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Long ago, I decided not to return to this forum but recent events have stirred me to respond for the last time to support Joseph McBride and Brian Dauth in terms of their very eloquent criticism and react to the personal abuse they have suffered from certain members on this forum for their integrity. Yes, “Comparing someone to Pauline Kael is pretty low” but so is also describing a key article by Robin Wood on a McCarey film as a “new low” when it is obvious that he and others have never even taken the time to read (or re-read it). Sadly, this blog is now going the way of so many others that started well (such as the yahoo “A Film by…) by descending into petty abuse rather than argue in a critical manner.

    Despite differences I have over films with both Joseph and Brian, I try to avoid this type of comment (unless someone makes a really outrageous statement about the artistic value of TRIUMPH OF THE WILL while ignoring its politics).

    Thanks to Blake and his supporters, this thread has now really reached a “new low.”

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Tony – welcome back, and I hope you stick around.

    The tone of the discussion in this thread is amazingly high, far better than any other in which I participate. There may be occassional brickbats (I myself was briefly subject to them over some comments a while back), but you and I must be reading things entirely differently here.

    There is a lot of mutual respect here, which starts from and reflected back to its creator.

  • Blake Lucas

    I specifically said that I do not compare Joseph McBride to Pauline Kael, not normally anyway, and was at pains to make clear how I felt about that. But the “wet dream” line is the kind of thing she’d write, and I believe most here would agree with that. If everyone else thinks it’s just fine to describe a film by someone like Mulligan that way, I bow to your judgement.

    I’m truly hurt by your remarks, Tony. The reason you haven’t heard more from me about Robin Wood’s article on MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW is because I do agree I should read the whole thing, or as much as is available on Criterion anyway, before talking to you about it further and I do plan to do so.

  • Adam H.

    I’d just like to say that Brian’s post of 6:31pm is one of the best and most convincing posts I’ve read here in quite some time. Thanks Brian.

  • Joseph McBride

    To set the record straight on your other personal remark, Blake, I defy
    anyone on this site to prove that he/she
    was geekier in high school than I was.

  • Peter Henne

    “This approach posits a notion that not being racist is something to be praised, while not being racist should be seen as the bare minimum of normal, everyday human behavior.”

    I fear, though do not assume, there is something self-congratulatory going on when people take for granted stepping past racism is easy.

    But, hey, from my point of view, the warring factions already share much common ground, and in this case are fighting over a small piece of land: the interpretation of one set of characters in one film. I believe the people who have been writing here largely agree on principles about racism, but see the evidence in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD differently.

  • Michael Worrall

    Peter wrote:I believe the people who have been writing here largely agree on principles about racism, but see the evidence in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD differently.

    I agree. For me, the problem is that when one does not arrive at a reading that either praises or criticizes films and/ or filmmakers for their politics, and then questions or criticizes that method of evaluating films as being largely applicable and /or absolute to the work in discussion, there tends to be charges of mocking or abusing an anti-racist position.

    On a personal note: I have never made the leap to assuming a person’s way of life and outlook based on their aesthetics principles as others have, as witnessed on A_Film_By and Dave’s blog. I might be a pain when it comes to asking that film be discussed in terms of style and form, and ask that that discussion of auteurism on auteurist board stay focused on the theory–I don’t go to an Apple store to buy a PC, you know?– , but I don’t say that people have a “sick mind” based upon their aesthetic principles.

  • Blake Lucas

    Joseph, you were meant to put the “geek” line in context of my first paragraph of 1:37, which I thought was pretty clear: I realized it was the other that I was reacting to and said so.

    I want to say to Brian that Peter is right, and I am also sympathetic to the thoughts of your husband on racism in a wider sense, but will simply reiterate that neither you nor he are really addressing the specifics of the film. Somehow Finch himself seems to be made the vehicle for a negative perception even though he asks for no special acknowledgement or praise for being non-racist, but simply tries to do his job and use his legal skill on behalf of a client he knows is innocent. He would surely agree with everything your husband writes. And at the same time, the full dimensions of the lives of the black characters in the film are not the story and are not addressed. I just have a problem with trying to remake a film into something it never tried to be. And I don’t think that Mulligan or anyone else involved would feel at odds with what your husband says.

    I’ve expressed my point of view about the specifics of the actual scene that was in question before, so I want to let this go if it’s OK with you. I’m interested and respectful of what you or Joseph McBride have to say even when we disagree. I have a problem with addressing the film someone wants to see rather than the one that is there, but it’s a legitimate argument to have and can be conducted respectfully. I hope if I ever said anything like that “wet dream” line about a serious filmmaker that somebody would call me on it. You know, I find A CLOCKWORK ORANGE a hateful movie but that has to do with aesthetics and the way they express a sensibility, and I have never once said the director made it this way because he enjoys the idea of punks out in the street torturing and killing people, because I certainly do not believe that was the case.

    I haven’t posted much here lately, because I have other life issues much more pressing on my time, so it’s a luxury for me right now if I do. But I try to keep up reading it and always enjoy Dave’s reviews. I only jumped in the last few days initially because Christophe wanted people’s views on the Mulligan films at the Cinematheque retro so thought I’d throw in my two cents for what it was worth–and you can check that was my first one in this thread. I didn’t have the least interest in any disputes or arguments with anyone.

    I really wish I hadn’t. Now Tony Williams came back seemingly for the sole purpose of cruelly ridiculing me, as I obviously have no followers here or anywhere and am just one voice like anyone else here and that’s all I want to be. I had thought of the discussion here in the same way Tom did, but Tony has now shaken that feeling. This is someone for whom I had nothing but friendship and respect, and he knows it.

  • jbryant

    Yikes. I would guess that Mulligan, Foote, et al, were just doing the best they could do with a touchy subject in a transitional time, and within a commercial industry at that. Have I missed all the other films of that time that showed the full range of black dignity within stories aimed at a mass audience? NO WAY OUT is surely an exception to the general rule. This doesn’t mean MOCKINGBIRD should get any kind of aesthetic or moral pass, of course, but I certainly applaud the filmmakers’ achievement within the constraints imposed upon them.

  • Barry, Tom, Blake, and jean-pierre thank you for your pieces of advice.

    I didn’t intend to lauch this huge debate but your discussion is interesting.
    I’d just remind that the story and the trial in To kill a mockingbird are seen by a child’s eyes. It’s not a social movie about racism.

    Joseph, I find you very rude with Summer of 42. I mean, the mise en scène impressed by its tact, especially the bed scene. It’s so far away from Playboy…Mulligan in his best films shows a sensitivity quite unique…They are full of decency but without any prudishness.

    and Jennifer O’Neil is very beautiful and it’s all that matters for her part in Summer of 42. The movie is not so far from a fantasy, not just a “wet dream fantasy”, but it really has to do with nostalgia, imagination, dream maybe. See the light, the music…

  • Where does Bunuel’s The Young One fit in (if at all) on the question of portraying racism from other than a privileged white perspective?

  • Brian Dauth

    Peter: I agree with you that we are all on the same page about the issue of racism. I also agree that stepping past racism is not easy. But the question on the table is about praising the act of stepping past racism. As Blake points out, Finch does not ask for praise, but the film does not leave matters at that. The movie’s Black characters rise as a silent chorus in gratitude/praise of his actions. The problem with this moment is that the film falsifies Black consciousness in order to achieve its praise moment. My husband’s comments were an attempt to point this out (and he told me to thank you for the nice things posted about what he said).

    There was one sentence that he dictated that he asked me to remove because he said he did not want to be too provocative, but I am restoring it now (and I am not trying to be provocative. I just think it summarizes his view neatly). He noted that it is not necessary to praise someone for taking his medicine. Racism is an illness, and curing oneself of this illness should be as routine as taking an aspirin for a headache or cough syrup for a cough. But there is a perspective in America that when white America does something to cure the disease of racism that they introduced, they need to be praised and thanked for doing so. But this is not a perspective shared by the Black people I know. As I see it, MOCKINGBIRD’s problem is that it transposes an alien consciousness onto its Black characters which is what makes the scene problematic and false. I have no desire for the film to be other than what it is, but I do think it is important to unpack the film’s worldview for clear examination.

    Undergirding this discussion, is what I regard as an important question: does a filmmaker have any obligation to have his characters act in ways consistent with behavior as it unfolds in the everyday world? Performance and gesture are two important formal tools at a filmmaker’s disposal. When a spectator feels that a performance/gesture is false, should that matter? I know for my husband and our friends, one of the ways they evaluate depictions of Black characters in a film is by how well these portrayals correspond to actions as they have lived and experienced them in the real world. How much attention should be paid to the relationship between the reel world and the real world? And how much will a person’s answer to this question be shaped by their status within society itself?

  • Brian, as the old cliche goes, hindsight is always 20/20.

    I wish more critics and scholars would spend time analyzing the ideological defaults of current films (the exploitative treatment of women in the films of Philippe Grandrieux, Brian De Palma and Abel Ferrara might be one place to start) where their opinions might actually have some impact, rather than shooting the fish in a barrel collectively represented by the Hollywood films of 40 years ago or more. I believe that Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Robert Mulligan and Stanley Kramer all acted in good faith in accordance with the liberal politics expressed throughout their work; what counts for me today is not the quality of their films as political pamphlets but as works of art that were the products of their interaction with the times in which they lived.

    40 years from now, Brian, you can count on similar defaults being discovered in your own writing. They may not be visible to you now, but the process of constant ideological revision is something that dates from the dawn of civilization, and to count the present day as the culmination of all good, correct thinking is nothing more than vanity. Simply put, it has never not happened that the most advanced attitudes of one generation come seem retrograde to the next. You can bet good money on it.

    Tony, I am glad to see you back and I hope you will stay around.

  • Junko Yasutani

    I am also glad that Tony Williams has posted something again.

    If SHIKU and KOSHKEI has DVD release in the West we can discuss different kind of racism portrayal from different culture and formal method.

  • Peter Henne

    Brian, I don’t mean to be antagonistic, not at all, and I don’t think you do either. I don’t have the same confidence that racism is as “curable” as taking aspirin. Besides, pain relievers are temporary remedies anyway and do not treat underlying causes. I think one should do one’s best in recognizing racism and working to overcome it. I believe progress has been made in society, which in my opinion has been very gradual. You, me and everyone are members in that society. I’m not calling any particular an individual a racist by saying that, and I don’t know anyone’s private thoughts. Instead, I’m saying I don’t expect perfection in anyone on such an intransigent problem, just making strides and working hard to do better. If someone asked me if I’m squeaky clean of all racist attitudes and in every detail in every instance treat all people completely free of those attitudes, my honest and embarrasssed answer is, Nope. But I’m continually doing my best to learn and recognize all people as people. Personally, I think that’s harder to do than it sounds. If you or anyone form the impression I am mean to non-white people, I feel you’re flat-out wrong, but you’re entitled to whatever opinion you have.

  • My own take:

    Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) has major strengths and limitations as a work on race relations. On the positive side, it offers a blistering denunciation of the racial oppression of blacks. Its portrayal of Atticus Finch’s stand against racism strongly urges other white people to work against racism.
    But the book also treats its black characters as stick figures, and concentrates on white people as the only significant players in the tale. Worse, the book expunges Civil Rights organizations from American history. It only shows a white Southerner, Finch, opposing racism, and all on his own. One would never learn from To Kill a Mockingbird that Thurgood Marshall, a black attorney then working for the Civil Rights organization the NAACP, was arguing in court a similar 1933 real life case about trumped up charges against black men. Or that he would achieve victory arguing the case in the Supreme Court: see Chambers v. Florida (1940). Marshall would go on to be one of the most important figures in the US Civil Rights movement.

    To be fair to Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, its limitations have been greatly amplified by the reception of the novel, something over which she had no control. Not only did it become a best seller, one immediately filmed. But white schoolteachers in the United States have adopted it as a universally taught book, one that has introduced generations of white school children to race relations in the United States. Neither Lee nor film adapters Mulligan, Foote and Pakula have ever claimed that To Kill a Mockingbird was the whole story of US race relations. But it has been treated as such by white US educators. This turns the book’s avoidance of the Civil Rights movement into a full-scale educational distortion of American History.

    Unfortunately, no literary or film work about the Civil Rights movement has ever gained full acceptance by white literary or film critics, white school teachers, or the white reading public. Several works have gained polite initial reviews, only to be immediately forgotten. The upshot is that Civil Rights is invisible as a subject in US culture. Major films on the subject, such as The Rosa Parks Story (Julie Dash, 2002), are ignored. After over fifty years of such boycotting of the subject, it seems likely that there is a systematic problem, that Civil Rights is being written out of history.

    Most people today profess to be “against racism”. But they also seem to have difficulty supporting or even talking about Civil Rights, which was the main real life practical destroyer of racism. On most subjects, Americans are famous for being practical people, and our country has achieved success by practical action. We know that if we want to do a job, run a business, raise children or cure a disease, we need to take practical action. It is more than time to see the similar linkage on race relations. If we want to be “against racism”, we have to take practical action by supporting Civil Rights.

    To Kill a Mockingbird is far more positive and worthwhile in its treatment of race relations, compared to its limitations – although both are real. My biggest negative concern is not with the book or film of To Kill a Mockingbird, but with the current limited view of Civil Rights in modern culture.

  • Barry Putterman

    Michael, on a personal note, if you feel that auteurism is solely concerned with style and form, then I think that you are selling auteurism short.

    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a story of childhood experience in the 1930s being recreated by adults at a much later point in history. The adults have the artistic choice open to them to use their enlarged experience to add a wider perspective to the story. However, in this case, the choice was made to try to keep the perspective of events as true to the way that the child narrator saw them at the time as possible. I wouldn’t want to minimize the enormity of that as an artistic challange. And I certainly wouldn’t want to fault TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for not being THE GO-BETWEEN. However, the choice that was made in terms of giving us a picture of what was happening to these people at this time in this place possibly points up the limitations of a childhood perpective and, indeed, of childhood itself.

  • Brian Dauth

    Dave K: I will readily declare that I think the biases of today’s movies are far worse than those of the movies of Classical Hollywood. The disrespect to women especially galls me. And truth be told, I cannot work up much excitement to write about many present movies since their defects seem very obvious to me (talk about shooting fish in a barrel). I find it far preferrable to tease out the intricacies of older films. Cukor used to send scripts to Salka Viertel and other female friends to get their persepective on the female characters and if they were true to life or not. I cannot imagine a director doing something like that today. Whatever their faults, Classical Hollywood movies were made (by and large) with an honest and sincere attempt to grapple with issues, a methodology that many (most?) of today’s Hollywood movies lack.

    With MOCKINGBIRD, I think Mulligan is partly a victim of the novel he was working from as well as the constraints of his era. Also, because he is a fine filmmaker, even when he stumbles, examining that misstep can be far more illuminating than looking at the success of a lesser light.

    My husband points out all the time when I am being white about something – completely unaware of enacting my privilege. I guess what I hope to achieve for myself is a critical stance that can strike the right balance between praising great artistry while at the same time being honest about the emphases/biases/blindspots of a filmmaker’s worldview as expressed in the body of his work.

    I love JLM, but it is true that THE QUIET AMERICAN is one politically confused movie, and also features an Italian woman playing a Vietnamese character. I want to figure out why such considerations seem to matter more in some films than in others. For instance, my husband tells me that depctions of Black characters in certain old movies annoy him, and some do not. What causes this to happen?

    Also, I have talked with him about the mechanism he developed (and other friends have mentioned this as well) in order to watch old movies and not be angry every time. As usual, the issue of spectatorship is at the front of my interest. I am fascinated by the triangular dialectic that occurs between a work of art; the time when it was made; and the later moment when it is experienced by a particular viewer: call it three-cushion spectatorship.

    Peter: I do not think racism is as curable as taking an aspirin either. What I was trying to get at was that racism is often understood in two dfferent ways: one approach is to understand it as a sickness in society that needs to be remedied, and that to make the patient/society well is just the job that needs to be done – no thanks necessary. The other approach sees racism as an individual attribute that a person should be praised for abandoning. The question arises: what is the true normative: 1) there will always be some racism when people gather and form a society, or 2) racism is a malignancy that does not occur naturally in societies, but instead must be cultivated in order to exist.

  • Junko,
    Thank you for your comments on Oshima. I’m looking forward to learning more about his work.

    Christophe,
    You asked about Mulligan’s reputation.
    The paucity of writing on Mulligan in English, makes the literature on Boetticher look like the Encyclopedia Britannica. The only Mulligan survey seems to be John Belton’s article, in “American Directors”, edited by Jean-Pierre Coursodon.
    Belton’s article was reprinted on-line (with permission) in the symposium Peter Tonguette edited on Mulligan:
    http://www.thefilmjournal.com/issue11/index.html

    Robin Wood dismissed Mulligan’s films as superficial, lacking insight, value or substance, in his article in Richard Roud’s “Cinema: A Critical Dictionary”.
    David Thomson dismissed Mulligan in his dictionary.

  • jbryant

    I don’t know, I have no trouble praising those who abandoned racism in a time in which it was unpopular and even dangerous to do so. Surely even the black people of the time appreciated this, even if in reality they might have stopped short of a silent standing ovation. Finch may have been doing what every white man should have been doing, but isn’t that a major point of the story? If every white, or even most of them, had been doing the right thing there would have been no need to write the book or make the movie, except as some sort of science fiction.

  • Peter Henne

    Brian, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. By the way, I have some important family matters to attend to and will be out of contact for a couple of days. I think that actively working against prejudice, on either or both of your understandings, is commendable. To speak very broadly, I think society is improvable, maybe endlessly so. I’d like to think there is always room for growth on an individual level too. I have my doubts that any society will ever entirely erase the fear, hate, envy etc. that seem to factor into interaction no matter what. You know, though, I can live with that. There’s always going to be kindness too. :)

  • Michael Worrall

    Barry wrote: “Michael, on a personal note, if you feel that auteurism is solely concerned with style and form, then I think that you are selling auteurism short.”

    Barry, no I don’t. I also believe that theme is an essential component. You are taking my two separate comments and putting them together to come up with the conclusion above, as I never wrote that auteurism is “solely concerned with style and form.”

  • Tony Wiliams

    Blake, Since you mentioned that you have not read the Robin wood essay to date and you made the earlier remark that it represented a “low” for him after not even reading it (9.13. You obviously showed no “respect” to a late critic and took the foul way out of attacking someone who is dead! So stop whining and do some research for a change before you utter such demeaning comments!

  • Blake Lucas

    I have posted some specifics re Tony Williams representations concerning what happened in MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW thread earlier. This is in new Robin Hood thread for anyone who might be interested.