Archive for February 26th, 2015

Montgomery Clift’s Chuck Glover, a modern man, finds himself in the midst of a dated landscape with a forward-thinking mind-set, making him a very commendable cinematic character at the centre of this wonderful 1960 modernity drama from Hollywood master director Elia Kazan.

With a great change sweeping through America by the late 1950’s, Wild River came at a time where some doubted the Government’s initiatives, and racial injustice took over headlines. The 1930s setting that Elia Kazan’s film takes place in is an archaic, bigoted one, prone to debate. The depiction of such morals thirty years after 1930 – and now eighty-five years after – shocked and enraged; Kazan’s power is to realistically portray these events, attempting a timeless, non-biased approach to them.

Wild River has had such a great influence on the country-folk vs the Government storyline that its blood still pumps through modern day cinema. Take Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, about Matt Damon’s fracking salesman trying to persuade a local town to sell some of their land. This, compared to Clift’s Tennessee Valley Authority buying people off their land in order to flood it and build a dam, is along the same lines decades down the line. Not only does the story allow for contemporary audiences to and enjoy it without jarring context, but it is shot and acted in a very modern manner. Many older films have the tint of age over their aesthetic, the notion that this is from a long time ago and difficult to engage with, but Wild River is consistently absorbing.

There are a few drags in the plot though, with a love story that feels forced, yet Kazan has a very meticulous handling of narrative. The 110 minute run-time passes by in a flash for the most part, with a satisfying ending that neatly ties everything up. Coming from the director of On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden, there shouldn’t be much doubt as to the tactful handling of humanity. Chuck is, on paper, a wooden product of the “system”, trying to take the land off of rural innocents. However, Clift, Kazan and writer Paul Osborn present him as a humble state employee. We watch him on tender-hooks, hopeful that he will succeed, especially as he loses so many battles. The abject realism, akin to John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath, draws you in, largely thanks to Clift’s performance.

Perhaps forgotten over time by wider audiences (despite its selection for preservation in the United States National Film Registry), the newly restored and released version of Wild River should hopefully elevate its status yet again. There is a lot of beauty and heart in the film, perfect for a Sunday afternoon watch. We often take for granted these studio films of old, but Wild River has never really had its due – do yourself a favour as a film fan and seek it out.

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Hot on the heels of the superb Ganja & Hess re-release from The Eureka Classics Collection comes Robert Mulligan’s (To Kill a Mockingbird) elegantly lensed 1972 chiller The Other. Despite being less well known than the more shocking 70’s Gothic classics The Exorcist and The Omen, this is still a valuable film for it’s creepy and detailed characterisation, idyllic farmhouse location and elaborate long lens cinematography by Robert Surtees (Ben Hur, The Graduate.)

Amid a family whose misfortune is rife, the film centres on Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) a vulnerable boy with a bowl cut and a troublesome identical twin brother Holland (Martin Udvarnoky.) Niles and Holland have lost their father, who died in a barn accident and their mother has since become housebound and catatonic. Niles secretly harbours a ring that belonged to their father and we come to suspect that it possesses strange and dark qualities.

The family’s Russian grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen), is Niles’ closest companion. There is something desperate and intense in her character – well portrayed by Hagen – that is deeply unsettling. The primary tension in the film comes from the various situations Holland goads Niles into, as well as their relationship with snotty cousin Russell, who comes to a sticky end in the barn when he leaps into a pitchfork lodged in the hay bales. It is a film brimming with bottled up anxiety.

There is an overall sense of strangeness throughout The Other, and Mulligan and Surtees follow the action with virtuoso use of pans and zoom lenses. As can be seen in many low budget films of this era (particularly cheap Italian horrors), this is a camera style than can come off as unbearably clunky; however, the skill level witnessed here means the continually complex shooting style seems natural and relentless. Like cinematographer Surtees’ drama The Graduate from five years prior, The Other is a film with an original uneasiness.

Perhaps because of its similarities to superlative drama The Graduate however, The Other does not make for an exemplary horror film. In spite of some late twists and grisly developments in the plot, the film lacks a forceful and all-encompassing horror concept like the shocking The Exorcist, the disaster-ridden The Omen or the dread filled The Wicker Man.

Perhaps a closer relation is Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook: a horror film whose scares never quite live up to the exemplary aspects of craft and performance surrounding them. While it is entirely unjustified to decry a horror film for reaching for higher standards of drama and film art, it is that authentic sense of catastrophe that truly endures.

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