Tuesday, April 6, 2010

what keeps mankind alive

two movies i've watched a month apart, seem to compliment eachother in an interesting way.

sullivan's travels


both of these take place in roughly the same time period, and focus on tourists in the life of the common folk.
and while they both deal with human nature, they delve into different ends of the spectrum.

sullivan's travels is of note, because it's about a director that wants to make a hard hitting drama, one that triumphs the common man! he plans to name this epic, o' brother, where art thou?
that isn't the coen's only influence from sullivan, barton fink deals with a playwright wanting to triumph the common man in heavy drama as well.
while barton's fate is left largely ambiguous, suillivan on the other head, er hand, after being forced into some hard livin' realizes that the common man doesn't want hard hitting drama, they want feel good comedies.
hence the coen movie.

so once i found out about the coen connection, i knew i had to check this movie out.
and you know, it was decent, it's a great idea for a movie, especially for one from the 40's. it's humourous, has some dramatic moments, and it co-stars veronica lake, the babiest babe that's ever babed.
the movie itself shows the poor and homeless of america, mostly they're not amused by sullivan and his shenanigans. and yet he runs into a lot of kindness. lake, who is down on her luck and leaving california buys him some breakfast. after they get arrested he tells her the truth, and she decides to go with him on his journey to keep him from making a total fool of himself. and even when she's disguised as a boy she's still a babe. that's something to note, smart thinking on her part not going as a beautiful female and all.
other kindness sullivan encounters he later repays, and sadly it leads to his downfall. while handing out money to the poor, a man (that had earlier stolen his shoes) stalks him, knocks him out cold, throws him on a train. while he walks away with the money, he gets hit by the train. so of course everyone thinks sullivan is dead. meanwhile sullivan wakes up with a foggy head, and ends up in jail for assault on a rather pushy and violent railway worker.
he then suffers in prion for awhile, and the heartbroken lake gets some bit parts in hollywood.
while in prison, as a special treat the prisoners get to go to a poor black church and watch cartoons, here he has his realization, good times are what the people want. escapism is the ticket, not cold ugly reality on celluloid.
he comes up with a wacky idea, and it works! he gets out of jail, gets the girls, and cancels all plans for his hard hitting drama.
feel good moments all around.

now dogville on the other hand....

dogville is named such for a few reasons, it has an actual dog, the way the citizens act, what they reduce grace to, and the all negative connotations with the word dog.
the story of dogville is this: somewhere up in the rockies, lives a handful of people on a dead end road, these are simple poor folk. the focus is on tom, the son of a doctor, he fancies himself a philosopher, and a writer, even though he has never actually written anything. he gathers everyone up into the church for what he imagines are inspirational speeches. one night following some gunshots, the mysterious and beautiful grace wanders into town, steals a bone from the dog, and tries to climb the mountain, tom stops her saying it's too dangerous. but he doesn't understand, she needs to get away.
he convinces her to hide in the abandoned silver mine, and lies to the gangsters that show up looking for her, of course he hasn't seen a beautiful woman, nothing exciting happens in dogville. after the gangsters leave he gathers the town and convinces them to let grace stay, none of them are thrilled by this however. eventually though, she wins them over with kindness, helping them out in their day to day life, however soon they come to expect this, and start treating her poorly. tensions grow each time the cops come to look for her, until it reaches the point where one of the men of the town rapes her and says he'll tell the cops if she tries to stop him.
be warned, this is only the beginning.
the man continues to rape grace, until one day his wife sees them, she of course blames grace, her being so beautiful, and a mysterious stranger, of course she seduced him.
while this is going on, tom and grace are in a sexless romance, tom wants to, grace is obviously in no condition. she convinces tom she needs to leave, he steals money for her, and after being raped by the truck driver, she is finally taken out of town.
or so she thinks, it was all just a big ruse, the town thought she might be planning on escaping, and tom lied about the money. so now, back in a pissed off dogville, grace is accused of being a thief and adulteress. as punishment they tie her up on chain. they do it in a way she can still help them, but not escape. and as it follows, soon every man in the village starts raping her, as the narrator point out, they use her for sex, in the way a farmer would use a cow. i would have gone with sheep... however the point still gets across. tom wants to run away with her, he wants to have sex with her, yet she refuses, saying their love means something, the sex won't, not there, not like that, and that if that's all he's after, eventually he'll rape her like every other man. and this pisses tom off, because she's right.
he ends up calling the gangsters that were looking for her that first night, and well, long story short, the head honcho turns out to be her father, and what follows is one of the most satisfying sequences in the history of cinema.

one moment i need to single out and talk about.
earlier on, when the crazy wife thought grace seduced her husband, she decided to punish grace by destroying these figurines grace had been saving up for the entire time she was in dogville. grace pleads with her not to destroy them, didn't she remember, she had watched her children, helped them learn about stoicism. the women then proposes a cruel deal, if grace could demonstrate stoicism after one of the figurines got smashed, she would spare the rest. of course grace cried, and of course all of them got smashed. so when the gangsters were gearing up to kill everyone and set fire to the town, grace told them, with that woman, shoot her kids first, but before tell her, if she can refrain from crying after the first, they won't 't kill the rest of her kids.
sends chills down my spine thinking about it.

the last shot of the film, is the dog, the only surviving resident of dogville, spared by grace as she still owed him, she stole his bone. the dog barks at the sky, or at the camera, whichever. and this is of note as it's the first time the dog isn't just a chalk drawing on the ground.

you see there's something i didn't mention, although i'm sure you noticed if you watched the trailer. the whole movie was shot on a mostly empty lot, with no real sets to speak of. most of the buildings are just chalk outlines, with perhaps some furniture inside. a few houses have windows, the church has the spire. but the rest is just lines on the ground, even the bushes they tend in the garden are little more than cloud shaped drawings. everything is labeled too, in and odd, child like style. it's a rather interesting deconstruction of a movie, and i didn't mention it until now, because it doesn't change the film, it's still this disturbing and gripping tale. when i think back on it, i don't think of the empty space, i think of the drama. my mind's eye fills in the sets, i can see the dirt, there is none in the actual film, but believe me, it's everywhere.

the credits roll with a slideshow of americans throughout the decades, and bowie's young americans plays. some reviews i've read say this gives the movie an anti-american slant, and that's not true, this movie is all about showing the worst and ugliest parts of human nature, it took place in america and the credits seem to reinforce, and point out, that yes, horrible and ugly things like this can and have happened in america. what, don't believe me?

and so there we have it, these movies are two ends of a spectrum, sullivan's showing that in spite of everything there is good in some people, and it will sometimes pay off, dogville shows that humans are animals and treat eachother as such, there is no escaping it, no matter what philosophy or religion you tote. and it's pure simple truth, it's like the realization in i heart huckabees, the wonder of life is in both the shit and the beauty. as my old existentialism teacher used to sing "no, you can't have one without the other"

sullivan's travels:
four out of five

why only four? because despite the happy ending, and sullivan getting the girl, they still don't kiss! you can't have a happy ending without a kiss. for shame moive, for shame. otherwise it's a brilliant movie for it's time, and still really entertaining today.

five out of five

for being one of the most brutal and beautiful films i've seen. frightened me more than any horror film. and while i was worried about it before seeing dogville, i'm now honestly terrified to watch watch antichrist.

lastly i'd like to point out that dogville is available streaming on youtube, in it's entirety.
check it out here and thank the odd kindness from lionsgate.

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