Sunday, March 27, 2011

"I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force... a force!"


I'm trying to revisit classic movies that have had a profound affect on me. I took such a long break from film this past year... Not that I didn't see any, but I had a hard time paying attention or even reaching out to find new ones. Now, in 2011, I'm finding my way back. And that begins by re-watching some old favorites (and discovering that they may - or may not - hold up to my initial praise.)

Last night, I watched Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd, a movie I didn't actually see until a few years ago, but it immediately shot to the top of my all-time favorites list. A story about a gutsy female radio DJ, Marcia (played by the husky-voiced Patricia Neal), who brings her daily Arkansas radio show "A Face in the Crowd" to a local jail, where she encounters Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith in his first major film role), a charismatic drunk who has no shortage of songs or stories to share. Marcia dubs him "Lonesome" Rhodes and it isn't long before the local citizens, followed shortly by the country, fall under his spell. As his influence over the public grows stronger and his delusions of grandeur balloon, Marcia comes to recognize the monster that she's created - and, against her better judgment, fallen in love with.

This film is dark, much darker and more suggestive than other movies coming out during the late 50s. It's not too surprising, however, when you take into account the director, Elia Kazan, who was known for his dramatic and shockingly risque portrayals of flawed protagonists, i.e. Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire and Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, both of which came out well before this 1957 venture. Scenes exhibiting Lonesome's destructive alcoholism are controversial enough, but his blatant womanizing and suggestive dialogue are undeniably shocking. During a scene in which he leers at a young woman (played by a scantily-clad Lee Remick) competing in a baton twirling competition he's, of course, been asked to judge, a man leans over and murmurs "She's only 17." This revelation causes Lonesome's eyes to grow wider and brighter, as if that's the most enticing news he's ever heard.

In 1957, I can't imagine this film didn't just gob-smack movie-goers. Particularly considering how it not only portrays people in the south/mid-west as ignorant hicks, but also shows the entire country as easily-influenced sheep, raising "celebrities" to god-like status.

Beyond the incredible direction (Kazan directed 5 of my favorite classic films - needless to say, I'm a fan), the acting is what surprised me most upon my first viewing and wowed me again when I revisited it last night. This was Andy Griffith before he was TV's "Andy Griffith" - clearly a gifted actor with impeccable comedic timing and an untouchable charm, but I had never thought of him as someone with the ability to embody such a tragically amoral character. I can't get over just how impressive he is, and I'm proud of him that he was able to have a role like this in repertoire before being pidgeon-holed as TV's most wholesome father.

What makes the movie that much stronger is it's not just about Griffith's talent. Patricia Neal comes off as a 'country Lauren Bacall', with the whiskey voice and feminine strength that evokes a constant air of sex - but only on her terms. That strength is tested by Lonesome's continuous failings, and Neal's Marcia literally unravels before our eyes, fighting the inevitable truth that only she can bring down the megalomaniac that she loves, but who only uses her in return.

The words of wisdom seem only to come from the man who, in turn, gives Marcia love that isn't reciprocated. Walter Matthau plays Mel, Lonesome's hardly-used writer, and it is he who stands on the sidelines of Rhodes' rising fame, scratching his head wondering how that world doesn't see what he sees. He is also responsible for slowly pulling Marcia out of Lonesome's shadow and into the light.

I can't express how much I love this movie, and just how captivating the story still is. Perhaps it's because nothing's really changed in our society in over 50 years. The world is still transfixed with the influence of celebrity, no matter how mundane or flawed they might be (Charlie Sheen, anyone?), and we all get lost in the idea that "one of us" could achieve such elusive greatness.

If you haven't seen this movie, I can't recommend it enough. Even if you have an aversion to classic, or 'black and white', films, believe me when I saw you will not be disappointed. I'm now feeling a desperate need to revisit my other Kazan favorites. I think that a viewing of Splendor in the Grass may be in my future.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars, ****½

Monday, March 21, 2011

it's all about balance.

How do you find balance between life and work when you're still just figuring out it all out? It seems bound to get out of balance, right?

For the first time in my life, I'm stepping out into the unknown and taking a risk on a new job, in a new place - something that isn't just to "pay the bills," but is also meant to inspire and help me grow in a career.  This is all just the beginning.

And while I have blogged for many years in various places, I wanted to start fresh here at Through the Reels.  A place to explore all the twists and turns of life by writing about it and sharing with you all.  I write to maintain my sanity, and carve out borrowed time from everything else in my life in order to do it.

Thank you for visiting me in this small corner of the ever-growing blogosphere.  

(picture via magneticheart)
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