Sunday, July 31, 2016


SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

The title of this 1941 Alfred Hitchcock mystery is a significant one. Observations may arouse the suspicion that someone has committed a crime, but suspecting, in and of itself, is not knowing. Not knowing something to a certainty allows for the exploration of the theme of surface reality versus hidden truth. When applied to a story, this theme generates apprehension, as the audience waivers, as does its surrogate main character, between deciding who is guilty and who is innocent. Hitchcock’s movies often center on exterior appearance versus interior reality, and its related theme of guilt versus innocence.

The director has an ideal actor for his purposes in Cary Grant playing Johnnie Ayesgarth. In a terrific performance, Grant is dizzying as he alternates between looking dashingly likeable and dangerously sinister. The fact that he is so physically appealing only makes Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine, Best Actress for this role, the only acting Oscar awarded for a Hitchcock film), and the audience, susceptible to allowing those good looks conceal some ugliness lurking below the surface. His wit just enhances his attractiveness, but scrutiny of his lines reveals some of his true character. When a photographer asks if he would provide a bit more of a smile, Johnnie says, “not at this hour of the morning,” which tells us that exuding so much charm takes a toll. He says to Lina, “You’re the first woman who I ever met that said yes when she meant yes.” This statement on the surface is a humorous jab at the female sex, but it also shows that Johnnie is no stranger to understanding deception. 

Hitchcock places the opening credits over drawings of a safe bucolic scene. But, they are illustrations, something not real, the veracity of their pleasantness can be questioned. He then ironically contrasts this view with Johnnie speaking in the dark as the train that carries him and Lina goes through a tunnel. The fact that we can’t see him lends mystery as to who he really is. Hitchcock likes using the sexual innuendo of the train and tunnel, since he employs it again at the end of North by Northwest (another Cary Grant vehicle laden with false outer appearances). The opening has another Freudian reference when Johnnie talks about cigars as we see that Lina is reading a psychology book, which implies that she knows something about people’s personalities, and which may explain her doubts about Johnnie later. But, the train also throws people together, sometimes creating strange couplings, as it does here and in another Hitchcock movie, Strangers on a Train.
We witness Johnnie’s conniving ways immediately as he says that he bought a first class ticket, but the railway line mistakenly gave him a third class one. He takes, without permission from a person he has just met, one of Lina’s stamps to make up the difference for the cost. It turns out that he is journeying to the same peaceful countryside setting seen in the opening drawing in which Lina lives with her parents. Johnnie goes to a fox hunt. Could it be that we are being told to look out for red herrings, since that is what was used at these hunts to lead the hounds astray? Johnnie finagles time alone with Lina by getting her neighbors to go with him to her home by saying they will all go to church services together. Religious rituals are not really what is on Johnnie’s mind. He steals time alone with Lina at a remote spot. Hitchcock then gives us a masterful scene. He shoots it from a distance, emphasizing the inability to see detail, and it appears that Johnnie is grabbing Lina, maybe taking advantage of her, and she is struggling. He says that her reaction was as if she thought he was trying to kill her, an ominous remark considering her later suspicions. Lina seems to have the same feeling that he is acting in a threatening manner, but Johnnie says he is trying to reach around her to fix her hair. So, we have been manipulated by the director to suspect Johnnie’s benign exterior, but his behavior here is innocent consistent with his pleasant appearance.
However, Johnnie is not the only one whose appearance is deceiving. Lina comes off all prim and proper. She dresses conservatively. After their walk together, she says goodbye to Johnnie. She then overhears her parents talking about a rumor concerning Johnnie getting thrown out of a club for cheating. They then say they have nothing to worry about her falling for him, because Lina makes a good spinster. Johnnie comes up behind her, and she turns and kisses him. She doesn’t like the role of a repressed virgin and is actually attracted to the “bad boy.” She is supposed to see him again, but then is bitterly disappointed when he breaks their date, and says he has to go away. By now, Lina is obsessed with him, and is devastated that she can’t get in touch with Johnnie. She feels ill, and won’t go to a party. But, her symptoms disappear when she receives a message that Johnnie will be there and wants to see her. He wasn’t even invited to the ball, and crashes it, like he did when he rode in first class on the train. He cashes in on his charm, using it as his ticket to gain entrance where others not so suave would be denied access. When they meet he says that he stayed away because he was scared about how much he cared for her. She professes her love. And now, in a candid move, in front of a painting of her father, he admits that he really isn’t such a nice guy. But, his playful honesty in front of the portrait makes him even more attractive. Lina now also becomes deceptive as she elopes, keeping her parents in that same dark we experienced in the tunnel.
The couple go on a whirlwind honeymoon through Europe and come home to a luxurious house manned with servants. Lina, apparently in denial about her new husband, is taken aback when she learns that Johnnie paid for the trip and lodgings with borrowed money. He is broke, and says that she’ll probably come into an inheritance to eventually pay off bills, but why not enjoy life now. He even suggests asking her father for some funds. She is outraged by this proposal, but also is savvy enough to know that his looks and charm could have garnered him a wealthier bride. She accuses him of being a child, which is quite accurate, since he just thinks about what he wants in the moment without worrying about the cost of satisfying those desires.

The story gives Lina, and us, emotional whiplash as Johnnie veers sometimes toward sweetness and generosity and then turns toward coldness and selfishness. He says he has a job offer and she believes he is working. But she finds out from his best friend, Beaky (Nigel Bruce), that he hasn’t been at work for a while, was going to the horse races, and sold the two museum quality chairs that her father gave them, and which she loved, so he could gamble. Just when she feels crushed by his actions, he comes in with gifts for everyone, including a fur coat for the maid, after winning big on a long shot at the races. She is thrilled that he is able to buy back the chairs and her love flourishes again. They drink a toast to his good luck, but he warns Beaky that he can’t handle brandy. His friend has a coughing fit, and Johnnie looks cold discussing his friend’s reaction to the alcoholic beverage. Is it concern or is he plotting? Hitchcock wants us to be unsure, since uncertainty keeps us interested in the story. But, the film also makes a statement about how difficult it is to be certain about people, and thus this perception shows how precarious life can be.
Lina’s doubts concerning her husband resurface when she discovers that again he has not been working for several weeks. She visits his place of employment and discovers from Johnnie’s employer, Captain Melbeck (Leo G. Carroll) that there was an audit of one of Johnnie’s accounts, and money was missing. She packs her bags, writes a goodbye note, but can’t bear to leave him. She rips it up. She does let him know she found out that he lost his job, and he is deceptive again when he conceals the fact that he must pay back the missing funds.

He now presents a project to turn a rocky coastal area into a resort, and forms a corporation with Beaky because his friend has substantial funds to provide for its development. Beaky is quite naïve and goes along with the project. Lina, now aware of her spouse’s scheming ways, warns Beaky of the pitfalls in such a risky investment. Johnnie overhears her and becomes quite nasty about not wanting her to interfere in his business matters. The next day he surprises her in the garden, and her cliché statement that he frightened her takes on added meaning in the context of the movie. But, he now goes from Hyde to Jekyll again as he says that he is not going to drag Beaky into the land development plan. But, he then wants to take Beaky out to the cliffs to show him how it isn’t a good idea. Lina, now not knowing what her husband’s motivations are, envisions Johnnie throwing his friend off the precipice in order to collect from the corporation they have established. Again, she is relieved when she sees them back at the house after their trip. Beaky even says that his friend stopped his car from going over the edge, thus saving Beaky’s life (a foreshadowing of the end of the movie). When it comes to Johnnie, the viewer must feel like Lind Blair’s spinning head in The Exorcist.
Before Beaky goes to Paris, where his securities are held, to cancel their deal, the two decide to go to London for a night on the town. Lina is then visited by the police who inform her that Beaky died in Paris after drinking brandy with an Englishman who ordered large portions of the drink. They want to know where Johnnie is, being British and a friend of the deceased. When Johnnie arrives home he says he heard about Beaky, but he didn’t go to Paris with him. Lina finds out that he was trying to borrow against her life insurance policy but proceeds were only payable upon her death, and that Johnnie said he needed more time to pay back Melbeck. Since she now suspects him in Beaky’s death, she is afraid for her life.
We have learned that Johnnie is interested in murder mysteries, and is friends with a local mystery writer, Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee). Lena visits her to ask about her knowledge concerning her books’ topics and learns that Johnnie borrowed a book in which a person dies from ingesting too much brandy. Later the couple are at a dinner party where the writer and a local medical examiner are present. The latter two discuss murder by poisoning and Johnnie pushes for the name of a concoction that is untraceable. That evening, Lina tells her husband she wants him to sleep in another room. He becomes very upset about his being thrown out of their bedroom. She is very upset and wakes up with the writer at her bedside. Johnnie seems caring again, and he called Isobel to comfort her. In their conversation, the writer admits that she told Johnnie about a recently discovered way of poisoning someone without leaving any evidence. That evening we have a shot of Johnnie climbing the stairs ominously in shadows, bringing Lina a glass of milk, which she does not drink, fearing that it contains the untraceable poison.

The next day she packs and says she wants to visit her mother. Johnnie insists on driving her to her mother’s house. He speeds up the car as it skirts the edge of the road along a steep cliff. Her door opens, and again it is difficult to determine his actions, as it was when he was reaching to fix her hair earlier. Is he pushing her out of the car or is he reaching to bring her back in? It turns out that, just as with Beaky, he was trying to save her. Lina now realizes that she, and of course the audience, has not seen the whole picture. Our suspicions did not allow us to see how much in despair her husband was about not being able to pay back the money to Melbeck. He was desperate to please the woman he loved, and so saddened that she was turning away from him that he contemplated killing himself with the poison. She wants them to return home and start over. He says that it’s too late, that he is not good for her. But, the film ends with his turning the car around and placing his arm around Lina.
The mystery writer at one point says, “I always think of my murderers as my heroes.” I would think this ambiguous line appealed to Hitchcock. Aren’t we attracted to the “bad boy” just as is Lina? Didn’t Billy Joel sing that the sinners were much more fun than the saints? Aren’t we intrigued by Norman Bates, the sweet looking young man who is really a psychotic killer with a tortured past? Don’t we want the car carrying the body to not hesitate as it sinks in the muddy pond, as we almost root for Bates to cover up the crime? Here we have someone who appears to be innocent, but who is really deceptive and manipulative. However, we must resist overreacting in our disappointment so as to not to judge him too harshly because as it turns out he is not guilty of murderous intent. Johnnie is an attractive individual with a shiny smile that conceals a dark side. But maybe, like Lina, we see something of ourselves in the wrongdoer. Maybe that is why it should be difficult to cast that stone.

The next film is Michael Clayton.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Bedford Incident

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

In this 1965 Cold War thriller, the devil is definitely in the strategic military details, especially when it comes to understanding the commander of the USS Bedford, a destroyer patrolling the North Atlantic Ocean. By observing Captain Eric Finlander (Richard Widmark), one can see by his actions and words what makes a successful military man, and also a dangerous one. The movie is shot in black and white, but this ship’s leader lives in a strategic gray zone where difficult decisions can lead to destructive consequences.
The Captain’s name implies a primal Scandinavian (Leif Erickson, Erik the Red) sailor who now appropriately navigates the frigid waters of his ancestors. Even though Finlander is an example of a primal military warrior, the tools that this 20th century soldier uses are very modern. He employs state-of-the-art technology to track movements of ships and weather balloons to determine origins and destinations of craft activities. He uses scientific analysis (one of the scientists is played in an early role by Donald Sutherland) to even analyze the garbage found in the water to determine if the food waste derives from a Russian diet.  The vessel he hunts is appropriately named “Big Red,” (no relation to Erik the Red, but sort of ironic) a communist Russian submarine. The underwater vessel is a good symbol for a psychological theme, since it implies what motivations and drives lie beneath the surface of a character’s facade. In this case, the submarine symbolizes Finlander’s baser desires to hunt and destroy (thus it is appropriate that the skipper commands a destroyer, which is Finlander’s occupation). The Captain is intently focused in his pursuit of the Russian submarine, bringing to mind Captain Ahab and his obsession with the white whale, where the killing of the beast is really a self-destructive act of killing that dark aspect of oneself.

By using someone who is an outsider to the ship’s activities, the story can provide exposition for the audience and insight into the characters. Ben Munceford (Sidney Poitier) is a journalist who chose to report on Finlander because the captain gets results, such as forcing a previous Russian submarine to the surface when it was getting too close to U.S. waters. But, Munceford wants to know why this seaman was passed over for promotion to Admiral. Munceford starts to see why. Finlander is happy that the vessel violates Greenland’s territorial waters because it gives him the reason to pursue confrontation, instead of wanting to avoid conflict. Finlander smolders as he waits for his superiors to decide whether to engage Big Red, and is visibly upset as he crumples the printed orders to only observe. He is further frustrated when the orders to force it to the surface come late, after the sub reaches international waters. He then logically justifies his subsequent aggressive pursuit of the Russian sub by saying “if I catch a man robbing my house and he makes a break for the street, do I let him go just because he made it to the sidewalk?”
Finlander’s demonstrates his arrogance and impatience in the way he treats Munceford. The journalist persuades one of the crew to let him see some tactical maneuvers. The Captain puts the seaman on report. When Munceford tries to help the young man, Finlander shuts him down, emphasizing his power by saying that Munceford will not interfere with how he handles his crew members. The Captain also cuts Munceford off, and shows his control over freedom of the press on his ship, when he stops the reporter from taking pictures with a curt, “not now.”  At a briefing, he tells the journalist that he can take notes, and when he doesn’t, the captain gives a double-take look as if to suggest that Munceford’s refusal was an act of insubordination, refusing to obey the order of a superior officer. Finlander dodges the reporter’s question about the possibility of attacking the sub, and shows how little he cares for the press when he says that the world is at peace, “your magazine says so.” But, for the Captain, who in his mind has the paramount responsibility of defending his country from an enemy he encounters every day in a ship made for battle, no such peace exists even if the current war is called “cold.” Finlander appears agitated and defensive when Munceford pushes him about the possibility of not getting promoted being due to the Captain’s wanting to use more force during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He says he is prepared to “go all the way” to protect his country from its enemies. When Munceford asks if that means he would use nuclear weapons, he does not admit to that scenario, but he makes it known that he sees political diplomacy as a vulnerability.
Finlander has as his chief advisor Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke. The irony here is that this man was a German U-boat commander for the Nazis who sank tons of Allied ships. The Captain uses a man who worked for the most lethal and hated military organization in history to help him on his quest. The Commodore knows all too well the look and actions of a man who escalates patriotic fervor into animalistic predatory behavior. Indeed, there are numerous references to animal behavior in the film. In response to Munceford’s question as to why nobody ever asks to leave his ship, the captain says he offers them the thrill of “the hunt.” The Commodore then suggests that maybe he also tantalizes them with the desire for “the kill.” At one point Finlander calls Big Red a “rat” which implies the need for extermination. The Captain fosters an onboard bestial tingle of anticipation by talking about “animals ready to attack.” 

The Captain has the crew wound up to the point that even Munceford admits he is as ratcheted up in anticipation of what will happen next in the quest for the enemy. When speaking to the Commodore, Munceford likens the heightened zealousness to what Hitler created in Nazi Germany. Finlander constantly sounds “General Quarters” which means the crew seems to be perpetually on alert. He is loudly critical of any man who does not meet his high standards. In fact, he humiliates the new ship physician, Dr. Chester Potter (Martin Balsam) for being a failure in his private practice and his marriages, seeking escape in active duty. When the doctor says he will ask for a transfer since he did not specifically request duty on the Bedford, the captain says condescendingly that Potter, “didn’t aim too high” because he knew he couldn’t meet the ship’s level of achievement. Nobody shows up for sick call on the Bedford for fear of appearing substandard. Finlander didn’t even want a replacement for the doctor that left, which shows how his crew’s commitment to the military cause transcends personal ills. Potter says to Munceford that it’s unnatural for a crew to never relax and joke around. At one point Finlander shows his concern for a crew member, Seaman Merlin Queffle (Wally Cox), the nerdy sonar expert (the name suggesting Merlin the Magician?). The Captain tells him to rest up and take a break. But, Queffle refuses, because Finlander’s fervor has taken on a life of its own, and even he can’t reign it in. The skipper reverses this compassion in the heat of the chase when Queffle suffers a breakdown under pressure. Finlander refuses to accept Potter’s diagnosis, and says he wants the sonar expert back on duty soon, and not doped up on medication.
 The Captain is particularly harsh towards Ensign Ralston (James MacArthur) who was a star quarterback and worshiped as a hero. Finlander feels he must deflate his ego so he will be just interested in the mission. He berates Ralston for the way he engaged the helicopter which brought the journalist and the doctor onboard. He chastises him for looking away from his sonar screen. He also criticizes his suggesting an easily decipherable tracking pattern of the sub. The Executive Officer, Commander Allison (Michael Kane), warns Finlander that he is pushing Ralston too hard. The Captain jokingly says, “Yeah, it’s a lot of work being a mean bastard.” Allison, his second in command, admonishes his superior’s tactics when he responds by saying, “Sometimes I can’t help admiring how effortlessly you do it, Captain. Almost as if it came naturally.”

Playing at a cat-and-mouse game in the nuclear age is scary activity because there is so much at stake. The Commodore warns Finlander about the perilousness of his hunt. He advises him that he will only encounter trouble with his obsession, and that he should “let it go.” By persistently pursuing the Russian sub, he forces it to not be able to surface to replenish its supply of oxygen and recharge its batteries. He turns Big Red into an animal that is pushed to defending itself. Finlander doesn’t understand the monstrous situation he has created. He tells the Commodore they have made an accomplishment by making the submarine’s crew desperate. The Commodore warns him that that makes the submarine dangerous. The Captain says in contrast that “we are a determined force.” The Commodore says there is no impersonal force – it is Finlander’s desire for power over his prey that is at work. When the Captain asks if the Commodore finds him desperate, too, the ex-Nazi, who knows what horror looks like, says, “No Captain. To be frank, I find you frightening.”
The Commodore’s fears soon become justified. When Big Red surfaces enough to use its snorkel to acquire air, Finlander orders his ship to cross over the submarine to intimidate it. But he has pushed things too far, too close to the edge of hostility. The Bedford runs over the snorkel. Finlander now readies for retaliation and orders Ralston to arm the rocket-propelled torpedo weapons. The Commodore pleads with the Captain to stand down. Finlander says, “The Bedford’ll never fire first. But, if he fires on, I’ll fire one.” Ralston, wound up like the mainspring of a deadly explosive device, hears the skipper’s words as a command and launches the rocket while saying, “Fire one!” The Captain tries to disarm the weapons, but fails. The Russian submarine is destroyed. But, as a last defensive act, the sub fired nuclear torpedoes at the Bedford. Munceford yells at the devastated Finlander, demanding that there must be some contingency plan for what has happened. But, the Captain has none. It appears he never considered not winning, and now seems reconciled to the eye-for-an eye resolution of the situation. The Bedford is engulfed in a mushroom cloud.

Since the beginning of the modern age where technology facilitates the very real threat of mass destruction, it becomes extremely difficult not to overcompensate by using dangerous tactics to prevent devastating attacks. This film is a cautionary tale about the danger of becoming too much like the enemy one fears.

The next film is Suspicion.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Clockwork Orange

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

Also, the images in this post may be disturbing to some. DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Director Stanley Kubrick withdrew this 1971 film from distribution in England for more than two decades because of the supposed negative influence some claimed it had on the youth of the time. He and his family were threatened by a few who condemned the film. It may seem tame in comparison to what we see on the screen today, but there is an attractive darkness in it that still seduces and shocks the audience even now. But, the story is not a glorification of violence; it is an attempt to explore the wide spectrum of human behavior which is the result of free will.
The movie is dominated by the amazing performance of Malcolm McDowell as the young hoodlum, Alex (a name author Anthony Burgess, from whose novel the film is based, said is to suggest a contorted version of Alexander the Great, slashing through and conquering all in his path). Before we even see an image, Kubrick presents a red background, suggesting that maybe instead of being baptized in cleansing water, we, and especially Alex, are bathed in blood from the onset. The first image is that of a close-up of an unblinking, slightly bowed Alex, staring menacingly at us. There is a false eyelash on his right eye, indicating that there is something strange about this fellow. As the camera pulls back, we see tables that are in the form of naked alabaster women, legs spread out, used to hold drinks. There are other sculptures in the Korova Milk Bar of voluptuous women which dispense drug-laced milk from plastic breasts. Alex and his droogs (members of his gang) are dressed in white outfits, wearing bowler hats, and have bulging athletic supporter pouches around their genitals, accentuating their fullness. From these images Kubrick tells us a great deal about this not-too-distant future time. Women are literally objectified in the bar, turned into degraded sexual decorations. The image of the innocence of a mother nurturing her young with her pure white breast milk is conjured up alongside this incestuous tableau of depraved imbibing of poisoned fluid. The whiteness of the mannequins and the gang’s clothes is also an ironic comment on how these boys, while still being young with life’s possibilities ahead of them, are far from unsullied. The bowler hats are a satiric comment as to the disdain these youths have for the established order of British proper gentlemen who let them live in squalor in their dilapidated neighborhood.

Alex narrates the story in a dialect, also spoken by other gang members, that Burgess made up that consists of various linguistic derivations, including Russian and Cockney. The language has a twofold purpose: on the one hand, it distances the reader from the atrocities presented; conversely, it is also musical, almost poetic, and this quality seduces us and draws us to the speaker. Kubrick, who at first found the language off-putting, uses it extensively in the screenplay. But, he goes beyond language here, to accomplish distancing, and more. When Alex and his "droogs" confront another gang, the violence looks like acrobatics, as the boys tumble and fly through the air, smashing into each other with objects and their bodies. The staged choreography of this violence contrasts with the destructive acts taking place. The fight even takes place at a defunct casino, where we first see the beauty of the upper part of the building contrasting with the ruins of the rest of the building as thugs try to rape a woman. It may be that Kubrick is commenting on the decay exerted on the historic by modern times. There is the use of slow motion, altering reality, when Alex attacks his fellow rebellious droogs in ballet style. We have the fast motion scene where Alex has sex with two girls in his bedroom, not allowing us to indulge in prurient observation, but still illustrating Alex’s proclivities. There is the song-and-dance sequence involving “Singing in the Rain” that Alex performs while assaulting the writer and his wife. The entertaining is diverting while the “horror show” that Alex and his gang pursue takes place.

But there is much more here than just attempting to distance the audience. Kubrick also uses visual art and classical music while the mayhem is on display. For instance, “The William Tell Overture” is used during the threesome sex scene, the quickness of the tempo matching the speed of the camera work. We also have a sculpture of a sleek looking penis and scrotum used as the murder weapon to kill the manager of a health farm (Miriam Karlin). Instead of actually showing the woman’s face as Alex slams her head with the sculpture, Kubrick gives us the image of a woman in a paining in the building who appears with an open mouth and looks like she is yelling. Alex loves Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. This piece is later played during Alex’s behavioral modification while there are images of Hitler and Nazi Germany. By emphasizing the art of the cinema through this stylized, form of filmmaking, Kubrick seems to be saying that humans have the dual capacity for awesome creativity and extreme destructiveness. 
The character of Alex shows this complexity. There is no doubt that this guy is primarily evil. He steals, and beats, rapes (while wearing a mask with an extended phallic nose), and even kills a woman. When he reads the bible in jail, he enjoys imagining himself being the Roman soldier whipping Jesus. He enjoys Beethoven’s symphony, but while listening he envisions a hanging and explosions, and sees himself as a vampire with fangs dripping blood. He listens in the company of his pet snake, an obvious Satanic symbol. But, doesn’t great art draw on all our aspects, the baser ones as well as the uplifting? When inviting the girls over to his place to have sex, he talks about music containing, “angel trumpets and devil trombones.” Art mirrors what is inside of people, both the good and the bad. Alex is poetic when he describes what Beethoven’s music sounds like when he says, “Oh bliss! Bliss and Heaven! Oh, it was georgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now.” His sly and melodic speech seduces us, so we identify and vicariously participate with him in his exploits. We may even laugh when he sings “Singing in the Rain” and then feel guilty that we enjoy his vocalizing and dancing while he attacks people. His youth and attractiveness also draw us in, and we feel mixed feeling about his magnetic personality. It is something like how we appreciate Hannibal Lecter’s intelligence and style, but revile his brutality. In this way, Kubrick is like Hitchcock, who reveals how we implicate ourselves in vicariously identifying with transgressors, and thus indicts us for judging other sinners.
 Although the dangerous actions of the individual is a threat to society, the sanctioned institutionalized violence of the state is more frightening because of the extensive power it can exert on a mass scale, blotting out the humanity of the people. Alex’s probation officer, Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), the name maybe suggesting the “muscle” the government can exert, is a sadistic pervert, who violently grabs Alex’s genitals as he lectures him. The police say they want to stop aggressors like Alex. But, when they get him in custody, they beat him while hypocritically acting civilized, asking politely about tea and paper towels to clean up his bloody mess. When he goes to prison, he is stripped of all his clothes and belongings, and symbolically of his individuality, having a number assigned as his identity instead of his name. At the end of the film, Alex’s former droogs become policemen, beating him and almost drowning him, thus signifying the state sometimes becomes what it says it is fighting.
The state wants to get rid of crime by conditioning criminals to avoid anti-social behavior. Alex volunteers for the program, thinking he can use it as a way out of jail after his conviction for the murder of the health farm manager. They put him in a straightjacket, clamp his eyelids open so he is forced to watch atrocities that he is supposed to avoid, and inject him with drugs so that he becomes violently ill to the point of suicide when even contemplating acts of transgression. While perpetrating violence on him to supposedly stop violence, they also destroy any sexual desire, and Alex can’t defend himself when the vagrants attack him out of revenge, not an activity the state should foster, after his release from prison, thus causing him to be a victim. While they do their behavior altering, Beethoven’s 9th is in the background. Thus, Alex also develops a sickening revulsion of great music. The theme here is that if you get rid of the free will to do evil, you also rid a person of the choice to appreciate and maybe create great art. The prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley) is against the conditioning program, and basically annunciates the overriding theme of the movie. He says, “Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” When Alex is publicly humiliated as he is forced to lick the sole of a man’s shoe to prove he will not fight back, the chaplain says Alex, “ceases to be a creature of moral choice.” To be human means to freely use all those aspects of one’s makeup, those for worthy of greatness and condemnation. To turn a person into a programmed mechanism is as contrary an act as creating “a clockwork orange.” The two just don’t go together.
The government does not care about these philosophical or moral issues. They just know the technique “works.” Until it becomes a scandal, that is. Liberals are satirized here, too. Alex winds up at the house of the author, Frank Alexander (Patrick Magee), who Alex beat so badly he now is in a wheelchair and whose wife he raped and who subsequently died due to pneumonia. He at first does not recognize Alex because he wore that phallic mask, and only recognizes him to be the subject of the behavior altering experiment. The writer says the loss of his wife was really due to being a victim of the modern age where the world has let down people like her and Alex.  He calls up his friends, who want to make an example of Alex as how the government has overstepped its moral bounds. However, once Alexander hears his guest vocalizing “Singing in the Rain,” he knows who he is. He learns that Beethoven’s 9th makes him ill. He drugs Alex, locks him in a room, and blares the symphony to the point where Alex jumps out the upper floor window. Alexander (notice how the name mirror Alex’s) also has free will do good and evil. It is significant that he is a writer, capable of artistic expression, but also willing to indulge in sadistic revenge. He wants to stop the state from brainwashing people by using Alex as the poster boy for a liberal cause, but also illustrates the danger of the freedom that allows individual violence which the state wants to eliminate.

Alex wakes up with many broken bones and bedridden after his fall. Through a conversation with a psychiatrist (Pauline Taylor), he says he remembers people messing with his mind. His answers to her questions shows that he has been deconditioned. After the press finds out that Alex’s condition almost caused him to lose his life, the government sends the Minister (Anthony Sharp) to smooth things over with Alex, making a deal that he will be taken care of as long as he doesn’t blame the state. The Minister spoon feeds Alex his dinner, in a kind of satiric repetition of the milk drinking at the beginning, where innocence and corruption exist together in one image. Alex’s last words are, “I was cured, all right.” He is what he was, and the last image is of properly dressed, civilized people standing in rows on either side of Alex who is writhing in the ground having sex with a naked woman as the others applaud. The image emphasizes the prison chaplain’s theme of the duality of human nature, and the freedom to choose between the two. 
At one point in the story Alex talks about the cinema, saying “It’s funny how the colors of the real world seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.” This idea of art painting truer than what appears to be true in every day life, illuminating the complexities and ambiguities of what it is to be human, may be Kubrick’s guiding artistic principle.

Next week’s film is The Bedford Incident.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Movie Cars and Clothes

Today there is a special post. I recently took a road trip to Tennessee and North Carolina and thought I would share some pictures and information about vehicles and costumes in films.

In Gatlinburg Tennessee I explored the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. This location contains authentic modes of transportation featured in numerous movies and TV shows. If you are a fan of the Fast and Furious films, you will find the original supercharged 1970 Dodge Charger driven by the father of Vin Diesel’s character, Dominic Toretto, when the elder Toretto was killed. At the end of the first film, Dom, having maintained but never driven the Charger, hits the road with it, trying to escape the law. He gets into a nasty accident, but now cop pal Brian (Paul Walker) lets him go. This car also shows up in Fast Five.
Also on display is the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona that Dom drives in the sixth film in the series. The car was altered to make it shorter, taller, and sleeker for the stunts.
Some of my favorite cars are made by Aston Martin. No, you won’t find the one first featured in Goldfinger, and later seen in the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. But, there is the DB9 version that features Jason Stratham as the designated driver in Furious 7.
Speaking of James Bond, you will discover the Goldeneye BMW Z3 driven by Pierce Brosnon. Besides the standard 007 smoke screen, machine guns, and bullet-proof protection, there are supposed to be stinger missiles and a self-destruct system. You better read Q’s instruction booklet before operating.
There is the DeLorean time machine from the Back to the Future series, flux capacitor and lightening-capturing rod included. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who named their dog Einstein or Copernicus after seeing these movies. No, the flying train in the last film is not here. It’s not real, people! My daughter and I watched these motion pictures several times when she was young, and would recite the dialogue. Be careful with that space-time continuum thing – you don’t want to get “erased from existence!”
You will find the Batmobile from the Michael Keaton 1989 version of Batman. The one at the museum is strictly a mock-up used for interior shots. So, if you visit, don’t try to drive it off. It is more foreboding looking than the one used in the Adam West TV series, which appears more comic book inspired with its bright outlines and convertible look.

With the new female version of Ghostbusters being released, you can revisit the converted Caddy seen in the original Bill Murray flick. Hey, you need a big ride to carry those blasters when you are fighting mutant marshmallow men. Wonder if the new vehicle is a hybrid?
Check out one of the trucks used to carry those “Dorothy” sensors in Twister. When you’re out there in the middle of the USA, watch out for those f5’s. The “finger of God” is not the kind of close-encounter you want to experience.
The Harley Davidson Softail Fatboy motorcycle is featured in the Terminator 2: Judgment Day showcase. The movie’s producer, Mario Kassar, kept it in his personal collection until it was sold to another private collector before finding its way to the car museum. The movie franchise never did explain why Skynet made a robot with an Austrian accent. Diversity, I guess.
Finally, you can’t get a more antique car than the one in the John Goodman and Rosie O’Donnell movie version of The Flintstones. I wonder if they had podiatrists back then.
 There is more to see at the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. It is definitely worth a stop if you are in eastern Tennessee.
I was lucky to be visiting the impressive Biltmore mansion once owned by George Vanderbilt, with its amazing gardens and grounds in Asheville, North Carolina, at the time there was an exhibit of costumes which appeared in period piece motion pictures. The costumes on display were primarily wedding outfits.

Well into the 1800’s, a wedding dress was the average woman’s best dress, with the white gown coming into fashion at Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood’s muslin wedding dress and velvet jacket worn by Emma Thompson were appropriate for her marrying a poor minister (played by Hugh Grant, who looked like he could hardly move his head in the collars he wore in the film).

In contrast, Elinor’s younger sister, Marianne (Kate Winslet), donned a more fashionable dress in keeping with her wealthy husband, Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), dressed in a military uniform.

For the Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) wedding gown in Out of Africa costume designer Milena Canonero made a linen suit in the French style with a false waistcoat front and high collar. The silk hat has a peaked crown. The designer wanted to illustrate Blixen’s strong, independent spirit. The gown must be associated with bad feelings for the character, considering one of her wedding gifts from her husband was a venereal disease.

In Emma, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wedding gown demonstrates the popularity of the Regency dresses in the early 1800’s. They had high waists creating the look of a column to evoke a Greek or Roman form. The self-proclaimed matchmaker was finally matched in this film.

Then there is Tess. Anybody who is familiar with Thomas Hardy stories knows that fate does not make it easy to get to that happy ending.

There were also costumes at the Biltmore from such films as Howard’s End, Mansfield Park, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, among others.

Well, I hope this post was a pleasant diversion. Next week we’re back to film analysis with A Clockwork Orange.