Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

A tragic yet beautiful story of love, history and lost opportunities, Doctor Zhivago is as much a love story about Russia as it is one between Yuri (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie). Yuri is a young doctor and poet he is engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Tonya, (Geraldine Chaplin) in the days prior to the Russian revolution. Lara is seventeen and has been forced into a relationship with an older man, Komarovsky (Rod Steiger). Lara attempts to murder her lover, and this is witnessed by Yuri. Several years later the two meet whilst severing in the medical corps during the First World War. Both are attracted to each other but Lara refuses to let Yuri betray his wife. When the war ends Yuri and his family are forced to flee Moscow due to his anti-Bolshvik feelings. Yuri and Lara meet again and begin what is ultimately a tragic affair, doomed by the forces that surround them.

Doctor Zhivago is an epic on a grand scale. Directed by David Lean and acted by a perfectly cast group including Julie Christie, Omar Sharif, and Alec Guinness, Doctor Zhivago is a haunting picture of a love that reflects the tragedy of Russia itself. Lara reminded me of Russia, abused, forgotten, but beautiful, tender, wanting to be loved but continuously having to sacrifice herself. There is an eerie echo of Lara in the life of her supposed daughter, Tanya. Tanya is apparently abandoned by Komarovsky as a child, separated from her mother for ever, and we see her with her boyfriend a young worker. Will the second generation end as the first did?

Visually the film is stunning, portraying both the beauty and harshness of the Russian landscape.

Sharif and Christie are wonderful, he poetic, romantic, she troubled yet luminous. Their tragedy is perhaps best described by this conversation, when Lara laments;
"Wouldn't it have been lovely if we'd met before?"
"Before we did? Yes."
"We'd have got married, had a house and children. If we'd had children, Yuri, would you like a boy or girl?"
"I think we may go mad if we think about all that"
"I shall always think about it"


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Black Narcissus (1947)

A group of Nuns moves to the Himalayas to start a school and hospital. Led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), the Nun's find themselves in a strange, intoxicating atmosphere. They take residence in a palace which used to be a harem, and the exotic locale sends them back into the past, their memories and desires haunting them, and eventually driving them mad.

The film was unusual upon release, both for its themes and it's stunning use of cinematography and colour. Audiences were said to have gasped at the sight of the tropical flowers. Much of the film was shot in the studio, and the backdrops of the mountains were paintings. This adds a strangely beautiful, ethereal quality to the film.
Jean Simmons plays a young Indian girl who seduces the General's son, and David Farrar play Dean who arouses the attentions of both Clodagh and Sister Ruth.

For me one of the strangest and interesting parts of the film was the physical similarities between Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth). It  was if they were doubles of each other, Sister Clodagh the 'good', and Sister Ruth the 'bad'. They reflect two sides of the one person, Ruth reflects the 'bad' that is raging within Clodagh but which she suppresses. Trying to ignore her desires, her attraction to Dean and to the heady atmosphere of the mountains.  Ruth is driven mad by her attraction unable to deal with the darkness. When she dies it is as if Clodagh is finally free. Ruth's death gives her a reason to leave the mountain. Is Ruth perhaps the final death of Clodagh's desires and memories?

The second part of the film feels like a horror film, the hysteria, shadows, and Ruth's final entrance are chilling but mesmerising. Double exposure is used constantly, bridging the gap between past, present and future, plus the similarities between characters. The nuns are always dressed in white and it is starkly contrasted by the colourful clothes worn by the General, his son and Kanchi (Jean Simmons), the brilliant flowers planted by Sister Phillipa, and the red lipstick worn by Ruth in the final scenes. Colours reflect a life very different from the one lived by the nuns, one that is sensual, one that is relegated to the past. The ever present reminders of the palaces' previous life are constant and when the nuns are searching for Ruth they resemble ghostly visions as if they too have become a part of the past.
                                        Kathleen Byron (top) and Deborah Kerr (bottom)


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Dark Passage (1947)

"I was born lonely I guess"

Dark Passage was the third of four films made by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It tells the story of Vincent Parry (Bogart), a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife. He escapes from prison and is helped by a young woman, Irene Jansen (Bacall), who has taken an interest in his case. Parry accepts an offer to have plastic surgery on his face, and with this new identity he sets out to clear his name.

The first half of the film is very atmospheric. The audience does not see Parry's face, until after his operation, so it is shot from his point of view. When he receives plastic surgery it creates a strange atmosphere, with the bandages wrapped around his head, Parry resembles an Egyptian mummy. The stark white of the bandages stands out vividly against the darkness of the night.

One of the main themes in the film is loneliness. All the characters are lonely in their own way. Parry is seemingly alone in his quest for freedom, Irene has lost all her family and has become attached to a criminal case, Bob (Bruce Bennett) is looking for security with Irene after the breakup of his own relationship, the taxi driver makes frequent references to his own loneliness, the surgeon was fired from the medical practice he worked in, and we see him working under the cover of darkness. The controlling Madge (Agnes Moorehead) is also lonely but has used this to manipulate everyone around her. One of the starkest scenes of loneliness is when Parry visits his old friend George. George lives alone in a dark dinghy flat, he dreams of moving to South America to play his trumpet. Interestingly all the characters wish to escape to either Mexico or South America, warm sunny places, far from the darkness of San Francisco. 

The film is beautifully shot and Bacall is stunning, her rich lifestyle contrasting with the drabness of the rest of the city, the empty hotels and diners Bogart frequents. It is not one of Bogart's finest films, but he gives a solid performance, and the strangeness of the subject matter gives the story weight. Bacall later wrote in her autobiography that during filming Bogart began to lose his hair due to alopecia areata, and by the time filming ended he was wearing a wig.


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Hollywood Retro Film Festival at Cinema Nova

If anyone is reading, and are in Australia, you might be interested in the Retro Film Festival being held at Cinema Nova.

Films being shown include, Casablanca, On The Waterfront, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Sabrina, Gone with the Wind, All About Eve and The Searchers. 

You can find the full list of films on Cinema Nova's website:


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Judy:Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Long time no see! Sorry for my absence  I'm getting back into the swing with a little piece I wrote about one of my favourite film characters, Judy, from Rebel Without a Cause

Much of Judy’s emotional conflict comes from her father; she is torn between being a little girl, and being a woman, with all the sexual feelings that come with it. Her parents, like many in the fifties, appear to have given her very little guidance in relation to these emotions. Instead her father suppresses her love by berating her; at once telling her she can’t go out to seduce boys, but is not loved by him either. But its not just Judy’s father who is emotionally distant, her mother always seems to be in the background, never protecting or defending Judy. In many ways Judy is desperately seeking a complete and loving family. At the beginning of the film Judy is seen wearing a red outfit, she is the tormented lovelorn teenager, punished by her father, and seeking for a way of acceptance, trying to be older than she is. Judy’s confusion in part stems from the conflicting views of society, on the one hand she is encouraged to be a vibrant, sexy confident teenager by her own peers, on the other hand the more ‘adult’ world shuns her for it, trying to lie to her as a way of protecting her purity. 

Judy’s initial rudeness to Jim is compounded by her knowledge that he knows how she ended up in the police station. She feels threatened by his knowledge of her more vulnerable side, and consequently puts on a great show of being a disdainful young woman, “I go with the kids”. Judy is very much the typical American teenager in this scene, her clothing is more relaxed, but she still seems on edge, still trying to vie for her place amongst the rowdy group she runs with. Judy is swept away with the gang’s risqué behaviour, going along with their stunts and violence; she is a silent pursuer of these moments, as if she is unable to go against the status quo, unable to discredit her adopted family. Her attraction to Buzz is fleeting, he represents a figure of power who does accept her, he gives her somewhere to belong, but it is evident that she finds the alienated Jim a kindred spirit. 

Judy’s role becomes more active when she initiates the beginning of the chickie run, and the moments she shares with Buzz and Jim in the scenes leading up to it. Perhaps the most symbolic scene that depicts Judy is when she is standing at the cliff, looking over to where Buzz has died. All her other friends have abandoned her. She is completely alone, looking into the abyss, and she looks like a frightened girl. It is Jim’s hand of friendship that heals the wounds she has been carrying for a long time. He begins the new and more meaningful chapter in her life. 

Through Jim Judy comes to the realisation that love does not have to be painful or hard, “I love someone, and it’s so easy”. Unlike the other people in her life Jim reciprocates this love with tenderness and honesty. The look of surprise on her face when he kisses her after declaring, “Nobody acts sincere” is one of amazement and young emotions. Her gentle, “your lips are soft”, is a tender moment. Judy realising the love she can have, that she has been missing, and the audience can see Judy wrestling and embracing the thought that she has met someone who is sincere. 

They form a surrogate family around Plato, and Judy is able to step into the role of mother. It comes to her easily, and she seems at peace. Her maturation is evident. Giving the right relationships and opportunity’s Judy begins to blossom into a caring, tender young woman, someone who can dissipate the raging emotions previously carried within her. 

Her tender compassionate and earnest looks at Jim reflect a love not shown by Judy to any other character in the course of the film. She loves him, and as she says it is “easy”. Unlike with her father who wants her to act a certain way, whose authority she looks up to, or even Buzz who also gives her a status, creating Judy into one of the ‘kids’, Jim simply accepts her for who she is, recognising the loneliness and confusion in her heart. Jim allows Judy to be her own age, neither forcing her back into childhood, like her father, nor making her more adult and confident like her gang.
It is Judy who replaces the dead Plato’s shoe, a final act for her surrogate child. Now armed with the knowledge of the best and worst of humanity Judy stands next to Jim, ready to face the next phase of her life. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

1. Audrey Hepburn

"Audrey was meek, gentle and ethereal, understated both in her life and in her work. She walked among us with a light pace, as if she didn't want to be noticed. I regret losing her as a friend, as a role model, and as a companion to my youthful dreams"
-Sophia Loren

Arguably the most beautiful woman in the world, both inside and out, Audrey Hepburn has left her mark on film, fashion and charity. Her grace, kindness and compassion were evident from her first major role, who else could have played a runaway Princess with such believability?

The iconic little black dress, pearls, beehive and ballet flats have all become synonymous with Audrey Hepburn, but behind this fashionable facade was a woman who deeply cared about those around her, who was insecure and shy but had a brilliant sense of humour and became a champion of justice for those in need.

Audrey Kathleen Ruston was born in Holland and as a child was forced to endure the hardships of the Second World War. Despite living with starvation, illness and fear, Audrey never gave up on her dream of becoming a ballerina. After the war she went to ballet school, however her height and lack of training during her formative years saw the end of her dream. She took up acting instead, and after success in the stage production of Gigi, was cast in the 1953 film Roman Holiday. Audrey won an oscar for her role as Princess Ann. A series of Cinderella type roles followed, but Audrey challenged herself with  roles in The Nuns Story, Green Mansions, The Children's Hour, Two for the Road and Wait Until Dark. Her most famous role came in 1961, Breakfast at Tiffany's, it cemented Audrey's fashion legacy. Despite film success Audrey's greatest joy was being a mother, this love of children led to her becoming a UNICEF ambassador and she travelled the world, becoming a voice for underprivileged children. Audrey passed away at the age of sixty three from cancer at her beloved home in Switzerland.

Audrey's acting talent is often overlooked but she played many challenging roles throughout her career which proved her versatility as an actress, a Princess, Nun, party girl and blind woman were just some of the roles she played. She changed the face of cinema forever, but also changed the way the world viewed beauty. Her greatest legacy however was in the work she did for children, it took her all over the world and despite the horrors she saw she never lost hope. Audrey was a special lady in more ways than one.

"Life is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering- because you can't take it all in at once"
-Audrey Hepburn