Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Victorious (in one minor area at least) this far from heaven...

While I was out of work and had no money, the only thing that I could really afford to do was to rent DVDs from Blockbuster owing as to their Netflix-style "DVD Freedom Pass" (which I have been calling "DVD Welfare," with good reason). $20. a month and I could rent any 3 DVD in the store and keep them out for as long as I liked.

During that period of time, I immersed myself in my preferred art form, renting new movies, chestnuts I didn't own and movies that I'd always wanted to see but hadn't gotten around to (see my LJ entries from February through April for details).

Towards the end, I stopped renting new releases because Blockbuster began a new policy in which they would no longer carry widescreen editions of their new releases.

I found this annoying. I understand that the financial realities of the video market demand that pan-and-scan DVDs be made, and possibly even distributed for rental, but I also believe that the customer should have the choice. The companies producing DVDs would often do both versions, but Blockbuster would only rent out the P&S editions.

In addition to losing the original theatrical aspect ratio, there is also the fact that people are getting gyped who spent money on monitors like mine, with the 16x9 capability. Anamorphic picture reproduction is a major reason why DVDs rock.

At the time, figuring it was a lost cause, I sent e-mails and snail mail letters to Blockbuster protesting this policy. I did not stress my own partiality to widescreen, but rather insisted upon giving the customer the choice to decide for themselves.

I was not aware that there were many, many other people writing to them about the same subject.

Blockbuster has reversed their policy, and now rents either a choice (in the case of silly comedies, etc.) or errs on the side of widescreen (in the case of action and drama).

So there.

Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)

One of the first movies I rented was this one that I had heard much about but haven't had the chance to see.

A capsule summary of the film, that it is about an Eisenhower-era housewife whose world begins becoming unraveled as she finds out that her husband is gay and as she begins a genuine friendship with her black gardener, does not really do justice to what this film is about. Surely, that is the plot, but what makes this film worth its weight in gold is the style in which it is done.

You see, the film is a deliberate evocation of the melodramas of Douglas Sirk (All that Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life, etc), and so, despite the dark thematic material that Sirk could never, really, make a film about, it is done in a fashion contemporary with the time-period depicted.

What this means is that everything about the movie, from the color scheme to the acting to the use of music, is displaced from our world, and placed, not in the historical 1950s, but rather a Technicolor movie 1950s. The power of this move is one that is not very apparent at first (one's reaction is that the film has a toylike quality about it at the beginning, actually), but over the course of the picture, as situations deepen and characters deteriorate, the desperation to keep the facade of the Norman Rockwell exteriors becomes a major element of the story.

Julianne Moore has rarely been better as the central character, Cathy. Totally fusing with her character in a way that is very rare (and always worthwhile; see Gene Hackman in The Conversation, Jack Nicholson in Chinatown and The Last Detail, etc.) and particularly difficult given the demands of the melodramatic style, Moore gives a performance here that is undescribable (in the best way imaginable).

This also allows for a better understanding of the attitudes of the time. Dennis Quaid's confused Frank just wants to be "cured" of his homosexuality, and his inability to express anything in modern terms makes his struggle all the more poignant.

Completing the triangle, Dennis Haysbert plays a man very concious of how society looks at him, but is determined not to be oppressed by it. In many ways, his down-to-earth character anchors the film and makes it more real. It is easy to believe that he would become a confidant, and he balances precariously between over-the-top and understatement (sort of a clash between the modern and traditional acting styles) and brings a personality to what could easily have become a stock "enlightened Negro" character.

The film has a very strident color palette, courtesy of cinematographer Edward Lachman and production designer Mark Friedberg, but it is in the use of music that it is most sophisticated.

The score, by Elmer Bernstein, was a shoo-in for the Oscar until Frida showed up, requiring a bunch of technical awards as a booby prize for not winning Best Picture (Oscar politics bullshit, yes). This was the most critically acclaimed film score in years, with every critic, even the ones that only mention music in a negative way, gushing over Bernstein's contribution.

Bernstein wrote a score in the style of the melodrama, but what he brought to it was a sense of reality that a younger composer, who was not active at the time depicted (even if Bernstein was better known for his excellent, steamy jazz-influenced scores for The Man With the Golden Arm and A Walk On the Wild Side then), would be struggling to evoke. Musically, this score is on a par with Bernstein's classic score for To Kill A Mockingbird, having all of the beauty and lushness, but with a maturity not present (and not necessary, really) for that film.

The score is not just there to be heard, to evoke the location or to tell the audience what to feel. Instead, it underlines the character's emotions, often filling in feelings that can not be expressed by the characters. The cue, "Hit," for example, begins with a beautiful strings-heavy presentation of the main theme, but it is too fast, too enthusiastic... too desperate. The cue breaks down later and then explodes in brass, but it is this moment, at the beginning of the cue, when the music is trying so hard, but not - quite - what it should be, that communicates that there is something wrong with what one is seeing on the screen.

Bernstein's score is also given quite a bit of priority in the film's sound mix (the DTS track doesn't have a hell of a lot going on in the rear channels, but it sure does deliver the music with authority), allowing his delicate piano, evocative flute and wrenching strings to come out when they need to be out.

Kudos to writer-director Todd Haynes for taking a film that could have had the relevancy of an after-school special and turning it into a brilliant work of art. First, he does not succumb to the "Hollywood ending." Even if there is a glimmer of hope at the end, the film follows true to the social mores of the era depicted, down to the uncomfortable moments that would be cliche in another movie.

The DVD is great, offering a great looking picture in addition to the aforementioned DTS track; there is also an "Anatomy Of A Scene" episode, a half-hour discussion about a pivotal sequence in the film in which all of the contributors are interviewed about their involvement with the scene. Because all of the participants are focusing on one particular scene, it shows all of the work that goes into making something like this, and is one of the best pieces I've ever seen on filmmaking.

I also took the Fight Club quiz...
I am Jack's colon.

I am Jack's...? (pertaining to Fight Club)
brought to you by Quizilla
I guess it doesn't beat "I am Jack's Smirking Revenge," but it does have its own, twisted power to it...
Tags: cinema, elmer bernstein, film music, memes
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