Friday, February 27, 2009

That smile

Jules and Jim was not at all what I expected.  Though I could understand the theme for the week and even its origin, it is much different than the "cool love" I thought I would encounter.  Maybe I thought cool love would be love that never fails or never ends, but this isn’t the love in Jules and Jim.

It instead is a love triangle with a few more angles added.  Catherine toys with the men as the story unfolds, first just being their friend.  Through the beginning I really was enjoying the film and her carefree lifestyle.  She seemed to genuinely want happiness out of life, and who doesn’t want that?  I found myself slightly in her shoes; many of my good friends through school have been male.  Catherine was cool and her attitude about life was cool.  When you are young, being carefree and nonchalant is perfectly acceptable, but there is a time where the youth and irresponsibility has to go and instead maturity must come.  So yes, Catherine had cool love, but that was before the war.  After the Great War ended, everything seemed to change.  Though the carefree Catherine had stayed it seemed to provoke her to be hurtful.  When you begin hurting those you love, you lose your cool.  She and Jules had a child together and by then she should have been able to settle down and really think of those around her.  She instead chose to leave for a while and even have affairs in order to somehow punish Jules. 

When she begins wooing Jim I really lose all thoughts of her cool love.  She becomes obsessive, and rather than building up good things her actions only become destructive. Her final actions really do make me believe she has fully self-destructed.  She throws away every good part of her life, her family, her peace, and even her mind once she pursues Jim.

After being truly confused about how to receive the ending, I began to realize it was a better movie than I had thought.  Right after I cannot say I felt that way, but after letting it sink it for a day I am feeling as though there are many things that can be learned from the film.  I think it is important to see that Catherine had someone who loved her enough that he would care for her even when she did not love him as she once had.  Jules was not really the leader in the marriage as most men are, but he was always supportive and would help her however he could.  What I find most cool about Jules and Jim is the friendship of Jules and Jim and the love that Jules has for Catherine, even after she has caused their marriage to fail.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Darkness- it's a minor key

So film noir is not my favorite genre, but I am beginning to discover that there are many pieces of classical music which I love and have the same themes somehow of film noir.  I have played violin for more than 10 years now and there is something that pulls at my heartstrings while playing music that is darker in feel.  Many times it is easy to play or listen to a composition that is all major keys, normally filled with sharps, fast notes, and melodies that make you smile somehow.  After hearing one of these pieces, such as St. Paul's Suite- The Dargason by Holst , Hoedown by Copland  , or Les Toreadors by Bizet it is hard not to be happy.  Though theses pieces leave a lasting impression it is much different than the impression that is left by music that does not contain the same peppiness. I did not come upon this realization until listening to one of my favorite musical compositions, which showed me that although film noir may not be as happy as many films it has a lot to offer.  There is more depth in film noir than in many of today's comedy or romance films.  Two main orchestral compositions come to mind when I think of a type of film noir through music.

The first composition that is what I would deem the film noir genre of music is Mozart's Requiem III. Sequentia- Lacrimosa.  This is part of Mozart's last composition.  He was very ill at the time of writing it and actually passed away before it was complete.  The piece is heavy in nature; the words that are part of the mass are depressing.  The composition is centered around death and the judgment of man.  Film noir is not part of a peaceful and simply wonderful world, just as the requiem.  Requiem literally means "A Mass for repose of the souls of the dead," there are no happy movements.  The genre of film noir does not show happiness, it is about the true nature of people and what life really is, dirty.  Maybe this example is a bit more than what film noir is about, but I believe you get the same overall feeling.

The piece, which developed my thoughts of film noir and music, was actually Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber.  The piece is touching on a whole new level.  It is beautiful without the normal distinct marks of beauty within music.  Film noir lets us all see the truth of human life, the part that is for the most part hidden until some action brings it out.  Adagio for Strings was first performed in 1938, at the end of the Depression and the beginning of Hitler's Germany.  Life was not so happy for many people and the Adagio seems to portray this perfectly.  There is no grand part in the music, it just seems to grow and continue on until it diminishes in the end. There are no happy endings in film noir and there is no happy end to this composition.  Film noir easily can be a genre found within music, somber and somewhat disheartening.  

Friday, February 20, 2009 unexpected American genre

After viewing Double Indemnity, I have a new perspective of American film.  I had heard of film noir before, but I was not aware that it was actually developed in the United States. The little about the genre I knew turned out to be very well displayed in the film just as I expected: dark, gloomy, and gritty in a sense.  Knowing about American films the movie was not at all what I expected it to be.  I guess I really never thought that American film would develop something such as film noir, the messy, doubtful, and depressing genre that it is.  I am sure it was quite a surprise for the French to be viewing so many American films after World War II that were not of the American dream and promise that most would have imagined.  Who would have thought that the one genre that is most American seems to me to be the least American of all genres.  I know that not everything can be happy all the time, but I still am surprised somehow.  
I did not really care for the idea of the genre as a whole, but I thought maybe watching an example would show me what was so appealing about the whole genre. Sadly, after the movie I did not feel any different about the ideas of film noir.  Maybe I just miss the point of it all.  I knew the character form of a femme fatale before the movie and I even remember thinking that she could be a very welcomed figure to women.  Instead I felt as though she only furthered some sad ideas about women.  Barbara Stanwyck played an excellent femme fatale, but it did not develop where I felt any draw to that type of character.  I only thought of how backstabbing and brutal she really was, she was so sly that it no longer seemed cool.  There is a certain amount of manipulation that can be used by women to get their way and be cool in doing so.  I felt as though she went well past the accepted amount of manipulation as a character and instead became the women that is ultimately a black widow.  This is the aim of the character but I have a hard time developing any good reasons that it would be cool.  Maybe the idea is that she only needed other people to use them and that she was truly independent emotionally of all other people.  Overall I felt as thought I did not connect with the film and I found that maybe there are types of cool that grow too old and fall out of fashion, though we have neo-film noirs now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cool Imitation or Imitation of Cool?

Allen Felix really is an interesting character. He is so real it is painful.  There are times within Play it Again, Sam that you just have to cringe because you can recognize his imitation of cool within real life and realize that it doesn't always work to imitate cool.  Allen's need to be cool is shown as he has full conversations with his imaginary Humphrey Bogart; Bogart tells Allen what he needs to do in order to win over women and just be cool.  In the end, it seems that imitation will never make you cool, but instead it may spur you into learning what can be cool about you.  

One movie comes to mind immediately as I think of cool imitation, Some Like it Hot.  The movie includes many imitations but it is an imitation as a whole.  It is a comedy based off of one historic and tragic event, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, but is turned into a whirlwind run from the mob.  Not only does the movie imitate organized crime, such as having a meeting of gangs called friends of the opera, but also on an individual level there is imitation.  Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) see the infamous shootings of the massacre and have to get away to save their lives.  They run off to Florida with a women's band by imitating women musicians, now named Josephine and Daphne.  While imitating women they are protecting themselves and make friends with Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), who really thinks they are cool girls (for one Jerry takes the blame for Sugar's flask).  Joe decides that he will go even further in his imitation in order to win over Sugar, so he chooses to act as if he is Shell oil Junior , has a fake accent, and even takes Sugar on his supposed yacht.  Curtis's imitation in acting is of Carry Grant and his suave romantic style (later they worked together in Operation Petticoat Junction).  Sugar of course thinks he has coolness about him because the wealth and power she believes he has.  Joe is actually everything she has been trying to get away from, a lousy saxophone player.  His imitation works, but he thought he had to be someone else in order to win Sugar's heart.

Another cool imitation that comes to mind is not a character; it is a whole adaptation of a play.  Baz Luhrmann made an ingenious and imaginative remake of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  Luhrmann's version is highly modernized.  Instead of ancient households, the Montague and Capulet families are major companies in high competition with one another.  There are not the same swords as in the play, instead swords are guns that are literally named swords.  Many original lines from the play are used throughout the movie, but with the new imitation come some new meanings.  The film is a great way to show today's audience how Romeo and Juliet is still applicable to life and acknowledge the great work the original play really is.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My kind of cool

After watching Play it Again, Sam I had a hard time thinking about who I really look to for cool.  I thought for a long time to come up with an actor or actress I really thought fit, but to no avail.  I thought about musicians and though a couple come close, I don't think of them that often.  Then I began thinking maybe the way in which I do things is different than Allen Felix, and then it began to make sense.  I don't think of someone and his or her cool the way that Allen thinks of Bogart.  My thoughts about how someone else is cool and how I somehow idolize that are much more subconscious and subtle.  Since making that realization I can easily see how people channel a type of cool they see in someone else.  

I have a couple of very close relationships with people, not a large number of mediocre relationships.  Some of my closest relationships are with my siblings.  I grew up in a very small house, the youngest of four.  We were not wealthy, so most of our entertainment in life involved each other.  There are no memories from my childhood that come to mind that are missing all of my siblings.  Being the youngest leads to looking up to my brother and sisters.  All while growing up I would look to them for what was cool, as time has passed, it seems not much has changed.  I can see now how much I have made them my definition of cool.  My oldest sister is a doctor, which I now aspire to be one day.  I talk with her weekly about my classes and she lets me know what to expect throughout life.  My brother is brilliant and has really made friends that will be there a lifetime.  I seek his approval on most things.  When I recently told him I was planning to change my major to English pre-med, he told me that during college he had the best English professor and if he had not have been required to start all over he would have gotten an English degree.  My face lit up just knowing that our passions in life are so similar.  My middle sister is so carefree and personable, I only wish I could genuinely know as many people as she does.  

When I see all of my siblings together, even with their spouses, something is just perfect in the world.  My role models not only of cool but also of life in general are truly amazing.  I am sure I could come up with some legitimate reasons that I think some musician is my cool model, but that would be lying.  My siblings are more amazing than any actor or actress or musician is ever going to become, if only because I know them, and can really see their cool in life.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Through Casablanca, we come to know some type of sacrifice.  Rick gives up his true love in life to allow the underground movement to continue in its attempts to stop the Nazis.  He knows that though he has sentiments for the underground, he will never have to voice and publicity of Victor Lazlo.  Rick adds his part in the fight by giving the two travel visas to Ilsa and Lazlo and making sure their plane leaves Casablanca.  The fight will continue as strong as ever, because Rick does not put his own wishes first.  There have been other people who have to make sacrifices in their lives and they are not always as small as choosing to give up a visa.  Many people choose to sacrifice their lives for a cause in which they truly believe.  

Sacrifice is not just something of the movies; it is an every day occurrence.  In 9th grade I choose to do a history day project on sacrifice in the Boxer Rebellion.  Specifically, I did a group performance on a missionary family, Charles, Eva Jane, and Florence Price.  I read a book full of letters written mostly by Eva to her family and friends.  This missionary family gave up life in the United States to go share the gospel with the "heathens" of China.  The family worked to build belief in the salvation of Christ throughout Fen Chow Fu for many years.  They mainly wanted to equip Chinese Christians to hold their own church services and Bible studies.  After four or five years the Boxer uprising began, though it did not immediately affect the Prices.  It did spread to areas near the family, but the Prices stayed longer to help others in peril.  Once they did choose to leave, they were murdered on their way out of the country.  The Price family gave the ultimate sacrifice for what they held most dear, they gave their lives.  Missionaries around the world make sacrifices and I believe that qualifies them for cool sacrifice.  

There is sacrifice all through movies as well.  One movie that comes to mind is Pan's Labyrinth.  The little girl in the story makes a large sacrifice in the end to help someone else (I won't say exactly what it is in case you haven't see it).  She does gain something out of her sacrifice, but it is still a sacrifice.  Rick gains something out of his own sacrifice, which makes me wonder what exactly qualifies as a sacrifice in life.  It seems you can still gain something from your sacrifice, but not gain too much.  Where is the line drawn?

Friday, February 6, 2009

As Time Goes By

So I have a romance with classic films, this being one of them.  I have always thought Casablanca was a wonderful movie and after seeing it again in class I am reassured that I was 100% right about it.  There was something new added to my experience of the film this time, it is the same something that makes me love literature so much, it is discussion and analysis.  People may say how odd is that, don't you want to just take the movie as it is? No. I want to read into things and really discuss subtle lines or actions in the movie that make it so much more than it may appear on the surface.  There is so much more to learn and know about a movie than can been seen the first time you view it.  Wednesday was my third full time to see the film and the best part was being able to talk it through.  

For me, one of the most forceful parts of the film is when Ilsa first comes into Rick's Cafe Americain and she calls Sam over to play her and Rick's song, As Time Goes By.  The song and both Ilsa and Rick's reactions attests to the power of music.  Many times a person will have strong emotions linked with music; it can be from any situation.  Music is something that has no real barriers, not time, not race, not language.  There is always a story that goes with music, whether that is why it was written or why it is so enthralling to the listener.  After the cafe closes for the evening, Rick asks Sam to play the song for him.  Sam is creating excuses not to play the song when Rick says, "If she can stand it, I can. Play it!" And to show everything that song really means to Rick, there is a flashback to the times he and Ilsa had in Paris.  The viewer knows all of the raw emotion that song represents to Rick.  Repeatedly I am amazed about the universal power of music and this movie has the perfect example.

One other aspect of the movie really makes me wonder and think.  It is summed up quite well when Rick says, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns of all the world, she walks into mine." The aspect is fate. Yes, of course in this movie fate is exactly what makes the film and of course it is written to be that way, but there is something to fate.  How is it that an individual can find a person, out of the billions in the world, whom they love so much that he or she can break the individual's heart?  Or how can people work together or be in class together and later find out they are somehow related? Though the fate in the film is staged, it still makes me think about the possibility of true fate.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The criminal side of cool

The thought of cool criminality quickly produces the images of the Godfather or Scarface in my mind, but there are more than just those.  Upon seeing The Public Enemy, I now realize that most films associated with cool criminality have some gang or mob aspect.  Maybe cool criminality tends to portray itself best within gangs or mobs.  Individuals alone, without a gang, do not have the same cool criminality, even if they are criminals.  Something is added when the person is part of a group.  Tom had his partner in crime, Matt, but they were connect even more through people such as Patty.  The support Tom received helped him continue and portray his cool criminality. 

Thinking of cool criminality brought one of my favorite singers to mind, the well-known Frank Sinatra.  He had many connections to the mob, starting with his career around 1940 the Federal Bureau of Investigation began to keep track of his life and contacts with mobsters.  Though Sinatra was popular for his music, surely some people were also attracted to him for his suspected interactions with organized crime.  Evidently, some individuals who had mocked or threatened Sinatra received threats from Sinatra's friends in the mafia.  At multiple points Sinatra gave large sums of money or lavish gifts to his organized crime associates.  His criminal associations definitely aided Sinatra's growth as a star and being seen as truly cool.  Sinatra was not cool only for his mob friends, he did have an amazing talent, but who is to say it would have been the same if he had not had friends in higher places. For this tie, Sinatra maintains some type of cool criminality.

Even cool criminality has made its way into the world of Shakespeare.  The musical West Side Story is based upon two gangs in New York that portray a modern version of Romeo and Juliet.  Though they are not members of mobs, or particularly of organized crime, the gangs do fight and rumble often, which is a crime.  Gang violence is evident when Bernardo wishes to fight Riff for one of Riff's former gang friends getting involved with Bernardo's sister.  Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks while Riff is the leader of the Jets.  Each is cool for his nonchalant attitude to being part of something illegal.  Both gangs believe that they have the right to a certain part of the city and they continuously fight over the boundaries of their territories.  The production as a whole shows the cool criminality, with its songs and dance routines all tied into the quarrel of two gangs.  Cool criminality has many different ways in which it can manifest itself and I believe the more subtle side of cool criminality is found within West Side Story.