Tag Archives: Top 250

Film of the Week: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring

SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN, WINTER … AND SPRING
Film 4, Thurs 23rd October 1.45am

Credit: Wikipedia

Film 4 have got quite the line up this week: Hugo, Inglorious BastardsCalamity Jane among others. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring is slotted into this busy schedule with a late night viewing but is not to be missed, despite the late – or should that be early? – showing. I watched this film in an ongoing (and, as of yet, unfinished) challenge to view all of IMDB’s Top 250 films. It wasn’t what I was expecting.

This South Korean movie (subtitled) is set on a floating house in the middle of a lake. The story is split into 5 parts, starting with an elderly monk taking in a young child, and spans the length of the young boy’s life. It’s not fast paced, nor action packed, but it is beautifully filmed and very intriguing. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot – it is a film that should be watched without knowing too much about it beforehand I believe. The story – which covers love, redemption, death and life, plus more (light, no?) – confuses you, yet draws you in without you realising it. I hope you give it a go: it’s worth a watch.

Note: This was a difficult one for me because I was torn between this and Hot Fuzz (ITV2, Fri 24th October 9.00pm), my favourite comedy. But I figured that everyone would have (should have) seen it. If not, what have you been doing with your life? Essential viewing.

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Women in The Silence of the Lambs

This last week has resulted in me re-watching The Silence of the Lambs not once, but twice. I also saw a comment made that has prompted a lot of discussion amongst those who watch Hannibal and have seen The Silence of the Lambs, which states that Clarice Starling, the main character and awesome FBI-agent from TSOTL, is a ‘generic female character’.

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The double viewing and, frankly, strange comment started me thinking on a topic that is discussed quite often with regards to this film, and that is how women are portrayed in TSOTL.

Warning: Spoilers ahead, as well as some generalisations. I want to make clear now that I don’t think all men are evil, nor do I think all women’s experiences are the same; I am making generalisations. Please don’t hit me with really mean comments.

Like Alien, TSOTL is often used as an example of a film that has a strong leading female character. However, I think TSOTL is actually a better portrayal of how women live day-to-day. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, and the characteristics of that role, arguably could have played a man or a woman. I like that as there are many situations where there are no differences between men and women, but Clarice Starling could only have been played by a woman, not because of what she does, but because of how others treat her.

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I will start by claiming that every time I watch TSOTL I dislike Jack Crawford a little more (which conflicts with how much I like the character in Hannibal, but I digress), because upon each viewing I notice new ways in which he underestimates Starling. When he first sends Starling to see Hannibal Lecter he doesn’t tell her his true objective of trying to get Lecter to help with the investigation, later justifying this by claiming that had she known the real purpose, Lecter would have guessed straight away. The problem here is that, firstly, he assumes that Starling would be unable to trick Lecter, that he would see right through her. Secondly, Starling already guessed. He underestimated her ability to, you know, think. When Miggs dies, Crawford says that Hannibal got him to commit suicide for his own amusement, that Lecter couldn’t have been punishing Miggs for his “rudeness” towards Starling. Towards the end of the film Crawford says he won’t forget her help and then hangs up straight away. He undermines Starling too, when he tells a Sheriff of the small town that there are matters that shouldn’t be discussed in front of a woman. It might not be that she is a woman, of course, that causes him to do these things: she isn’t a full agent when he sends her to meet Hannibal, so he may have a right to be wary of what she can do. We don’t know if Starling mentioned in her report about Hannibal’s threat on Miggs. And he might have just been busy on the plane as they were heading to the suspects house. However, his utilisation of Starling being a woman to get the trust of the police makes me wary about his motivations. Yes, he did win their trust, but it didn’t seem to bother him that she was made to look inferior just so he could.

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Other men treat Starling differently because she’s a woman. Surrounded by police in the funeral parlour after being left out of the conversation ‘unsuitable’ for women, there is an officer leering at her. She goes to get the insect checked out and is asked on a date. When she visits Lecter, Dr. Chilton hits on her (in the creepiest way. Gah, I hate him). Were she a man it is unlikely that the constant sexual attention would be so obvious, or that it would be so common. It is also an accurate portrayal: how many women could say they have never had someone staring at them in a creepy, sexual way that has made them uncomfortable.

Roger Ebert says of Clarice that she has “less self-confidence than she pretends”. As much as I don’t want to disagree with an industry great and someone so well respected, and whom I respect, I actually believe it is the opposite. There are moments with Hannibal Lecter where we see her confidence as she becomes comfortable with him, and with her friend Ardelia. Starling in fact has self-confidence, but hides it in order to appear unassuming and non-threatening. The film also demonstrates how women can use their gender to strengthen their position. After having Dr. Chilton walk her down to Lecter’s cell, to try and calm his anger at being asked not to go in, she flirts with him: “I would have been deprived the pleasure of your company Doctor”. When The Dark Knight Rises was released I remember reading some comments that Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was essentially a bad person for screaming and pretending to be scared when she wasn’t in order to avert suspicion from herself. I don’t think this manipulation makes her a bad person necessarily; she just knows how most men think and is playing up to assumptions about women in order to get away. Starling manipulates men’s assumptions too, so do many women, and it is refreshing to see that on screen as it is not often shown.

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Finally, I would be wrong to talk about TSOTL and women, and not mention the victims of Buffalo Bill. All are women, all kidnapped and killed (bar one). The film demonstrates, maybe, the weak and vulnerable position of women – maybe a man would have been able to fight back in the van, unlike Catherine. However, even these women aren’t demonstrated as purely weak, and they are more than simply plot devices. The victims try to climb the wall, tearing off fingernails. Catherine tries to orchestrate an escape by kidnapping Bill’s dog, quite impressive when all you have to work with is a rope, a bucket and a bone. Even more impressive when you’re stuck down a hole. Bill is also drawn to his crimes because he “covets” the first victim and her sewing. Catherine’s mother, the senator, is not weak. She is strong and works hard to try and free her child, ignoring comments from Lecter about her breastfeeding. The film doesn’t even allow its victims to be worthless.

I don’t believe any of this is coincidental. I think the director, Jonathan Demme, wanted to show what it is like to be a woman as a part of the story. I think he wanted to make Jack Crawford a bit unlikeable. In his 1991 review of the film Ebert says that “rarely in a movie have I been made more aware of the subtle sexual pressures men put upon women with their eyes”. I would agree and I appreciate this about TSOTL. Alien does not have these pressures, and in that film they are not needed as Ripley is an equal to the rest of the crew. The makers of TSOTL could have decided not put in these touches as well, but it would have been a lesser film as a result. The film’s main character is a woman. It is nice to actually see some of the every day things that actually happen to women appear on screen.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

Review: Mr Smith Goes To Washington

About six months ago I watched this little gem of a film and fell completely in love. I am currently trying to watch all the films on IMDB’s Top 250 list, which I know is really cheesy, but it has introduced me to some wonderful films I didn’t know existed, such as this!

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It stars my favourite ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ actor James Stewart. Before anything else, I have to admit one of the reasons I enjoyed this film so much is because of him. I love James Stewart. He brought an energy to every project he worked in and is simply likeable in everything he did, whether it be a grumpy photographer avoiding committing to Grace Kelly and suspects his neighbour of murder in Rear Window, or a man who may or may not be insane as he talks to his best friend, after who the movie Harvey is named, an invisible, 6ft tall bunny rabbit. I have yet to see Vertigo (for shame!), but even a film that I am not as enamoured with as everyone else seems to be, It’s a Wonderful Life, is made enjoyable because of him.

He plays Jefferson Smith a naïve, easy-going leader of a troop of boy rangers in an unnamed state in America. He’s well liked by the community and loved by the kids he leads. He is made a senator by group of corrupt officials, including the Governor and the other state senator, Senator Paine, as well as the man who controls them, Jim Taylor. They believe they can control him. They do not, however, understand how honest and good intentioned he is. Senator Paine doesn’t want to manipulate Smith more than is necessary – as a close friend to Smith’s deceased father, he is a father figure to Jeff and cares for him. He encourages Smith to create a bill of his own, not realising how it will affect his own corrupt plans. After Jefferson discovers Taylor and Paine’s corruption they turn against him, and he realises just how powerful these people are.

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The supporting cast is fun and important, especially ‘Diz’, a journalist, and the President of the Senate. Stewart infuses Jeff Smith with a joy that is uninhibited and infectious. It permeates the film. He can’t believe how lucky he is to be in Washington, to see and discover this great city. As soon as he gets off the train he goes to see the sights, his favourite being the Lincoln Memorial. The shot of Smith standing at the foot of Lincoln’s statue looking up into the marble face, both of them captured in profile, is beautiful, as is the sequence of Smith, a little boy and his grandfather as the child reads Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

As the film progresses you can feel the loss of Smith’s joy as his enemies attack from all directions. His discovery that the man he idolised and trusted, Senator Paine, isn’t the man he thought he was hurts him and the viewer alike, and as you witness Jeff become steadily more broken, it breaks you too.

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I have not yet mentioned another major character in the film as I felt she deserved some space devoted directly to her. For if James Stewart guaranteed that I would like this film, Jean Arthur’s character Saunders made me love it. She is his secretary and knows more about Washington than he probably ever will. She’s smart and sarcastic; if this film wasn’t both made and set in the 1930’s she would have been a senator herself rather than secretary to them. Cynical due to her surroundings Saunders falls for the idealistic Jeff. (But then, who wouldn’t? Of course, my bias towards James Stewart could be blinding my judgement.) The character is wonderful. Arthur allows her steely personality to be warm and not abrasive. Even when hurt she is strong and doesn’t fall to pieces – Smith relies on her far more than she relies on him, something rare in films even now. Funny and intelligent, she is a brilliant creation and makes the film for me.

This isn’t a pure comedy. It will break your heart (at least it broke mine) and cause you to question both those who are meant to lead us as well as the character of people in general. I would guess this is a film that would hold even more meaning if one were American (not being so, I can only speculate). It is funny, but there is more here than just laughs. It is bigger than that; it longs for more than to make you simply chuckle and that’s what makes it wonderful.