This is a blog post equivalent of Febulights, where I talk about a movie about the emotionally draining festival weeks after the fact. And this isn’t even about Christmas or a non-Christian holiday that also coincides with it. Why can’t the channel I tuned into broadcast one about the Maccabean revolt? I’m sure there’s many of those. Instead, we get the pre-Shrek Dreamworks offering called The Prince of Egypt. It’s a curious title that also hints at the complexities within the Biblical hero, Moses (Val Kilmer) who also happens to be the adopted brother of slave driving Pharaoh Ramses II (Ralph Fiennes). Fiennes lends his voice to a villain contending against the laws of nature, the latter of which is a force powered by good. Ramses also wears a lot of make-up and campy costumes and is sexually and species ambiguous like every other Fiennes character. Anyway, they still have contend with their relationship despite of the ethnic division wedged between them. Ramses is still in close contact with Moses, allowing the latter in his son’s wake, a sign of compassion from both ends. But Moses’ presence is still a reminder of the transaction that must take place in order for his kind of racist God to stop ravaging Ramses’ country.
There are some conventionally sub par parts in the animation like how hair, as beautiful as it looks, is fashioned in clumps as opposed to of strands. How gold looks more yellow. When light or fire comes out of the sky, which looks awesome yet artificial. Speaking of artificial, how about when it’s trying to replicate camera movement? The same artificiality also affects the scene with the parting of the Red Sea, looking like a tenth grade computer assignment. However, that part redeems itself when we see silhouettes of a whale trapped in the water while the Israelites pass through, showing us what they would have seen in this moment. It doesn’t distinguish itself from Disney although Disney movies will almost never have a predominantly dark-skinned characters and will never have Jewish protagonists. There are some new touches like recognizing Orion or how objects touch light or vice versa. But I mainly like how old school the movie looks, where the rocks or buildings are rugged on the foreground but looking painterly as they recede. Or during the Exodus when the Israelites, their carts and tents placed within the picture through brushstrokes. This movie also features the greatest looking eyes ever.
I will always remember this movie for how Moses has more sexual chemistry with his sister Mariam (Sandra Bullock) than with his taller and skinnier wife Tzipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer). The way their big eyes look at each other with the almost sighing expression, different from my experiences of friendly enmity that I see in other siblings. They are estranged and there have been other examples in other movies where people in that situation have the same reaction towards each other or more. Although personally I like the simpler looking Mariam better, Tzipporah looking too glamorous for me, even though her jewellery is a sign of class division within the enslaved Israelites. I don’t know what that says about my preferences about but enough about that.
And because this is an animated musical, Moses and the crew sing a song after being victorious against Ramses. Mariam and Tzipporah sing ‘When You Believe, made more famous by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, who are not the singing voices in the movie. The real character voices sing an octave higher than, what I imagine, the A-list actors would sound like. It’s not necessarily frustration and animation companies, under the veil of their drawn creations as opposed to real actors and sets, can hire as many people as they like to play a character. At the same, I never bought the ‘we chose a different singing voice to fit the character’ argument, even when MGM musicals of yore used the same justification. If they could express emotion through speaking, they can and should be able to do the same in music, and vice versa. I still want to know what Bullock and Pfeiffer’s voices sound like.
The movie ends with Moses with the Ten Commandments, bypassing the Golden Calf section because that scene would have soured the movie’s mood.
Everybody knows how the yuppie from the coffee shop died, and that as Joe Black, Brad Pitt can do a Jamaican accent. I started tuning into this movie when Joe’s fiending for peanut butter in Bill’s (Anthony Hopkins) kitchen, and slept before the end. And how is Joe the angel of death yet Bill has to tell him what’s right from wrong? This is mid-career Pitt, where most of his movies centred on how he looked. It was the 90’s when for some reason, everyone got away with ridiculous pre-Justin Bieber hair like that. Claire Forlani’s terrible and wooden which means, yes, I disagree with Mick LaSalle. Marcia Gay Harden’s character is the only redemption in this film, yet she still can’t convince me that she doesn’t mind being the favourite. This is a terrible movie, just take my word for it.
Because of this, and because The Thin Red Line will be at the Revue at 3 as the first film they’re screening on their Cinematography series. Or on the History Television at 9. I couldn’t exclude Saving Private Ryan, Road to Perdition and There Will be Blood, all three in the ASC list, because I’m not a dick.
Road to Perdition Conrad L. Hall, ASC (2002)
While everyone else was watching “Glee” (seriously, fuck that show), I was masochistic and I watched “Saving Private Ryan.”
I have trouble writing about this since this is turn of the twenty-first century cinema and those have different expectations than I do now. And it’s a bit of a pejorative but it’s still true that Spielberg has that mainstream feel to all his movies, even the most depressing ones like this. The movie does start with irritating hope music that would eventually be done away with years later.
But the movie quickly earns the right to use that music when it switches to a grueling 30 minute slaughter scene of American soldiers. Spielberg spoon-feeds but his in context to his more recent work, we get a little surprised by what’s…in his stew. The movie shows a man getting killed seconds after seeing someone else getting shot. In moments of relative peace, we forget the sadism that is unfortunately necessary in times of war.
This movie reverses the world view of “The Thin Red Line.” Unlike the Malick film, deaths in “Saving Private Ryan” less elegiac and more guts-y and faceless. Also, the leaders responsible for the myriad of slaughtered young men is faceless. We see generals ordering rescue missions instead of ambitious military attacks, although the movie shows both. The brutality is then seen in the lower level, making ‘the American people’ just as cruel as the enemy.
I don’t know why there are so many women in my pictures. They only show up for five minutes, but they that effect on me. Home front, I guess.
The scene with the mother also starts off how Boschian Spielberg could be. Comes with the territory and subject matter, I guess. I could notice the little details from the TV, it would have been fun watching this in the theatre. But then it wouldn’t have been fun since I was ten at the time.
Anyway, enough of me now, enjoy the rest of the screen caps, if you can even call this enjoying.
Because I am a masochist, I followed up the sobbing in “Secrets and Lies” last Saturday night with the elegies of “The Thin Red Line.” I saw it in parts for the first time, its entirety at UofT for the second time, so this third time is for the emotional experience.
The images that caught me the first time are the bayonets puncturing both the American and the Japanese as the former attacks the latter’s hilltop base at Guadalcanal. The film mixes these close-ups with shot where young privates and corporals run towards the camera or the faceless Japanese soldiers running across the screen. Despite of the grand scale that war films have, most deaths in them are still shown on the personal level, although quickly done so. The close-up on the men’s uniformed bodies stress that, and we as the audience feel the pain there even if we don’t see their faces’ anguish. If we do see their faces, as we did in the first act of the film, it’s like watching a eulogy instead of seeing a special effects cadaver with a bomb attached to it.
There are also Pvt. Bell’s (Ben Chaplin) flashbacks of his wife (Miranda Otto), handled with such intimacy. She looks towards the ocean with a breeze surrounding her, she sensual when they’re together, her memory keeps him sane. Their marriage seems less familial and more romantic, as she’s alone or with him in public spaces. When she’s outside, she barely speaks but is smiling and laughing. The breeze in the scenes featuring her has the same touch as that on the grassy war zone. The similarities between home territory and the island remind us that she’s still far away.
I blogged about “Days of Heaven” and said that it’s a lighter precursor to “The Thin Red Line” when it comes to its depiction of nature. Nature’s screen time equals that of the cast, but the former does take a passive role in the film, being affected by human actions instead of nature affecting human lives the way it did in “Days of Heaven.” Director Terry Malick does not show craters like there would have been on Dieppe, although there are forest fires in the island as the American have come. What we see are little birds blackened with oil as well as other creatures and plants damaged within the island’s ecosystem, their pain more poignant than human ones.
And with the talk of nature, the problematic symbolism in race in the movie comes in as well. To be honest I haven’t figured out the nuances in this symbolism or if the film has deeper strategies in its definition of “blackness.” The natives act like nature, innocent characters whose lives and attitudes will change after the battle fought on their home soil. Pvt. Witt (Jim Caviezel) idealized the Natives and their children’s communal spirit, as he points out that the same children never fight. After the American takeover, conflict becomes an occurrence into these people’s lives.
Strangely enough the Japanese, who had the stronghold in the island, do not have the same negative effect on the Natives. In fact, there’s the same kind of depiction given to both races. In the “close to nature” aspect, the Japanese wear leaves on top of their uniforms, a tactic the Americans never use. And like the Natives’ innocence, younger, skinnier actors play the Japanese soldiers. Some of the Japanese look like infants when the Americans capture them in their underwear. The Americans, while talking to them, do not try to make themselves understood to the Japanese. While speaking, the Japanese aren’t subtitled, unable to communicate with us.
The film portrays Americans as military strategists like Bell and Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte). The dissenters within the group are Witt and Capt. James Staros (Elias Koteas), the latter being more of a paternal figure who would rather not see his men killed. Witt is a special case, creolized by his idealization and his short stay with the Natives. Had he lived to the end of his mission in Guadalcanal, he might not have been unfit to return to America or to stay with the Natives. These notions of race within the film aren’t 100% perfect, but it still has a lot of realism and nuance to them.
One last thing about this film is that it kind of reminded me of “Avatar.” Both celebrated beauty and condemned violence, although “The Thin Red Line” uses real animal and plant life and is more dazzling and more complex in its depiction of race relations.