Years before George Lucas created a galaxy far, far away, where Jedi wield light sabers against the “Dark Side,” he directed a low-budget film called American Graffiti (1973) that defied low expectations and exploded with profitable success. This coming-of-age film is about teenagers marching into adulthood in the summer of 1962. There are several reasons that this movie resonated so strongly with its audiences. Continue reading American Graffiti: How Time Flies When You’re Cruising
American Graffiti (1973) is a coming-of-age film directed by George Lucas, and one of the most profitable blockbusters of the twentieth century. Set in Modesto, California in 1962, it contains four story lines of teenage angst and comedy. Can you decide what the title signifies? Continue reading Finding meaning in American Graffiti: To Write or Rite of Passage?
Pre-Movie Night Reading
Director: David Lean
Date of Release: 1965
Awards: Five Oscars in 1966, Five Golden Globes in 1967, and multiple others
Omar Sharif as Doctor Zhivago
Julie Christie as Lara
Alec Guiness as Yevgraf
This movie is an epic drama about Russian physician, Yuri Zhivago, who experiences the dramatic upheavals that WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution bring to his homeland. Throughout the story, idealist Zhivago endures numerous hardships, which includes falling in love with a nurse, Lara, when he also loves his wife and family.
Read beforehand to enhance the movie-watching experience:
- Much of the movie takes place between 1912 to 1925, which spans World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War.
- It is based on the novel by Boris Pasternak, which was smuggled out of Russia and eventually published in Italy in 1957. The Soviet Union finally allowed the book to be viewed by the public in 1988.
- The film was shot in Spain during the regime of General Francisco Franco. While the scene with the crowd chanting the Marxist theme was being filmed at 3:00 am, local police showed up at the set thinking that a real revolution was taking place. Apparently, people who lived near the filming venue woke up to the sound of revolutionary singing, and mistakenly believed that Franco had been overthrown. As the extras sang the revolutionary Internationale for a protest scene, the secret police surveyed the crowd, making many of the extras pretend that they didn’t know the words. (Source: IMDb)
- Doctor Zhivago is well known for its soundtrack, particularly Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme,” which won an Academy Award for Best Music Score.
For some apolitical men, a conscientious few, ideas need not have a practical application. They are of intrinsic worth. The advantage to be gained by exploiting an idea is of no concern. These men love ideas for the sake of wisdom, tranquility, and transcendence; Zhivago was such a man.
—Ian Bloom, Illumined Illusions
I remember observing out loud to Lucy after she and I had tallied the votes for the Fall Film Competition, that the four top films seemed lacking in commonality except for their dates of release. But of course, as I expressed last month, it began to occur to me that a theme for these films might be “social defiance”. Continue reading Doctor Zhivago: Pasternak and Politics
A Doctor Zhivago review must first include a comment about its extraordinary success at the box office. Upon its release, Doctor Zhivago was so popular with its audiences that it remains as MGM’s second most profitable film. Guess which film is first? Gone with the Wind!
Both Gone with the Wind, released in 1939, and Doctor Zhivago in 1965 are epic movies adapted from books and set in times of immense turmoil that war brings and both include irresistible love stories. Continue reading Doctor Zhivago: Mary’s Movie Night Review
Upon viewing the timeless classic, A Man for All Seasons, members of Movies on Chatham were mesmerized by the superior acting performances of Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey, and Robert Shaw as King Henry VIII. This film does not need elaborate visual effects, for the acting shines like a sparkling piece of diamond jewelry worn on its own and not clashing with too many other pieces. Continue reading Movies on Chatham’s Introduction to A Man for All Seasons
My task as director is not just to provide a nice evening’s entertainment. The most important thing is to make people think.
— Andrej Wajda, Academy Award Tribute
The Horrors of Nazism and the Tragedies of Communism
Our movie this month, Ashes and Diamonds (1958), brings the horrors of Nazism and the tragedies of Communism to the screen. The story takes place over a twelve-hour period in Poland at the end of World War II. It is about a young Polish soldier who is ordered to assassinate a high-ranking Communist figure. Drama, irony, romance, and unexpected twists give the viewers a thought-provoking experience. Continue reading Ashes and Diamonds: Will There Remain Among the Ashes a Star-Like Diamond
Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is the third among a trilogy of war films that spurred Steven Spielberg to write a passionate letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recommending its Polish director, Andrzej Wajda, for an Honorary Oscar. Wajda was awarded that Oscar in 2000.
Born in Poland on March 6, 1926, events leading to World War II and the war itself shaped Wajda’s formative years. The aftermath of the War also heavily influenced his film-making career, working under a Communist regime where censorship limited creative production. Since censors paid attention more to dialog than images, Wajda slyly filmed his movies accordingly.
As an example, the end of Ashes and Diamonds shows the hero dying in a waste disposal landfill site. Wajda informed the censors that this scene could be translated as “whoever raises his hand against People’s Poland will end up on the rubbish heap of history.” However, Polish audiences interpreted the scene in a different light.
A workaholic, Wajda has been prolific in making films, TV programs, and stage productions in an active career that has spanned from the 1950’s to his most recent film, Walesa, A Man of Hope, released in 2012.
On directing movies, in Wajda’s own words (1998):
The good Lord provided the director with two eyes – one to look into the camera, the other to observe intently everything that is going on around him. It is a skill which you should develop and endlessly improve, until you stop making movies (in the case of those trying to make political films this might happen at any moment, so time is running out!) For example: when the camera starts running, the director should watch and see simultaneously:
- how the actors are playing;
- what the crew members are doing: are they watching the take so that later they will be able to draw conclusions who’s responsible for what?
- whether the lights haven’t been moved: do they illumine the actors as agreed? (basically this is the operator’s job, but it is worth taking note of)
- the sky: can the take be completed before the clouds obscure the sun?
- that actor walking over the rails; is he going to brush his sleeve against a priceless Chinese vase? the microphone, already dangerously low; is it going to get into the frame? and many, many other things, happening on location.
This seems not only difficult but almost impossible; but do you recall your first, terrifying experience when driving a car? Many years ago my friend, the known film critic Boleslaw Michalek, bought his first automobile. He wasn’t too sure of himself behind the driving wheel, so he asked somebody to help him drive the car from the factory. But when they went out of the gate and into the street, the driver said with a tremor in his voice: ‘I’ll concentrate on the engine and you just watch the road’ – because he too was a beginner. After a few minutes they landed in a ditch.
Many years ago, at the start of my career as a director, I used to ask my assistants to take note for me of some things during a take. This inevitably led to misunderstandings, and the evaluated material usually turned out to be disastrous. Unfortunately, this is a job the director cannot share. The members of the crew must know that at any given moment he is in control and has an eye on absolutely everything; only then will they accept his wishes and work really effectively.
For a comprehensive and thorough study on Wajda and his works, read Michael Brooke’s well-written piece entitled, “Andrzej Wajda – An Introduction.”
Academy of motion picture arts and sciences (Producer). (2000). Jane Fonda presents an honorary oscar® to Andrzej Wajda. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rImCpUzwGx0
Brooke, M. (6 May 2008). Andrzej Wajda – an introduction. Retrieved from https://michaelbrooke.wordpress.com/andrzej-wajda-an-introduction/
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964). Sense and non-sense (H. L. Dreyfus & P. A. Dreyfus, Trans.). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press
Oleszczyk, M. (2012, Oct 13). Ashes are for ever. Roger Ebert. Retrieved from https://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents/ashes-are-for-ever
Wajda, A. (1998). The director’s two eyes. Retrieved from http://www.wajda.pl/en/filmy2.html
Yakir, D. (1984). Interview: Andrzej Wajda. Film Comment. Retrieved from https://www.filmcomment.com/author/dan-yakir/
The official socialist realist system—with its predictable conflicts, its negative types and positive heroes, and its progressive and optimistic resolutions, encouraged the production of grossly distorted representations of actual life and actual history.—Eagle (1982)
The essence of a political film is in speaking about what is unspoken; in exposing what is concealed; in unveiling the realities behind the events.—Wajda quoted in Yakir (1984)
It is interesting to observe that through our first-ever “Fall Film Competition,” the group has quite serendipitously assembled a collection of films that can arguably be considered “Films of Social Defiance.” Even though not all can be classified under an official rubric of revolution, all four are enlightening with respect to a time of radical change in a cultural or national sense. Ashes and Diamonds is celebrated for its appeal to an oppressed people who hear a voice that resonates with them in its representations and symbolism that defies socialist realism mandates. Continue reading Ashes and Diamonds: Wajda and Socialist Realism
Opportunities are everywhere, one has to be alert to seize them. Recently, I vacationed in California with a dear friend, Jane, who lives in Texas. Our movie group came up during one conversation and I mentioned Summer and Smoke (1961) as our first movie for the fall. Jane promptly replied with information about her friend’s daughter who is married to Albert Devlin, a Tennessee Williams scholar credited with editing two books of the famous playwright’s letters
When presented with this connection, I was intrigued to learn that Jane’s book club had traveled to New Orleans for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and, while there, enjoyed a dinner with Al Devlin. My curiosity was piqued to learn more. Continue reading Summer and Smoke: Elia Kazan’s Letter to Tennessee Williams