Saturday, November 30, 2013

THE STEPFORD WIVES (Bryan Forbes, 1975, USA)

Stepford Connecticut is a Disneyesque nirvana for the patriarchal hierarchy, the template for male entitlement which allows abusive relationships to prosper: a prescient and dire warning concerning domestic violence awareness. The film is a satire about male entitlement, ultimate power and control, representing the social enslavement of the burgeoning feminist movement.
The film begins with a blind female mannequin being carried by a man: a plastic metaphor foreshadowing the inhuman narrative. As Joanna and Walter leave the city, the film's derivative score plays like some TV soap opera, which will contrast the brooding horror to come. Director Bryan Forbes sets the film amid the beautiful friendly suburbs, bathing the film in bright daytime afternoon delight; he allows the friction between the couple to crescendo as a family melodrama. But monsters lurk in the shadows of Stepford and gather at a dark secluded mansion, home of the Stepford Men’s Association. Joanna befriends Bobbie, another bra-less newcomer in town; they attempt to subvert the superficial and wholesome aura of this strange environment. When they finally convene a meeting of Stepford wives to create their own feminist association, they discover a mindless and one-dimensional attitude: these women exist only to clean and serve their husbands. They spout commercial jingles and speak earnestly of their housework, like drones…or robots.
William Goldman’s script builds the suspense like tiny cogs that firmly fit together: from Joanna’s cluttered kitchen to Charmaine’s new attitude, and when Bobbie finally succumbs to the disease that proliferates the town Joanna believe she is going crazy. When Joanna voices her concerns, the horror cannot be explained in mere words, and she veers towards a nervous breakdown. Finally, her buxom doppelganger sees through her eyes darkly, and she is subsumed into the great American Dream.

Final Cut: (B+)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SECONDS (John Frankenheimer, 1966, USA)

Arthur Hamilton loses himself in the drudgery of middle age and conceit, possessed by materialism and success which have become superficial trappings that resonate in the empty chambers of his aging heart. He is adrift and alone, a wife and daughter can offer no salvation from these distant shores of space, and he must find himself once again…or continue to walk the earth virtually lifeless, a victim to the slow fade of love.
But Arthur gets a Second chance. A phone call from a “deceased” friend sets him up for a new identity, to become not only a different person but start life afresh, to breathe in the sweetness of youth tempered with the wisdom of maturity. He is reborn. But he must shed the guilt of his former life and become Tony Wilson; his old life must remain dead. Arthur’s change is only superficial and he is still imbued with the same rotting essence; he has not come to terms with the root of his inner conflict, he has only treated the symptoms. Baptized in the wine and passion of free love, he cannot shed his old skin and seeks his old life, only to discover that he was not as loved (or missed) as he thought. Arthur’s second life is now measured in seconds as his corpse will be put to good use…for the next consumer.
John Frankenheimer and legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe films with paranoid and frantic close-ups, the camera moving through crowds like an invisible angry spirit, a vengeful ghost haunting its next victim. Howe skews identity with mirrored twisting images and surreal hallucinations. This beautiful cinematography reveals Arthur’s confusion and turmoil and his inability to socialize. His inner voice is now mute. The score heightens the tension towards his narcissistic self-destruction and is hammered with irony: as he finally begins the long journey to enlightenment he realizes there are no third chances. In vino veritas: no matter where you go, there you are.

Final Cut: (B+)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


If people’s selfish and degrading acts were reflected upon their visage, what monstrosities would haunt the streets? Dorian Gray makes a pact with a strange god, its catlike grace frozen forever yet its ubiquitous presence stalks his nightmares: be careful what you wish for, it softly purrs…
Dorian is a young man who wishes to never grow old, to let his beautiful portrait age and bare his afflictions whilst he remains physically unchanged. A Faustian bargain that can end in no other way than tragedy: Dorian’s good intentions become corrupt and he poisons his intimate friends, time his second worst enemy…the first being himself. A very young and pretty Angela Lansbury is his first victim; he truly falls in love and becomes her Knight in Shining Armor, but begins his brutish downward spiral which ends in her suicide. As the story progresses, Dorian becomes indifferent to pleasure and pain, tasting debauchery and excess and filling up his empty vessel with ignoble desires at the expense of others.
The black and white deep focus cinematography is grand, displaying myriad mise-en-scene shots that convey suspense with an imaginary devilish quality: watch the scene where he confronts his portrait, the stoic cat totem is peripherally framed in nearly every shot. The watchful eyes of this god are always upon him. The Technicolor inserts of the portrait as it changes and becomes a grotesque human mockery are shocking; we see what Dorian has become, his leprous morality seeping pustules upon the image. Dorian eventually commits the final despicable act of murder, and the masterful lighting submerges his face in darkness and light as the gas lamp swings back and forth: the corpse’s shadow printed indelibly upon the wall behind him. The child who loved him but is now a grown woman (which is a bit disturbing) searches for her father, but he is dead in Dorian’s locked room.
With one violent thrust, Dorian finally commits one good dead in his lecherous existence: he stabs his portrait through the heart. When discovered, his body is an abomination with tumorous growths defiling his face: but his portrait is forever young…and innocent.

Final Cut: (B+)