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The American 50’s: Written on the Wind, by Aaron Pinkston

28 Nov

For his follow up to the magnificent All That Heaven Allows, Douglas Sirk was determined to crank all his themes, styles and his genre to the highest output with Written on the Wind. Though I ultimately prefer last week’s film to this one, there is no denying that Written on the Wind is bold and stir-crazy, very fun to watch. For those I referenced in my previous post that may think of melodramas as stodgy and endlessly romantic, I urge you to see this film — it might shock you. Like all stereotypes, there is a pattern and reasoning why the melodrama categorization exists but Written on the Wind is a nearly romanticless film, instead about power, sex and violence.

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The American 50’s: All That Heaven Allows, by Aaron Pinkston

21 Nov

I’m going to make a bold assumption that the average reader of Battleship Pretension hasn’t watched a Douglas Sirk film — even though in my mind that seems impossible. It may be partially that Sirk is seen as a maker of “women’s films.” Or maybe that he’s a filmmaker that hasn’t exactly stood up among the great Hollywood filmmakers though he is the premier auteur of one of Hollywood’s greatest genres. In any case, he’s probably not a filmmaker that would be considered “hip” or be one that immediately comes to mind. Given that he isn’t found in the 100 greatest filmmakers as chosen by the Battleship Pretension readership, this assumption might be true. This boggles my mind. This, of course, could mean that plenty have seen his films but they just don’t like them. This boggles my mind even more. If you haven’t seen a Douglas Sirk film before or haven’t seen one in a long while, treat yourself to one — All That Heaven Allows is a great starting point. The final two films of this series on American films of the 1950’s are both by the melodrama master, wrapping the series up in a very fine manner.

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American Film of the 50s- Some Came Running, by Aaron Pinkston

18 Nov

Many of the films from this series on American films of the 1950s have been concentrated in the most important genres of the decade. We’ve seen a few instances of film noir, a war film, a classical western and a musical — the final three films of the series all take place in perhaps the most important genre of the period, at least the one most specifically tied to the period, the melodrama. Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running inhibits all the major markers of the genre, from the bold colors, heightened emotions and oppressive music. Though the film may not be as acclaimed as the melodramas to come in this series, it certainly holds as a representative of the genre and the time in which it was made.

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American Film of the 50s- Rebel Without a Cause, by Aaron Pinkston

1 Nov

Up until this point in the 1950s film series, a specific demographic had been completely unrepresented — strangely enough, the demographic that is the largest target of Hollywood films. Though it has been mostly unexplored, the decade may perhaps the first time teenagers were important in the modern societal structure, as they became market consumers and could be targeted in this era driven by advertising. More films were being made for teenagers and about teenagers, and their image from the era is still in our cultural consciousness, as anyone who has dressed up in a clean white shirt, pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve, slicked-back hair and leather jacket could tell you. The closest we got to seeing 1950s teenagers was a few weeks back, in The Girl Can’t Help It, which wasn’t a movie about teenagers, but the rock’n’roll culture that captured these young people. Enter: maybe the most important American film about teenagers ever made, Rebel Without a Cause.

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American Film of the 50s- The Girl Can’t Help it, by Aaron Pinkston

23 Oct

The wonderful opening to Frank Tashlin’s The Girl Can’t Help It serves two purposes. We see Tom Ewell, who plays the male lead in the film, on a performance stage, looking directly at the camera, delivering a monologue which sets up two of the important ideas of the film. First, simply enough, that this is a film about music — a certain type of music, seen as a fad in a very fad-driven society: rock’n’roll. The other is specifically about the film technology that is used so well. In an extraordinary use of meta filmmaking, Ewell begins his monologue in black-and-white, 4:3 standard-ratio frame, and starts to describe the wonderful CinemaScope. Noticing that the film the audience is seeing isn’t using this technology, he literally pushes the edges of the screen away, which instantly gives us a greater impact of the wide-screen format. Next, he moves on to all the wonderful colors you will see, again becomes annoyed until he is able to correct the picture for us. These effects obviously serve to captivate us by these new wondrous capabilities, but there is also a bit of a dubious undertone — one that marks the decade’s great ideology of consumerism. The film isn’t hawking vacuums or automobiles here, but it does feel intently like an advertisement. Ewell’s persona is the salesman, tricking us into buying what he’s selling. In this way, like other films I’ve covered in this series, The Girl Can’t Help It can be read simply through narrative, but it isn’t quite what it seems.

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American Film of the 50s- Fixed Bayonets! by Aaron Pinkston

17 Oct

If you were to say that Samuel Fuller was the most underappreciated film auteur, I wouldn’t argue. Though his work has certainly gained more accolade over the past few years, with the attention brought on by the Criterion Collection and being named a great influence on Quentin Tarantino, he’s still a filmmaker that most people couldn’t name. And while it’s true that I had not previously heard of the film Fixed Bayonets!, knowing that it was a Samuel Fuller film, I was definitely excited. The work I know him most from, specifically The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor, are vibrant, exciting films — Fuller was a true master of pulp, seemingly as non-Hollywood as a filmmaker could be while working in the Hollywood system. Fixed Bayonets! was Fuller’s first film produced by a major studio, though in a genre he was very comfortable with, the war picture. Having seen the worst of war himself, he brought a certain viewpoint to the popular Hollywood genre that few directors of the time showed.

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American Film of the 50s- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Aaron Pinkston

11 Oct

Of all the films in the Siskel Film Center’s series on the American 1950s that I had previously seen, I must admit that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was the selection I was least excited about revisiting. That’s not because I think it’s a bad film, though it is perhaps the least challenging. Though fun to look at and listen to, it’s much more a surface film than the previous four. It doesn’t outwardly ask for you to dig into it and explore any particular theme under the surface — something that a semi-scholarly look at a decade of film sort of needs you to manage. Given the genre of musical comedy, and the tone which comes with it, this film has more of an emphasis on pure entertainment value, with a “sit back and enjoy the show” mentality. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to talk about. I mean, what are they paying me for around here? (No, they don’t actually pay me.)

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American Film of the 50s- Vertigo, by Aaron Pinkston

2 Oct

What is there to say about Vertigo that hasn’t already been said? Even given the context of this film series, looking at films from the 1950s in their historical and sociological context, I simply feel dwarfed by the film and its reputation. I do really love the film — it’s not my favorite of Hitchcock’s work (I’m probably in the minority of which of his films is my personal favorite), but I’m genuinely satisfied that it has received its praise. Part of my hesitation may also be the film itself, with its many narrative and thematic complexities. Sure, the other masterpieces I’ve looked at in the three previous weeks are complicated, but nothing compared to the mulitples of readings and viewpoints of Vertigo. Well, anyway, here goes.

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American Film of the 50s- Kiss Me Deadly, by Aaron Pinkston

20 Sep

Through the first two weeks of the series we were already subjected to great film masterpieces, and there will be many more in the coming weeks (see: next week and the greatest film of all times, or so they say), but there might not be a more quintessential film of the 1950s than Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly. When I was a college student, I took an English class on the 1950s — it was mostly a sociological look at the decade through literature, but there was one film screened, and that film was Kiss Me Deadly. Of all the films that could have been shown to give young people an idea about a time when their parents may not have been born yet, this is the one that was hand-selected. There’s good reason for that.

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American Film of the 50s- The Searchers, by Aaron Pinkston

13 Sep

The first thing I learned in the first film class I took in college is that films set in the past are really about two different times — the time in which they are set, of course, but also the time in which they were made. This is true of The Searchers, which I believe is the only film in this series not set in the 1950s. Being a part of the series obviously shows that there is something that makes it a film of its time, though I’ve never really thought of it as a “50s film.” That may be some association I have with the film’s genre, director, star, or perhaps just my ignorance. Seeing The Searchers again, watching it specifically in this context, there was a definable imprint made by the decade. So while the very first image tells us we’re in 1868, much of the film’s politics and attitudes lie about 90 years later.

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