Sunday, November 19, 2017

i like coming here

My first thought upon turning on The Idolmaker is that even more than we watched the movie when I was a kid, we listened to the soundtrack. On vinyl. And, that gets me thinking about other soundtracks we listened to a lot. Somewhere in Time's soundtrack was one of them, and I don't think I mentioned John Barry's score at all last week while watching that one. There was the soundtrack to Grease 2, which will come up in this deconstruction sometime in the next month or two, probably. (The pace of this thing is not out of hand, exactly, but it is increasingly slow.) And plenty I'm forgetting. I remember a 45 single of "All Time High"--that's the theme to the James Bond movie Octopussy, which is also going to show up in this deconstruction at some point. And, outside of movie soundtracks, there were musicians from the 50s, stuff my parents liked.

And, seriously, Tommy Dee (Paul Land) starts singing "Here Is My Love" and I still know the lyrics. That shouldn't be surprising because that's how music works, but it is.

Tommy Dee, by the way, is loosely based on Frankie Avalon. Bob Marcucci--the basis for the titular Vincent Vacarri (Ray Sharkey) here--started working with Frankie Avalon when he (Frankie) was only when he was a teenager. Avalon was born in 1951. Land, who plays his fictional incarnation, was 24 when The Idolmaker came out. Peter Gallagher, who plays Caesare--the fictional incarnation of Fabian, who was 14 when Marcucci discovered him and 16 when he signed him--was 25 (playing a 16-year-old). The story of young artists getting discovered, then making it big and getting too full of themselves--that's old hat at this point (judging by Roger Ebert's review of the film, it was old hat when this film came out) but I wonder if an age-accurate version of this story wouldn't work as better commentary on the industry and what it does to artists. At least the film acknowledges that Tommy Dee might be as old as the actor. Tommy Dee doesn't want to perform for "a bunch of 13-year-olds" because he's used to playing for adults. Ray Sharkey, whose character refers to Tommy Dee as a "kid", is only four years older than Land, three years older than Gallagher.


This movie is, of course, about a couple young men becoming famous, and about their manager who would be a star but he started going bald as a teen and just doesn't have the charisma to be popular (supposedly). And, as he tells Caesare, "It's the looks that count."

 

 

 

 

 

While I saw this movie many times when I was young, I think I've seen it maybe once in the past 20 years. So, picture me getting lost in the movie and forgetting to focus on writing. These movies are like comfort food. I know I've used that metaphor before. Groundhog Day especially is that. But, this deconstruction is nice. I mean, I try to find deeper things than I would have (consciously) noticed as a kid, but at first, it's just nice to watch some of these movies I haven't seen in a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

And, it's interesting. Two nights ago, I went to a concert where a lot of the fans were young, including my daughter and one of her friends. And, young fans still go crazy at live show. No one stormed the stage like they do Caesare's, but as each song started, as there was that moment of recognition, you could feel the excitement.

 

 

 

 

 

And, Vincent is a manipulative bastard. And kind of an asshole. I think I know where this has to take me tomorrow.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

when you can’t trust the lawyers or the advertising men

Today: a deconstruction of this year so far in film... for me. I saw Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri this morning--and loved it--and got to thinking about the little movies that not enough people see. Take for example this list of things that bother me (an incomplete list in not particular order):

  • War
  • Christian rock
  • Factory farming
  • Racism
  • People leaving spreading knives in the sink, you know, because they're so damn hard to clean
  • Sexism
  • Domestic abuse
  • Self-indulgent filmmakers who are not also clever, or who were once clever but turned out to be one-trick ponies
  • Tax breaks for the rich
  • Donald Trump
  • People saying it's a bad year for movies when they've seen maybe two, and those only because they were playing on a few thousand screens, and they make no fucking effort at all to seek out better movies, more movies

That last one. Bugs the crap out of me. Especially in a year in which one of the biggest films at the box office--Wonder Woman was also pretty good. Especially when some of the same folks who I see saying as much also saw Logan and Get Out but probably don't even remember that was this calendar year because this year is taking so damn long.

But, it's getting into Oscar season. I recently woke up my Oscars page on Facebook and my Oscar Fan Twitter account, because the Academy is starting to announce shortlists for some of the "lesser" award categories, there are special screenings, soon there will be critics associations' awards. For a person like me, this is like Christmas except it's a few months long (and it's got the actual Christmas right in the middle of it). So, if you trust me (and I know most of you do not), then I will tell you what I liked so far this year.

(Basically, I'm running down my ratings list on IMDb from this year and noting the films that I gave 10 out of 10... I also might note some 8s or 9s, if they were particularly unique, so don't hold me too strictly to the standard.)

Like the Academy, I will go by the calendar. Meaning: these are movies I saw this year, even if they might've been foreign films released previously, or older movies I finally got to online.

The first movies I watched this year were some documentaries that were nominated for the Oscar--Gleason, and Life, Animated. Both good, and Gleason was horribly sad. Oscar nominated foreign films also came early in the year, because that's when they become available in this country. Toni Erdmann, for example, was amazing. And, I would recommend you go watch it rather than catch the English-language remake that's supposed to be in the works. Land of Mine and A Man Called Ove were also fantastic.

In the midst of catching up on Oscar films, I also finally got around to movies like Man Push Cart. More than a decade old. Great film.

Then came Get Out. This one did well at the box office, getting not just love from critics but audiences. And it deserved it. Logan came along not long after, and while it has a narrow audience, it is one of the better films made for that audience.

The Belko Experiment is not a film for everyone, and it's not even particularly original, but it does what it does so wonderfully that I couldn't help but mention it.

Your Name, Japanese animated film that is supposed to be being remade. Instead, people should just watch the original--

(Really, my policy with remakes (to which, of course, there are always exceptions) is that movies that had some good concepts but poor execution are the ones that need to be remade.)

--because it is a story tied to a specific time and place and I don't think a remake will have the same sense of its own setting.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has some big flaws, especially in its structure, but it's just so damn fun. Wonder Woman has some flaws, too--yeah, I said it--but it was fun, it was well put together, and it hit the zeitgeist wonderfully.

I didn't give Cars 3 a 10, but it was far better than the second one (or wither of the Planes films, and may actually hold up better than the first one to repeat viewings.

Baby Driver has some flaws in its ending but is such a beautifully put together thing it deserves a viewing.

A Ghost Story will probably be hard to watch for most people; it's got a whole lotta quiet moments, long quiet moments, and its final resolution might anger people desperate for a payoff, but it is a meditative treatise on death and grief and moving on (or not) and that is the kind of thing all of could us sometime.

Wind River is not perfect. In the end, it feels like it is lacking something. But, it's performances and its direction lift it above itself.

Brigsby Bear is the one here that you've probably never even heard of in passing, and it is such a strange, and strangely optimistic little thing, it would be nice if it got more attention.

I've said before, most people will not like mother!, but I loved it.

Same goes for Ingrid Goes West.

Loving Vincent isn't a perfect film, but deserves to be seen, if for no other reason, for the sheer amount of effort put into it--it's a documentary on Van Gogh that was hand painted in the style of his paintings.

Happy Death Day might not actually be perfect. It might just be my Groundhog Day Project blinders getting in the way. But, I actually almost saw it a fourth time in the theater last week when the movie I was there to see LBJ was the mommy screening that day. (While I love that the mommy screenings exist, because I want more people to be able to see more movies, I have no interest in attending one.)

Some smaller movies you might've heard of but that aren't for everyone (and I only gave them 9s) that were out recently were Professor Martson and the Wonder Women, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Florida Project, and Lady Bird. And Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.

At the end of my YouTube reviews last year, I implored viewers to see more movies. There are just so many movies out there; trust me, there are plenty worth watching at any given time. Especially if you can only get to the theater every once in a while. Me--I go anywhere from 1-4 times a week, depending on what other stuff comes up. I know that's not normal. I know I think differently about films than most of you do. But, there's certainly some middle ground you all could reach for.

Friday, November 17, 2017

what are your superpowers, again?

Today, I saw Justice League and Wonder on the big screen. I will not have time for one of my "childhood deconstruction" movies today, even though watching far too many movies seems to be one of my primary skills. Along with writing far too many words about them.

Today, I'm going to a concert, and will be home late. So, no more movies today... even though I could almost fit one in right now.

And, maybe only a few words.

Regarding a recent theme here about humanizing monsters, I was reminded of Super Friends while watching Justice League, and how even the villains had a club... SPOILERS: if you stay after the credits of Justice League you'll see the villains are forming up in the cinematic DCU as well, but it probably won't be as fun. Some good Black Manta and Lex Luthor arguing while Bizarro is perplexed about the plan--the DCU could use something light like that. And, on the heroes' side, we need some Wonder Twins. I remember when DC published some large-format prestige one shots (Superman: Peace on Earth, Batman: War on Crime, Shazam! Power of Hope and Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth) and as an April Fools Day joke in Wizard magazine, they announced Wonder Twins: Form of Water, and oh how I wanted that book. Superman had tried to solve world hunger, Batman took on something larger than everyday crime, Captain Marvel (in Shazam! for those of you who don't know all your superheroes) had to fight despair, Wonder Woman has to deal with being accepted as a woman, and the Wonder Twins were going to fight drought. And the fake cover was awesome:


Taking superheroes who were fundamentally ridiculous seriously was right up my alley. But, Zack Snyder has proven with Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice and now (but not as much as he had to leave the film after the death of his daughter) Justice League that taking them too seriously can be problematic. (And, while Christopher Nolan's Batman films may have been pretty good films (at least, The Dark Knight was) but they had their problems as well.)

On the other end of the spectrum of films for today (because you can totally have a spectrum with just two items), Wonder is a cheesy, leaning into schmaltzy, family film that still manages to have enough genuine heart that it mostly works. Structurally, it's got no clue how a film plot works, and no idea how to get to its ending. But, it has its moments.

Together, these films had me leaning into one of my occasional self-help style rants about figuring out who you are and playing into your strengths, or something. But, I'd like to think we all know that, really. We're just scared, or there's some outside force we think is in the way. But, seriously, find what you're good at and do it. (Unless it involved hurting other people, of course.) Find you and do that.

As the cheesy, and barely relevant to the story, teacher in Wonder put up on the blackboard: When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. Cheesy? Sure. But, still good advice.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

i've tried so hard to be good

I remember thinking, at least the first time that I saw The Elephant Man, that Bytes' narrative about Merrick's origin (and that surreal bit at the opening of the film) was an accurate reason for Merrick's condition. But, we had a book about Merrick in our home and, while I never read it cover to cover, I browsed the text and looked over the photos.

But, other than that initial confusion, I don't think I thought much of those Lynchian moments; they were distractions. I also didn't think much on the idea of exploitation; Bytes was awful, Treves was nice--that's all I thought about that.


What really mattered when I saw this film as a kid--and what absolutely shines through now--is Hurt's portrayal of Merrick. (And, primarily, he's got his eyes and his voice, and little else; the malformed head prosthetic doesn't move.) Humanizing the monster, so to speak. Something close to that we've seen in multiple movies in this childhood deconstruction so far--Blackbeard's Ghost, Young Frankenstein, The Villain, even The Apple Dumpling Gang and, arguably, The Jerk (though it makes a far weaker case).

(Plus, we had protagonists who stepped outside mainstream society in Snowball Express, Adventures of the Wilderness Family, and Star Wars.)

In church every Saturday and five days a week in Bible class in private school, I was being told that there was good and evil. In those same religious environments, and in so many movies and on television, I was being told that the world was coming to end. On the big screen, violence was the way to win--Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, and so many more--because there were actual villains out there and they deserved to be killed. But, watching some of these mainstays of my childhood again in this deconstruction suggests some very mixed messages. On the one hand, monsters deserved to be destroyed. On the other hand, monsters were quite human.

Blasco, Moreto, and Blasco (2015) suggest that, since "emotions usually come before rational thinking," learners (which I would extend to everyone) form a large part of their beliefs about the world from what they see in "a popular culture largely framed through emotion and images." "Life stories are a powerful resource in teaching," they argue. Every film, even one that isn't based on a "true story", is a life story; every film accesses the learner's (again, everybody's) affective mind. Neuroeconomics professor Paul Zak has found "that even the simplest narrative can elicit powerful empathic response by triggering the release of neurochemicals like cortisol and oxytocin" (Popova, n.d.). Blasco and Moreto (2012) argue, "Life stories and narratives enhance emotions, and therefore set up the foundation for conveying concepts. Movies provide a narrative model framed in emotions and images that are also grounded in the everyday universe."

Lynch does ground The Elephant Man in the everyday universe. Between the surreal bits with the furnace or the factory workers and Treves' patient early in the film being the victim of an industrial machine accident, Lynch is positioning the film within a reality where the inhuman is overtaking the human, so to speak. His surreal flourishes weaken this theme, in my opinion, and the film doesn't spend enough time with the theme to really examine it. It's like an elaborate establishing shot of London, even though the film will spend almost no time outdoors, and will mostly show us the negative side of the city's society--while Treves contemplates whether or not his actions are good or bad, he continues them; on the night Merrick goes to be without his pillows, thus causing his own death by asphyxiation, Treves takes him to the theater, where the high society folk applaud Merrick. The film never actually sets those folk as that far from the lower class people that Jim brings to Merrick's room, or those who frequent Bytes' freak show.

But, because these elements are left scattered throughout the film, what we have after the first act is a film that finds its focus in Merrick himself. And, almost immediately, we can get used to his deformed appearance, and we can appreciate his emotional outbursts, and feel the anguish of both wanting people to interact with but fearing those interactions. His joyous moments are palpable, but so are his most painful.

Lynch paints a picture that is dark and twisted at its edges, and deformed at its center, but we are there in the center, and once we are there, we remain. The darkness is the inhumane and inhuman.

It is too bad that Bytes had to be smeared in the process, since in reality, he was a businessman who teamed with Merrick when Merrick was tired of workhouses. The themes about exploitation actually wouldn't have changed much if the film gave us a Bytes, and even a Jim, who were less caricature, more character.

As Roger Ebert says in Life Itself, "movies are like a machine that generates empathy." It is too bad that The Elephant Man spends so much of its effort making us/allowing us to empathize with Merrick, and so little with everyone else. But still, as a child watching this film, maybe those broadstroke villains made Merrick stand out more, forced me into his corner even before I saw him. By the time we see Merrick's face, we have seen how he is mistreated by Bytes, we have seen him put on display for doctors, and we have heard a nurse scream upon seeing him. He comes into view a quiet, scared thing, waiting for us to be in that corner with him. That corner where our brain chemistry can be altered by Merrick's story. The film's flaws do actually help promote its strengths. Both because of and despite Lynch's flourishes, we are invited into Merrick's world. And, it may be a sad world, but we remain because we can sympathize and empathize with Merrick.

WORKS CITED

Blasco, P.G. & Moreto, G. (2012). Teaching empathy through Movies: Reaching Learners' Affective Domain in Medical Education. Journal of Education and Learning, 1(1), pp. 22-34.

Blasco, P.G., Moreto, G., & Blasco, M.G. (2015). Education though Movies: Improving Teaching Skills and Fostering Reflection among Students and Teachers. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1).

Popova, M. (n.d.) The Neurochemistry of Empathy, Storytelling, and the Dramatic Arc, Animated. Brain Pickings. Retrieved from https://www.brainpickings.org/paul-zak-kirby-ferguson-storytelling/

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

he's only being stared at all over again

What makes The Elephant Man work is that it has its cake and eats it, too, as the saying goes. The film portrays Bytes (per Treves' memoir) as a horrible man, not only exploiting but beating Merrick when he doesn't behave. (And, even beats him when Merrick spends the day with Treves with Bytes' permission; the film's version of Bytes is that jealous.) Bytes putting Merrick on display is shown as a bad thing. But, Treves does the same thing. The film lets Treves off the hook because 1) he doesn't beat Merrick (though, in reality, neither did Bytes) and 2) he realizes that he's doing the same thing and questions if it is right... But then he keeps doing it, plus 3) even as Treves continues to make a name for himself on the back of Merrick and Merrick is the talk of the upper class, the film offers up the night porter, Jim (Michael Elphick), who is making money off of bringing lower class folk to see Merrick in his room, which is easily worse than what Treves is doing.

But, the film itself takes this further.

Lynch opens the film with a surreal sequence that turns out to be a visualization of the supposed origin of Merrick's condition, as described by Bytes in the context of the freak show. Merrick's mother, "struck down in the fourth month of her maternal condition by an elephant." Close ups of the elephant. Quick cuts so we don't really see anything happen, but the woman screams, everything is dark and frightening. Purportedly, when studio executives saw the film, they wanted this sequence cut, and producer Mel Brooks supposedly told them, "We are involved in a business venture. We screened the film for you, to bring you up to date as to the status of that venture. Do not misconstrue this as our soliciting the input of raging primitives." A great line, to be sure. And a great move by Brooks to hold back the executives in favor of his director. But, what does this sequence do for the final film?

(The executives are said to have also wanted the ending removed as well--the bit with Merrick's mother, that is. There is no mention of what they might have thought of the surreal bits with the furnace or the factory workers.)

Consider: within the film, we are never told what condition Merrick actually has. His deformities are described in detail, and we see his face quite plainly once we see it. But, neurofibromatosis is never named. (Well after the release of the film, scientists studying Merricks' skeleton decided that he may have had Proteus Syndrome instead. In 2001, researchers Speculated that he had both. The details of either condition are not important, here, though, because the film doesn't really get into that.) In fact, aside from Treves' initial presentation to his colleagues, the film never bothers to make a particular point of showing Treves' working on anything regarding Merrick's condition. This is good for the film in a way, because it becomes more of a character portrait of Merrick, but the plot structure positions Treves' rescuing of him as central and vital.


Countering that last bit about the film being a character portrait of Merrick, it becomes problematic when, aside from a few key scenes, Bytes and Jim and Treves are given more to do than Merrick is. And, certain faults late in the film become more noticeable; for example, we are told that Merrick is dying only in passing, the film offers no visual representation of his dying. His worsened breathing after the mob corners him could be taken as a temporary, panicked state. (Much as his breathing is more labored after Bytes beats him and he (Merrick) comes to the hospital to stay.) If one happened to miss the single line of dialogue regarding Merrick's impending death, his suicide would feel arbitrary. In reality, Merrick had lived at London Hospital for nearly six years, and it had been his own choice to tour in a freak show. The film--and this is a problem of a lot of films based on true stories--makes no real effort to express the passage of so much time; the same nurses work the hospital, the same doctors. Bytes still lingers at the edge of Merricks' life.

The film also plays coy with Merrick's appearance. While we will become quite familiar with Merrick's face as the film continues, for the first half an hour, we see his silhouette and his shapeless form in a cloak, a hat and hood over his head. We see his face only after a nurse sees him and screams. For a film that will make a huge effort to humanize Merrick and spend time with him, this is a problematic introduction, something akin to the way the monster in a horror film might be introduced. Coupled with the choice to film in black and white, this gives a sense of something like gothic horror. And, I think that is deliberate on the part of David Lynch, but the reasoning is... Well, Tom Huddeston at Time Out London might say it best:

Despite its historical roots, Lynch's take on the life of John Merrick--tortured carnival freak turned society darling--never tries to examine the facts of the man's life, or the society in which he lived. Instead, Lynch refracts the story through the warped lens of his own obsessions: deformity and social exclusion, dreams, and childhood fears, the magic of existence and the mystery of death.

It isn't that Lynch is the wrong director for the story. But, certain proclivities in his style of direction push the story in directions it might be better off not going. Bytes and Jim, I think, come as they are here from Treves' memoir, so they aren't really Lynch's doing. Additionally, certain scenes--for example, Merrick's meeting with the head of the hospital Carr Gomm (John Gielgud), his meeting Treve's wife (Hannah Gordon), or his meeting with actress Madge Kendal (Anne Bancroft)--offer touching and even heartbreaking moments, touches of humanity that are far from what often would be termed Lynchian. I wonder, though, if it wasn't simply John Hurt's performance as Merrick pushing through the material into something better. His John Merrick is a sad man who apologizes for crying as if he "made a spectacle" of himself. Hurt's performance surpasses and supersedes the confines of the film, and lifts it above what might otherwise be an unfortunate exercise... A story about exploitation told in such an exploitative manner.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

something you'll never ever see

The Elephant Man is a strange film to have been familiar with as a kid, I think. A drama in black and white, a true story, about a deformed man in a hospital. There's hardly a plot. The film is slow. Deliberate. And sad. But, I liked it then. I might be imagining it, but I think I even saw this movie in the theater. I would have been four, so maybe not.

I have not watched it in a while.

 

 

 

 

 


The story is interesting, based on the memoir of Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) and another book about Joseph "John" Merrick (John Hurt). The comparison between Merrick's role in the freak show and his role at the hospital, still on display... as the nurse, Mrs. Mothershead (Wendy Hiller) tells Treves, "He's only being stared at all over again." Just by a different class of people.

Note: in reality, Bytes (Freddie Jones) was likely not a belligerent drunk prone to beating Merrick. Rather, he and Merrick were probably business partners and even friends. Only Treves' memoir suggests that Bytes beat Merrick.

 

 

 

 

 

Also, something I never knew before today: the film was produced by Mel Brooks. He deliberately went uncredited so audiences wouldn't see his name and expect a comedy.

 

 

 

 

 

I imagine that this film helped fuel my empathy. I mean, studies suggest that watching film in general increases empathy, but this film maybe more than some others for me. The Elephant Man offers a deformed man who can barely live his life, and he is more human than many of the "normal" people in the film. He is a curiosity to poor folks and rich folks alike. But, the freaks save him. The freaks--not just Merrick--are the good people here. (The nurses, too, of course; the film doesn't only have bad people on display, but it does make a point of countering those who are normal on the outside but awful inside with those who are freaks on the outside but good inside.

Monday, November 13, 2017

i want to be everything to you

To counter the cynical side from yesterday, there is one scene that absolutely points to the reality of the whole thing, and the cosmic import of the love story at its center, and that is the opening. Regardless of what follows, that scene is real. And, Elise's arrival as an old woman is real. What makes the scene important when you take the side of it all being real, of it all bearing the import of time itself, of love itself, is that the crowd clears for this old woman. Now, maybe they recognize this old woman as the once famous Elise McKenna, but I doubt it; if they recognize her, so should Richard. (Actually, Richard's later conversation with Miss Roberts suggests that Elise may never have been as famous after 1912 as she was then; she was increasingly reclusive from then until her death.) Rather, I think they do not, but they part because there is something about this woman being in this place, something they can sense, something that has an energy itself, her mere presence silences conversation, draws people aside, shocks Richard. And, then she hands him that pocket watch and says those fateful four words, "Come back to me."

The connection between these two is bigger than what the crowd can see. It's bigger than Robinson can recognize in the past.

Because the film is not about a guy who imagines going back in time. No. Richard goes back in time, Richard finds Elise McKenna back in 1912, and they fall in love... Or really, she falls in love, because he has already fallen in love with her.

From the novel, Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson:

[Richard recounts his visit to the Hall of Histories in the basement of the Coronado Hotel (changed to the Grand Hotel for the film).] And in one of the cases is a program for a play performed in the hotel theater (wherever that was) on November 20, 1896; The Little Minister by J. M. Barrie, starring an actress named Elise McKenna. Next to the program is a photograph of her face; the most gloriously lovely face I've ever seen in my life.

I've fallen in love with her.

Typical of me. Thirty-six years old, a crush here and a crush there, a random scattering of affairs that mimicked love. But nothing real, nothing that endured.

Then, having reached a terminal condition, I proceed to lose my heart, at long last, to a woman who's been dead for at least twenty years.

Good show, Collier.

A few important details: The play is the The Little Minister because that was a play that real-life actress Maude Adams was in. Elise was modeled after her. Matheson saw her photo while on a vacation with his family and "fell in love" and he imagined this story, a man falling in love with a woman in a photo then traveling back in time to meet her. (He recounts this story in the behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD.)

(By the way, Richard's play titles shown in the film are Too Much Spring (the one at Millfield College at the beginning of the film), Of course, I Love You, Don't I?, and my favorite, Passionate Apathies.)

Meanwhile, Richard is drawn to Elise's portrait. He doesn't just happen upon it in the Hall of History. He is looking at items along one wall and then suddenly, he looks to her portrait on another. Drawn there. The film uses a practical lighting effect (with a post-production one added to augment the effect) to suggest something unreal about this moment. This moment, too, exists outside the hypnosis... Although, the cynic could take Richard's feeling drawn to the portrait to be a sign of his psychosis as much as it might be a sign of something more romantic and grand.

Back to the quote from the book, though. Regarding Richard, when he says he has reached a "terminal condition" this is more than just a metaphor. On the one hand, yes, his attraction to Elise has become something terminal, an end in itself if he cannot do something about it, but also, he is dying in the novel. Regarding his take as this being typical, I think I've offered enough about my own history in this blog that a constant reader might recognize that I can relate. Fall in love with a photo, fall in love with a character, fall in love with a woman I exchange just a few words with, or no words at all. Though I think I've had more than just mimicry of love.

Richard's next line of narration in the novel after the description above: "That face is haunting me."

This phrasing matters, just as the love at the center of this time travel story, or this time travel at the center of this love story matters. Elise's face haunts Richard. Imagine as well that Richard's face haunted Elise for those sixty intervening years. Imagine the power of a love that kept her from other men in those years, that pulled her from the stage, that drew her to Finney's book Travels Through Time in 1971, a year before she finds Richard. And Finney just happens to be Richard's philosophy teacher at Millfield College. She has his book. She and Richard are being pulled toward one another.

She also has a model of the Grand Hotel that she had made, and it is a music box that plays Rachmaninoff. The piece Richard mentioned and she had never heard. She knows that Richard came back in time to her, even though he never told her as much.

In the past, Elise has been told by Robinson that one day she will meet a man who will change her life. It's actually a strange thing for Robinson to tell her, since he aims for so much control over her. But, maybe he ties up every man she meets, and she is convinced by their sudden absence that the particular man cannot be this man Robinson has predicted. But, imagine, if you will, that every time she meets a man, she asks him what she asks Richard upon first meeting him: "Is it you? Is it?" Even without the import the film is putting upon them, Elise's own romantic impulse forces each relationship to be something bigger than can be maintained.

But, then again, what romantic relationship that can transcend time can ever be maintained. The immediate examples that come to mind are Kyle Reese's attraction to Sarah Connor--he dies to keep her alive--and Jack Dawson's love for Rose Dewitt Bukater--he too dies to keep her alive.

Meanwhile, the introduction of Elise in the past. The direction is deliberate. (Director Jeannot Szwarc mentions this in the behind-the-scenes documentary and also in the commentary track (which I've got playing tonight.) She is introduced reflected in a window. We get to see her before Richard does, but only barely.

Szwarc doesn't explain why, though he does say it was the plan from the beginning. My take on it is that this is the film acknowledging itself as a film. The visual image matters. The frame of the window matters.

Consider also the moment that Robinson is getting his picture taken. We see through the camera, see him framed upside down. In the commentary track, Szwarc calls this "just a transition" but I think it is more than that. Even if not on purpose. We see the villain of the piece (I mean, aside from time itself) positioned upside down.

Consider also the driving force of Richard's attraction to Elise in the first place. It is her photograph, and it is specifically a photo of her looking at him (in the past).


This is the film being a film. And for good reason. The cynic could take it as a love like this only existing in fiction. The romantic, though--for the romantic, Somewhere in Time is acknowledgement of something that, yes, maybe it can only be imagined, maybe it cannot be quite fathomed, understood, measured, forced into a box of one couple's story in the real world because we like to imagine that love is bigger than the way it arrives in reality. Somewhere in Time is here for them--

(and it's no wonder that fans of the film organized and formed INSITE--The International Network of Somewhere In Time Enthusiasts--in 1990, and have had annual events at the Grand Hotel. Not unlike fans of Groundhog Day making pilgrimage (as I did for Groundhog Day, 2014). Because the film transcends film. It offers up something that grabs at something deep inside the viewer. Well, some viewers. And it does so for them...)

--to find comfort in the notion that love can not only alter lives but alter the world, alter the flow of time. Szwarc compares the character of Elise (especially, as they were casting her) to an iceberg, most of her beneath the surface. She has to be this way so there is something beyond Richard's obsession with her portrait through the first act. The film's take on love and romance is much the same. As a film, it can only show us so much. What is the Queen's line about love in Shakespeare in Love?

Playwrights teach us nothing about love. They make it pretty, they make it comical, or they make it lust, but they cannot make it true.

Meanwhile, an interesting moment: Richard has just witnessed the taking of the portrait that fueled his obsession and his trip into the past. He sits in his seat again. The play continues, but he seems to be lost in thought rather than paying attention. Elise is not on stage.

Man: I am the one who loves her!

Woman: Neither do you.

Man: I can provide her with life's enrichments, rather than the riches of life.

Meanwhile, an usher has brought Richard a note from Robinson.

Man #2: Are you sure what you're saying?

Man: I think an old song says it best.

And maybe he's about to sing. But, we don't get to know. CUT TO: Richard outside, walking to meet Robinson.

But, the movie is like an old song. An old song that has withstood the test of time. On the one hand, the film is good, well put together, and timeless. On the other, the themes of the film are, if such a thing can be measured in levels, even more timeless.

 

 

 

 

 

And, it still holds up.