Category Archives: Framing Rainbows

An exploration of LGBT films, themes and subtext on screen.

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The Indefinsibles: Clue (1985)

Gabby: Mr Boddy requested the pleasure of The Indefinsibles’ company on a dark, stormy night, to discuss over dinner…

Jeremy: Clue. The movie that taught the term “in flagrante delictoto ’80s kids everywhere.

Gabby: We decided to do a round of movies to celebrate the wonder that is Tim Curry. The reasons for picking this one are a bit different. Brett, why did you land on this movie, now a cult classic, to put under the ‘Indefensible’ category?

Brett: This was a financial failure, and for a long time was greatly ignored. However, after all the repeat viewings on cable after all these years, this movie has held up magnificently. This is one of those movies that hits that sublime mixture of absurd and smart. Is this the most perfect movie we’ve discussed here? 

Jeremy: Oh yeah, this is our best movie so far. Probably will be for awhile. And to share some behind the scenes non-drama, I vetoed Clue at first because I thought it was too good for what we do. Watching it again for the first time in years, I see some problems. But this movie is still an amazing achievement – especially because nothing about it should work. It’s based on a freakin’ board game. But most of it works brilliantly.

Brett: Okay, serious question about casting and then w14d19bcaef5e8b8b8698028a5154b865e can talk about how fun the movie is. Is it just me, or does Leslie Ann Warren feel like a last minute replacement? She’s a dramatic actress standing with some of the best comedy talents of a generation. I’m not saying she did a bad job, but it feels like that role was supposed to be someone else’s and she stepped in at the last moment.

* One Google search later… *

Ah yes, it was supposed to be Carrie Fisher. It helps if I look at the oral history I talked about during the Live Tweet. Here is The Oral History of Clue for everyone. That is a really great article about the making of and post game on the movie we’re discussing today. My point is that Carrie Fisher seems like she would’ve fit better. 

Jeremy: Not to me. But that’s because I’ve seen this a million times and can’t imagine changing a frame of it. Eileen Brennan is the weak link for me, but that’s not on her. She’s doing what she can with a shrill character.

Brett: I actually like her. Her character pretends to be a scatterbrain, but in reality she’s hard as steel.

I find little to complain about with the finished product. But I don’t know if it’s for everyone. I think this actually benefited from failing. Since it sold to cable so cheap, it got played a lot. So we watched it a lot, and over time we realized how great it was. This would have been completely forgotten if not for that. I think that this was a very special cast. No one was really huge, but they were all solid. And Tim Curry is a goddamned national treasure.

What impresses me about the house is that it is basically one big set and they are able to use it without making a spectacle of it. They don’t go for sweeping, single, steady cam shots, where they show off the whole place. But it’s a complete house and it shows in little ways.

Jeremy: Before we go further, I should get my problems with the movie out of the way. Like you, Brett, I want to get this out of the way so we can get to the good stuff.

Keep in mind, folks, I’ve loved this film since I first saw it in theaters way back when. (We got the Mrs. Peacock ending at my theater.) When I was a kid, all of my extended family got together around the holidays and went to a movie. Usually, whatever PG comedy was out. In 1985, that was Clue. I was six at the time. It’s hard to remember now, but I’m guessing the movie played like a classy-looking Looney Tunes cartoon for me. My brother and I then wore out a previously used VHS copy from our local video store over the next few years - which our parents bought because they were sick of us asking to rent it.

And then there was the joy of revisiting it as a young adult and getting all the things that went over my head. 1331280429_clue_1985_hdtvrip_avi_002305839A few months ago, when we covered Radioland Murders, my opening joke involved telling everyone to just watch Clue again. Watching this again, I see they have more in common than I thought at the time: they both feature seasoned pros trying to make some broad, weak gags work by sheer force of will.

It’s only a minor problem here – especially compared to Radioland. The movie starts awkwardly and gets stronger as it goes. In the first act, there are more comedic whiffs than I remembered. The big difference between this and Radioland is focus. Everyone’s on the same page here, both on and off camera. The director, Jonathan Lynn, had a clear vision of what this movie should be and captured that vision. And you’re right, Brett, these are comedy legends. Even when the comedy struggles, it’s still charming and atmospheric.

Gabby: I actually came to this movie a bit late. I saw it for the first time maybe three or four years back. So I don’t have the same associations with it as you have. But every now and then I just think, oh I am really in the mood for Clue! I put it on and find it a great experience every time. I agree with both of you, this is the best movie we have done so far. I love the set too. It does feel complete and that makes it so atmospheric. It helps the movie really come to life.

I agree with it failing being in its favour in the long run. I know it has become a cult movie and that is often paired with flopping at the box office. A cinema I have mentioned a lot that I am a lifetime member of has screenings of it every now and then.

The cast is great. Madeline Kahn is so fantastic in everything. mrs-whiteI adore her. We must talk about the ‘flames’ speech at some point. That was the only bit of the film allowed to be improvised I believe.

Jeremy: That’s probably the most quoted line from the movie – and for good reason. I noticed Kahn had less material than the other characters. Was that just me?

Gabby: I am glad you say that about Madeline Kahn having less. I feel incredibly biased as I think she is just an incredible comedian and love her so much. She should have been given more I feel. Maybe one of my few quibbles.

Brett: Are we going to discuss how every solution works? I did a chart once, to make sure the people would be/could be in place to commit the murders.

Jeremy: It’s insanely well-plotted, especially when you consider the source material. Granted,  the board game Clue is based on classic mystery tropes, but still… this shouldn’t work.

Tim Curry’s summation of events is masterful – one of a kind. Think about how many days/weeks that was shot over. And his performance and energy levels are consistent throughout. This is the first movie I saw Tim Curry in, and I’m a fan for life thanks to this performance.

Do you still have that chart, Brett? If not, I’m sure I can find one online. I’ve never scrutinized the endings, but I’m happy to hear people have and found that everything fits together. Of the three endings (Mrs. Peacock, Yvette & Miss Scarlet, everyone killing a single person), is there an ending you particularly like? Dislike?

Brett: The Mrs. Peacock ending never worked for me. Her slaughtering everyone else’s witnesses feels off. vlcsnap-2011-03-24-21h07m53s150She seems too selfish. Scarlett works because she wants to become the new blackmailer.

If they all did it, then Green gets away with it. Everyone else’s secret will be exposed, but Green gets to kill his blackmailer and is congratulated for it.

Jeremy: Well, he’s an undercover agent, pretending to be gay in that ending. It is weird that Mr. Green shoots Tim Curry (the real Mr. Boddy in this ending) when there’s an army of FBI agents outside. Lynn was going for symmetry, I guess.

Brett: No, I mean that Green really is gay. His comment about his wife is the sort of covering he’s had to do his whole life. His secret is in tact and everyone still believes he’s straight.

Jeremy: I never read it that way before. That actually improves Michael McKean’s final joke. I wonder why that never occurred to me before? I guess because he says he’s a plant. The other characters would know his secret, but who would take them seriously? Speaking of Mr. Green’s homosexuality, how does Michael McKean’s character play for everyone now? Grading on a curve, it’s a pretty tasteful depiction of a homosexual man for a mainstream comedy in 1985.

Brett: I think it’s better than most manage. I also have an affection for any time a gay/bi character doesn’t die in a movie. It’s absurd the amount it happens and it’s basically Joel Cairo and Mr. Green until the mid-’90s.

Jeremy: Back to what you said, the Miss Scarlett ending is the sweet spot. Yvette, the maid, being a part of the murders – and being murdered herself – is a nice twist. More importantly, Tim Curry and Leslie Ann Warren counting the bullets left in the revolver is one of the film’s best bits.

I believe they say Mrs. Peacock is working for a “foreign power.” But you’re right, it’s hard to imagine her killing six people. I want to talk about the third ending, where everyone kills someone. I’m curious if any of our readers had the same experience I did with Clue over the years.

Because the movie was so fun and the actors so likeable, it never clicked with me as a kid that these people are awful. Like, in my developing brain, they were only accused of these things. I never got that Mrs. White actually killed her husbands, or that Christoper Lloyd (Doc Brown, for God’s sake) is a sexual predator.

I remember being kinda bummed as a kid with the title card “Here’s what really happened…” I took that title card literally. I didn’t like everyone being a murderer or Tim Curry being Mr. Boddy. It never stopped me from enjoying the film – just a little “Aw, man…” in the back of my adolescent mind.

Like I said when we were watching the movie, there was a point when I revisited the film in my teens and was like, “Hey, most of these people are awful, with or without the murder.” There’s a lot of reasons why the film tanked at the box office. But I’m curious how many people – especially older viewers – bounced off these characters in 1985.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Christopher Lloyd was in two movies in ’85 that let some air out of the notion that the ’50s was this idyllic, patriotic time here in America.

Gabby: I actually love the fact that most of these people are awful and yet the film doesn’t seem mean-spirited at all. That is a tremendous feat, one that is hardly ever pulled of to such a fun degree. The ’50s aspect is interesting, it definitely is a big element when you think about it. Some characters are, on the surface, ideal American citizens: a colonel, a doctor, etc. But dig a little deeper and you find that they have worked the system or the system has turned them rotten. There is a dark element in this film, but you can never take away the fact it is so ridiculously silly and entertaining. I can’t express enough how much I admire that. The orchestration involved is really impressive.

Actually that family association is interesting Jeremy, given what I just said about the ’50s and the picture of the idealistic families. Have you got a Mrs White hidden among those relatives at all?

Jeremy: Heh – not that I know. Most of my family would be the people with clear definitions of “American” and “un-Amercian”, if you know what I mean. Let’s just say I’m the sociopolitical black sheep of my family.

Brett: Did I mention how Clue is like a cinnamon & apple scented candle or Pumpkin Spice Latte for me? That it’s one of those movies that just says “Yup, it’s fall now, even if it’s more than 90 degrees today and always will be.”

There are movies like this, The Crow, Legend, Interview with the Vampire and some others. Films that aren’t horror, that I still associate with a Fall/Halloween aspect. I like Scary Movie Month as much as anyone, but I also appreciate a fun fall movie without having to dip into terror.

Jeremy: Yeah, I associate it with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Family. Which is weird, given the subject matter. This movie, along with Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express, are experiences I’ve been chasing since I was a kid. clueMurder mysteries with phenomenal casts, that were big productions, somehow dripping with atmosphere while being fun.

My affection for it is a bit diminished now. It’s like an old best friend you grew apart from. But if I were to make a list of the ten movies that had the biggest influence on me, this is on it. No doubt.

 Anything else we want to add?

Brett: I still enjoy this movie when I see it, but it makes me sad because I feel like we never appreciated Tim Curry back when he was doing his best work. I often feel like we didn’t catch up to the vibe he was laying down until years and years later.

Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. We’re doing my Tim Curry pick, Legend, next. Look for us talking about that movie soon, then we’ll dedicate the rest of October to scary movies. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

See you soon, knuckleheads. Go watch a scary movie.

elen

Hidden Gems: Elena Undone (2010)

Jon Rutledge (Fat Samurai) joins me in the first selection for Outside the Frame’s Hidden Gems. This thread will seek to discuss movies, that other contributors or I will select, to advocate as underrated or overlooked. The first pick is a favourite of mine, the widely unseen Nicole Conn film, Elena Undone.

Gabby: I have a big love of finding independent film companies online and whilst seeking a new one I discovered Wolfe video. This is a site and company that sells and supports LGBT films as well as making them. I remember following Wolfe on youtube as I do like seeing stuff they have coming. I remember being excited by the look of Elena Undone and was pleasantly surprised by the impression that there were dynamic characters there. So I thought it was definitely go to be at least something to look out for. It was your first experience with this film, what were your initial thoughts?

Jon: Wow….just wow. The writing is well done, it has depth to characters. The core message is love and passion exists regardless of the gender and race. Almost like a more inclusive When Harry Met Sally. The interludes with real live couples of all mixes talking about how they found love was a very nice touch. I do want to get into some of the elements I didn’t care for. Or really thought were ham handed in their execution.

Gabby: I agree there are quite a few! On the other hand, I go back to it quite a lot due to the two main characters being layered and interesting to spend time with.

Jon: Absolutely. I would love to have them over for a dinner part or a picnic; they seem like people who would be genuinely great people and fun to be with. They are interesting and engaging. Sam Harris is outstanding and the narrator. 20100708_inq_dm1qfest08z-aHaving him walking us through the stages of finding true love gives a nice break in the acts. His work sounds interesting I want to take his seminar because it sounds like a blast. I have found the love of my life but someone so passionate about their work is very engaging. He is also a great friend to Elena compared to Payton’s friend, Wave, who almost kills the passion that she has at every turn. I can understand warning caution and worrying about where it will end, but you should at least celebrate the happiness that your friend is having. Why take that away from her? I want Tyler in my corner over Wave.

Gabby: Wave for me is cynical, but she is very protective of Peyton. She is a friend, honest, maybe blunt, but at least has her back. I really like the touch of the true stories as well. Rasheed and Ari’s story is one of my favourites. They are so sincere.

Tyler is an amazing friend and I think we get to see him as a character makes a lot of that narration work. Tyler could have easily be a downfall of the movie in seeming contrived with narration and some cheesy lines but as we see his character we see how sincere he is in what he is saying. I don’t think it is laziness I think it is that character. I would love him as a friend and to listen to him talk about his work more. I do love seeing people who are good at their jobs and in this film we have three!

Could you elaborate on some of those issues you have with the film?

Jon: One of the biggest points of discomfort for me was the infidelity. The cheating takes away from the beauty of the relationship, regardless of the gender combinations. I felt bad for Elena’s family. There is also the addition of Elena having a baby at the end. That seemed shoehorned in there. We know that Peyton wanted a child but did she want to go through the motherhood experience and feel the life growing inside her? Did Elena take that away from her with the surprise news of her pregnancy?

Gabby: To your second point, we know Peyton wanted a child but we also know she was adopting. She has ways of doing this if she does want to be pregnant first. She also has ways of getting another child after Elena has had one. I think it is a different thing though to want pregnancy. In this day and age we can talk about these things separately as not everyone wants to be pregnant even if they do want a child and with many children needing homes that is a beautiful thing.

The movie shows Peyton dealing with a mental health problem. maxresdefaultI think anyone with one can be pregnant of course, it is their body, choice and responsibility. With the right support they would do as well as anyone else. But, we come to understand the type of person Peyton is. She takes responsibility with her illness; she takes her meds and talks about it. She knows that just because a baby wasn’t growing inside her, it can still be hers without the risk of huge hormone problems that people like Peyton would have, especially post pregnancy.

Jon: Very true. Peyton’s desire for children is the end goal; I forgot her struggle with that. And Elena did say she was trying for a child. Very true. It still felt like it was added only to show that Elena’s son was OK with his mother’s choice and supports her relationship; when he went to Payton and telling her that she needs her could have been done without having the pregnancy. What did the baby add to the story? And why the Six moth gap with no contact?

Gabby: I think that it wasn’t really tagged on as it is brought up a lot throughout though I see what you mean as that six month part was a bit bothersome for me too. To go back to your first problem though, the fidelity, that really is a moral grey area that, for me, you have to look on case by case basis. In principle infidelity is wrong. Now I am not going to make a point that it isn’t because it always hurts someone. However, we can still understand a lot of situations, in films, as to how and why this person cheats on someone. In this film, it is Elena’s inability to communicate with Barry. I think the character isn’t a bad or evil husband, he just has beliefs I happen to find incredibly awful. Does he deserve that? No. But he couldn’t expect a marriage or relationship to last when I feel he didn’t really care about Elena’s true feelings. He saw a surface and didn’t push past it. The lack of ability for him to relate to her means to mean that fell out of love with her and they drifted apart a while before we meet them.

Something I appreciate on this matter is how the film emphasises that Elena doesn’t cheat on Barry in haste or because of his coldness but because she doesn’t connect to him and vice versa. eleI don’t like it when movies imply that makes it okay to cheat, especially when it seems that whe they reduce the moral grey to the fact they are the same gender. It is insulting to all types of people. Whereas, in this film, Elena falls in love with someone who just happens to be a woman. Instead of judging them, or disregarding the infidelity part, it tried to show the two leads moral struggles with their situation.

Jon: I felt that after they realized the connection they should have taken steps after that. I agree that gender is not a factor because this passion between these two could happen to anyone. You opened the conversation up about the husband so I am going to spend some time talking about his performance and character. Firstly the character- We got absolutely no time with him and what he thought about his marriage. We see him as an empty 50’s stereotypical father figure who stands for outdated social beliefs. But did he feel the love leave his relationship, or was he blissfully ignorant of how she was feeling? If he knew she was unhappy and did nothing about it than totally his jerk face fault. But if he is clueless it almost makes the cheating worse.

It takes two to make a relationship work, if he wasn’t picking up on the signals that she was unhappy she needs to tell him. All that aside I think that the way they did the relationship between Peyton and Elena is real, it feel like a genuine organic way that a relationship grows. Now on to the performance- Gary Weeks was wooden in this role. Every scene that he had was lacking in any sort of depth of emotion. That could be because he was directed to play it that way but either way when he walked on screen he brought the emotional level down. His sermons were delivered with all the passion of a corpse. I want to see something else he has done to see if it was the role or the performer.

Gabby One of the biggest problems I have with his character is that he is a bigot, preaching at people on how to live. He is saying how these people are ruining his life but he is encouraging hatred. He also has a control over Elena that is unsettling. I’ve thought about it and think it is almost emotional abuse. When that is involved I think this dynamic makes a lot of sense.

Regardless of any of that, I really agree that the way the relationship between Elena and Peyton develops feels organic. Morally they might be doing something frowned upon, but that is how people work much more often in life and I feel this makes it very easy to sympathise. To me, he elenaundonewineisn’t a stereotypical 50s husband. His son points why he has no passionate around his sermons. He’s acting, he doesn’t feel it, not really. I think that is his character. Just a big wall up due to his preoccupation with social norms and beliefs we know weren’t always there. I don’t feel sorry for him because he takes it out on others. He is superior and narrow minded but also, it might sound odd, but I like the fact he is dull. Not everyone in life is dynamic and I think the other secondary characters here do get dynamics to make up for it.

I do think Barry stifles Elena in an emotionally abusive way and I’m not sure he even realises he is doing it. As someone who has gone through emotional abuse, I know it may not look like much on this occasion, but I think the film shows enough subtle comments or actions from Barry and their effect on Elena to make us understand that feeling she describes of being like a mummy.

Jon: I would agree with that. He is not doing it to be evil he is doing it because he is programmed that way. He is really a small pitiful person who keeps Elena under his control.

You said before that he tells people how to live, that’s kind of the point of that type of church. Well any religion really. They set out rules that they want their congregation to live by, we left a church because they were forcing us to live a way that didn’t fit with our lifestyle. In that respect, the character is well played because he needs to be the negative influence in Elena’s life. And as a plot device he is well fitted but still very poorly performed.

Gabby: I really want to know your thoughts on your wow reaction.

Jon Rutledge: I have never seen a film that captures the sheer emotion of honest love. I admit that I am not well versed in romance films but I can’t think of one that has that much energy between characters. The beauty of this film is that it’s theme of pure love regardless of who it’s with rings true and seeing that is awe inspiring. A movie that highlights the emotion over the people feeling it is what really spoke to me.

The only other same sex relationship movie I’ve seen is Brokeback Mountain and the central theme to that film was: look what happens to people who fall in love with a person from the same sex. It was more focused on the Tragedy. As I think about it, maybe the rest of the characters in Elena Undone were emotionally played down to bring the spark of passion to a higher level in contrast.

Gabby: It really does illustrate that spark It gets to the beginnings of intimacy and shows how these two are emotionally and intellectually right for each despite being quite different.#ton I think Elena has spent her whole life worried about what others might think. She has not done this consciously because there has been a huge expectation on her to follow the rules. I think she lost her love of the world around her by not engaging with who she is as well as a few taking advantage of that by keeping her there. I think it takes someone like Peyton, who wears her heart on her sleeve, to allow Elena to begin to show herself.

I love the depth of Peyton and she is wonderfully played by Traci Dinwiddie. The fact that her agoraphobia is just part of her character as a whole is incredibly rare. You can the subtly of that anxiety coming into play within the performance. Slight gestures here and there, such as fiddling with her cutlery too much before sighing and fighting with her hands out of frustration or whether it is being afraid of becoming emotionally vulnerable when telling Elena about her feelings towards her. Wanting to avoid it is a very typical problem with anxiety sufferers but I also think it is something that anyone can relate to as well. It is one of the most honest looks at what it is like to have an anxiety disorder I have seen. You could miss it entirely on a first viewing, but you can also start picking it up on it on a repeated one. That is the reality of how it manifests in real people. Peyton is so real to me. I admire her courage to try overcome her past as well as her ability to try and deal with this new situation. Also, Elena’s ability to make her realize she is worthy of love.

Jon: Peyton is a wonderful character. Her relationship gives her strength, not in a way that is co-dependent, but through that love, it gives her a feeling of worth. Its infections and she is stronger in the long run. You are right about the subtleties of Dinwiddie’s performance. It is the small touches that really sell the transition from the start of the film to the end.

Elena is very brave in following her passions and gambling elena-undone-chemistryeverything in the name of the love. To see her transformation is wonderful to see. How she realizes and accepts her love. Their first kiss was magical. In The Princess Bride they say that Wesley and Buttercup’s kiss was number one in the top five. I think this one gave them a run for their money.

What are your favourite movie kisses? Give a comment below or join the discussion on our facebook group!

calamjohn

Gun-Toting Gals: Calamity Jane and Johnny Guitar

Myke Emal and I are both fans of westerns, so I decided to start a discussion with him on two, which rather than focus on the norm male heroes of the west, they have two leading ladies: Calamity Jane (with Doris Day) and Johnny Guitar (with Joan Crawford).

Myke: I had never seen Calamity Jane before, but thought it was incredibly entertaining and funny. I feel out of depth with it 1) because I watched it 2 weeks ago and 2) I’m not familiar with Doris Day at all.

Gabby: What did you think of her?

Myke Emal: The voice she chooses is a bit much at times, but it works because this isn’t the gritty west of Sergio Leone. It’s even goofier than most John Wayne movies. A particularly favorite scene of mine is when she first meets Katie Brown and sizes her up like she’d never seen another woman.

Do you feel like Calamity Jane is mostly progressive in its exploration of gender roles in westerns?

Gabby: I have had a long history with Calamity Jane. I have seen it many times over the years and it was one I always enjoyed. calam+katieI thought it was allowing the woman to get the guy but not having to lose her character as she is still carrying a gun in her wedding dress at the end. I always loved that touch, especially in comparison to the ending of Annie Get Your Gun. It seems Calamity and Bill are equals and really respect one another. That kind of love/hate thing they have going on really is quite enjoyable. However after I watched The Celluloid Closet, I changed my perspective on Calamity Jane.

Before I go into that, what are your thoughts on her place in the town and her interactions with Katie and her relationship with Bill?

Myke: Calamity is one of the two lynch pins in the town (Bill being the other) and that the town clearly loves her. I got the feeling like she’d had to do a lot of proving herself, and obviously fudged some facts to gain respect, such as when she goes on about shooting dozens of Indians on the stagecoach ride in. Parts of the town’s perception of women seemed double edged, since they are portrayed and mindless horn dogs who ogle at anything with a dress. They were mad to find one of their star performers was a man in drag, but the movie is playing the joke on them for buying it so long. We’re meant to sympathize with women in this world, who here, are only valued for their looks and singing ability, but that’s all surface level stuff and I felt like thinking about it would betray a much more naive structure that was just trying to get a laugh.

Gabby: When looked at on a deeper level seems quite problematic. It seems that in order to be a strong she has to perform as incredibly masculine. There is a problem for me in the fact that the other women in the town seem to be nonexistent.calam That is why to me that when you put a queer reading onto the film it suddenly makes more sense to me. If you think about what Katie is in the film to Adelaide Adams it makes a lot more sense as to why she is willing to stare admiringly in the background if they were lovers. This also explains why she takes so quickly to Calamity. Calamity sees the potential in Katie straight away. She sees her as beautiful, wonderful and talented. She sees her as everything Katie wants to be rather than the way Katie has been treated by Adelaide. So I think she gets swept up by her romantically. She moves in with Calamity very quickly. Calamity starts defending her in a way that either a lover or a very close friend who has known her for years would do; on top of the fact that Calamity and Katie set up home together.

The feelings she has for Danny makes no sense it the film, and why would she shoot at Katie and ask her to leave as well as throwing her things out of their home; Why would she be that heartbroken with Katie rather than Danny if that really was where her affection lied?

The relationship that forms so quickly with Bill is something that irked me a bit and maybe it needed to be a bit longer rather than just a trifle. If Bill was a female character I think this would then allow the men in the town to come out better as they will love and accept the women as they are; as well as explaining why Deadwood City has such appeal to people like Calamity. Whereas what is the appeal compared to the whole of Illinois as is?

Myke: You’re not far off. I agree that the switchover to Bill and Calam falling in love comes almost out of nowhere. Were it not for their “I just can’t stand you song” it might come as a surprise that they end up together. You might be right about the other women in town, because I can’t recall there being any aside from Calam and Katie. All this deep reaching love triangle and ruminations on what it means as far as social acceptance seems to be more thought out than the filmmakers put into it. With westerns that centered around women, I get the impression a lot that simply by making a woman the main character, they feel like they’ve broken the mould and that’s good enough.

They’re not totally wrong, but it makes for plot twists that can seem insincere. I think the movie thinks that it’s saying in the old west to get ahead you had to be a man at heart. It possibly subverts that by allowing Calamity to be a happy wife in the end but still be the talk of the town. But what does that mean aside from a typical Hollywood ending? Enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t feel like she changed at all. She tried putting on the dress, got some attention, but it wasn’t for her. So when delving into it, the movie takes her on a journey to fail in the dress so that Bill will notice her and the two hot shots can form a power couple.

Gabby: I definitely agree with you on the subject of the film thinking it was breaking the mould. It really could have done if they had realised what they had created. Let’s turn then to Johnny Guitar, which I do think was groundbreaking in a number of ways. What are your thoughts on this film?

What are your thoughts on Johnny Guitar?

Myke: I’m always amazed that Johnny Guitar works so well, and it seems to really only come together in the second half. I’m a big fan of Westerns where we’re treated to wide open vistas and the usual tropes inherit in the genre. Saloons, stagecoaches, the town gang, the sheriff’s office, I eat it all up. So here’s Johnny Guitar, where you get a two minute glimpse of the wilderness under the opening credits, and then the next forty minutes plays out in the same gambling hall. It’s really minimalist, giving you the mysterious stranger blowing into town, except town is mentioned as a place far away where we never go. I’m always very cynical when it starts, because there’s so much exposition and first act hullabaloo. But there’s no denying that the dynamics between those characters are exceptionally well drawn. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a character more convincingly hateful in all of cinema that Emma. The social commentary that Johnny Guitar offers up doesn’t seem on paper to be well fitted to a Western, but I think by setting it in one it makes it infinitely more impactful than if it were set during some modern day comparable situation.

Gabby: What are some aspects of the political commentary that stick out to you? And talking of Emma she is a very bitter character, what do you think of her character motivations?

Myke: It’s a movie about righteous outcasts, and it would probably only take aemma half a day of rewrites to switch the story over to Salem or the Spanish Inquisition. I’m resistant to Joan Crawford when she first takes the stage. High up on the balcony in those high sitting jeans I almost guffaw at how badly she wants to be taken seriously. But her character quickly becomes more than the typical Western woman who is only strong when she’s pretending to be a man.

She has a delicate nature to her that’s well hidden, and she’s wonderfully smart. She sees all the angles and calculates the consequences for her actions, which makes her one of the most appealing figures in American Westerns in a short five minutes. The movie draws you in when you see her sticking to her perfectly thought out plan, and it’s painful to watch her suffering for what’s right when her way of life is practically flawless. It’s hinted she obtained information about the railroad through morally ambiguous means, but it’s really the only time she isn’t playing fair with McIvers and Emma, who never stop bending the rules. That’s just the part that turns my stomach social commentary wise: McIvars blatantly twisted the law to fit his designs and Emma puppeteer a mob to annihilate her own frustrations.

I think Crawford’s character is better than her acting, but Emma steals the show through and through. I honestly still can’t make out what her motivations are. We’re told she’s just jealous that she can’t have the Dancin’ Kid, but emmajjit’s obvious that whether it’s for the match she gives in power or simply a socially unacceptable sexual attraction, she is the most drawn to Vienna. I’d say that her motivations seem to stem also from wanting to prove that as a woman she can reign as top dog, but it doesn’t seem as though she has any trouble convincing her mob friends that she runs the show. Maybe she seeks to destroy Vienna and Dancin’ not only because she can’t make them submit, but because she laments that they can’t be partners in business due to the perceptions of the community. What do you think?

Gabby: Crawford’s character is a very dynamic one that I really appreciate. For instance, her softness towards Turkey is one of those elements that add a dynamic so that we care about both of them. There is also her practicality in the face of zealous panic that does reflect that of the witch trials as you stated.

I do agree though that Emma steals the show. It is definitely far beyond the reasons she is trying to convince herself more to the others that she is acting this wayjohnnya. She is for sure thirsty for power and control. But wouldn’t that suggest that she would want to go into business with her? The potential there business wise is undeniable. So it is mostly fear she is acting out of. And you can tell that she, as you put it, is drawn to her. Again this movie’s queer theories have maybe shaded the way I watch it, but I can’t help notice the chemistry between those two. I think pure hatred is almost too close to attraction in certain films, and this sure is one of them!

Myke: What do you make of Johnny? The movie is named after him, but he is mostly absent through the most interesting section of the movie, which follows the bank robbery all the way through the burning of Vienna’s saloon. I enjoy how he portrays the stereotypical tough guy who rolls into town, but is essentially being used as hired muscle. Vienna has all the angles figured out, and doesn’t really need a shift in perspective. The section where he recounts their lost wedding day and takes her through the fairy tale future is the scene that probably rings the most false for me. The men in Johnny Guitar are mostly side players, and I like how they are mostly just along for the ride while the two giants of Vienna and Emma clash philosophies and play out their rivalry. Vienna’s cold but probably fair philosophy as Turkey lies wounded in the saloon about how boys who play with guns need to learn to die like men is one of the most striking lines in all of Westerns.

Gabby: I think they use him purely to fool you into thinking this will be a male centred western. The film tries to subvert the traditional western in many ways such as the way you mention where the characters are made to confront death. Even down to the costumes we expect them to wear are different.

Myke: It is a very subversive Western that doesn’t necessarily demand to be solely in that genre, but winds up delivering some potent commentary on the tropes without bagging on them. It’s not one of my favorite Westerns, but I find myself wanting to return to it much more frequently that some of the more famous ones.

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Red Ribbons & HIV Hysteria: Philadelphia, The Thing & How to Survive a Plague

Brian Sager and I have been talking over the spread of fear surrounding viruses of late and one thing lead to another and we got talking to about the AIDS epidemic and how it has been represented on screen as well as the HIV hysteria’s effect on films. We started having a really dynamic conversation so we delved into three films: Philadelphia, The Thing & How to Survive a Plague to focus in our discussion.

What are your initial opinions on How to Survive a Plague? Did it inform your re-viewings of Philadelphia and The Thing in any way? What is your relationship with Philadelphia and The Thing and has that changed over time?

Brian Sager How to Survive a Plague is definitely something000000000h I’ll have to revisit. It’s certainly powerful, and at times it was very uncomfortable watching these people fight for their lives against this systematic, ignorant bureaucracy. The subject matter itself is undeniably compelling, as is the footage. However, when it was over, I found it wasn’t sticking with me like I had expected. Perhaps that’s a function of knowing the history and outcomes going in. If I hadn’t seen Dallas Buyers Club the year before I would have found it more compelling. I’m not sure if I can find any parallels between HTSAP and The Thing, but it definitely works with Philadelphia. Two scenes in particular I think work together. In HTSAP, a man speaking with the activists poses a question along the lines of “why can’t you guys just stop doing it (homosexual sex)?” A question, which he certainly wouldn’t pose to a heterosexual crowd, but what was interesting, was his complete ignorance about the people he was talking to. The answer to this question is something he couldn’t possibly understand, because it’s a subject and lifestyle that he doesn’t want to understand. In Philadelphia, there’s a scene where one of the partners discusses the difference he sees between Andrew and a woman who contracted AIDS via a blood transfusion. He labels her as a victim, and insinuates that Andrew was “asking for it” through his lifestyle.

Gabby: I think we have a similar reaction to Survive. I found it very hard to watch and the stories incredible but I found myself thinking of a documentary I watched a few weeks before, We Were Here. They concentrate on a few people and it stuck with me for longer. I feel like it was more intimate and left the things they talked about lingering in my mind long after. I think Survive was a very good way to learn the facts about the crisis. There was a controversy behind Dallas Buyers club as it focused on a heterosexual saviour, which is very problematic especially after watching those two documentaries. What we haven’t00000000000wwwh seen from dramatic films is how much the LGBT community contributed to the advancement of knowledge of HIV, also the solidarity, humanity and incredible strength in moving rights forward. Philadelphia and Survive both show the huge amount of fear, contempt and others trying to separate themselves from it like it isn’t happening under their noses, as millions were suffering. Philadelphia did the brave thing of humanizing an AIDs sufferer who dies of the disease. Yes it has the gay character as victim and he dies. But we actually get to see him as a human being. That seems obvious but as the documentaries show, this really wasn’t the opinion of some people at the time. I recommend watching We were here on Netflix. It has fewer talking heads, which works well with the subject matter The aids blanket story in that film well… it got misty

Brian: What I’ve always appreciated about Philadelphia is it’s interested in showing the humans involved in the case, and not just painting heroes and villains. It would have been easy to make Joe Miller a flawless hero, or to make Wheeler an unreasonable, hateful bigot, but it doesn’t do that. Miller is far from perfect, and Wheeler just seems to be a man who the world has passed by, who is now living in a world where his ultra-conservative values just don’t apply anymore.

Gabby: Demme is such a beautiful director and the elegance in which he uses his director flourishes really echoes the way that Joe and Andy, amongst others, are seen as equals, they are equally flawed but they have the ability to love and grow.

Brian: I must say, I did forget exactly how “90’s” it was, very schmaltzy, so many violins on the soundtrack. I think if it were made today it would be overdone. But this was the 90’s Philadelphia was just trying to fit in.

Gabby: Talking of the 90s how do you think Miller played as an audience surrogate?

Brian: I think it’s easy for the audience to share Miller’s fears. 000pwjkdchMiller, like a lot of people at the time, didn’t know the first thing about AIDS. And by his own admission, he didn’t know any homosexuals. Miller doesn’t even agree to take the case until he sees the discrimination and prejudice that Beckett has to deal with at the library, and he has to ask himself “is THAT really the person I want to be?”

Gabby: I love that moment too. Do you think that the film worked in humanizing Andy to people that would normally be on the side of the employers?

Brian: I’m really not sure if it’s possible not to sympathize with Andy, the music definitely bolsters his case. The scene for me that really cements Andy’s
position is when he’s describing the racket club incident, which kind of shows us how hurtful it was for Andy to hide his homosexuality in front of all these men he otherwise respected greatly. That’s what made me think of The Thing, Andy’s attempt to hide who he really was inside, for fear of the consequences he was. It’s like watching the Thing from the aliens perspective.

Gabby: That’s a great comparison.

Brian: If only the Thing had the smarts to set the third act in a courtroom.

Gabby: There are many ways you can see The Thing in retrospect and apply it to the AIDS crisis in terms of the fear that swept the nation around the epidemic. That is one of the things that make The Thing so fresh today. 0thethingThe idea of something taking your body over; and you don’t know why or what it will do to you other than it will not be pleasant.

Brian: I don’t know if it’s ever been confirmed or denied that Carpenter knew anything about AIDS at the time he was making The Thing. The first clinical cases of AIDS in the US were in 1981, roughly around the same time the film was in production. If it is completely incidental, however, it’s incredibly prophetic. The idea that you couldn’t tell who was infected just by looking at them, and you needed to test their blood to find out if they were infected, it’s a very eerie parallel.

Gabby: What are your thoughts on the blood testing scene through these eyes, intentional or not?

Brian: Just looking at the timeline, I’m not sure if it could be intentional, but I do think it works remarkably well. I know Lancaster wrote the script in the late 70’s, I’m not sure if the blood test element had been in the script from the beginning or not. The original Thing From Another World was a McCarthy allegory, and it seems like Carpenter never meant for the remake to be more than that, but either way it really is remarkable how much better an allegory it is for the AIDS panic of the 80s than it is for the Red Scare in the 50s.

Gabby: True it probably was not possible to have predicted what was to come, but as you say it is remarkable. Do you think of The Red Scare and The Aids panics have many similarities? There always seems to be a desire to seek out for an enemy. So whoever it was that gets victimized is always seen as the alien, they look just like us but they are not. 9oawisjdd0vfopiwe0sodifbj cThat type of sweeping panic will sweep through the public every now and then. You can see how it left such a mark on the LGBT community due the attitude that they deserved this. This attitude still exists but I am hoping that these movies might tell the general public something. The Thing actually does a great job in illustrating how destructive not trying to understand something different to us with the Norwegians at the beginning, if they only took the time to try and understand what they were trying to tell them.

Brian: They’re both classic cases of the “us vs. them” mentality. Everyone likes to think that there’s always a group out there hell bent on ruining their way of life. It permeates all levels of society, always has and always will. It makes it easy for us to fight against if we don’t try to gain their perspective, and many times it’s impossible. So when the Swedes (they’re Norwegian Mac) come in with guns drawn, the first conclusion they draw is “they must be here for us.” The Thing, like many conflicts, could have been solved from the beginning had our heroes tried to gain some perspective before fighting back.

Gabby: In terms of the gay community forming into that enemy that is hell bent on destroying their way of life, I think that still leaves an imprint on the gay community. In terms of attitudes I think there are some that still point to it as an example that God doesn’t like Gay people. This attitude is so wrong headed there aren’t words. The sense of loss still affects many that are alive now, as some point out in Survive, there are survivors who have been through a war and they will not forget it. There was so many who lost their lives but also lived in fear. Thanfully the community did such a good job in coming together, HIV sufferers now stand a much better chance of having a better life. There is also much more awareness in terms of sexual health. We mentioned Dallas Buyers Club, and which is a good example of then and now with attitudes in contrast to Philadelphia. Dallas Buyers Club showed how things changed with the rights of gaining access to medication these people needed. Basic human rights are shown to be just that. Now it is simple to see that these people deserved this health care as well as needed it.

Brian: It’s great how many ways you can look at any film. 0000phI’ve seen The Thing at least a dozen times, and I never considered a connection to AIDS. Now, I’ll never see it the same way. I often see film as a kind of escapism, but I think it’s important to keep it in perspective. Film has the power like no other medium to really connect to us. It’s important that we keep making movies that are fun and artistic, but also make films with important social messages. I can read about the hardships of people surviving the AIDS epidemic and feel sympathy, but when I actually see these people living through it, it really speaks to me.

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Ben Hur and Spartacus: Swords, Sandals and Short Shorts

Steve Knauts had an idea that we should have a discussion about Ben Hur and Spartacus. These movies made a fantastic combination for a talk, what made you think of bringing both movies together?

Steve: I wanted to talk about Ben-Hur and Spartacus together, because even though they were only made and released a year apart from each other they are light-years apart in tone and sophistication.

Gabby: Let’s get stuck in then! What are your thoughts on the relationship with Spartacus and his wife?

Steve: When he first meets Varinia she is ushered into his cell as a “prize,” and indeed Spartacus at first treats her that way (he starts to take off her clothing, and when she moves away from him he stops her). I think Spartacus has every intention of having sex with her, but he is brought face-to-face with the reality of the situation when he realizes that Batiatus and Marcellus are watching from above. Spartacus is enraged at being treated like “an animal,” but Varinia quietly reminds him that she is not an animal either. I think in that moment Spartacus realizes that if he were to have sex with her under those circumstances, he would be validating the corrupt system he is caught up in. It would be he who was treating Varinia like a slave. I tear up every time I see him pick up her clothes and hand them to her (an act which surprises her). And I love the quiet moments they share together in the few seconds they are actually able to see or make contact with each other.

Gabby: The moments of affection do feel sincere. vlcsnap-2015-02-18-21h23m33s0We do get that sense of love they must have each other when they are reunited. I do have troubles seeing that scene though where he almost rapes her. I know he doesn’t but the fact is he almost did and like you say he only stopped because others highlighted how low that would be for him to sink. He only treats her as an equal when it catches up to him that she is one. For me I would have preferred him to have earned her trust slightly more in some way before he left. Because I think something like that would have been hard to get over in her position, which leads us onto the concept of slavery. How do you feel slavery is portrayed in both films?

Steve: It disturbs me that Judah is a slave owner and is never really called to task for it.

Gabby: The fact Judah owns slaves seemed to be conveniently forgotten. Do you have any idea why that might be?

Steve: It comes down to the source material. The original novel was written in the 1800’s by Lew Wallace, a former general for the Union side in the American Civil War. The Wiki page for the book indicates that the novel sold well in the South, in part due to “the sympathetic portrayal of slave owners.” I would speculate that Wallace – knowing his book might be a hard sell in the South because of his own history – deliberately made his hero a slave owner to appeal to potential customers in that region. What baffles me is why it got left in the movie. The film goes out of its way to show that Judah is not a “bad” slave owner – he tells Simonides that “When I inherited you I inherited a friend, not a slave.” And Esther tells Judah, “I hardly felt a slave.” So why didn’t Judah free them the moment he gained control of the House of Hur? I keep waiting for a moment where Judah realizes that simply owning slaves – no matter how “nice” you are to them – is a moral evil. But that moment never comes.

Judah even flirts with Esther by reminiscing about “the good old days of Soloman,” where a man could just take any female slave he was interested in. This relates to the question of why Messala is so vindictive towards Judah. I understand Gore Vidal’s reasoning behind the idea that Messala and Judah were once lovers. However, I can see Messala getting disgusted with Judah because he views him as a hypocrite. Messala grew up visiting Judah’s home many times – a wealthy family, a slave-owning family, who just happen to be Jewish. The House of Hur has done just fine under the Roman occupation. Messala cannot understand why this slave-owner would get on his high horse about the Romans. At one point Messala says “You are practically a Roman!” The film doesn’t ever explore this implication, unfortunately (except where Esther suggests towards the end that Judah has “become Messala,” but that is only in regards to his desire for vengeance).

Gabby: Allowing Hur to be a hypocrite would have made Massala a more dynamic character. Also we should have been allowed to see certain aspects of their relationship.0s Hur takes to inheriting people like it is his right, yet when he is treated like a slave this is only bad because he was betrayed and they were cruel. Then he takes ownership of Esther whilst pretending he is her friend. How much more interesting would it be if we had him being betrayed by someone he loved and then learned the true horrors of slavery and had to deal with his guilty conscious as he rowed in that ship? That way when he is presented with the question of racing against Massala we have the dynamic of him still loving him, but knowing he subjected him to years of torture, all the while knowing that he had owned people in a similar fashion.

This film is nearly four hours long and I feel we as an audience deserve more richness in terms of character. Spartacus actually does explore this as the film allows the slaves almost fall into the same position as the slavers. We actually see a bit of complexity. In Spartacus himself, he almost sinks to being an animal. The other slaves start wanting to see the Romans pay for what they did by making them fight to the death. But Spartacus has learned through his experiences and has grown. Therefore he is able to stand up to them and argue a much stronger and more ethical plan.

Steve: It sounds like you and I are on the same page with Ben-Hur. I should say there are some marvellous moments here and there. I find the scene where Judah is dying of thirst and given water by Jesus to be genuinely moving (due in no small part to the magnificent score). Jack Hawkins is terrific as Arrius, and Hugh Griffith is a delight as the sheikh (although real Arabs must have gone crazy to see such a juicy part go to an Englishman in bad makeup). Then, of course, there is the chariot race. It’s celebrated for a reason. And yet, this creates a structural problem the movie simply cannot solve.

Ask anyone what the “big moment” is in the movie. I highly doubt anyone will say it’s the crucifixion of Jesus, which is the climax of the film. No, everyone will say the chariot race. I’ve seen this movie at least 4 times now, and I’m still surprised how much of the movie still has left to run after the race is over and Messala dies (it’s nearly an hour). And for that hour, Judah is mostly transformed into a passive spectator. The reality is, Ben-Hur is a boy’s adventure story set in Biblical times. As long as it focuses on Judah’s adventures it holds interest. But the last hour gets quiet and contemplative when the movie simply hasn’t earned it.

Gabby: Imagine cutting that out and adding that extra hour here and there with character development? Ah the what ifs of movie making are never ending I suppose. I wanted to ask about Antoninus. Thanks to the snails and oysters scene being restored, it is clear that Crassus is bisexual. I think that Antoninus is gay partly due to Tony Curtis’ wonderful comments about him in The Celluloid Closet. He isn’t prepared to be forced into something he doesn’t want to do. Later he falls in love with Spartacus. What are your thoughts?

Steve: I found out from Kirk Douglas’s book that Curtis and his character were not going to be in the film at all. After initial casting had been 0tccompleted and Dalton Trumbo was fleshing out the script, Douglas got a call from Curtis (they were friends), begging for a part. Curtis was under contract to Universal at that time, and hated the movies he was being put in. He hoped that having a role in Spartacus would fulfil one of his commitments. Douglas talked to Trumbo and asked if there was any way to fit Curtis into the movie. It’s a testament to Trumbo’s skill as a screenwriter that not only did he get Curtis into the film fairly seamlessly; he used him to create a fascinating subplot that mostly exists between the lines.

We first meet Antoninus when he and a group of fellow slaves are presented to Crassus, as a gift from the governor of Sicily (if I remember correctly). Crassus is drawn to Antoninus for 2 reasons: he’s very attractive, and his talent is “Singer of Songs.” Crassus likely sees it very likely that Antoninus is either gay, or bisexual like himself. We’ll get more into the character of Crassus later on, but even though he has the power to “take” what he wants from his slaves, he would prefer that they “give” him the affection he desires. Thus, he attempts to seduce Antoninus in the “snails and oysters” scene. I think at this point in the movie Antoninus is gay, but closeted. He’s freaked out by Crassus’s overtures, and that’s when he decides to run away. Where he goes is to Spartacus, whom I believe Antoninus views as the very epitome of masculinity. Antoninus is a bit embarrassed when Spartacus asks him what “work” he does, and what he desires is to “fight.” That is, he wants to reassure himself of his own masculinity. How ironic, then, that when Spartacus hears Antoninus recite that lovely poem, he wants him to teach them all to sing!

Spartacus sees no value in his supposed “talent,” telling Varinia, “Anyone can fight. Who wants to fight?” His ability to see that value in vlcsnap-2015-02-18-21h10m21s9Antoninus is another sign of how forward-thinking and mature Spartacus has become. Spartacus does allow Antoninus to train in combat, but I think that’s more because he knows how much it means to him. I too think that Antoninus falls in love with Spartacus. How disappointing, then, that the movie cops out at the end. Antoninus’s character arc should end with him being able to tell Spartacus he loves him. The script, however, feels the need to give Antoninus a case of the “not gays” by making sure he emphasizes that he loves Spartacus as a father, because that’s the kind of thing you care about when you’re about to die, right?

I wonder if Trumbo used the “snails and oysters” speech to get across a key idea: sexual identity is merely a matter of taste, not morality. If anyone complained, he could say “But it’s the bad guy who says it, see?” Even though Crassus is indeed the movie’s villain, that doesn’t make the idea he relates wrong.

Gabby: I love that about Spartacus, through his relationship with Antoninus we see how forward thinking he has become, and what a role model he really is to the now freed slaves. I wish they would have left out the father as well, but I think that we can see through the fact it was the studio and the code at the time that didn’t allow us to hear it without that. So we can try to remove that word and just see it for what it is. I agree with the idea that Crassus voices being also that of those involved in making it; there really are no morals attached to sexuality between consenting adults. It is merely taste, just preference and what is so wrong about liking snails or oysters, or both? I think it is a very well reasoned argument and still holds true, even if coming from the villain. Talking of the snails and oysters scene, can we mention these movies are very homoerotic?

Steve: Yes, they are – but only one of the films deals with it openly. As we’ve discussed, Spartacus actually tries to address issues of homosexuality – even if it is mostly between the lines, it’s clearly there. Ben-Hur is a different story.0row The most “homoerotic” scene in that movie is probably the galley sequence. But consider this question. Why is that sequence there? Ostensibly it’s to show how tough things have gotten for Judah, and (maybe?) to show how bad things can get for the slaves. However, as conceived and shot the sequence really seems to be about “Look how awesome Charlton Heston looks in a loincloth!” Indeed, most of the galley slaves look so buff and healthy I’m shocked that the movie didn’t kick off a new exercise trend based on rowing.

Compare this sequence with the horrific “middle passage” sequence in Amistad. Are we really supposed to believe that Judah has been a galley slave for 3 freaking years? The physical qualities of the sequence are hilariously out of place considering what we’re supposedly being shown. It’s a shame, because if there’s any one moment that earned Heston the best actor Oscar, it’s the moment in the galley when Arrius whips Judah to see what he’ll do. Judah is literally quaking with rage in that scene, and Heston plays the scene beautifully. Charlton Heston is what I would consider a great “physical” actor. Give him something physical to do, and he’ll act the hell out of it. It’s why for me the iconic Heston performance will always be as Taylor in Planet of the Apes. But give Heston long dialogue passages and he turns into a very earnest block of wood.

Now, contrast the galley sequence with the sequence in Spartacus where the spoiled Roman women choose who will fight to the death. The women are clearly sexually aroused by these men – one makes sure they will only wear “enough for modesty” when they fight. The movie also shows how repulsive this is. Thus, although the gladiators in that sequence are near-naked and buff, the main focus is not on their physical attractiveness but rather the horror of their situation. After the first pair fight and Crixus wins, we see him pass Spartacus and Draba. He’s near naked and sweaty, but what is conveyed is his utter exhaustion. We are made to feel him being physically and morally drained, and in the background we see the spoiled Romans in their sparkling clothes. That one scene conveys more about the evils of slavery than all of Ben-Hur.

Gabby: The Ben Hur galley scene reminds me of the scene ‘Is there anyone here for love’ from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 0bhwith those incredibly athletic shirtless men exercising with absolutely no interest in Jane Russell. Except that movie is 100% honest about why.
They don’t need to spell it out as it is all in the way they do it, with a bit of a wink and a smile. Whereas, Ben Hur seems to be saying, ‘Caww he looks good in a loin cloth! But you know in a “don’t you want to look like this?” way’, *cough*. I agree with everything you said about Heston as well as the depth in which the horrors of slavery is conveyed in Spartacus. Even the opening scene where we see them toiling, and feel the physical drain as you say as well as the toil it is taking on their sense of self. Do you have any finishing thoughts on both films?

There’s one more thing I’d like to say about Spartacus. The final scene between Gracchus and Varinia plays well as is, but there was a lovely line of dialogue that was inexplicably cut from the film. Just before Varinia leaves, Gracchus tells her, “My dear young woman, I’m somewhat startled. You see, I’ve never had love.vlcsnap-2015-02-18-21h08m50s127 And I’m naturally chagrined to discover so late in my life that the having of love…is to set it free.” They really should have kept this line, because it makes Gracchus’s act of giving Varinia and her son their freedom a sign of his new-found maturity. Without that line, it seems like he’s giving them their freedom mainly to stick it to Crassus. Still, Charles Laughton’s last line – “Hmm. Prettier.” – is golden. To me, the key difference between these films is that Ben-Hur seems to be looking back, while Spartacus looks forward. While Ben-Hur has many great qualities, it is an old-fashioned movie beholden to outdated and sometimes offensive ideas (i.e. owning slaves is fine as long as you treat them well). Spartacus, written by men who went through the blacklist, is politically aware and wants to be relevant in our time, even if it takes place in the distant past.

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A chat with Writer/Producer/Director Samuel Bernstein

Gabby: For this article I have been very lucky to have with me a special guest; the writer, producer and director Samuel Bernstein. It is a great pleasure to talk with you as the writer of a film that has meant a great deal to me, Bobbie’s Girl. Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself and how you got started in the movie industry, as well as how your desire to work in film grew? Also could you tell us a bit about how the project of Bobbie’s Girl started?

Samuel: I started my career as a performer. I did some musicals, including a few productions of “Evita,” but I didn’t have a lot of success. I moved from NY to LA and started writing by default. It’s the law in LA: once you transplant yourself from NY you are obligated to sit in a coffeehouse and write screenplays :-) But my first produced piece was actually a play called “The Liquidation of Granny Peterman,” about a family dividing their mother’s possessions and selling the house after their mother dies. From the start, there was an intensely personal aspect to what I wrote, and with that play, the eerie, unsettling aspect, was that I started writing it while my 48 year-old mother was very much alive and well, but in the middle of writing it, she got cancer, and by 49 she was dead. So this fictional story I was writing became unhappily real in my own life. Conversely, once I started my first screenplay, “Silent Lies,” I began with a piece of a different aspect of my life, and ended up filming scenes that reflected some very violent parts of my own childhood. My father was often very violent and abusive, and I had recurring, vivid dreams from the time I was five or six about retaliating and making him suffer. So I put that on film in 1996. It was an indie, and we raised the money ourselves. Some of those scenes had to actually be cut for the U.K. release. The English film board threatened to ban the film unless we made the cuts. I’ve actually posted the movie on my site, so anyone who’s interested can watch it: http://samuelbernstein.com/SAM-Video.html. “Bobbie’s Girl” is also there.

Now “Bobbie’s Girl” is a good example of serendipity at work. My husband and I had started our production company Babyhead Productions in 1997, and had a woman working with us. She was planning a trip to London for a holiday, but asked if I had any ideas for something we could shoot there. If I did, she could schedule meetings, and the trip could become tax deductible. Over a weekend, I wrote the first draft of “Bobbie’s Girl,” set, at the time, in an English village (not the Irish seaside, as it later became). It was the flipside of “Silent Lies” — a kind of fable about a child finding an eccentric refuge from a life with parents who didn’t appreciate him. A fairy tale in a way. So the woman who worked for us trotted off to London and met with a bunch of companies, and we almost got it made as an indie film. When those things fell through, we tried a different route.

I knew Lynn Redgrave from working with her on a television campaign in support of Actors Equity Fights AIDS. I approached her about playing “Bobbie,” and she agreed to be attached. We hired a publicist and got the attachment written about in “The Hollywood Reporter,” and at the same time, my managers had approached Showtime and Paramount about the project. Lynn was on a Showtime program at the time called bobbie“Rude Awakening,” and had both “Shine” and “Gods and Monsters” released, so she had some heat. Because of the planted publicity story, Showtime bit. Because of tax deals, we ended up shooting in Ireland, and I decided I’d rather shoot Ireland for Ireland, rather than pretending Ireland is England. I had always envisioned Bernadette Peters as “Bobbie’s” partner, “Bailey,” and happily, Ms. Peters agreed to do it (and got an Emmy nomination for it). In the end, though, we lost Lynn Redgrave in her very public, very ugly divorce from her husband and manager. He had made the dal for her attachment to the project, and she hated the idea of moving forward with a project that he would remain involved with. So in the end, Rachel Ward signed on. Many screenplay drafts later, we shot the movie in Brae and Dublin over four months in 2000. It was shown in America in 2002 to great ratings and very nice reviews (except for People Magazine — they HATED IT!!) You’ll notice I’ve outlined the business evolution of the project more than I have the creative one. That’s what a writing life is really about: selling. Sometimes I think I might as well be selling appliances. Selling often seems like my real job!

Gabby: That’s really interesting to hear about. I have watched Silent Lies on your site and wow it packs such a punch! What has it been like for you and your husband having your own production company? I’d love to know about some of the creative process as well if you wouldn’t mind sharing.

You know now you say that I can really see that you had Bernadette in mind whilst writing it. Was that little bit of the Broadway memorabilia from her career she has in the room Alan stays in added for a little bit for the viewer? The character beats she has that just make her so special, I think it is just a fantastically written part that she plays so well.

I did think that element of the fantasy sequences where Shelley imagines her getting revenge on her father particularly striking and felt raw and full of truth. What was it like when it became Ireland? I really think that setting is beautiful as well as their home and bar, which just looks so inviting to me. You really managed to create an incredibly family dynamic between those people in the script that is also brought to life by the cast. I always wondered if Bernadette had a go at the Karaoke machine after a take! It is so rare to see a film where there are two women who are together from the start trying to grow as people together and seeing their love build a stronger and committed relationship.

The coming to terms with their sexuality and being proud of their relationship as well as letting the other one in and their walls down really strike a core with me. It is very hard to trust people or to take down those walls when you are in a position like Bobbie. Yet, you always feel so much for Bailey, and I can imagine what t is like for her as well. What was that like for you writing that growth of their relationship through their characters that got them to that last scene where they celebrate their love with a wedding? Did it also come from a place of feeling a bit like either of those characters in your life?

Samuel: We did one of the fake Playbills with Bernadette carrying her own head as a handbag, with the title “Lulu Lost.” Everything we put up was created with the character’s fictional past in mind, and she wasn’t meant to be a musical actress. I nixed the idea of her singing in the pub also because we didn’t want to blur the lines, doing something like that can be awfully fun, both for the filmmakers and for the audience. It invariably takes the viewer out of the reality of the film though. Suddenly we would be watching Bernadette Peters instead of “Bailey Lewis.”

Working with my husband is great, because we get along and share a similar creative take on things. He was the on-set producer for “Bobbie’s Girl” and sometimes he was put in a bind, I think, when I would want something that sambran counter to what the studio wanted or whatever. But we aren’t particularly combative by nature, with each other or with others — and the shooting days are so LONG. Getting up at 5 or 6 AM, and getting back to our flat at 7 or 8 PM. Who has the energy for fighting? We hardly had time to ever spend our per diem either, which meant we had a huge amount of foreign currency laying around (piling up at a rate of a few hundred pounds per day). So one weekend we drove out to Waterford, and visited the Waterford Crystal factory, where we spend thousands of pounds on hand-blown crystal ware, that all got shipped back to Los Angeles. We felt like drug dealers or criminals, pulling out these huge envelopes of cash to pay them. Like Phil Mitchell on “EastEnders!”

Ireland ended up making even more sense than England. All of the characters were escaping another life, and Bobbie ending up in Ireland, turning away from her Aristocratic roots, made a lot of sense. Plus the seaside setting seemed right — more like an escape or an adventure in a way. Interestingly, it turns out that Rachel Ward did grow up like “Bobbie” — Rachel’s mother is a countess, and she barely knew her brother, since they were both away at boarding school from the age of 8 or 9. So the idea for the film was that “Bobbie” found a home in Ireland, among the Irish, while her brother (who we don’t meet since his death is the inciting incident of the film) went to Ireland (ostensibly for a business venture or something) but lived among the “West Brits” — the English who live in Ireland but keep to themselves. For the tea shop scene, where Bobbie has the altercation with the waitress, we shot in a very posh club that the West Brits started centuries ago. The waitress, by the way, is Thomas Sangster’s mother, Tasha Bertram. We loved her in the part, so deadpan and bitchy without overdoing it.

In terms of the wedding, fables often end with weddings, and I thought there was something organic and right about it here — especially since “Bobbie’s” future is so unclear. So we have the fable-like ending, but are reminded that we still live in the real world. I had a childhood that was steeped in violence, and the fantasy sequences from “Silent Lies” came out of some of my own recurring childhood dreams. (For the record, my father wasn’t sexually abusive or a drug dealer) but the feelings and images were similar to how I felt. So with “Bobbie’s Girl,” I created the world I would have loved to have as a child if I were free from life with my father. I don’t think I would have imagined the lesbian element as a kid — but the idea of it being two women would have appealed to me, since I was always more comfortable as a child around women than men. As I created the characters, a sense of eccentricity and artistic freedom I longed for as a child informed the choices I made. I learned long after we wrapped, that Jonathan Silverman was essentially doing ME when he played “David,” something I didn’t see during shooting that afterwards seems pretty obvious to me and to anyone who knows me. Though I don’t think I have “David’s” essential sweetness or simplicity.

Gabby: I agree about Bailey not singing, the atmosphere always feels natural like we are just a guest in their home. Now having re-watched Bobbie’s Girl, I see how perfect Ireland is, like you say it really feels like their home they managed to build with each other, away from where they grew up and didn’t belong. I can tell you get on well with women from the film, they are written so well. Samuel, I love David, if you are ever in London we should go to a pub. I’ll buy you a drink and you an do karaoke! It is so great that you and your husband work so well together. Are you guys working on anything at the moment? I want to take a look at more of your films on your website, they look really cool. I think I am going with Kill your inner child first. That looks crazy, in the best way! What are some of your favourite or even least favourite memories from working on those other projects? And what are you most excited about that is on the horizon for you?

Samuel: Will definitely take you up on that drink next time we’re in town. We were there in March 2014. I love London, and would love to live there at some point if a work project comes up that allows for it. I have a TV project (that I can’t say anythingconf about) that is set in NYC, but could easily be set in London. I had a brief conversation with Channel 4 about it when I was there in March, but nothing ever came of it. I’ll be back in NYC in a couple of weeks hoping to firm up the future plans for my musical, “Mr. Confidential” (mrconfidentialmusical.com) and to have meetings on a few other projects. What I would really love, is if my project “Lulu” could shoot soon in Europe. It’s an almost psychedelic take a short period of time when the silent film star Louise Brooks was making a movie called “Pandora’s Box” in Berlin in 1928. It’s about art and sex and fantasy — so it doesn’t require than anyone have a particular interest in Brooks or in silent cinema.

Gabby: That would be amazing, looking forward to seeing those projects; thank you so much for joining me on Outside the frame!

closet

Why enter The Celluloid Closet?

This month I have challenged myself to posting content that is mostly going to be about LGBT+ films. These are films that focus or can be read with a queer eye. This is due to it being LGBT+ History Month in the UK and I wanted to celebrate through movies. I have got some fantastic people joining me this month so I recommend strapping in and joining the fun.

I would start off by watching The Celluloid Closet, which is a brilliant documentary that would appeal to all film lovers. It is easy to find online, Amazon Prime is one place you can somesee it for free at the moment, and it doesn’t take much of your time. I do guarantee it will give you something to think about and it will help greatly in aiding your introduction into why it should matter to celebrate LGBT History through films. It also gives an insight into why representation matters as well as speaking to why we love films so much, which I am always partial to.

Why Celebrate LGBT+ History Month through movies?

A sentiment in The Celluloid Closet that I will try to paraphrase puts an answer to this question delicately. They suggest thatpurple a movie can be more moving or be able to reach more people if we see the true diversity of human life and love on screen. Ultimately we can see into stories in different ways and it can open up conversations about life as well as interpretations of films. Stories are for everyone, so it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, we can all enjoy films from different angles. We can grow as a society if we try to begin to understand and learn about one another and what better way of doing this than through movies?

rope&mrripley

The Killer in the Closet: Rope & The Talented Mr Ripley

Gabby: Steve Knauts and I have an enthralment with Rope (1948), so we decided to explore both Rope and The Talented Mr Ripley (1999). This lead to an absorbing discussion on sexuality, such as the homosexual undercurrent of both films.

Steve: Rope fascinated me. The long takes and telling the story in real time made the suspense a physical sensation. That was also when I came to see Jimmy Stewart as more than that guy from It’s a Wonderful Life. The Talented Mr. Ripley was different. That movie came out after Matt Damon had made 3 films in quick succession: Good Will Hunting, The Rainmaker, and Rounders. Each one has Damon as young, handsome, brilliant – and on the bottom rung. In particular, Good Will Hunting set the standard for Damon’s film persona. What I found so fascinating about Ripley was how it took that formula and turned it on its ear. It’s the Damon story, through a funhouse mirror. It was only later on as I grew older that I saw the homosexual subtext to Rope. It was pretty clear from the start in Ripley. Another minor connection between the films: Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel for The Talented Mr. Ripley, and also wrote the book upon which Hitch based Strangers on a Train. That film, which also has a homosexual subtext, also features a charming psychopath in Bruno Anthony. It’s pretty clear that Bruno has a sexual interest in Guy Haines – who is played by Farley Granger. Incidentally, at the time Rope was being made, Granger was having a love affair with Arthur Laurents, who wrote Rope’s screenplay. That little fact thrilled Hitch when he found out, according to Laurents.

Gabby: I love your idea about the Damon story through a funhouse mirror. Would you mind elaborating on how the film plays with this?

Steve: The “Damon story” was set initially with Good Will Hunting, where he plays a genius on the lower rungs of society. The movies show him overcoming his lower-class upbringing and his personal demons to strive for something better. ripley01The Rainmaker and Rounders both take from this basic story. The Talented Mr. Ripley is basically the same story, except Damon’s “genius” is for manipulating and conning others. Despite his monstrous actions, I can’t help but feel for Ripley at the end when he says he will always be “trapped in the basement.” He is a survivor who can wriggle out of practically anything, but his methods will forever prevent him from truly enjoying life.

Gabby: I agree with your earlier comment that Hitchcock makes suspense in Rope a physical sensation. What about the technique and aside from it do you think adds to this?

Steve: By having long, uninterrupted takes I think the viewer is sucked right into the story and the scene. In Rope there is a sensation of being trapped – except for the opening shot the entire film takes place in one apartment set, and most of that in the living room. By the end, as the sky outside gets darker, there is a palpable sense of claustrophobia. Robin Wood, in his essay on Rope for Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, notes the feeling of relief one feels when Rupert throws the window open at the end – I can almost feel the rush of air coming in.

Gabby: Hitchcock was notorious for stirring things up with publicity; I think this must have something to do with it. When Rope was released there was notoriety and some cinemas refused to play it. It was even banned in Italy and France. It wasn’t for the murder, but the sexuality. It was really the first film that took the homosexual away from the pansy stereotype. But this then evolved into a different stereotype: the sadistic and murderous gay person. How do you think Rope uses the theme of homosexuality and are there similarities between this and how the trope is used in Ripley?

Steve: I find myself wondering if Arthur Laurents worried about that question?  After all, he was gay, and he certainly did not seem to have any self-hatred or hang-ups about it.  Then I realized that the failure to cast Cary Grant as Rupert was more harmful to the movie than I previously thought. Laurents believed that Grant could play a charming, sympathetic person with clear homosexual undertones – something he did not think Jimmy Stewart could do.  While Rupert is not a perfect individual, he would present a much different – and more positive – view of homosexuality than either Phillip or Brandon.  Because Stewart plays Rupert as a relatively sexless individual, the only “gay” characters are the irredeemable murderers.

There’s not a question in my mind that Hitch loved the idea of making a film about homosexuals that never mentioned the word and never showed any overt homosexual act. Hitch loved playing with boundaries, and I imagine he wanted to see just how much he could get away with. According to Arthur Laurents, Hitch originally wanted Cary Grant for the Rupert Cadell role and Montgomery Clift for the Brandon role. Of course, both of those actors were well known in Hollywood for being gay. Hitch probably delighted in the possibilities. Ironically, both Grant and Clift turned the roles down because of their private lives.

I can’t really give a better argument in favor ofrope1 Rope than Robin Wood did in his essay, “Who Killed David Kendall?” Wood shows the irony that Hitchcock could not show two men kissing or even having an affectionate moment together, but he could show them strangling a third man in close-up. The hatred with which Phillip and Brandon feel for each other (which is itself practically a physical reality in the film) can be said to be a product of their hatred for themselves. They cling to the notion of being “superior” when society would condemn them for nothing more than their sexual orientation.

Turning to The Talented Mr. Ripley, I think it’s clear that Ripley has a sexual interest in Dickie Greenleaf (beautifully played by Jude Law). I haven’t read the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, but based on the summary I don’t think that it ends with Ripley murdering his lover the way the film does. In fact, I’m not even sure that character exists. I’m wondering if the filmmakers inserted the character of Peter because they wanted an unambiguously positive character that happened to be gay. There is nothing narcissistic about Peter. Indeed, one could argue that there is nothing narcissistic about Ripley, either. He may see himself as a cipher – someone who only exists in relation to how others see him. When Mr. Greenleaf mistakes Ripley for being from Princeton because he borrowed someone else’s jacket, Ripley cannot help but take advantage of the error. He doesn’t merely want to “love” Dickie, he wants to BE Dickie because Dickie has all of those things Ripley desires for himself. In Rope, Brandon is clearly a narcissist. Phillip is not so much – he is the submissive partner in their relationship, and does appear to feel some guilt for the murder.

Gabby: What kind of impact do you think these two films have made on the representation of gay people? I agree with you that there is enough character shading that it feels much deeper than that but I feel Hollywood has learned the wrong lessons by those films’ depictions. In Rope, I feel Brandon kills for the same reason many other screen killers have. Ripley is different however, he is a leech. He attaches himself to a person, and can’t let go. He is consumed by it. By the end of the film, his killing of Peter is one of the most tragic moments. Peter is one of the only people in the film that doesn’t seem jaded and corrupted by money. What do you part do you think money plays in the film, and what does it say about the upper classes of society? Rope has a similar theme, commenting on those with a privileged education. They are looked at as more civilised, whereas they can be as disturbing as others can.

Steve: There is a key difference between Ripley and Brandon. Brandon is “To the Manor Born,” and the film conveys rope44pretty clearly to me that he has always had a life of privilege. He takes the perks that come with such a life as a given. Ripley, on the other hand, comes from nothing. When Ripley sees wealth, he sees all that is good in life. Ripley is a leech, but I understand the stark despair he experiences as he contemplates a future in “the basement.” There are a few moments with Peter where I believe Ripley is at least considering trying for a deeper more meaningful existence, but he is never able to rise to the occasion. Now I should say, Dickie Greenleaf is hardly a paragon of virtue. He can be manipulative and cruel. The speech Paltrow gives to Ripley about how it feels to be “basking in the sun” of Dickie’s attention, only to have it taken away, is heartbreaking. However, in the end there is a fundamental difference between Ripley and Dickie. Dickie appears to have a conscience, and Ripley does not.

I must say, although I love Jimmy Stewart in Rope, there is something that might have been lost there when Grant did not accept the role. When Rupert denounces Brandon it is a thrilling moment, but I don’t feel something I think I ought to from Brandon. After all, this may be the only person on the planet to whom Brandon feels some deference. I think if it were Grant, we would get a key emotion from Brandon – his heart breaking. Grant might have been able to play the scene with a bit more recognition of his own culpability, and how his high-sounding logic had helped to corrupt his former student.

Gabby: Money seems to me to be almost a rot in Ripley that drives people to do things they really regret and act selfishly. As Grant was bisexual I think the stir of attention he would have gotten was probably too intense to have starred in it. Even though if that film was made now he would be perfect for it I think. Stewart is phenomenal in Vertigo and Rear Window, but I think you are right about there being something small missing in his performance for Rope.

Steve: I’m not sure what it is that’s missing. Given the extent to which Rupert influenced these boys, the passion of his denunciation is a little too self-serving.

There seems to be a lot of split emotions about Gwyneth Paltrow and her acting. I thought she was really good in this.

Gabby: I think she is really good at some points as well. When she starts figuring Ripley out I really fear for her. There are a few scenes that she has to really anchor the scene and I think it is a hard job. I do think that she can be quite bland at times and shaky at others, but overall she does a good job. That character is kind of supposed to be bland I suppose. I personally love Cate Blachett though, so seeing her in this is always a treat. I think the way she layers that character is bring more vulnerability, which adds a bit more to the feminine presence in the film. What do you make of the lack of female characters or character development in both films?

Steve: My main issue with Blanchett in the movie is not her acting, it’s that she seems mainly there to jump-start the story when we need to put the screws to Ripley (she always seems to show up at inopportune times). I think Paltrow has much more of a character – and that scene with her and Ripley after she finds Dickie’s rings is a real nail-biter. I was pretty sure she was done for the first time I saw the movie. Talking of the suspense in the film, Hoffman’s character coming in is like a bucket of ice water thrown on Ripley’s illusions – he catches on to him right from the start. Part of me likes that there’s someone challenging Ripley, but then there’s the Hitchcock thing where we kind of want the bad guy to get away with it. Adding to the tension is the fact that Hoffman’s character is a bit of a creep himself, although his suspicions about Ripley are right on target.

ripley6You’re quite correct that both films are mostly about the guys. In Rope, the main female character is Janet, and while she is a sympathetic individual she is not central to the story. It’s the male relationships that take center stage, which makes sense given the gay subtext that exists in both movies. In Rope, the female characters are treated by the male characters with a mixture of condescension and contempt. Mrs. Atwater is openly mocked by Brandon at one point, and Mrs. Wilson is viewed rather breezily by Rupert (“I may marry her”). However, each of the female characters is given a moment or two where they are allowed to show something. When Brandon cavalierly states that Rupert lacks courage, Mrs. Wilson calmly reminds him that “Mr. Cadell got a bum leg in the war for his courage.” Mrs. Atwater shows compassion and empathy for David’s father when the worries really start, and there is an unexpected depth shown by Janet.

I think Rope was pretty daring, given all that could not be said about homosexuality in the 1940s. It was also pretty bold to be talking about Nietzsche and the concept of the superman so soon after the Second World War. The Talented Mr. Ripley takes place in the late 50s in Italy. It makes Italy look like a playground for the disaffected rich – a never-never land where Dickie Greenleaf is the Peter Pan who never has to grow up ironic then that he dies just after he has decided to finally marry (although I suppose I should take that pronouncement with a huge grain of salt).

Gabby: You are right about discussing Nietzsche so soon after the Second World War being daring. Do you think anything about the Ripley story is daring? I think other than the way having money changes people there is something to be said for the idea of marriage as presented in the film. And do you think Rope connects to a modern audience with what it is saying?

Steve: I think Rope is just as relevant today in its exploration of the “superior being” who has the right to decide if another individual is “inferior” and can be killed. The consequences of having no empathy or compassion are devastating to any society. What I find hopeful in the film is how David’s family and friends pull together towards the end – they do not know the worst yet, but they give each other genuine support and care, which is more than even Rupert can give at this point in his life. I’m intrigued by your earlier point – what do you think Ripley has to say about marriage?

peter11Gabby: It seems to me that marriage, in the film, isn’t a bond between to people who love each other together, but actually one to bond them together in unhappiness. If those two, Dickie and Gwen, did get married just think what their lives would have been? And if you broaden that up, think of it think of what Dickie’s parents relationship would have been like. Or Meridith and Tom’s if that would have happened. It would have been empty. The only person I can think of in that film capable of truly loving someone is Peter, which is quite transgressive really. But maybe that’s me applying something else onto the film.

Steve: No, I think you’re quite right. The relationship between Dickie and Gwen does not give me any confidence in their marriage being a success. Personal relationships in Ripley can seem more like business arrangements. In a sense, one could say that it’s not just Ripley who is “playing” people. Dickie is quite capable of stringing women along to suit his purposes. No one (except Peter, like you say) seems willing to give anyone else their “key.” That is one thing that strikes me about The Talented Mr. Ripey – the coldness. Pretty people wandering through pretty scenery, but profoundly alone. Peter is a decent guy, and he knows that Ripley is not opening up to him. Tragically, he doesn’t realize that there’s nothing there under that handsome facade.