Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” (1960 Disney film)

I think I read a young person’s illustrated version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “boys’ life” Alan novel “Kidnapped” (written in first person) in tenth grade, in the spring of 1958, about the time certain other interests were developing in my mind.  I remember typing the book report at home.  A lot of other book reports with this teacher were “in class”, but this one I remember doing at home.  We had recently read George Eliot’s “Silas Marner” and been tested on it.  That’s what sophomore English was like: grammar and literature, in alternation.

Note the original long title of the book: “Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson.”

The Walt Disney Technicolor 1960 film (“Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped”) is ironically directed by Robert Stevenson (no relation) and aired on Turner TCM on September 11.  The plot is a picaresque adventure, as was common for some English novels of the time(1886).  An appealing 16 year old boy David Balfour (James MacArthur) is beckoned to a gothic estate when his father dies, but quickly finds his uncle is conniving (there is a scene inspired by Vertigo).  He is then drawn to a ship voyage, where he is shanghaied (essentially kidnapped) into servitude, and threatened with slavery.  He soon meets up with a Jacobite, Alan Breck Stewart (Peter Finch) and go on a long adventure together, after both are falsely accused of murder. Alan is a Jacobite rebel in Scotland, as both escape the British redcoats about the time of the American French and Indian Wars (and the James Fenimore Cooper novels).  Eventually they get back to David’s uncle and David gets his inheritance with a trick and his friend’s witness.

I do recall that the enduring idea of the novel, especially in its later passages, is “friendship”.  Having read this book may have helped inspire my controversial first theme in English at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, which would help precipitate the ironic events that would later lead to my expulsion in November 1961 (as in my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book).

MacArthur (who was 23 when this film was shot) seems quite mature and handles himself so well, as in that fight with the Gaelic highlander and other foes.  He seems like a low-keyed predictor of the superhero movies to follow a half century later. How many role model teenage boys like this do you meet in a lifetime?  I can think of a few.

Jacobite painting wiki.

The broadcast also included the 1938 Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lonesome Ghosts”, with “personal animation”.

Name:  Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”
Director, writer:  Robert Stevenson
Released:  1960
Format:  1.37:1 now 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  TCM 2017/9/11
Length:  97
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  TCM

(Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“Tulip Fever”: a 2008 financial collapse in 17th Century Holland

Tulip Fever”, directed by Justin Chadwick, based on the novel by Deborah Moggach, presents a period piece with a parallel story of a financial bubble – the “tulip mania” in the Netherlands in the 1630s.

Sophia (Alicia Vikander) has been forcibly married to a rich merchant Cornelius (Christoph Waltz), who commissions a young painter Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to do her portrait. At first she resists, the way someone might resist having their photo tagged on the Internet today. But soon they fall in love. Jan can’t make a living just as an artist, so they plot to make a killing by “flipping” tulip bulbs.

But, as with all bubbles, the mania bursts, probably because of the intrusion of a pandemic, the bubonic plague. Tragedy ensues, although Jan survives with a prosperous second life in the Dutch East Indies, eventually to become modern Indonesia.

The film is quite erotic in a few spots, and DeHaan’s boyish body is often on display. A few scenes convey the energy of the physical passion that was expected in those days.

Wiki picture of the tulips.

Name: “Tulip Fever”
Director, writer:  Justin Chadwick
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic 2017/9/9
Length:  105
Rating:  R
Companies:  Weinstein TWC, Paramount
Link:  FB, distribution controversy

(Posted: Saturday, September 9, 2017, at 11 PM EDT)

“The Story of Ruth”: Fox 1960 CinemaScope spectacle plays up the issue of idol-worship in presenting a maternal ancestor of Jesus

In the 1950s, 20th Century Fox promoted the spectacle genre after it premiered Cinemascope in 1953 with Llyod C. Douglas’s “The Robe”.  I saw it at the old Jefferson in Falls Church, one of the first “neighborhoods” to be converted to wide screen, and, yes, I cried at the end.

The Story of Ruth”, directed by Henry Koster, appeared in 1960 and is somewhat lower keyed than earlier spectacles, yet the film, with very crisp cinematography, makes the ancient world of the Judges in the Bible look interesting.

Ruth, as we remember from Sunday school perhaps, was the humble woman who became an ancestor of David and therefore eventually Jesus Christ himself.

But the film adds a lot of material in the beginning to the Old Testament book “Ruth” which is complicated enough in all the migrations and family ties.  “The Story of the Bible” by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1936, a favorite of my late father (p. 143, Chapter 10), and Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, 1939,  Story 21, p. 196, “The Young Woman Who Forsook Idols to Serve God”, give the details with some variation.

The film starts with presenting Ruth (Elena Eden) as an idol worshipper, preparing a Moabitess girl Tebah (Daphna Einnhorn) to be sacrificed to the pagan god Chemosh.  Quickly the film presents the obvious dilemma:  idols can indeed have clay feet and break, and, well, and idol is only what you see;  beauty is only skin deep.

The complications of the story, as the film returns to the Biblical text, involve Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and worshipping the one god Jehovah, accepting poverty and returning to Judah out of family loyalty, and gleaning in the fields.  Accepting the charity of others becomes part of moral purification.  The film covers how easily inherited wealth can be lost, and also the idea that men were expected to marry widowed family members.  At the end, Ruth turns down a man she does not love, as a good man named Boaz (Stuart Whitman).

Back around 1952, public schools were allowed to have religious classes after school, and I can remember confessing “I have idols” in writing in a note to the teacher.

“Boaz” happens to be the last name of a prominent libertarian writer and officer at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.  In the film, the character seems to be the most respectful of all of the liberty of others.

There are several newer versions of the story, as one from Pure Flix.

Name:  “The Story of Ruth”
Director, writer:  Henry Koster
Released:  1960
Format:  CinemaScope (slightly wider than the usual anamorphic today)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length:  123
Rating:  PG
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  Pinterest

(Posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

“The Promise”: World War I epic about Armenian genocide is also a personal moral fable

The Promise”, directed by Terry George, and written with Robin Swicord, apparently based on an original story, is a historical epic about genocide, specifically of the Armenians in the early days of World War I by the Ottoman Turks.  The film has a bit the style of a modern western, and makes a compelling narrative with many moral points about a historical event that generally doesn’t get that much attention.  In fact, even today, the Turkish government (exacerbated by Erdogan’s dictatorial and press-suppressing behavior, which Donald Trump has supported), doesn’t admit that the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians (in an area that became part of the Soviet Union) during the period.

The basic story concerns an Armenian medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), an American Associated Press journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale, who had played the Asperger-like doctor Michael Burry in “The Big Short”, helping drive the 2008 financial crisis), and the Parisian-raised Armenian woman Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), whom both men love.  The movie really plays down the romantic or erotic potential of the love triangle, to pursue more abstract moral arguments.

For openers, as the film opens, Mikael is a pharmacist in the mountain town of Surin, agrees to an arranged marriage so that the dowry will pay for his medical school.  It sounds off-putting to me for a promise of procreation and marital performance to pay for school, but that is how things used to be, where arranged marriages were common and  people were expected to “learn to love” their socially assigned spouses.  Once in school in Istanbul, the winds or war appear.  A friend bribes an official so that he can get a “student deferment” from conscription for being in medical school, an issue that would occur in my own life.  Eventually he faces brutality from Turkish officials who view him as a physical coward.  But he escapes, in a thrilling train sequence, and gets back to Sirun to find the Turks have destroyed it.

Chris and Ana have wound up in a nearby Red Cross facility, but Chris is captured.  The Turks accuse him of being a spy, but his release comes at the cost of the life of the Turk who helped him.  Chris repeatedly insists his writing (he has a notebook that looks like a pre-Internet blog) is necessary so that the rest of the world learns what is going on.  He even tells a French Captain that his reporting may help get the United States to join the allies in World War I (which would happen in 1917).  In the final scenes, where the orphans and some families are recused by the French, Mikael uses his skills to treat civilians wounded in battle (his mother dies), and Chris has to fight like a soldier.  But combat journalists often have to be able to handle themselves in battle.

Wikipedia article on Armenian Genocide.

This is a good place to note Comey’s comments on journalists and classified information.

Name:  “The Promise”
Director, writer:  Terry Georgr
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, very late, 2017/5/2, I was the only person in audience!  Showing just for me!
Length:  133
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Open Road
Link:  FB

(Posted: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Frantz”: Ozon’s post World War I mystery

Frantz”, the latest film from Francois Ozon, is a period mystery, with a pacing that reminds one of Hitchcock.  It is set in another world Germany and France in 1919, after World War I. before the inflation and reparations got really bad in Germany.  The present time of the narrative is filmed in black and white Cinemascope (like Hud), with the flashbacks in a sepia color.  The film is in German and French, with subtitles.  The name of the tragically deceased character is deliberately ironic.

Anna (Paula Beer) grieves the loss of her fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke) and regularly puts flowers on a cemetery mark, even though his body was lost in the trenches. One day an appealing young Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney) shows up at the cemetery.  Frantz’s father, a doctor, asks him to leave and blames him personally for the horror Germans endured, and says he could never treat him (violating the Hippocratic oath). But Adrien wills his way into the family.  We learn that Adrien is a concert violinist, like Frantz had been, but struggles with hearing loss after the war.

The backstory shows how they became friends in Paris (with a hint of gay intimacy), and later presents their tragic accidental and fatal encounter in the trenches, setting up the moral dilemma for the movie.

Yet, there are signs of a bizarre romance between Adrien and Anna.  There is a swimming scene and then beach, where the camera dawdles on Adrien’s smooth chest, and then shows the only war wound, near the appendix.

But after Adrien returns to France, Anna goes looking for him, setting up some more ironies in the plot.

There’s a bizarre barroom scene where Frenchmen sing “La marsellaise”, out of Berlioz and out of “Casablanca”, but with some twists in words.

The movie has a brooding film score by Philippe Rombi, and some typical recital pieces, including a movement from a Tchaikovsky Quartet, and what sounded like an Alma Mahler song (I didn’t see it in the credits).

There’s a scene where Frantz’s father blames all fathers for goading their sons to fight for country.

There are critical scenes in the Louvre in Paris, looking at a painting of a suicide by Manet, with viewers filmed from behind, a technique from a famous scene in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and in Brian de Palma’s “Dressed to Kill”.

The tone of the film reminds me of “The White Ribbon“, which sets up pre-Fascist ideas.

The color scheme is the inversion of what happens in my screenplay “Do Ask Do Tell: Epiphany”.  I put present day (on a space station Rama world) in sepia;  true events on Earth in backstory in full color, and fiction embedded in a leading character’s writings in black and white, all anamorphic wide screen.

Name: “Frantz”
Director, writer:  Francois Ozon
Released:  2017
Format:  2.39:1 Cinemascope, Black and White with sepia color for flashbacks  (French and German, subtitles)
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St.  2017/4/9 fair crowd   (Casablanca was in Dallas at the Inwood Theater in 1982)
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Music Box Films, Mars
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, April 8, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

 

“Silence”: Catholic priest missionaries track through persecution in 17th Century Japan

Martin Scorsese is said to have taken a quarter century to craft this meditation on Catholic Christian evangelism in 17th century Japan, “Silence”. The spiritual message is heavy-handed, and rather reminds me of Mel Gibson’s work.

Yes, Christians make a lot of international persecution today, but the movie makes a fairly strong comparison to religious persecution today in the middle East, especially by ISIS.

The plot line for this 161-minute film that seems like a stage play (based on the novel by Shusaku Endu) is rather simple.  Two young priests, who seem emotionally close (you wonder if they would have been c a couple a few centuries later) from Portugal, Rodriques (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) make the sea voyage from Holland to Japan and then enter the country surreptitiously, trying to find a colleague Ferreira (Liam Neeson) left behind years ago.

The local powers-that-be persecute Christianity in Biblical ways, seeing it as a political threat. There are water crucifixions, upside-down burials, and at least one beheading.  Christians are challenged to defend their faith ritualistically in the face of certain death, usually by slow torture.  I no longer relate to the idea of surrendering all to prove your faith to qualify for the hollow heavens.

Rodriques is quite articulate on matters of faith.  Eventually, he loses his friend and encounters the elder colleague, and that will create an existential change in the direction of his life.

The film was shot near Nagasaki, Japan, and in Taiwan.  As ratification for the film title, there is no music during the end credits.

Name:  “Silence”
Director, writer:  Martin Scorsese
Released:  2016/12/25
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/1/11
Length:  161
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount (Vantage, Independent)
Link:  official

Wikipedia image, Nagasaki in the 19th century.

(Posted: January 11, 2017 at 10 PM EST)

“Love and Friendship”: a rather smallish comedy of manners (or “morals”) based on Jane Austen’s early work

Love and Friendship” (actually, “Love & Friendship”) is a comedy of manners (or morals), directed by Wilt Stillman, largely filmed at a real manor in Ireland.  It is based on the “letters” (epistolary) novel “Lady Susan” by Jane Austen, probably written in 1794, but published until 1871.  But the movie uses a juvenile story “Love and Friendship” (with a misspelled title) for the movie title, and replaces the “and” with an ampersand to distinguish it from a 1946 film.

In the 1790s, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) has to find an estate to live after her dalliances with a married man and arrives at “Churchill” in the English countryside, owned by her brother-and-law.  Her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) has been kicked out of boarding school in the “colonies” (now America) and arrives.  Lady Susan seeks husbands for both her daughter and herself.

There’s some serious talk about what marriage means – sharing you bed with someone for the rest of your life.  Lady Susan will have trouble living up to that even if she preaches to her daughter.  There’s also an issue of aesthetic realism:  she likes younger, more virile men.  But this was an era where all men wore tights.  People didn’t take baths very often, and there was a lot of B.O.

The film starts by introducing every character by name.  But, having no husband means so much despair?

Here’s a long list of the classical music in the background of his period piece, all of it pre-romantic and rather curtsy.

Name:  “Love and Friendship”
Director, writer:  Wilt Stillman (Jane Austen)
Released:  2016/6
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length:  93
Rating: PG
Companies:  Sony, Roadside Attractions, Amazon Studios
Link:  official

Wikipedia image for Newbridge House in Dublin.

(Posted: Saturday, December 31, 2016. At 6 PM EST)

“Hacksaw Ridge”: a monumental film about sacrifice, service, conscientious objectors, faith, and the horrors of war

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Name: Hacksaw Ridge
Director, writer:  Mel Gibson (wr; Roger Knight, Robert Schenkkan)
Released: 2016/11/4
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/11/5, fair audience
Length 131
Rating R (prolonged graphic war violence)
Companies: Summit Entertainment; Cross Creek
Link:  official

Hacksaw Ridge” (directed by Mel Gibson – “The Passion of the Christ”) presents the moral dilemma of sharing personal sacrifice during war, which overrides even the movie’s obvious focus on the “conscientious objector” issue, which sometimes got expressed again during the Vietnam era draft.

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The film begins around 1928 or so, when Desmond Doss , as a boy, almost kills his brother with a brick in a fight.  At the time, as recompense, his particular Seventh Day Adventist instantiation of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, starts as he reads a mural in a family room in his Virginia home.

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Years later, in 1942, Doss (now played by Andrew Garfield) saves another man’s life after a car mishap, and meets his future bride, a nurse, as he gives blood.  He goes through the usual learning curve of dating and approaching a future wife (Dorothy Schutte).  He also develops, to the chagrin of his father (Hugo Weaving) who had lost other relatives to World War I, a feeling of duty to serve his country as a medic in the Army but not to carry a weapon, in honor of the Sixth Commandment.

The film plays up the sacrifice issue well here, as it covers the idea that Doss could have gotten a “deferment” with a military munitions plant job. He takes Basic at Dort Jackson, SC, which is where I took Basic Combat Training myself in 1968. The post looks a lot “simpler” in the film than it did in real life.  In fact, the three fiction portions of my “Do Ask Do Tell” book certain in some way around my own experience, which would be quite interesting to recreate as it was during Vietnam in a film.  I describe how to do this in a couple places (“Two Road Trips”  and an account of the Fort Jackson Basic Combat Training Museum ).  We did have the horizontal ladder, but we did not have to climb walls, and the night infiltration course (and “individual tactical training”) did not include making ).  the sand underneath the wires wet and muddy.

The Post cadre at first try to bully Doss into rifle training (M1’s then; I trained on the M14);  he avoids court-martial at the last minute only under last-minute intervention form his dad, who still has some connections.  The movie turns to its second act, lasting well over an hour, which comprises the battle of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa (Urasoe Mura).

As presented, the battle is one of the most violent and graphic ever shown on film.   Soldiers are burned alive by flame throwers, and amputations occur on cameras.  Many half-bodies are shown, with varmin eating the remains.  It would have been impossible to honor all of those fallen properly; surely the remains of many soldiers lost were never found to be buried.  Doss, who, despite skinny build, has shown himself the physically strongest soldier of all, almost like superman, repeated rescues many comrades in all sorts of perilous sequences.  He even treats the enemy, as dictated in the Bible. After being bullied earlier in BCT by his unit (the whole “unit cohesion” issue)  Toward the end, the Japs fake a white flag surrender and then counter-attack, and Doss is finally significantly wounded, but will recover.  In keeping with Gibson’s own faith, he does become an inspiration for the troops.   Garfield’s own charisma increases throughout the film.  “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The film was shot in Australia (Gibson’s home), with Australian financing.  But a few scenes in Virginia really do like the Blue Ridge (the Old Rag area

(Published: Sunday, November 6, 2016, at 5:15 PM EST)

“American Pastoral”: Philip Roth novel adaptation provides a look at radical left-wing radicalism in the Vietnam era

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Name: “American Pastoral”
Director, writer:  Ewan McGregor, John Romano, Philip Roth
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/10/22  Angelika Mosaic, late, small audience
Length 126
Rating R
Companies: Lionsgate, Lakeshore
Link: official 

American Pastoral”, directed by Ewan McGregor (who plays Seymour “Svede” Levov), based on Philip Roth’s 1997 novel, adapted to screen by John Romano

Seymour has taken over the family glove factory in Newark, NJ in the early 1950s and gotten past the family patriarch in marrying a Catholic woman Dawn (Jennifer Connely), and build an estate and farm away from the City in exurban New Jersey. The daughter Merry grows up with a stutter and hypersenstivie personality.

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During the escalation of the Vietnam war, played out on television with LBJ, Merry (Dakota Fanning) becomes unhinged and gradually becomes radicalized to the far Left.  At the same time, the 1967 Newark riots happen around the factory.

Soon, a rural post office is bombed, a man is killed, and police suspect Merry.  She flees to New York, and in coming years is suspected of more bombings (as with the Weathermen).  Seymour goes though contortions (dealing with another radical young woman who taunts his masculinity) to find her, where she is homeless and living in the streets to do her penance, but has lost her stutter as long as she wears a mask.

One could say she has become a terrorist, and the film, for me at least, could be compared with “Marathon” a few days ago.

I remember spying on a meeting of the People’s Party of New Jersey on a cold Saturday night in Newark in December 1972.  The platform committee was very radical, especially the women, who resented being called “girls”.  Part of the plaform was to eliminate capitalism and inherited wealth. Everyone was supposed to be in the same boat.

Yet, I don’t see that the movie explains what drove the girl to radlcalism.

The movie narrative is told through a college reunion with a character Nathan (David Strathairn).

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 at 8:45 PM EDT)

 

“The Birth of a Nation”: riveting rendition of the Nat Turner slave rebellion in Tidewater Virginia in 1831

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Name: The Birth of a Nation
Director, writer:  Nate Parker
Released:  2016/10/7
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, morning, 2016/10/8, small audience
Length 120
Rating R
Companies: Fox Searchlight
Link: official

Unlike the massive (and pro-white) scale of the 1915 silent epic by D.W. Griffith (Netflix), the new film “The Birth of a Nation” from Nate Parker and Fox focuses on one incident, Nat Turner’s Rebellion (or the Southampton Rebellion) of Aug. 21-23, 1831 in Tidewater Virginia, led by Turner and rebel slaves at the Belmont Plantation.

Nate Parker’s interpretation is that the incident helps explain racial profiling and general racism today.  That may seem like a stretch.

But the environment in which slaves lived is presented as brutal indeed.  The boy Nate witnesses secret initiations where men’s chests are branded.  Plantation owners are shown as demanding a great showing of social subservience and obedience from slaves, just for the sake of authority itself.  Cruel punishments, such as a scene where all of a slaves teeth are pulled by forced and then gruel is forced down, are depicted.

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But Nate had somehow learned a little reading, which impressed the plantation owner’s wife in 1809.  She hit upon the idea of training him to become a preacher to use religion to keep slaves subordinated. At the same time, rather like a private in Army Basic, the boy was still kept in his place, made to pick cotton like everyone else.

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Nat (Nate Parker) dutifully uses the Bible (1 Peter verses  ) to convince slaves they need to obey to go to heaven.  He seems to be in favor with young owner Samuel Turner (a handsome Armie Hammer), who hosts a big dinner to enhance his political reputation. But when Nat baptizes a white man by immersion in the James River, carnage breaks out.

Nat finds other passages in the Bible to justify leading a violent rebellion.  The uprising starts with a quiet nighttime home invasion of the Turner house, where Turner and others are brutally hacked, conscious of their political crimes as they die. It’s ugly, and it shows there is no glory in dying at the hands of an enemy you have made indignant by mistreatment, even indirect.  But soon the other landowners bring their weapons, and a full battle ensues.  Nat escapes for a while, but is caught.  Near the end of the film is a scene in a swamp showing a dozen or so slaves hanging, lynched (the origin’s of Gode Davis’s idea for “American Lynching”).

The film was actually shot around Savannah, GA, and shows some pancake flat, low lying cotton fields.

(Published: Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at 4 PM EDT)