Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.
So, here is what I watched this past week:
The Elephant Man
As much a paean to film history as a celebration of new techniques, David Lynch’s second film is one of his most accessible. Eraserhead remains elusive, having been stuck on “very long wait” from Netflix for some time (as was this film, which surprises me that I finally received it), but compared to movies like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, this seems to be Lynch at his most assured.
The story of a man born with congenital deformities, The Elephant Man explores human fascination with the perverse, the bizarre. Something Lynch would highlight in his more evocative and visually unusual productions, this seems to be a more forthright condemnation of humanity. This is a man who was considered little more than a freak. His appearance scared women and encouraged the local police to shun him and evict him from the community. His “owner” saw little more than a way to feed his alcoholism. It wasn’t until a compassionate doctor who, at first saw this man as a science project, became endeared to him and wanted him to find safety, security and normalcy.
John Hurt is superb as John Merrick. Hurt has always been a fantastic actor, but the enormity of this role sits well on his able shoulders. Anthony Hopkins is at home in a well written role while John Gielgud, Anne Bancroft and especially Wendy Hiller each do excellent work. Lynch is a director who’s hard to love. He goes out of his way to be quirky, but unlike Tim Burton, his films never sell out. His identity is true and admittedly bizarre, but it’s uniquely his. The Elephant Man has a few of his trademark tweaks on cinematic language, but mostly it is perhaps his most easily accessible and I find that incredibly admirable.
Imitation of Life
I cannot say whether he saved his best for last, but Douglas Sirk certainly left the medium on a high note. For two decades, Sirk was a Hollywood fixture. During that time, he defined how the melodrama should be filmed and with the brilliance of Imitation of Life, it’s hard not to see his influence on the medium in future efforts by other directors. Tackling racial struggles at a troubled time marked this film as one of his finest achievements.
Showcasing a black mother (Juanita Moore) and her fair-skinned daughter (Karin Dicker / Susan Kohner) moving in with an aspiring actress (Lana Turner) and her young daughter (Terry Burnham / Sandra Dee), Imitation examined the struggles of race relations through a young girl ashamed of her own heritage attempting to pass as white in a bigoted society and finding her only hardships at the hands of her concerned mother hoping her child wouldn’t grow up ashamed. Paralleling this story was that of Turner’s Lora Meredith who wants so much to be an actress that a slimy agent (Robert Alda) and a burgeoning relationship with a beach-side photographer (John Gavin) almost derail her dreams.
The acting is marvelous with Moore and Kohner the best of the bunch, but Turner, Gavin and Alda all generating fine work. Dee does well, but she makes Susie an almost unbearable presence. Her subplot with Steve (Gavin) is brought on far too late in the film to have much impact, and only serves to draw attention to her limitations. Melodrama has its place in film and while every movie can’t carry off such grand emotional gestures as successfully as Imitation of Life, there are enough gems who owe Sirk a debt of gratitude that it makes the effort all the more satisfying.
J.J. Abrams delivers more of the same with his latest affront to the wonderful world of Star Trek. His first film sloughed off much of Trek history, pushed the film into an alternate timeline and ultimately created a new franchise. With two features now under his belt, it’s clear that the old Star Trek style, substance and sci-fi cred will be forever replaced by lame “historical” references interjected into a re-imagined narrative propped up by a series of action set pieces without much in the way of pensive writing.
I was generous to the first film. For all intents and purposes, it was a modern sci-fi film that looked more towards entertaining than informing and being the first in a new franchise was bound to need space to grow into a more mature effort. Now that we have two films to compare, there is little doubt that everything I loved about the Star Trek universe is gone, replaced by a body snatchers-like desire to make money at the cost of inventiveness and originality. Abrams’ inability to create stylistic distinctiveness was most apparent in his slavish devotion to Steven Spielberg’s style (ripping it off, not paying tribute to) in Super 8. Here, it becomes even more obvious, stealing outright from past Trek films including scenes, situations and dialogue.
That’s not entirely Abrams’ fault as screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof share equal responsibility for failing to blaze their own trail. The actors do their best with what they’re given, but Bones, Scotty and Chekov remain perfunctory, comic relief characters while Uhura’s treated as a love interest and not a truly independent woman. What I wouldn’t give to see how someone with more respect for female characters like Joss Whedon would have done with someone like Uhura. But that’s a minor quibble compared to the overall lack of forethought surrounding this film. More to come when I write my full review, which may include spoilers. You have been warned.