I introduce to you…

character, inspiration, life, movie review, movies, racism

I would like to acquaint you with a very moving film today. This film does not hold a place in my top favourites because it is heart-warming, or funny, or clever, but because it is disturbing, and real, and historical. “Mississippi Burning” was released in 1988, and stars Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman.

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The basic synopses is this: In 1964, in Jessup County, Mississippi, three civil rights activists (one black boy and two white boys) disappear. FBI agent Ward (Dafoe) and Mr. Anderson (Hackman) are recruited to find the missing boys. They quickly discover that the Sheriff department is corrupt and racism is alive and well. KKK members abound. They run up against many obstacles created by their members and uncover more and more frightening acts. Once they find the bodies of the three activists, they go after every guilty member of the KKK and fight to bring them to justice.

“Mississippi Burning” opens with a shot of two water fountains, each labeled “white” and “colored.” Next, a burning inferno of a church is shown. Immediately, the stage is set. You know exactly what this film is going to be about. Dafoe and Hackman’s opening scene is them driving down the highway. Hackman is leafing through the case file and pulls a KKK song from the pages He begins singing, and the lyrics alone tell you exactly what the KKK believe and what they are going to be up against before anything even happens.

What I love about this film is that it bothers you, it makes you feel uncomfortable. Which is what should happen, you shouldn’t feel nothing while watching heinous acts of racism. They achieve this in a number of ways. The first would be the language. The people of Jessup County hold no qualms about speaking exactly how they feel black people. Of course the “N” word is tossed around more than a baseball in a game of catch between father and son. Other derogatory words are used, and it’s the brazenness of these words that help to make you feel uncomfortable. The film also depicts horrific scenes of abuse, lynchings, destruction of homes and churches, and inhumane treatment.

The biggest question that comes to my mind while watching this film, is why? I wonder why these people feel they are right in terrorizing and murdering black people. Why they feel they are doing a service. Why they think black people don’t belong in Mississippi.

Religion is pointed out as the cause for them hating black people. They mention some scripture that says that blacks are bad and they should not exist with white people. Dafoe’s character asked at one point, as he held a beaten and bloody black youth, “Where does all this hate come from?” Hackman didn’t have an answer for him. It is mentioned that the people of Jessup County are God fearing Christians, and that is why they won’t tolerate black people like the rest of America.

I find their reasoning confused, because if black people exist, wouldn’t that mean that this God they worship, created them? Wouldn’t that mean that he meant them to be here? I feel that hate is an ugly snake that twists around your brain until there is no justification you can give for doing something awful other than simply because you hate them.

Racism is not something you are born with, it is something that you are taught. This statement was reflected in the film at a KKK rally, where it showed innocent toddlers and children, held by their parents, listening to the evil words of the clan leader. This was a representation, to me, that racism is passed down. It showed the next generation of racists, and what will happen over and over.

The film also shows the vicious cycle that keeps the racism alive. Blacks would be attacked, but they refused to press charges, because they believed it would do more harm than good. With do consequences, the KKK were free to prowl.

Something I found very interesting was that even though KKK members thought they were doing the right thing, they refused to say they were involved in anything in front of cameras and interviewers. Privately though, they would admit their guilt to Hackman because he could do nothing about it. The members held the attitude that not a single court in Mississippi would convict them for their actions. When three members of the KKK were identified by a black boy for attacking his family, they are given suspended sentences. The judge gives the excuse that the reason they acted out was because of the outsiders who have stirred up the County. I’ll admit, watching that scene, I wanted to jump up and shout “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Much of the music in the film is Gospel. This gave the film a small town religious vibe. It also created a heart breaking juxtaposition between the God that both the whites and blacks worship, and the unspeakable acts committed.

I always feel immeasurably moved after watching “Mississippi Burning,” often finding my eyes beginning to water. It make you wonder how people can become so misguided and regard one group of human’s lives worth nothing. The lack of empathy or any sense of remorse for the abuse and murder is what bothers me the most. They believed they were doing the right thing. Which is wrong on so many levels. If anything, I hope watching this film will be uncomfortable and difficult for you too, because if we aren’t distressed by racism, then I fear for our children’s future.

-Collins

I introduce to you…

acting, character, movie review, movies, the warriors

I’m back with another movie favourite. It’s a lesser known flick, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. Welcome “The Warriors.” This movie came out back in 1979 and showcases a cast of unknown actors.

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The basic plot of “The Warriors” is this: The leader of the largest gang hosts a gathering off all the gangs in the Bronx and convinces them it would be better for everyone to come together as one gang. In doing so they would own the city. Someone from one of the gangs shoots the leader and the Warriors are blamed. Chaos erupts when the police bust the gathering and everyone runs to escape. With all the gangs under the belief that the Warriors killed the leader, they are out for blood. The Warriors need to use all their street smarts and wit to get past any gang that tries to take them out before they reach Coney Island. Along the way they pick up a tough chick that wants out of her lifestyle.

I love the casting and I thought it was a very smart choice that they went with unknowns. Each character stands apart from the others and together they make up a believable brotherhood within their gang. There’s the leader, Swan, and the sleaze, Ajax, who together create an interesting dynamic within the gang. The gang member who shot the leader is unforgettable. His look, attitude, and classic “Warriors come out the play” tune cement him into your memory.

Speaking of the shooter, let’s talk about the gangs out to get the Warriors. Each gang they go up against has a unique look. There are the Baseball Furies, with their baseball uniforms, bats, and face makeup, the Orphans, with their pathetic reputation, the Lizzies, the only female gang, and the Punks with their overalls and roller-skates. This decision that make each gang visibly a unit yet separate from the other gangs was such a smart move. Their over the top looks just added a flair that would have be seriously lacking otherwise.

The sound track is perfectly reflective of the events in the movie. The instrumentals have this electronic twang and edge that make chase scenes and high action moments all the more thrilling. The music is recognizable as 70s, but will always be timeless.

I like how the movie centers around the subway system. The only way back from the Bronx to Coney Island is the subway. The Warriors have to deal with multiple interruptions to the train, each time leading them into danger. With their need to always catch the next train, the adrenaline is always pumping.

The other crazy part of this film is that all the events happen in one night! The Warriors just can’t catch a break until the sun finally rises in the morning, and they are home. I highly recommend “The Warriors” to anyone who enjoys a good plot and characters who get their just desserts.

-Collins

I Introduce to you…

character, grace kelly, jimmy stewart, movie review, movies, rear window, retro

So one of my personal goals for this blog is to introduce you lovely people to classic cinema. When I have time, I will post write ups about some of my favourite films from the past. Hopefully I can open your eyes to some things you were unaware of even existed!

This time around, I would like to introduce you to a film called Rear Window. This film was directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1954. Rear Window stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. I’m going to give you a moment to google if you haven’t heard of Hitchcock, Stewart or Kelly (go ahead, I’ll wait). For those of you that are familiar with these greats, good on you!

rearwindow

Basically, this movie follows Stewart’s character after he breaks his leg during his job as a photographer. He becomes confined to a wheelchair in his apartment for a few weeks and grows incessantly bored. In his boredom he begins to observe the only entertainment available, the neighbours. Living in an apartment complex with a courtyard in the middle, he has no trouble peeping in on people’s lives. It is during this time that a couple across the courtyard capture his attention. After a quarrel that Stewart witnesses through the couples’ apartment window, the wife is never seen again, but her husband is seen doing quite a few curious things. His suspicions abound and he tries to figure out what happened through some amateur detective work, all the while, never leaving his apartment. Explaining his thoughts to his girlfriend (Kelly) she decides to help Stewart in collecting evidence to prove that the man killed his wife. Things become increasingly heated and suspenseful, and I won’t give away the ending for you.

With my lackluster attempt at a synopsis, let me tell you about the unique aspects that I love about Rear Window. The first interesting point is that the story takes place in one room. Hitchcock had tried this in an earlier film called Rope which unfortunately flopped. Hitchcock was determined to show that a story taking place in one room could work, and thus he tried with Rear Window, to much success. Despite being confined to a single room, Stewart’s character riveted attention through his expressions, dialogue, and actions.

The next interesting thing is that the camera was used as Stewart’s eyes. Essentially, the equation of the movie is Stewart will look out his window, the camera will show you what he is seeing, and then the camera will show his reaction to what’s he’s just seen. When he was peering out into the courtyard, or a neighbour’s window, the camera only saw what he saw. The camera panned around as if mimicking the movements of Stewart’s eyes. The audience is only privy to knowledge as Stewart himself, gleans it. This is, until one night when Stewart is sleeping and you get to know something Stewart doesn’t know. The camera pans over to the couples’ window and lets you in on a secret. At this point you are now one step ahead of Stewart, which adds to the suspense.

Rear Window gives you an honest glimpse into other people’s lives. Within the main story, there were many secondary stories. For example, across the courtyard in a studio apartment lives a young pianist. Through the film, you glimpse his struggle to create a new piece. Stewart sees him throwing sheet music in frustration, pacing his apartment, the moment he figures the piece out, and finally the party he hosts for his producers to unveil the piece. Another example is a woman Stewart nicknames “Miss Lonely Heart.” You get to witness her depressing downward spiral to attempted suicide. Stewart watches the woman acting out dinner dates, her leaving for a real date and coming home with the man but her hopes are dashed when the man tries to take advantage of her. Shortly after the woman tries to swallow a bunch of pills but Stewart notices what she’s doing and calls the police, who stop her before she can follow through. There are many other secondary stories but these two are my favourite.

Something interesting was also done in the casting. Most movies during this time had the man as an imposing, protective character. But Stewart is basically an invalid and utterly helpless. The female leads were usually dainty and in need of protecting. Kelly takes on the protective roll as she is sent to collect evidence and scale fire escapes as Stewart watches on. This twist gives the females characters some substance and a bit of grit. A true “girls can do anything boys can do.” The shows Kelly’s character as being adventurous and courageous, all the things Stewart’s character loves. But Kelly realizes she must morph into a perfect wife near the end of the film. She tries to cook dinner and switches reading her hiking magazine for a good housekeeping magazine. I found this ending to her character a little upsetting, as I don’t believe a woman should have to change for a man. But after a little more thinking, I realized I had to take into account the time and also Kelly’s frame of mind. She realized that Stewart was adventurous enough for the both of them, and he needed someone stable he could come home to that would keep him sane.

Oh, Technicolor. The film Rear Window was shot on was just beautiful. It’s difficult to describe why the coloring of the film is so important to me, but basically, it’s because the coloring sets the tone. Technicolor is just so rich and vibrant and saturated! This lent well to the environment, the lush green of the courtyard grass and rainbow coloring of the garden. The costumes were also enhanced. Many of the beautiful outfits Kelly wore popped right off the screen. The brightness and color also gave the film a light and joyous tone. Seeing as life around the complex was lively and never-ending, sometimes comedic, it only made sense to shoot in Technicolor. The light and joyous tone as well as the lively and sometimes comedic tone were also a great juxtaposition for a possible murder to occur. Such a heinous and sinister thing couldn’t happen in a place like that… could it?

Let’s transition over to themes. There are quite a few including:

– Stewart’s reluctance to settle down and get married to Kelly

– Is it right to stick your nose into your neighbours’ business?

– Intervening in a neighbour’s life to save their life

– The dynamics of various people from all walks of life

– Changing who you are for someone you love

– Everyone has their own struggle to overcome

I could go on and on but you get the point. Rear Window is a timeless classic. I can’t put into words the feel of the character, you would have to watch the film to understand them fully. The mix of humour, suspense, real life problems, and darkness are what make Rear Window so engrossing. Hitchcock had set out to redeem himself with Rear Window and he succeeded in doing so.

-Collins