Film Masterpieces: In a Die Hard Society

     What does it take to enjoy a good film? Can a person even view a film without some mindless action? The audience of today wants to have the plot ground up fed to it like baby food. It makes me sick to see many people conform to what society deems normal.

     The great films I viewed this semester at least gave me a vision of what movies should be. I was very confused until now on what a good movie should be, but I think these films taught me well my tortured lesson.

     The first film shows me what a film should be like visually. William Wyler's Wuthering Heights and its breathtaking cinematography by Gregg Toland won me over. This was as good as it gets, and this was 1939. Emily Brontė must have visualized scenes and experienced scenes in 1847 just as the film recorded in splendor for us. The story line is condensed and traditionalized, but the beauty still shines through. Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon are excellent as Heathcliff and Cathy. The vision of this film is much more than just a cinematic adaptation of a book; it is a visual masterpiece. Visuals are very important to any film, but I still rate Wuthering Heights as my third favorite of the semester.

     The third film of the semester was The Heiress, directed by William Wyler in 1949. Regarding this film, I feel the acting carries it along. The other aspects are good--nice sets (the cinematography makes the house look very large, which portrays the wealth of the family nicely) and good music by Aaron Copland. They both add tremendously but are not the major point. Olivia de Havilland (who also played Melanie in Gone With the Wind) is awesome as plain and shy Cathy Sloper. Montgomery Clift is good as the sly and dashing Morris Townsend. This film is most inspiring work to anyone who has ever been hurt and wanted to stand up for him/herself. Cathy sure does this to Morris at the end as he beats on the door and she strides up the stairs in triumphant victory. The film is not very true to Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, as Cathy often acts out of character according to the book. Had the film been true to the book, it would have never ended the way it did with Cathy evoking revenge on her father as well as Morris. I still enjoyed The Heiress very much, and the ending made me very pleased as I recalled wanting to do something similar in the past, but I never did, so perhaps that is the reason I love it so much. The Heiress is my second favorite of the film adaptations we viewed this semester. This film is also my vision of what a good plot and good acting can instill.

     My favorite film shows what happens when great acting, a great plot and great visuals form into a masterpiece. A Streetcar Named Desire, directed in 1951 by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, is that masterpiece. The acting is on the level of perfection. Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh are spectacular as Stanley and Blanche. Brando and Leigh clash so superbly that it makes me wonder how they avoided getting angry at each other on the set. Karl Malden as Mitch, the man who wants to believe everyone is honest (see "The Wool Got in His Eyes" by Brian Gray in Montage). The only role for the basis of sanity is Stella (played by Kim Hunter), who holds the surrounding chaotic personalities together. This film is like a shot glass full of life drunk very quickly it stings you. This film is not only true to its on stage predecessor; it is a masterpiece of art. The only problem is the lack of artistic freedom allowed when the film was made in the 50's. The rape scene turns out to be more than a harsh grab by Stanley. The prospect of Blanche's husband being gay is barely even hinted at, and Stanley and Stella are not even seen sleeping in the same bed. Had the artistic freedom been all there the film might have been unbelievable.

David Martin

Table of Contents