Walt Disney’s “Song of the South”

While researching my Undergraduate Thesis on Walt Disney, Goodness!, I visited the Walt Disney Archives in Burbank in 1986 to view Song of the South, their only film unavailable for public viewing. Not only did they deny me access to the film, but they refused to answer any questions about it. “Have you shelved the film because of racist stereotypes like Uncle Remus?”

“We cannot comment on that.”

My thesis was not in fact on the racism (nor sexism) inherent in the Disney creed but rather in their tendency to simplify (or rather stupefy) details of story. The best example of this was their decision to keep Jiminy Cricket alive throughout the Disney version of Pinnochio as a road buddy when in fact Pinnochio kills the insect in the opening pages of the original story by Carlos Collodi. The irony is that Song of the South is not a skeleton in Disney’s closet – Uncle Tom’s and all – but an example of just another film which uses gimmicks and song – Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Zip-A-Dee-A – to cover up bland story-telling and stereotypes that have undercut many Hollywood films.

To say nothing of the country as a whole.

Screenplay: “Nogo, The Anti-Trump”

The film opens with an extreme close-up of a black man, Nogo, driving at night on a deserted road. The camera pulls back to reveal Nogo being followed by a full-size pickup truck, its high beams bearing down. Nogo is forced off the road. The driver and passengers, each bearing arms, lean out of the truck as Nogo leaps out, tire iron in hand.“Tolerance! You got that?” He smashes out a headlight and then the other as the driver raises a shotgun. Nogo stares back, defiant. “You better have more than that.”

Black out, gun shots. Opening credits roll. 

Yes, just think Django Unchained meets Punch Drunk Love meets Easy Rider.

Canada’s Soul: St. John’s to Port Aux Basques

After three days at Will’s house in St. John’s, I began to hitchhike back west.

June 14, Ride One: St. John’s to Kelce Groose Turnoff (Brown Rabbit) Old and young guy, dog hair all over the back seat.

Ride Four: Argentia Turnoff to Marystown Turnoff (Red LTD) Scottish guy, still wild, music just as wild, “Watch yourself down there. It’s back woodsy.”

Ride Nine: Frenchman’s Turnoff to Fortune (Red Schneider truck) “LSD is shit.”

With the ferry service to the French island of St. Pierre Miquelon cancelled, I hoped for a ride on a trawler, the Marguerite, and stayed overnight in a cheap motel and watched Butterflies Are Free. The Marguerite left without me. I hitchhiked back up the peninsula and then across Newfoundland.

Ride One: Fortune to Grand Banks (Turquoise Ford) Wanted to do something for me…”If I wasn’t married.”

Ride Five: Trans Canada Highway Turnoff to Cornerbrook (Old blue car) Eldery lady spoke of mongoloid mentally retarded boy; offered me a little red bible.

Ride Six: Cornerbrook to Stephenville (Old green car with no back seat) Doug drove (getting married in two weeks) with Pat (intense, speed user) and Brian (hard drinker) in the front seat; all moose and salmon poachers, each been to jail a few times, went to the dump looking for bears; drank four beers by the time they dropped me off at the ferry.

Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers is known for its neorealism, cinema verite as they say, images so real that we have to be told they’re not.

Title: BATTLE OF ALGIERS, THE / BATTAGLIA DI ALGERI, LA • Year: 1965 • Dir: PONTECORVO, GILLO • Ref: BAT020AB • Credit: [ CASBAH/IGOR / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]

Its strength, however, lies not only in its images.

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But in its development of a central theme: our inherent inhumanity to one another.

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The chaos of knowing that.
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And that it will never change.images-2

The Cattle Drive in Howard Hawks’ “Red River”

It’s not the story nor the setting nor even characters that make Howard Hawks’ 1948 Red River an epic, but the images of the cattle drive.screenshot-42

A herd of 9,000 used in shooting this iconic story element. screenshot-43Nothing compares to these images throughout the 133-minute film.screenshot-46

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Except maybe Montgomery Cliff sucking poison out of Joanne Dru’s shoulder.screenshot-44

That’s pretty good too.

The Failure of Parker’s “Birth of a Nation”

Birth of a Nation had promise – a compelling narrative most of all – but fails. Instead of exploring the contorted depths of American history, Parker trains the camera on himself, too often in close-up, reacting to repetitive brutality. 15-birth-of-nation-w1200-h630Violent images dominate – people’s teeth getting hammered out, exposed brains – when  the story of a remarkable man, Nat Turner, could have been developed, asking who really spoke of this: As we pushed on to the house, I discovered some one run round the garden, and thinking it was some of the white family, I pursued them, but finding it was a servant girl belonging to the house, I returned to commence the work of death. item14The film does not elucidate nor does it have vision, as did Steve McQueen in 12 Years a Slave, but is solely a chronicle of violence, flat and tediously rendered, craft-less as anything of the Superhero genre.

Looking-Outness in Film: Murnau, Ozu & Varda

I dream of looking outside the image.

F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (1927)

F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (1927)

Escaping from the frame.

Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story" (153)

Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” (153)

Considering what could be.

Agnes Varda's "Le Pointe Courte"

Agnes Varda’s “Le Pointe Courte” (1954)

Getting my head on different.