Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wild River (1960) @ the Harvard Film Archive and the Walking Ethnic Stereotype

Lee Remick as Carol: You're getting awful human, Chuck.
Montgomery Clift as Chuck: I've always been human.


The Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, MA is featuring Elia Kazan films this month. Knowing that I was a big Kazan fan (and classic film buff in general), Carlos gave me a clipped article from the Boston Globe about the series and suggested that we go see the film Wild River (1960) in particular. Wild River has yet to be released on home video (in the US) and it's distribution is very limited. The HFA just received a new print of the film and was showing the print to the public for the first time. It was an exclusive chance to see a lesser-known Kazan film and I was excited to partake in the experience.

The 15-minute lecture that preceded the movie was very informative and I learned a lot about the movie. Kazan wrote the screenplay for this film and considered it one of his favorites of all the films he directed. He was meticulous, writing 6 versions of the script and insisting that the film be shot on location in Tennessee. At first he had intended Marlon Brando to star as Chuck Glover, but Brando was otherwise occupied and reluctant to do the film. From what I understood from Kevin's lecture, Brando wasn't terribly fond of Kazan. The lead role went to Montgomery Clift, who was in his post-accident, alcohol-infused phase. He stayed sober throughout most of the movie, which I guess was a good thing. Kazan had a soft spot for Lee Remick, to whom he gave her first screen role in A Face in the Crowd (1957), and he gave her the role of Carol. Of the cast, the highlight for sure is Jo Van Fleet. The 46-year old actress played the 80-something matriarch Ella Garth.

Wild River is about the tumultous Tenessee River which floods in the Fall, taking down houses, flooding land and killing the townsfolk. Ella Garth, owns an island situated in the middle of the River. With Autumn approaching, the floods threaten to take over her land but she is determined to stay put. The goverment wants her off that lands so they can harvest the flood for the dam. The Tennessee Valley Authority sends Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) over to Garth's island to convince her to leave. It's not quite so easy a job but he's determined. Glover falls in love with Carol (Lee Remick) a sad widow who lives on the island with her grandmother. Glover helps Carol find hope again. The film touches upon a lot of subjects and has a lot of interesting themes. The Great Depression and FDR's New Deal goverment are at the backdrop of the story. The creation of dams and how they affect Americans and the American landscape was an interesting theme. There is the racial divide between the white and black townsfolk as well as the divide between authority and the lay people. For what is a pretty quiet film, it has a lot to say.

I very much enjoyed Fleet's performance as Ella Garth. She had some great monologues and dialogue in general and delivered all her words with great conviction. Remick was great as widow Carol. You see her character transform during the movie. I also think there is a realness that is quite unique to Remick and she really fits into this movie quite well. Montgomery Clift however was not the best actor for this film. In the post-accident phase of his career, his performances seem quite emotionless as his face was always so frozen. I know this wasn't his fault, but it's difficult to watch an actor or actress who can't emote.

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I was really excited for this film and on a whim decided to dress up for the occassion. I hadn't worn my new 1960's style blue wiggle dress out yet so I decided to wear it to the movie. I wore my hair curly; half-tied up and half-loose. I put on my gold-colored sandals, my big gold, red and white earrings and my white Mod-style sunglasses. I was feeling very stylish and confident until I got to the theater. The HFA is a very stuffy, collegiate theater and I looked terribly out of place. Also, being Hispanic, I can't really carry the vintage look very well. While I tried to go 1960's, I ended up looking like a walking Hispanic stereotype. Here I was, curly haired with my Spanish bangs showing, a tight dress, and humongoid earrings. All I needed was to smack some gum and ask "Why you so stupid, stupid?" and the look would have been complete. I felt so out of place and I wondered if anyone thought that maybe I had gotten lost and ended up at the wrong theater. I was just waiting for someone to ask me what the hell I was doing there, so I could declare "Wait! I do belong here and I have the blog to prove it!" The community of classic film enthusiasts is predominantly white, so sometimes I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. But it could also just me being terribly self-conscious as I am wont to be. This didn't really sour my experience but it did get me thinking. And next time I go to the HFA, I'll try to dress a bit more casually.

8 comments:

  1. Raquelle,
    Haha! Luckily your attire didn't interfere with you appreciating the movie! :)

    Do the Hispanic stereotype usually dress up in vintage? If I were you I wouldn't bother with stereotypes but think of Dolores Del Rio who always had style and class.

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  2. Wild River is an interesting but ultimately disappointing film for me given its credentials. Van Fleet is definetly the high point and i recall reading somewhere about her meticulous makeup, in particular the age spots on her hands. it didnt matter if they were in the shot that day, she had to have them there as part of 'becoming' the character. she was a gifted and intense actress.
    try not to worry so much about fitting in or what others think (i have found many people dont think, period!)! i'm sure you looked awesome and if the people there couldnt appreciate it, that's their loss!

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  3. I know exactly how you feel about getting dressed up for casual events -- when I first started going to college in 2004 I used to get way overdressed and everyone else was wearing sweatpants :) Also I don't think you should worry about stereotypes in fashion. As long as you are wearing the clothes you like, and are confident, that's all that matters :) I for one am not confident at all about clothing, and I tend to wear boring clothes when I go out -- unless I'm going to New York. That's the only time I feel confident enough to spice it up! You can kind of get lost in NYC in the crowd, so it's okay to be bold. In my little town though, even tucking a shirt into your skirt can be enough to get everyone staring at you when you go to the grocery store! lol!

    Now-- About the film!!-- I think it sounds so interesting! I haven't seen many later Montgomery Clift movies but I know what you mean about the stiffness. I actually think it brought out a really sensitive, frightened quality that worked well for him in a film like The Misfits (I don't know how it would have worked in this one though) --

    The few Kazan films I've seen haven't impressed me very much, could you recommend one for me to see that may change my mind? (preferably not with Brando!) :D

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  4. Love the work of Kazan that I've seen. You definitely made me interested in this film as I haven't seen it before. Great review!

    I know about feeling out of place. Having my personal feminine style too, I've tried it many times.

    -Sebina

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  5. Wild River is one great film. And it is hard seeing Brando in Montgomery Clift's role. Clift just made the role so much his own. One thing I love about the film is that is a bit more accurate portrayal of life in the South than usually seen.

    And, Raquelle, I doubt very seriously you looked like a stereotype.I would guess you looked rather fashionable.

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  6. "The community of classic film enthusiasts is predominantly white, so sometimes I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb."

    An interesting and important observation. I can recall reading an interview with an elderly Lena Horne who said that she enjoyed staying home in her apartment watching classic films on TCM. I wondered how a woman so marginalized by the studio system in her day could find pleasure in films which, though they may have represented her era, for the most part did not represent her or her personal experience.

    At times I believe there is a universality to the stories and characters in these old films that transcends ethnicity, race, or religion. A very great many of them do not, to the point of being offensive. Can a society growing increasingly diverse still find value in these films? Is there a point where they become irrelevant? You, Raquelle, not only as an Hispanic woman, but as a young woman, can answer that better than most of us.

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  7. going to watch this film....Thank you for the blog...Put it in my favorites

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  8. I saw this movie when it came out at the age of 6 and it made a big impression on me. I loved the song which was a mix of blues and country. Being from Tennessee I could relate to the writing of the script and the performances. Cliff played the part well and showed plenty of emotion about the family he had to displace. If you have not seen the movie yet do some research on the TVA and its history. It will bring into focus the trauma that the displaced people endured.

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