Be the Guest Director!

This is an answer to a question asked on Match-cut by Ezee E.

“Several film festivals seem to do this for honorees, and I’m always interested at some of the decisions they make, even if I have no intention of seeing the film. With that…

It’s the ________ Film Festival, and you have been chosen as the Guest Director.

Your duty:

Pick five films to be shown to ticket buyers. The Festival recommends you pick a movie that you can talk about as you will either be doing a quick Q&A afterwards about the film or an introduction before the film. The festival would also prefer an overall theme to your films, but again, you are the guest director. They will supply a print of the film.

And go!”

I’ve been a little down lately because things that have been going on in and around my life, and I have an unfortunate tendency to allow these bad influences to really depress me, and sour my view of the world. So, my list of films is about “Loss, sacrifice, hope”. Each film deals with a loss or a sacrifice in some way, but still manages to offer some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. I tried to keep it varied, and interpreted loss, sacrifice and hope in different ways. It took me a while to settle on this list, I had about 20 that I thought would fit.

City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)
Chaplin’s work consistently offers a balance between comedy and tragedy, and while there is a sense that the laughter is a form of hope, it lies more in the Tramp’s willingness to sacrifice his already meagre poverty to help the blind girl. It reminds me of an Archie Comic I once read, where it’s Christmas and there is a santa clause raising money. First Mr. Banks comes by and gives $100, then Jughead comes along and offers $10. Mr. Banks scolds Jughead for not being generous enough, but the Santa Clause interrupts to say that while Mr. Banks gave more, in reality give or take $100 from his pocket is of little consequence, for Jughead $10 is a small fortune. It’s this reason that the Tramp’s selfless sacrifice takes on far more resonance than giving, he’s selling away everything he has to make the person he loves happy. The reward is not immediate, but watching that final shot, there is no doubt that it was worth it.

The Virgin Spring (Bergman, 1960)
As far as I can tell, the Virgin Spring is simultaneously Bergman’s most bleak and most hopeful film. Set in 14th century Sweden, the beloved daughter of peasants who is brutally raped and murdered. By a twist of fate, the murderers show up at the family home and the father finds out the people he’s housing and feeding killed his daughter. I almost put The Limey on my list, and both follow a similar idea of redemption. The film doesn’t offer revenge as redeemable, or even rewarding. Yet, the film’s final moments offer a miracle that seem to restore the beauty of the world. Through all the darkness, there is that single ray of light that makes this film hopeful.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds (Miyazaki, 1984)
The loss in Nausicaä, is the loss of the world and the environment. The world as we know it has been destroyed, and now most of the surface is covered with poisonous plants and spores, and giant bugs. Nausicaä is the princess of a valley that has not been infected because of a wind that prevents the spores from settling. Caught between two nations that threaten to destroy the world once again, the film chronicles a cycle of destruction that humanity seems to fall into again and again, first destroying the planet, then ourselves. The hope is offered in Nausicaä who doesn’t try to fight against the world around her, instead harvesting the plant life finding it’s not quite as deadly as was originally noticed. She finds herself caught between the warring, and sacrifices her body for the benefit for mankind. Her gift though is noticed, and a new cycle has begun as her life is restored.

Stella Dallas (Vidor, 1937)
I was surprised by how much I loved this film, it’s pure melodrama and it’s very simplistic in presentation. The minimalism and Stanwyck’s presence make the film a whirlwind of emotion. Stella is a spoiled and ambitious young woman who marries above her class so that she might be able to have all the money she wants. Her greed eclipses all her relationships, but soon when she has her daughter, everything takes a back seat to her adoration for her child. I always find films that chronicle a mother’s love for a child very fascinating, and underrepresented in film. Though I almost chose The Reckless Moment above it, both films demonstrate mothers that don’t quite fit the traditional model oft presented in Hollywood cinema. What I liked about Bennett in The Reckless Moment was her lack of warmth, and what I like about Stella is her lack of refinement. When she comes to realise that she must ruin what her daughter thinks of her, so as to let her live her own life. This sacrifice was the final step in Stella’s rejection of her selfish ways. Her sacrifice was not in vain

The Misfits (Huston, 1961)
Every character in the Misfits (as the title suggests) doesn’t quite fit into society. There is one of the last cowboys, a divorcee, an older woman and an army vet who has nothing left. Each one of them is on a journey to find that something to fill the emptiness they feel. Each has shared some kind of loss that effects them on a day to day basis, even holding them back from feeling and reaching out to the world around them. By the end, I’m not even sure they all find redemption, but at least a few of them have come to accept their state while also reaching out to the world around them. For me, the crucial moment is when Monroe realises what will happen to the wild mustang that they have wrangled, and speaks out against what is being done. Even though that sadness still seems to hang over most of them, the conscious change that she makes and fights for strikes me as being hopeful for the lost soul. Bad things may happen to good people, but it’s up to us as individuals to rise above that and assert our humanity.

Honourable mentions (I almost went with one of these, tomorrow I’ll probably want to change it)

La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc (Dreyer, 1928)
Little Women (Cukor, 1933)
Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944)
It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946)
The Reckless Moment (Ophuls, 1949)

4 responses to “Be the Guest Director!

  1. Ooo, I’m no martyr. I don’t actually make big sacrifices. I think though, there is the idea that willfully or not people find themselves in unhappy situations and are still able to see goo in themselves or the world, that’s really what I’m trying to highlight. Though, I guess I didn’t do a very good job at it. My life isn’t that bad, I’m just not the most balanced individual and some outside things have been tearing parts of my life apart, and not in a typical late adolescent “my life sucks” kind of thing.

  2. I love your choices. I find there are moments of “The Virgin Spring” that haunt me consistently: Tore whipping himself in preparation, wrestling with the tree, the look on the mother’s face when she sees the dress.

    I can’t manage to finish “The Misfits”. Something about it hits too close to home with me.

  3. It’s a difficult film, and while I last saw the Virgin Spring several years ago, the images are still vividly painted in my mind.

    “The Misfits” is just as heart wrenching, but obviously in a very different way. I can’t watch it often because it really does have a huge effect on me. Very good, but very sad film.

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