10 February 2021
Some movies are more memorable than others. The ones that endure blend art with life in a way that creates magic, wonderment and spellbinding illusion. The spectator is offered the delightful escape of theatricality that removes him from his confining self, and takes him into another world. That world is alive with fantasy, adventure, passion, pleasure.
The movies that do not endure are the message flicks: appallingly realistic, in a way that feels fake, cheap and gaudy: extremely serious — to the point of no longer being able to be taken seriously; and cloddily vehement in tone, color and action. That world is bereft of beauty, tender sentiment, and the type of hope that keeps any eternal truth alive.
When a motion picture is based upon a written work, fictional or otherwise, it endorses all that was memorable in that piece of writing; and it discards everything worth forgetting. The human memory can operate in the same manner: distilling truths into an enduring flame of fervent virtue; or casting into a lonely closet the beastly emotions that threaten to overwhelm the spirit at any moment.
It is the work of the novelist — and the screenwriter — to comb through that closeted fury and to tame the intimate cauldron of crude sensations in order to arrive at whatever glory begs to be born from those horrible and humble bits and pieces of the past. Those hidden, haunted horrors can either ascend to art, or descend to distorted images, words and sounds that subvert the human will to survive.
Film art does not merely contend with good vs. evil, triumph vs. tragedy, or hope vs. despair. The placement of each element, in proportion to one another, there is the art of film.
I have seen mothers prostituting their children, and I have seen children prostituting their mothers. I’ve witnessed women surrendering their final breaths on this earth to ensure the safety and well-being of their children; and I’ve also witnessed children sacrificing their own selves, their own self-interest, so that their mothers could face another day here on earth.
I’ve forced myself to look away from a father who abandoned his own child, even as that son worked to be somebody in the eyes of this man who did not merit a scintilla of what his son endeavoured to give to him. And I’ve marveled at the love that an old man gave to his boy who had cost him so much financially, but who provided him with the will to live, longer than this father would have lived without that miracle of life in his life.
You might say that only one side of that coin of humanity tells the true tale of the story of love, the reality of the nobility of the heart. I would agree, but I must also state that those magnanimous acts of virtue realize their sublime heights of heroism and grandeur because of the ugly and grotesque relief against which they are placed, against which they must fight to attain supremacy of heart, mind, and soul. Goodness must delineate itself in the face of evil, not in the absence of it. The greater the evil, the more goodness must act to overcome it.
God has promised so much to the faithful among His flock. Strive to be worthy of it; do not live in contradiction of the blessings that shall come your way.
The sight of evil cannot prevail over the image of innocence if you hold fast to that immortal ideal and refuse to lower your expectations of the magnificence that is every human being, not the mess that anyone could, without the grace of God, become. The work of the devil sometimes wears a disguise, but evil is felt more than seen. The Lord works in mysterious ways. The whisper of goodness to your soul demands peace, and quiet, and the serenity that defies loud and obnoxious people, and the tawdry sights and sounds of the world threatening to spin out of control.
The world remains steadfast and true in its majestic orbit; and that world is not for sale. Neither are the consciences of good men and good women. The magic of movies delights in those truths, even if the makers of those moving pictures did not always invest in them. The audiences did though.
The following citations are from fictions that became films, and from films that told truths as stories come to life.
Captain Blood, 1934, Warner Brothers
Dr. Peter Blood: “My business was with his wounds, not his politics."
Baron Jeffreys: “Did you know the law that any person who does knowingly receive, harbor, comfort or succor a rebel is as guilty as if he himself bore arms?”
Dr. Peter Blood: “I only knew my sacred duty as a physician.”
Baron Jeffreys: “Your sacred duty, rogue, is to your king!”
Dr. Peter Blood: “I thought it was to my fellow man.”
Casablanca, 1942, Warner Brothers
Victor Laszlo, the freedom-loving fugitive hunted by the Nazis, contemplating his own possible extinction, followed by the extermination of other good people:
And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can't kill that fast.
The Sound of Music, 1965, Argyle Enterprises, Inc.
Herr Zeller: “Oh, come now, Baron, would you have us believe that Austria alone holds a monopoly on virtue?”
Captain von Trapp: “Herr Zeller, some of us prefer Austrian voices raised in song to ugly German threats.”
Herr Zeller: “The ostrich buries his head in the sand, and sometimes in the flag.” Turning toward the Austrian flag, prominently displayed. “Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming — and it is coming, Captain — perhaps they would get further with you by setting their words to music.”
Captain von Trapp: “If the Nazis take over Austria, I have no doubt, Herr Zeller, that you will be the entire trumpet section.”
Herr Zeller: “You flatter me, Captain.”
Captain von Trapp: “Oh, how clumsy of me. I meant to accuse you.”
Le Comte de Monte Cristo, 1954, Les Productions Jacques Roitfeld, La Société des Films Sirius, et al.
In the Dumas novel, The Count of Monte Cristo (page 28, Chapter VII), a bit of wisdom is shared by the monarchist father, Monsieur Noirtier, with his son Gérard Noirtier. This son also goes by the alias M. de Villefort, procureur du roi, crown prosecutor in Marseille. The career of the ruthlessly ambitious Gérard is imperiled by his father, an ardent Bonapartist and French revolutionary. Gérard de Villefort comes to realize that Edmond Dantès intends to carry out the last wish of his dying captain by conveying a letter from the imprisoned Napoleon on the isle of Elba to Monsieur Noirtier in Paris.
Gérard condemns Edmond Dantès to the prison fortress on Château d’If as a way to prevent Dantès from revealing the truth about Father Villefort and his allegiance to Bonaparte. Gérard also burns the letter intended for his father, the loyal partisan of Napoleon. On the surface, the act appears to protect his father from the politically incorrect position of being a Bonapartiste; in reality, that dirty laundry would stymy the career of Gérard de Villefort.
« . . . Je le croyais assez philosophe pour comprendre qu’il n’y a pas de meurtre en politique. En politique, mon cher, vous le savez comme moi, il n’y a pas d’hommes, mais des idées ; pas de sentiments, mais des intérêts ; en politique, on ne tue pas un homme : on supprime un obstacle, voilà tout . . . »
“ . . I thought it philosophical enough to understand that there is no murder in politics. In politics, my dear, you know as well as I do, there are no men, but ideas; no feelings, but interests; in politics, you don't kill a man: you remove an obstacle, that's all . . .”