Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Home Viewer 8: Here Come Some Brides

For June, I promised our local paper a column on "June Brides." And immediately regretted cornering myself into yet another clich├ęd theme--which I weaseled into the following, culminating in a petulant snit as I bring up The Shining, of all things. Feh. I think.

“Up, up, fair bride,” the poet John Donne calls, his voice typically imperative. And so he should be, as he entreats the “phoenix” bride to “come forth … To an inseparable union.” Ah, what a fond dream it is, one that the movies conjure all the time—and stir up, shake and shatter. Let’s turn to face the bride during this most stereotypical month for (here come famous last words) “what no one may put asunder.”

Princess Brides

Some brides stand in patience, certain and self-assured, not in the back waiting to process, but already at the altar, to be approached. Arwen in The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)—as dewy-eyed as Liv Tyler may play her—not merely courts but claims her husband, withstanding the dangers of the Ring-quest and the loss of her immortality, leaving her father and asserting her place. The film gives her more Grrl Power than Tolkein’s book, although in the end she remains a blushing bride.

Rosalind Russell, though, blushes not at all as she dangles an almost-ex-husband (Cary Grant) and an eager-to-please almost-to-be-one (Ralph Bellamy) in His Girl Friday (1940)—and don’t let the title fool you: Hildy Johnson is her own girl, an ace reporter whose Tommy-gun delivery and cyclone wit toss both men every which way she pleases, until she gets the man she wants—and probably a Pulitzer in the bargain.

There is one bride of solemn wisdom, both princess and companion, away in an ideal tower—but thankfully real when you finally reach her: Audrey Hepburn in Robin and Marian (1976). Not a great film, but what better bride to still the bluster of an aging Robin Hood, played by Sean Connery with his usual knowing wink? True to form, Hepburn underplays, inviting us to pay special attention, until she becomes the center of things—no mean treat, with James Bond unsuccessfully straining to save the day every ten minutes.

Runaway Brides

Like greatness, some women have bride-ness thrust upon them. In both Picture Bride (1994) and Sweet Land (2005), mail-order brides struggle to reconcile with strangers in strange lands. Picture Bride’s Riyo (Youki Kudoh) flees her troubles in early-twentieth-century Japan and goes to Hawaii as a mail order/”picture” bride. Isolated and unsure, she slowly finds, if not happiness, at least herself, amid the island’s beauty and hardships. (By the way, look for Toshiro Mifune as a benshi, a performer who accompanied Japanese silent films, providing narration and dialogue. His spirited cameo out in the sugar-cane field, brandishing his wooden samurai sword, is one of the great movie-within-a-movie moments.)

On the mainland, the mail-order tribulations continue in the rural Minnesota of Sweet Land, with the added burden of post-Word-War-I anti-German sentiment. Structured as a family memory, the film looks through Inge’s (Elizabeth Reaser) eyes at those who reject her, while managing to ask us in the present to reconsider our own attitudes—in which, for instance, “official language” acquisition becomes more important than the quality of the “outsider’s” character. Beyond that, though, the film remains a personal story of all-but-despair and the blind persistence of love, beautifully filmed—like Picture Bride—so that Nature broods over these melancholy stories, trying Her best to provide moments of sun and shade as needed.

Brides of the Monster

You’d be surprised—or maybe not; but who am I to judge your view of marriage—how many horror films have “bride” in the title, or feature marriage as both pit and pendulum. The most interesting ones involve the notion that marriage “changes” a person—as in I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958), in which Tom Tryon (who wrote The Other) is body-snatched, giving bride Gloria Talbott one Atom-Age Gothic honeymoon. It’s a well-worn SF theme (with variations featured in, for instance, the old Outer Limits series, with William Shatner—which itself was more or less remade as The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)—and I’ll let you decide if you’d rather see Bill S. or Johnny Depp as the alien spouse); and for the non-SF variant there’s always The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)—remade as Sommersby (1993).

For me, though, the Wicked Queen of the conjugal switcheroo is The Shining (1980), Stanley Kubrick’s trapped-in-a-marriage allegory, with fire-ax. Wendy’s (Shelly Duvall) husband (Jack at his most eyebrow-arching) stares, glares, and pitches homicidal fits as he lurches like Frankenstein’s creature to “correct” his wife and son. On that note, allow me to convey best wishes to all you June Brides out there. May your marriage last “for ever, and ever, and ever.”

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rating Game Redux 38: Meet Some Beatles

More impossibilities for our local paper's Rating Game: "Best Beatles Songs." I made the mistake–after picking the first without hesitation–of going to a Beatles website that listed everything they recorded. It is, if you love pop music, overwhelming. So, perhaps more than any other Rating Game Gang of Three, the following is essentially random–again, except for the first, which is all I need.

“All You Need Is Love”

Just when their pop status reached what seemed an unattainable height, the Beatles invited us all up for a sing-along—anyone remember the world-wide satellite linkup broadcast?

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”

They were good at bitter love—and okay, sad love too, as with “Yesterday”—but when John ruefully invites “all you clowns” to “gather round,” misery couldn’t be better.

(And thanks, Stephe, for all those impromptu acoustic hootenannies in grad school. Every time I think of this tune--and a good dozen or so others we'd rough up like big happy dogs--I can see us in your dorm room or on Foley Beach, yawping with Tom, another lifetime ago.)


All the rocking of early Beatles with all the exasperation of—well, John, early or late.

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