In a perfect world, Do the Right Thing is a movie that should not exist.
The ideal world would be without the things demonstrated in the film: anger, prejudice, racism. Yet that is the world we live in, and have before the late 80s and still to this day. The list of names belonging to lives lost due to racial injustice is far to the point of many of them being forgotten by all who did not know them. This is why Spike Lee’s uncanny piece of art will almost always be a film that will resonate with any generation.
Within the last few weeks, there have been at least two instances at the dinner table where my siblings and I were at each others throats. The ultimate discussion (with varying amounts of volume) were taking place over a subject of vital importance: Which was the best film of the Star Wars saga (not including spinoffs)? Despite my best efforts to ensure Connor and Jackson how great the original trilogy was, they stayed defiant that Revenge of the Sith (Episode 3) is the best.
More than likely, you have become part of a “fandom” at one point in your life. It may not be as vast as those of Star Wars or Star Trek, but it is there. You invest in characters and they become more than just entertainment: They become like an extra family member you feel you did not need at first.
As we reach our teen years, world events start to play a bigger part in our lives in the classroom.
When I entered middle school back in 2000 (!), more people were talking about the election, only to be followed a year later by the 9/11 attacks. I can only imagine what the talks will be like with young people now regarding the COVID-19 pandemic (especially those like my brother Jackson who are in the graduating class of 2020). These were evident in my mind as I was watching Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants, a reflection of his own childhood during World War II in France.
Malle’s film (which translated is “Goodbye, Children”) focuses on the new semester of a Catholic boarding school, told mainly through the eyes of young Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse). About the age of 12 or 13, Julien is one of the brighter students of his class, yet still prone to cracking jokes and causing mild mischief. As any child would be at that age (regardless of when they lived), he acts tough around his friends but is still vunerable around his mother (his father is always at work).
Things change in the semester when a new student arrives: Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto). As is the case in all schools in society, he is picked on from the get go. He becomes Julien’s bunk mate, and eventual academic rival. It is only when a secret begins to be revealed that the two become eventual friends.
As stated before, this is a reflection of writer/director Malle’s own childhood (he is the Julien character). It is therefore evident that all minor details are completely accurate. The trading with the kitchen assistant Joseph (Francois Negret) of his mother’s jam for stamps, talking about the latest books read, smoking in secret, deep conversations (“I’m the only one in this school that thinks about death.”, Julien says), and the countless times of not paying attention in class (admit it, we all are guilty of this at least once in our childhood).
I truly admire how Malle takes his time to even mention world events. Though it can be rather easy to guess what time the film takes place in (mainly due to the production and costume design), it is not until around the 40 minute mark when kids even mention Hitler. Why is that? Simple. The movie is not about what is happening outside the school, but what is happening inside.
Parents, it is rather somewhat surprising to learn the film is PG. I would say it is one of the more “hard” PG films I have seen. That is not to say there is visible nudity/sexuality or anything. The boys basically talk about it a lot (as many are prone to at that age), not to mention the casual swearing all boys that age tend to do. The whole subject matter of the film makes me feel it should have been PG-13.
All the events of the film lead to a brief moment where one of the boys makes one simple, fatal mistake. Some viewers may be prone to accusation, wondering how he could do such a thing. While that reaction to accuse is understandable, we need to stop and think: How many mistakes as kids did we make that we regretted afterward? I doubt anyone would be truthful if they did not say at least one.
Though the consequences may not be as severe as those in the film, we still remember them years later. To be clear, I am not talking about the ones we look back on and laugh (none of those “kids say the darndest things” moments and the like). I am talking about the ones that fill you with remorse and that, even years later, you are still not entirely sure if you have completely forgiven yourself.
When the film ends (and we are done dabbing our teary eyes), we eventually remember that to err is truly human. Now to the next part, where to forgive is utterly divine.
In just under two months of being quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have found many ways of passing the time, and technology has certainly helped with that. That is one of the main reasons why a story like Rear Window would not be able to be told today. There would be too much else for a protagonist to do in order to combat the boredom.
It isn’t that L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) entirely wants to watch his neighbors: it’s that he has nothing else he can do. After a freak accident that has left him in a wheel chair for weeks with a broken leg, the photographer Jeffries is forced into his own form of social distancing during the hotter days of the year when everyone has their windows open. His only real visitors are his caretaker Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his high-class girlfriend Lisa (the immortal beauty Grace Kelly). It is Stella who worries more of Jeffries’ spying activity: “We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms.”, she states.
Despite all this, he continues his observations. Ms. Torso the ballet dancer, the single Ms. Lonely Hearts, the struggling songwriter, and the newly married couple are some of the neighbors he tries to keep up with at a distance. Suspicion begins to truly arise when the salesman (Raymond Burr) across the courtyard has had events occur that result in the salesman’s invalid wife no longer being present. Jeffries surmises that murder has occurred.
The whole film is told in Jeffries’ shoes (or cast, as it were). We can only piece together certain bits of dialogue that certain neighbors speak (sometimes drowned out by the musician in his practice sessions). We never look out the window as audience members, but as Jeffries. If a naïve filmmaker remade the film nowadays, there may be scenes outside the window when Lisa or Jeff’s old friend Detective Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey) go out to investigate. That would ruin the intimacy that the audience has made with the main character, and make us care far less for him and his situation.
Of course, most directors would not even dream of trying to improve upon works from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. I have yet to discover another director who was better at hijacking the psyche of their audience (which, he once said, should be played “like a piano”). The audience is a marionette puppet, and he masterfully controls the strings.
He also was, I feel, horribly underrated when it came to comedy: Hitch’s talk show appearance on The Dick Cavett Show is still funny nearly 50 years later. In Rear Window, the comedy (mainly given by Thelma Ritter’s character) reveals his sense of humor as nothing short of unique, though some may call it an acquired taste.
He knew also how to use his stars as well. With James Stewart, Hitch used Jimmy’s “every man” persona (which Stewart was most known for along with his supreme kindness off screen) to make us feel even more for the disabled photographer. The director was also a fan of using blondes in leading roles, and here he gives Grace Kelly one of the most sensational character entrances in any film ever made.
Despite all that, he is still known as having been difficult to work with if you were an actor (most notably Tippi Hedren). He once said that Walt Disney had the best cast system: “If he doesn’t like an actor, he just tears him up.” (Remember what I said about his humor?)
Parents, when Hitchcock films were released, there was always talk about how much “sexual content” was allowed on the screen (which increased more in his later films, especially 1972’s Frenzy). Rear Window is rather mild, with only shots of the ballet dancer in revealing clothing being watched from a distance. I would say middle school at above.
If someone told me they had never seen a film by Hitch and wanted to start a binge watching session, I would tell them to start with Rear Window, which I would easily rank in his top three or four films he has ever made. Toward the end, when the shades of the window are drawn down, we realize that we are doing what all great movies make us do: stand outside our lives and look in.
When revisiting the library of Disney/Pixar, one gets the same sensation when going to the dessert table. Everything (for the most part) looks delicious, and there are only a few that do not agree with your palette. Of course, there are the favorites that you dive into and that most everyone says are the best (i.e., Finding Nemo, the Toy Story films, The Incredibles), as well as others that, while sweet, don’t offer anything completely new (like the more recent disappointing Onward). Then, of course, there are those that hit you to your inner core.
What stands out to me the most about WALL E is the titular character himself. It has been about seven centuries since the human race has left the earth, leaving only robots to help clean up the mess. The last one left is WALL E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class). His day consists of grabbing all the left over junk he can into his torso and take the resulting cubes to stack on top of each other (somewhat reminiscent of the game Minecraft, if you think about it). Of course, that does not include the knickknacks he keeps for himself, including Rubik’s cubes, lighters, and (his most prized possession), a VHS of Hello Dolly. Yet despite all this, it is clear he is lonely.
All that is changed with the appearance of Eve (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), leaving little time before WALL E is smitten. Despite his best (and mainly laugh out loud) attempts, he keeps striking out. Even still, they manage a perfectly orchestrated first date, which is interrupted when Eve discovers that the Earth still supports plant life. This leads to her and the titular hero heading out to space to the Axiom, where humans have been on a form of vacation that lasted much longer than the planned five years.
There are two things that Disney/Pixar are always able to serve us with a sort of subtle panache. The first are visuals, and WALL E has the best yet offered by the cinema dream team to date. Consider the space dancing scene between WALL E and Eve, of which I cannot think of any words to give it the credit it deserves.
The second is a cast of supporting characters: the cold, hard lined Auto pilot (MacinTalk), the clean freak robot M-O, the ship’s captain (Jeff Garlin), and the former Buy n Large (the company from centuries past) President, played by the ever charming character actor Fred Willard.
It is clear of the inspirations that were on the minds of the filmmakers (the ship’s computer is voiced by Sigourney Weaver, the autopilot is a red dot, etc), yet the inspiration of the main protagonist clearly refers to Chaplin’s character of the little tramp. He is an outcast, looked down upon, but still has a good heart (so to speak). It is clear that Eve is out of his league (she is more hi tech, and has an almost literal cannon of an arm). Still, this does not stop our lovable rolling metal hero from pursuing the love of his life.
In a sense, this is clearly how we should also be loving God (though obviously not in the sense the movie has put it): not caring how others see us, unafraid to make fools of ourselves, being bolder than we knew possible.
Parents, it is Disney. The kids will be fine.
There are some, I imagine, who may not like the film as much due to the storyline with the human race. It indeed could be seen as political. When the Captain yells “I don’t want to survive! I want to live!”, it did indeed feel somewhat akward when considering our current isolation due to COVID-19.
However, I would argue if that is all you got out of this film then you missed the main point. The humans are not at all the centerpiece. The center piece is the romance, and how irrational love can seem.