Wild River - I'm not a huge Kazan fan, but he always does a tremendous job with actors, and this ranks right up there with his very best. Montgomery Clift is a Tennessee Valley Authority agent, tasked with getting stubborn Jo Van Fleet to vacate her soon-to-be-underwater island. Along the way he gets involved with the woman's granddaughter (Lee Remick) and becomes entangled in local racial tensions. All three threads of the plot are very compelling, with some unexpected turns and complex character development. Clift (at this point in the midst of an array of personal problems) gives a mighty fine performance, and although Remick fails to impress at first, she comes into her own by the end. Albert Salmi is also memorable as the slimy, sadistic lead racist. But the absolute star of the cast is Jo Van Fleet, who was also so terrific in East of Eden. She does an awful lot with relatively little screen time, and won over my sympathy even after I was certain I'd despise her character. Round things off with a lovely, understated score and some surprisingly good cinematography for a Kazan film... the last few minutes contain some powerful images. A terrific movie about the costs and benefits of "progress." Rating: 9
The Long Day Closes - This film has much in common with its predecessor, Distant Voices, Still Lives. A bittersweet collection of brief nostalgic episodes, with heaps of songs... as before, both diegetic and non-diegetic. Again, the memories are both good and bad, emphasizing the small comforts and minor torments of life. In this case, the painful events are not in the form of an abusive father (in fact, Bud's father is entirely absent and I don't think he's even mentioned) but come from bullies, school humiliations, and religious fears. Although many of the joys come from the same kind of wondrous family moments as in the previous film, there's a fair share of little private moments and more important, escapes to the movies. Bud is often seen going to (or desiring to go to) the cinema, and audio clips from The Magnificent Ambersons and Meet Me in St. Louis, among others, are played over various events. And once again, Davies plays with chronology, although not in a jumping-back-and-forth manner. Instead, time seems to flow like a river, eroding gaps between memories as one flows seamlessly into the next. It's a beautiful film, both haunting and warm, and one that shows a growth in Davies' abilities as filmmaker, especially with so many incredibly striking compositions. I also want to praise Tina Malone and Jimmy Wilde, who provide some terrific comic relief. And I love that Davies has enough faith in his audience to present a racist incident without telling you how to feel about it in any way. Rating: 9
Moana - Yet another semi-documentary bit of ethnography from Robert Flaherty. This one follows a young man and family through their various Samoan routines... hunting, making clothing, preparing food, dance and finally, an elaborate tattooing ritual that ushers Moana into manhood. There's some pretty interesting stuff and Flaherty treats his subjects with respect, but it all feels a bit been-there-done-that, especially after having seen the superior Tabu. Rating: 7
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