Showing posts with label interracial relationship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interracial relationship. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Jane Eyre (1943) 3 of 4

Cathy and Heathcliff in Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights
** Spoilers ahead **

This is a 65-year-old film that adapts a 165-year-old book, so viewing it by political correctness is like kicking a cripple down a flight of stairs.  Alas, to avoid so doing requires more restraint than I presently have at my disposal.

(I haven't read the book or seen the other films, so this is based on the Orson Welles-Joan Fontaine Jane Eyre.)

For much of the film, brooding Rochester psychologically tortures steadfast Jane, tantalizing her affections without telling her she can ever be more than a servant to him, and repeatedly testing her loyalty.  And I suppose it's true to life -- Rochester is rough with Jane without being an outright bastard -- I hear the ladies like that sort of thing.  Note however that the modern-set parallel that comes to mind is downright sadomasochistic, Secretary.
The racial element comes in via Rochester's locked-away, long-gone-mad wife, Bertha.  In a hushed, horrified tone, Rochester finally explains that when young, Bertha had no "chastity or temperance"; apparently, this means she went on quite the mattress tour of Spanishtown, Jamaica.  To a mid-century, white audience, the implications of this summation would've been unmistakable: she was such a slut that she slept with darkies and went crazy.  And the church said, "Amen." 

(In the book, Bertha is a Creole, half-black and half-European.  I don't think this is mentioned in the film, but even if it is my reading stands.  Rochester's life has been tainted by sexual association with blacks.)

Again, we must remember that this is fiction from long ago.  It makes the film difficult, however, because the plot hinges on the unseen wife, and the fact that her story is almost too terrible to speak aloud.  Back then, marriage really was "til death," and considered sacred; Bertha's behavior was from Hell.  Her very existence threatens to destroy Rochester.

The last line of the film reminds us again of race.  The recovered Rochester is now happily married to Jane, and they have a newborn son, and Rochester can see "the boy had inherited his own eyes as they once were, large, brilliant and black" (Joan Fontaine reads this narration in a tone of swelling  triumph).  I believe the line signifies that the power of blackness is back where it belongs, deep within a white male, under his control.

Jane Austen Society, Brooklyn, 2012

The oddest thing about the film is an extra, "The Men Behind Jane Eyre," in which friends of the director, Robert Stevenson, compare him favorably as a director to Orson Welles, his male lead in this film.  They base their argument on the fact that Stevenson's films, which include lots of Disney live-action like Mary Poppins and The Love Bug, have been seen by far more people than have seen those of Welles. 

Well OK: we all have our favorites, directors we feel deserve more attention.  Still, these testimonials are given with a remarkable mix of guilt, bitterness, and smugness, as if Stevenson had been burned-at-the-stake by some past generation of pretentious cineastes.  I would link this doc with Puff Daddy's self-comparison to Picasso and Steven Spielberg's hamfisted runs at immortality (Falling Skies: most awkward Paley Center panel ever) as signs of the corporate takeover of planet Earth.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Monster's Ball (2001) 1.5 of 4

EDIT 21 June, 2015: I wrote this review before knowing much about the recent madness in Charleston, S.C.  I apologize for the poor timing, especially to anyone who's read before this edit.  (I'm 50, and the realities of digital media don't come easily to me; I tend to forget how easy it is to edit the blog, for example.) 
These remain my views on the film, but right now they are trivial at best. 

The sitcom 30 Rock once did an episode in which Tracy Morgan's character made a "serious" movie, a piece of  autobiographical Oscar-bait about his troubled childhood.  This way-over-the-top film-within-a-film seemed to be a parody of the then-current movie Precious, the biopic about a young black woman who's been horribly abused for years.  Though I was a fan of 30 Rock at the time, I remember thinking the parody unkind. 
Precious was directed by Lee Daniels, who'd already co-produced Monster's Ball, and would go on to the current TV hit Empire.   Now that I've seen both those films, I can see exactly where 30 Rock was coming from.  At least Precious was apparently based on a true story, whereas Monster's Ball is just shameless manipulation, piling on misfortunes as if terrified we'll stop taking it seriously. 

Lee Daniels also put his name in front of The Butler.  All of these movies and more (The Help, 42) seem best suited for suburban white people, for guilt mitigation.  These movies do everything but take my hand and say, "Now you hush, chile.  Ain't nothin' to be afeared of , 'cause black folk is jus' folk, jus' like you."

** major spoilers ahead **

Monster's Ball was showered with awards, but to me this just proves again that certain topics paralyze the critical faculties: the Holocaust, race in America.  It's the story of a prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) who falls in love with Halle Berry, after helping to execute Halle's ex-husband (Sean Combs), who'd abused her.  The guard had a racist upbringing, but fortunately both of their sons die violent deaths (within days of each other), which is quite an ice-breaker, and before you know it we get some admittedly steamy, interracial sex scenes. 

So yes, this is an interracial love story.  Barely.  It seems to me that a racist redneck finding redemption in the arms of Halle Berry is like the person who claims they can't be anti-Semitic because they love Jesus.
Then again, this movie was made in 2001, when we were all more innocent.