Four films

Past two days, one of my doubting friends has treated me to some of the films in his collection, and to my endless annoyance, I've liked all of them. The Man Who Would Be King may have treated women as commodities (when they were present at all), but the camaraderie between Michael Caine and Sean Connery was winning. Casablanca was a very well put together melodrama, not quite as revelatory as I expected, but great to finally find out what all the references were referring to.

Last night we watched West Side Story, because my friend was a big fan of the music. I don't know anything about music, but as a film, ultimately, yes. Colourful sets and crane shots galore. A brilliant build at the beginning. Very nice Pietà scene at the end.

However, there is something about the musical form that I just can't buy into. I think the argument FOR it runs like this: it deals in these emotionally charged stories where the feelings involved are so monumental that the characters have no choice but to burst into song. This may work elsewhere, but with West Side Story, the songs didn't amplify the emotion for me. They drained it away. This may have something to do with the weak leads. But it may be something else too. Romeo and Juliet is actually quite a complex tale, and to have it structured around songs with very simple themes distorts it significantly. You have grieving characters who have to suddenly switch to being in love, or being cool, or whatever, when another song begins. Those jarring contrasts meant I couldn't be swept up in it all.

All that said, a lot of the crowd sequences were terrific. The rape scene didn't get as out of hand as the stage version (my doubting friend tells me) but the message was got pretty well -- really quite disturbing. The junior delinquent scene was very funny, and very clever (note: must check out this Sondheim character). 'America' and I Feel Pretty' were the two songs I recognised from elsewhere, and both were also very enjoyable. So pretty much a win overall.

To add further insult to injury, my doubting friend's record is even better than that. A while ago, a bunch of us watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at his instigation. Again, the female character lacked a certain something -- 'I'll darn your socks and do anything you say as long as I don't have to watch you die' does not make for great characterization. But again, the chemistry between Newman and Redford was a treat.

What's remarkably strange about the film is that it's a straight-up western for the majority of the time, and yet there are these two surreal intervals where it is transformed into something completely different. My friends found the experiment charming, though personally I could have done without.

The thing I liked about it was that it was a film of two halves, both with their own separate themes. The first is the standard western idea of the cowboy killed by the march of civilization. Very good, but after the confounding montage sequence, we are relocated to South America and a new theme comes to prominence: the search for transcendence, that can only ever end in death. That final scene between Butch and Sundance was really something. It distilled everything that was great about the movie. And what an ending! Bullets, blood and glory.

And all I had to offer was a re-watch of Serenity. Oh, and Starship Troopers, which my doubting friend grudgingly liked after a lot of cajoling. Still, it's four-one. I seriously need to up my game...

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