Thursday, August 21, 2014 0 comments

GW Hatchet Update: Sifting through GW's hundreds of student groups: picks from food to art to service

Here is another "Welcome Back to School" article I wrote with Hatchet reporters Tatiana Cirisano and Maddy Pontz recommending various food, art, community service, and performance clubs around George Washington. Check it out!

Hatchet Update: A quick list of open, unique work study jobs

Here is a "Welcome Back to School" article I wrote for the GW Hatchet recommending four federal work study jobs around Washington DC and the GWU campus. Check it out.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 0 comments

Criterion Collection #3: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder

What's striking about Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes is how simple it is. It isn't a film that's making really any grand statement on European society, like the first film I reviewed in the Criterion Project. In essence, The Lady Vanishes is a comic mystery thriller, a genre not exactly known for being all that groundbreaking. It’s certainly the most commercial film I have seen from the Criterion Collection so far and also proves to be the most thematically lightweight.

Make no mistake though: The Lady Vanishes is a very important film. It's one of the final British films that Hitchcock would do before moving to the United States. Without its success, Hitchcock would have been less likely to make his masterworks in the United States.

It also happens to be something that many modern thrillers only strive to be: thrilling.

Following English Tourist Iris Henderson, played by Margaret Lockwood, and musicologist Gilbert, played by the charming Michael Redgrave, to find and prove the existence of the former governess Miss Froy after she disappears from a moving train, The Lady Vanishes is essentially a puzzle.

When it comes to the solving of this puzzle, The Lady Vanishes is outstanding. Hitchcock is fantastic at being able to introduce crucial details without making them seem too obvious or contrived, whether it be the introduction of a bandaged burn victim, a seemingly random conversation between two characters, or the mentioning of a characters favorite brand of tea leaves. Amazingly, Hitchcock usually doesn’t put these details off-frame, but shows them at the center of the frame for emphasis. The reason the audience usually doesn't catch them is because they are so well integrated into the narrative that it ends up tricking the audience.

However, while the mystery of The Lady Vanishes is definitely worth mentioning, the most noteworthy element has to be the suspense. The entire third act of the film is a nail bitter, a simple tea time discussion being miraculously more tense than the intense gunfight that follows.

Which isn’t to say that The Lady Vanishes is some reinvention of the wheel. At its core, The Lady Vanishes is as commercial and crowd pleasing as they come. Whether it be the inclusion of the comic relief characters Charters and Caldicott, two cricket obsessed British passengers who would appear in many films afterwards and would even get their own television program, to the unchallenging thematic content, The Lady Vanishes is essentially a comedic thriller, albeit a very masterfully constructed one.  If nothing, The Lady Vanishes proves one thing: regardless of how generic or commercial the content may be; execution is the key to it actually having a legacy beyond its century.
Friday, August 1, 2014 0 comments

Eclipse Series 1: Early Bergman- Crisis (1946)

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Written By: Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman's directorial debut is a mess. While it’s visually appealing and poignant in parts, Bergman's screenplay makes the same mistakes as Torment: it is overly melodramatic, piles way too many story-lines on top of each other, and tackles way too many themes in its 93 minute running time.

Crisis is the story of a small town piano teacher Ingeborg, played by Dagny Lind, dealing with the arrival of her foster daughter’s mother Jenny, played by Marianne Löfgren. The 18 year old foster daughter Nelly, played by future Bergman collaborator Inga Landgré, feels limited by her quiet life in the town, so she decides to leave with her mother to the city.

Right off the bat, the film seems like it’s going to mainly deal with two potential themes: the painful process of growing up and the loss a parent must deal with when a child eventually must leave them.

Had Crisis focused on these two story-lines  it probably would have turned out to be a fine coming of age film. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for Bergman. In addition to those two main plot lines, Bergman added another about Jenny’s mysterious companion and Nelly’s lover Jack, played by a Stig Olin. While the plot line certainly is interesting due in part to Olin’s fantastically balanced performance as Jack, it still feels completely unnecessary. 

This combined with the fact that Ingeborg gets a terminal illness that is never dealt with at the end of movie and Nelly is given a romantic subplot with her roommate which inexplicably resolves itself by film’s end despite no prior development or chemistry between the actors, leads to way too many story lines occurring simultaneously and thus few of them getting adequately developed or explored. 

Nelly’s storyline fails because it doesn’t explore her point of view nearly enough to have an idea why she became disillusioned with city life. Jack’s storyline derails due to a sudden last minute character transformation that is supposed to be illuminating, but ends up being confusing due to its suddenness. The only storyline that works at all is Ingeborg’s, and even hers is too melodramatic to be taken seriously.

Yet one can’t disregard the film entirely. While a mess, the film definitely is visually appealing. While Bergman’s direction definitely is a little stagey and stiff at times due to his prior  work in play production, his visual compositions are outstanding, the climatic scene featuring a confrontation between Nelly and Jack being a standout of the entire film due to Bergman’s use of lighting and staging.

In another instance where Bergman’s play writing background works as an asset, Crisis has dialogue that is both very poignant and clever in equal measure. The scene where Nelly and Jack meet for the very first time in the local town ball is interesting in showing how the film could have been had Bergman decided to focus on Nelly’s development from an innocent girl to a cynical adult. Jack and Nelly converse about various topics varying from poetry to the town itself while sitting drunk on the shore of the lake. It’s a heartrending moment due to how it’s the first time Nelly really meets anyone or does anything interesting in the town. It’s that moment of rebellion that every teenager has had at one point or another.

Had Bergman toned down the melodrama and general bloatedness of the story, Crisis might have been a poignant coming of age drama or even an emotional tale of loss. Instead, since it tried to be much more than that, it ends up being another small step up in Bergman’s film-making journey. In this case, it can be said that less is much more indeed.

Up Next: The Lady Vanishes (1938)