#53 The Grapes of Wrath

Watched: October 29 2016

Director: John Ford

Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charly Grapewin, Russell Simpson

Year: 1940

Runtime: 2h 9min

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The schizophrenic opening music perfectly sums up The Grapes of Wrath – it is in turns depressing and uplifting, and while a lot of bad things happen to the Joad family, there’s always hope and love. Sister the Oldest had read the Steinbeck novel before, but none of us had seen the film, possibly because we feared it would be too depressing. As it turned out – yes, it’s depressing, but we loved it nonetheless.

During the Great Depression, Oklahoma native Tom Joad (Fonda) is released from prison and hitchhikes back home only to find his family home deserted. He learns from former preacher Jim Casy (Carradine) and another local they come across that all families have been driven from their homes by the deed owners due to ruined crops. Tom eventually catches up with his family at his uncle’s place, and the Joads, along with Casy, start their arduous journey west, believing there’s work for them in California.

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Cue not-so-hilarious road trip!

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Along the way, they are faced with the deaths of two family members, xenophobic locals (“Okies” apparently ranked somewhere between Gypsies and rabid dogs back in the ’30s), cynical employers and corrupt police officers. However, they also meet with the occasional kindness, and the family members love each other and stick together, led by the wonderful Ma Joad (Darwell) who we absolutely adored.

 

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Pictured: a true American hero (and Oscar-winning performer)

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Tom’s experiences awaken his philosophical and political side, although it is former preacher Casy who becomes an activist and strike leader. However, when Tom tries to defend Casy from camp guards during an illegal strike meeting, he inadvertently kills the guard and becomes a liability for his family. He decides he has to go off on his own, but he waits until his family has found a safe place to stay (he is a good son after all).

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“But, who will lead the family if you go, Tom?” “Oh, come on, Ma. Don’t even pretend I’m the real leader here.”

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The dark side of the American Dream is evident in The Grapes of Wrath: if you’re poor, it’s somehow your own fault (you probably haven’t worked hard enough!) and so no one should feel sorry for you or help you out. The film is heartbreaking, sad, melancholy and occasionally infuriating. The Joads are loving and lovely though, and they give us a feeling of hope despite the bleak world they live in. The film is beautifully shot, and even the decrepit, dried-up land looks beautiful. Definitely worth watching!

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It is also very stylish and has a lot of cool shots, if that’s what rubs your Buddha

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What we learned: We’re sure glad business owner never exploit workers anymore in the USA (or anywhere else for that matter). And also that there’s no racism, xenophobia, generalisation of entire groups of people or anything like that anymore. Phew!

Next time: Citizen Kane (1941)

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#10 The Passion of Joan of Arc

Watched: August 10 2016

Director: Carl Th. Dreyer

Starring: Maria Falconetti

Year: 1928

Runtime: 1h 22 min (though other versions exist)

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After several comedies (and other uplifting films) in a row, the time had come for something more disturbing. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (original title – check out our French skills!) tells the story of the trial and (spoiler alert!) execution of Joan of Arc. It was believed to be a lost masterpiece for many years until a copy was found in 1981, and check out where:

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Ah! Norwegian mental institutions. Sources of lost art, every last one of them!

The film is a disturbing display of the time-honoured tradition of men standing in judgment of women. Joan, aged 19, is tried for heresy by the church after leading French troops by order from, according to her, God. The judges use torture and extortion to make her confess and lecherous guards ridicule and tease her, but she does not break. While a few of the judges are sympathetic and kindly towards her, most of them are treacherous and very “unchristian” indeed.

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“What do you mean this hairdo makes me look demonic? I’m a fucking priest!”

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Joan is played by Maria Falconetti who gives an outstanding performance. It is worth watching the film for her alone (as well as the gorgeous lighting). Whether Joan was a saint or just a mentally ill teenager is never made clear, but that is not really important. The villains are the priests and judges either way with their lust for power and fear of anything that might take some of that power away. And their fear and hatred destroy something beautiful and innocent.

This was a disturbing watch (whisky had to be brought out at one point), but well worthwhile. However, is this really what they used to show mentally ill Norwegians? I think we just discovered the origins of black metal.

Next time: Un Chien Andalou (1929)