Saturday, October 21, 2017

Todd Haynes and THE CROWD

He loves movies.  And he loves his audiences.  You can tell that from his movies.  Director Todd Haynes makes bold, provocative and original films.  Even when his original film evokes the work of classic film director.  Yes, I'm referring to his 2002 gem, FAR FROM HEAVEN, inspired by the best of the 1950s Douglas Sirk films.  He delved into race, marriage and homosexuality in FAR FROM HEAVEN.  Other Todd Haynes films that drew me to the box office are SAFE, I'M NOT THERE and the luscious CAROL starring Cate Blanchett.  And I loved his 2011 adaptation of MILDRED PIERCE for HBO.  It was truer to the novel than the famous Oscar-winning Warner Brothers adaptation starring Joan Crawford in 1945.  The original version was made during the age of Hollywood studios and production codes.  Aspects of the novel had to be watered down -- like the fact that Veda's bed should've had a speedometer on it.  She'd been laid, re-laid and par-laid. In a big way, Haynes fine version for HBO gave classic film fans a deeper appreciation for how screenwriter Ranald MacDougall took some steamy dramatic material that was often deliciously sordid, kept the mother love and ungrateful daughter essence and shaped it into somewhat of a film noir crime story with the hardworking mother losing her restaurants and the wicked getting their just desserts.
Todd Haynes has a new film out.  It's called WONDERSTRUCK.  He was this month's Guest Programmer on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and the first film he selected was a silent film classic.  It was King Vidor's THE CROWD from 1928.
What a fascinating film.  Powerful and poignant.  As we follow the life of newlyweds in the Big City, we get themes of independence versus conformity and promise versus commitment.  As King Vidor moves the camera up a New York City skyscraper and into a window to see the massive office where he's one of the guys toiling at a desk, we see one of the most famous shots of the film.
We can also see how this shot influenced a young Billy Wilder.  He kept it in mind for his opening scenes of THE APARTMENT showing us where C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, worked.  King Vidor directed HALLELUJAH (1929), Wallace Beery in THE CHAMP (1931), Barbara Stanwyck in STELLA DALLAS (1937), Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in DUEL IN THE SUN (1946).  Here's an excerpt from King Vidor's 1928 classic, THE CROWD.

On the topic of production codes, there's something else in THE CROWD that Hollywood would never again show us in movies of the 1930s through the 1950s.

John and Mary tiny apartment close to a Manhattan train line.  Look at the right side of the above photo.  After the Niagara Falls scene in THE CROWD, the action goes to Christmas Eve.  Relatives are coming over and the new wife is cooking dinner.  John has to shave.  The bathroom door is open and we see a sink and...a toilet.  Once the production codes took hold of Hollywood in the early 1930s, toilets disappeared from sight.  I know that a commode is an odd thing to point out in a movie.  But, it does underscore how conservative the production codes were when they became the "Thou shalt not" commandments of Hollywood movie-making.  There's male nudity and a pair of physically affectionate lesbians in the 1927 silent classic WINGS, the first film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  Maturity like that would also disappear and be forbidden under the censorship of Hollywood production codes.

THE CROWD influenced Todd Haynes while making his new film, WONDERSTRUCK.  It takes us to different time periods.  It's in color and black and white.  Here's a trailer.

I will be seeing WONDERSTRUCK.  Did you see FAR FROM HEAVEN?  Todd Haynes got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Julianne Moore got a very well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for her  performance as the upscale suburban Connecticut housewife whose 1950s marriage cracks and her handsome African American gardener makes her aware of racial tensions in society.  I still say that Dennis Quaid should've been an Oscar nominee for his terrific work as her macho, closeted gay husband.  And can you remember who played the maid in the suburban Connecticut home?  That bit part was played by an actress named...Viola Davis.

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