• BurgundySuit

    Want to be as cool as Wallflower? Then sign up to write your own Year of the Month article! We’re pretty well covered in Hollywood, but we’ve still got a treasure trove of great music and international cinema just waiting for you to tap into!
    Here’s a list of potential movies: https://letterboxd.com/films/year/1957/ and music: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1957_in_music

    And here’s the schedule as it stands now:

    July 14th: scb0212 : The Seventh Seal
    July 17th: Pico79: 8×8: a Chess Sonata in 8 Movements
    July 20th: Son of Griff: Run of the Arrow/China Gate
    July 21st: Gillianren: Zorro
    July 25th: ZoeZ : Desk Set
    July 27th: The Ploughman: A King in New York
    July 28th: Bhammer 100: Throne of Blood
    July 30th: Conor Malcolm Crockford : A Face in the Crowd
    BurgundySuit: Year of the Month in Comics

    • Did you receive my email of the essay?

      • BurgundySuit

        Yes indeed! I’ll be sending you the edits in a couple days!

    • pico79

      My installment’s in the can. Posted and scheduled for Monday morning.

  • Balthazar Bee

    Superlative work, wallflower. I have to admit that I’m usually so bewitched by the widescreen spectacle of this movie (and the confidence of the performances) that the fundamental clash of ideologies swirling about these decaying Empires usually misses me, so I appreciate being able to read your insights on that score.

    That speech may be the only mistake in the final 40 minutes of Kwai, which is about as precise and elegant as a suspense sequence can get.

    Oy, totally. Maybe the self-conscious “bigness” of this film is probably what prompted the inclusion of this speech — the script needing to make the subtext text…rarely a good idea — and I completely agree that it’s a misstep. I guess once a film has a certain running time, a certain budget, a certain context, etc., meaning must be stated explicitly.

    As you say though, Holden was so good at playing the “Cynical American (Wartime) character” that it’s easy enough to overlook. I distinctly remember Danny Peary’s long OOP Alternate Oscars book arguing against the actual victor, Guinness, winning here and for giving co-star Holden the trophy instead (see also: Network).

    I do think it’s funny that Kwai was included on the AFI’s goofily endearing TV special/ranking of “100 Hundred Years, 100 Hundred Movies” (though where I can’t remember…in the teens?), and someone decided that this clunky moment in its entirety should be included in the show as proof of the movie’s power.

    • THAT’S what they picked?! Sweet zombie Jesus, there’s so many actually great scenes here–Nicholson owning Saito, the British officer showing Shears his own file, Shears’ escape, any number of bridge-building sequences, the gravedigging, the march into the camp, and of course the Earth-Shattering Kaboom of the ending–and they went with the Main Character Demonstrates His Moral Superiority by Whining Scene? (This scene was patented by Stanley Kramer, and I think you’re right, there was some SAG rule that it had to be in every movie above a certain budget.)

    • Son of Griff

      To fold Holden’s speech into the confines of the essay, it seems to appeal to an audience that seeks an explanation to the multi-dimensional contradictions raised in the film through logic and reason. In fact, it is another manifestation of that contradiction, as Holden’s words indicate an evolution of the self interested liberality that he had expressed earlier, as he moves towards an enlightened, anti war stance in line with a “brotherhood of man” ideology. Individualism vs. commonality is thus another level of ideological conflict stacked in the film’s structure. BRIDGE is probably interpreted as an anti-war film by those who interpret UNFORGIVEN as a pro gun control statement, the result trying to find socially redeeming simplicity in a text that otherwise stubbornly resists succumbing to straight forward orthodoxies of political talking points.

      • The Tillies: honoring Moments in a Film, TV Series, or Other Form of Pop Culture That Most Desperately Tries to Pretend It’s Not About Exactly What It Says It’s About

        • Son of Griff

          I think that this applies to a whole series of films whose commitments to ideological notions of ideological humanism is shown to be facetious by the method in which the film was made.

          Favorite offender: I AM SAM, in which a movie that argues that developmentally challenged people can exercise the responsibility of parenthood won’t even cast a lead movie role to a developmentally challenged actor.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        I always end up thinking the same thing with this kind of thing: why would you expend millions of dollars, thousands of man-hours, and two hours of the viewer’s time to communicate an idea that could be conveyed in one sentence?

  • ZoeZ

    This is terrific. I remember saying when I watched it, when Saito was trying to appeal to the men by castigating the officers for their “laziness,” that that strategy doesn’t work when class is ingrained: the affront to these men would be if their leader was just a nice guy to share a beer with. In the hotbox ordeal, they keep faith with him by not turning on him, and he keeps faith with them by not breaking–by living up to the idea that he is different from them, higher than them.

    And then, of course, what makes him fall is that he can’t not be higher, he finds it inconceivable to do bad work on something so foundational (and so civilized–that’s a great point about the distinction between civilization and individual countries). He’s pushed to conceive of his true work being to serve Britain not be exemplifying British engineering even in Japanese captivity but by doing the best for the nation of Britain by performing his required duties as slackly as he can, but that kind of sabotage seems, after reading this, like an Enlightened entropic resistance. For one thing, it involves conceiving of your country as something that’s a matter of borders and governments, rather than spirit, it’s a logistical understanding of empire which could never have made the British Empire itself.

    And to do well by seeming to do poorly, or to do nothing, and to have your greatest contribution be an absence of someone else’s success, that’s a cryptic victory from an internal struggle. It’s deliberately beneath notice, and that’s something a person can be but an officer can’t, and, per the comparison with Marie Antoinette, Nicholson is an officer first.

    Move this one war in the future and have le Carre write it and you could have the slow espionage of deliberate failure, but not here. It’s a beautiful and largely unsentimental ubi sunt, and my current pick for second greatest war movie.

    • More later, but first thank you (and @balthazarbee:disqus)! and second, Le Carré does use the “slow espionage of deliberate failure,” and he uses it well. The second chapter of The Honourable Schoolboy covers the fallout from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and we learn that Bill Haydon had “deliberately encouraged” the promotion of weak or burnt-out spymasters who could be counted on to not do much of anything. (Dear The Americans, here’s one more slow-burn plot you could have actually used and developed over a few seasons. YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE.)

      • ZoeZ

        Well, that’s certainly now the only explanation I’ll accept for Gabriel.

    • In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon elaborates a law: personal density is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth. The more you dwell in the past and the future, the stronger your sense of self. It’s something I’ve been experiencing since I first began to study and teach history, and (natch) it underlies all New Modes for Old Truths. (In fact, most of my writing has been infected by these ideas; Zero K is very much about a place where the future has almost literally invaded the present.) Nicholson’s bandwidth goes so far back into the past that he can’t see how different the future is, and how much of it is right in front of his face. That’s his tragic flaw, the thing that makes him great and also brings him down–and of course, the concept of the tragic flaw is something that goes way back in history and is probably going to go way forward into the future. No wonder I enjoy being part of it.

  • Miller

    “What makes characters like Shears work, even what makes them American, is that they don’t proclaim, they just do their job and hope to get by”

    Hmm. The speech is probably dreadful (it’s been years since I’ve seen this, more fault mine) but Shears’ constant low-level bitching is the most American thing about him, doing the job sure but not without wising off. There’s a line here to Hell In The Pacific, I think, where Mifune uses strategy if not civilization to fight and Marvin fights by being an asshole. Both of these break down into something else before being unfortunately built up again, Boorman is a guy who sees civilization not as a bridge but as a giant floating head puking guns, so maybe that line isn’t as through as I think. Anyway, excellent work here.

    • Shears most definitely does some excellent low-level bitching throughout Kwai, but that speech is not an example–as @balthazarbee:disqus sez, it’s a flat-out Statement of the Theme, GET IT? speech; Holden practically steps to forward-center stage to deliver it. (Among other things, Shears never comes off like he’d waste the energy to deliver a speech like that.) What the moment needed and what would have been right for Shears would have been something like Rose’s line in Lost‘s fifth season: “you folks just can’t stop finding ways to shoot each other, can you?” That’s in the great American Tradition of Bitchiness.

      Also thank you.

  • Fresno Bob

    Jesus, man. This was beautiful.

    • Fresno Bob

      “Just out last week: this article on how Roman concrete has managed to last for millennia, while our weak-ass shit disintegrates. Sometimes I define Western Civilization as “the civilization formerly known as the Roman Empire.””

      You don’t fuck around with your metaphors, and they always make me gasp.

      • During the Blitzkrieg, Orwell wrote something like “the Nazis are following routes first laid down in Ceasar’s time.” It’s astonishing to think about how long some things in our civilization has endured, and how specific those things are. Things like the shape of nations, rituals, the structure of our stories (reading the Poetics was one of the biggest shocks-of-recognition I’ve ever had), and the Roman concrete: they’re all longer than not just our lives, not just America, but most of our values. Anything that’s been around that long, you gotta respect.

        And thank you!

  • pico79

    Nicholson never takes off his shirt, even in the oven… Nicholson lives in a world where things matter, and they matter according to strict rules. How an officer wears clothes is one of them.

    Reminds me of that great moment in Slaughterhouse Five when Billy arrives at the prison camp and gets this advice from the English captives (and you can absolutely hear Nicholson delivering this speech):

    What the Englishman said about survival was this: “If you stop taking pride in your appearance, you will very soon die.” He said that he had seen several men die in the following way: “They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then ceased to get out of bed, then ceased to talk, then died.”

    I really loved this essay, and especially the ruminations on Enlightenment values, though I disagree (somewhat) with your conclusion, the comparison between Lean’s approach and Coppola’s. I don’t know if Lean has any real nostalgia for the “virtues of the past” – or at least, he takes them on their own terms, as you said, but the film (to me) seems completely unsentimental about the failure and demise of those same virtues – where I get the sense Coppola prefers to indulge the fantasy. Maybe that’s unfair (can you or should you make an unsentimentalist film that takes sentimentalism seriously?), or a distinction that’s irrelevant to your point, but it explains why I’m bit more sour on her perspective.

    • A prof of mine read to us from Holocaust survivors’ accounts that one way you could tell someone who’d survive was how they used their water. If they ever saved some to shave or wash, then they were likelier to live, instead of those who immediately drank it all.

    • Aw thanks man. That Vonnegut quote went through my mind as I was writing this and I considered using it. And I was only comparing the final shots and overall effect of Kwai and Marie–Coppola is many things but an epic filmmaker she ain’t. Part of the appeal to me of Marie is that it takes an epic subject and then stays almost literally in one place for the entire film. Lean’s scale really forces him to bring in different characters and moralities.

      I do see Coppola as indulging the fantasies, but I don’t see that as necessarily sentimental. She uncritically and unapologetically loves wealth and fashion but she can be fucking merciless towards her characters (using an edited painting to show the death of one of Marie’s children). What makes her films work for me (when they do) is when she can locate them at interesting moments, and tell a story. That was where The Bling Ring didn’t quite land for me–if the 2008 crash impacted the story, Coppola went right by that, and the story of the film really happened in the first five minutes.

      • pico79

        I’ll keep that in mind next time I watch her. It’s also possible my opinions are colored by the kinds of critics who dislike her films and/or interviews she’s given, which may not be fair to the films themselves.

      • Babalugats

        The Bling Ring is about the dehumanizing effect of celebrity. Both in the way the kids idolize the celebrities, but can’t recognize them as real people being victimized by their crimes. And in the way the kids shed their own identities, becoming outright sociopathic, as they pursue celebrity themselves. I think it’s a pretty timely film. Maybe even ahead of it’s time considering the current president.

        Although I see Coppola’s films as being much more critical of her subjects than is generally accepted.

        • One of the things I enjoy about the reception of her films is that there’s no agreement at all about how critical she is. Her films do not reduce to messages or viewpoints, and that’s one of the great things about her.

  • Babalugats

    One of the things that makes Bridge On The River Kwai so fascinating is that it allows its characters to hold starkly contrasting worldviews, but the film never commits to a side itself. It adopts the perception of whoever is commanding the screen. And when the characters meet, it’s not just that they disagree with each other, it’s that they can’t comprehend how the other could even exist in the same world that they do. It’s appropriate then that the story is ultimately about the folly of building bridges.

    There’s a little movie from the mid 90s called Heat, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it used a similar approach to great effect.

    Also that’s a good point about Spielberg and Lean. I’m going to think on that for a bit.

    • Nicholson: I do what I do. Build bridges in the jungle. You do what you do. Try and stop guys like me. If you–are you even listening?
      Shears (turns away from flirting with woman at the next table): sorry, you must have been boring.