Sunday, July 15, 2012

1939: You Can't Take It With You

I was looking forward to You Can't Take It With You. I enjoy Frank Capra movies. I enjoy Jimmy Stewart movies. I enjoy Frank Capra's movies with Jimmy Stewart.  The problem is that I fell asleep about 15 minutes in.

Knowing that I wasn't particularly tired, I blamed it on the movie. I'm a very light sleeper, and I usually have a difficult time falling asleep (though it's not unheard of that I'll doze off while watching TV or a movie.) So something was a bit off. I knew I had to try again, but something was going to need to change.

You see, the picture and sound quality aren't great. You Can't Take It With You is in dire need of a clean up. The picture is overly grainy and slowly flickers between light and dark. And the dialogue isn't clear. I lost focus on what they were saying, and that turned the movie into white noise. I always sleep with white noise. And the picture became the video version with its hypnotic slow flicker.

So take two. I turned on the captions. The first thing it did is put bright yellow, but constant, words on the screen. It broke the video monotony. And of course reading the words made sure I understood exactly what was being said. It also forced me to pay attention.

The funny thing is that I should have thought of that idea right away. Whenever I showed a movie in class (Almost Heroes and Glory - and that's an important reason why I stopped showing the edited version of Glory. It wasn't captioned), I show it with the captions. Partially this is for any deaf students I might have. But I also understand that having words on the screen helps with comprehension. And I was the one who needed this particular accommodation today.

So what about the movie? It's pretty darned good. I think I enjoy It Happened Last Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington more, but it might be close to It's a Wonderful Life for me. Being a Capra movie, the ending was predictable from the first few minutes, but it takes plenty of fun turns along the way. It certainly doesn't get to that point in the way I expected.

Of the Capra movies, it might be the best representation of the 30's. All the way through, I was considering how it would work to show in a junior year history class. Since I'm teaching four of those next year, I think it could work to teach a few things.

NEXT WEEK: 1940 - Gone With the Wind

Oscar Project Rankings:
  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  4. You Can't Take It With You (1939)
  5. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  6. Grand Hotel (1933)
  7. Cimarron (1932)
  8. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  9. Broadway Melody (1930)
  10. Wings (1929)
  11. Cavalcade (1934)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

1938: The Life of Emile Zola

The Life of Emile Zola is a slightly misleading title. This is really the story of the Dreyfus affair told from the point of view of writer Emile Zola with a long introduction showing key points in his career. I really mention that less as a nitpick about the title, as titles are allowed to be ambigous and/or misleading (I'm looking at you, Naked Lunch). I point that out more because the movie really takes off when we gt to the Dreyfus affair.

I first became familiar with the Dreyfus affair after seeing it as a favorite subject of several questions and answers on Jeopardy. French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongly accused, tries and convicted of treason. When evidence of his innocence was discovered, it was covered by higher ups in the French army, prompting many French intellectuals, including Emile Zola, to get involved.

The first part of the movie, actually showing the life of Emile Zola, moves quickly enough, as it is a series of short scenes that outlines his writing career. But there's nothing too interesting, save for his friendship with painter Paul C├ęzanne and a few lines about fighting for the people, likely taken from his own writings. I found myself mentally drifting away during that first part, but as I mentioned before, the movie really takes off when the Dreyfus affair begins. The scenes when Emile Zola is on trial are the most dramatic and best of the movie and made it well worth watching.

NEXT WEEK: 1939 - You Can't Take it With You

Oscar Project Rankings:
  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  4. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  5. Grand Hotel (1933)
  6. Cimarron (1932)
  7. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  8. Broadway Melody (1930)
  9. Wings (1929)
  10. Cavalcade (1933)