ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #7: The Innocents (1961)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My seventh review was for the 1961’s classic The Innocents directed by Jack Clayton. Enjoy!

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In my past reviews for this column, I’ve primarily reviewed comedies or films that weren’t comedic, but that weren’t completely dramatic. This time, I’m going to explore a totally different genre, because I want to show that young people might also like heavy dramas. This is the reason why I’ve chosen to review The Innocents. This movie is not only a drama, but a horror-drama. The Innocents is a British film directed by Jack Clayton in 1961, starring Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Megs Jenkins and Michael Redgrave in a minor role.

The Innocents takes place in England during the 19th-century. An uncle (Michael Redgrave) who can’t take care of his nephew, Miles (Martin Stephens) and his niece, Flora (Pamela Franklin) hires a governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) to care for them. Their last governess, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) died about a year ago. Miss Giddens accepts, despite her lack of experience, and moves to the family’s place in the country where the two orphan children live. It’s a big manor located in the beautiful English countryside. When she arrives, Miss Giddens hears a voice calling Flora, but she can’t tell where this voice is coming from. She then meets Flora, who hasn’t heard the voice, and they become good friends. A few minutes later, Miss Giddens meets Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper. Flora’s brother, Miles, is at school, but it won’t take long before he’ll be back home, because he has been, to everybody’s surprise, expelled from school. Miss Giddens tries to understand why, but Miles doesn’t want to talk about it.

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If the life in this castle started in a quiet and peaceful way, it won’t take long before changing. Progressively, Miss Giddens notices Flora and Miles’ strange behavior. She has terrifying visions of a man and a woman who are not supposed to be part of the house, that of Miss Jessel and Quint (Peter Wyngarde), the ancient gardener, both of whom are now dead. Miss Giddens becomes obsessed by these hallucinations (although she thinks they are real), and is convinced Miss Jessel and Quint’s spirits possess the children. What else will explain their strange behavior? Miss Giddens will try to save them, but being crazier herself, she brings them to a fatal ending.

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I had never been a fan of horror movies, but there are some exceptions and The Innocents is one of them. The movie itself is not that scary, but creepy. However, when you watch it and tell to yourself “what if this happened to me,” then, it becomes one of the most horrifying things ever. Of course, The Innocents is not like today’s horror films. Unlike today’s 21st-century horror movies, it is more refined. There is something poetic about The Innocents which makes the film beautiful. The Innocents is actually one of the most visually beautiful films I had ever seen. This is mainly due to the fine black and white cinematography created by Freddie Francis. The lights, the shadows, the white flowers, all make for a delightful spectacle for the eyes. The cinematography also adds certain strangeness to the film, especially during the visually mysterious hallucination scenes.

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Deborah Kerr is definitely a model of acting in this film, able to change her emotions very easily. It’s actually her performance in this film that made her a favorite of mine. The role of Miss Giddens is one of her best performances. Her clear and pretty British accent is delightful to hear. Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin as the children are also perfect. There is something lovely, but also disturbing about them, which is just what we need for this kind of film. Martin Stephens is a kid, but very mature at the same time. He actually looks and acts more like a little man then a child. (Stephens also played a creepy child in Village of the Damned.) Megs Jenkins is also an appreciated actress starring in this film. She is warm and brings a lot to the movie. However, it’s too bad Michael Redgrave only has a small part, because he really is one of a kind.

What is also appreciated about this film is it doesn’t need a ton of scary scenes to scare us. Everything goes progressively. You can follow the story without necessarily having to hide behind your pillow every time someone opens a door or climbs the stairs. Of course, there is a worrying atmosphere, but this one is more suspenseful than terrifying. The movie takes place in a home with many secrets and things to discover (or not), which makes us think of Manderley, the famous De Winter manor in Rebecca. But there are some frightening scenes that teens will appreciate. For example the moment when Miss Giddens first “sees” Quint when she is playing hide and seek with the children.

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Finally, we have to talk about the music, or more precisely the sound, which is a major element in this film. There isn’t really a soundtrack. As a matter of fact, the music is created by Flora humming “O Willow Waly” (which we also hear at the beginning of the film), by Miss Jessel voice calling Flora like an echo, and by the sounds of nature: the birds, the wind, the insects, etc. The work of the sound is remarkable and also adds poetry to the film. This only proves ambient sounds can be as affective as music to create a certain atmosphere.

It’s Halloween soon, so instead of watching something like The Exorcist, teens should watch The Innocents. It’s a film they’ll never forget and gives them the chance to see one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

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Irish Film Studies: The Crying Game

This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This is my journal entry for The Crying Game (week 10).

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It’s a funny coincidence that we watched The Crying Game on week 10 as I had just recently watched a video where the film was mentioned. I had never seen it before, but this movie poster with a lady looking like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction (film made AFTER The Crying Game) was one that had a mysterious appeal and, to me,  and an aura of mystery just the way I like it.

The film is one that didn’t disappoint me. I have to say, I think it’s one of my favourite ones we watched in class. The subject of transsexuality is one that is not often exploited in cinema,so this film remains a significant one on that level. On this subject, what we could call the situation reversal is something that is significant in The Crying Game. I’ll explain. The relations between the characters definitely are an important element of this film. When Fergus (Stephen Rea) discovers that the beautiful Dil (Jaye Davidson) is, in fact, a man, his reaction (throwing up) is the most shocking element of the situation. But, as the film advances, Fergus manages to see the situation from another angle as he is, despite all, still attracted by Dil. So, it’s interesting to see how this element of the plot is developed in a favourable light (to a certain point).

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Aesthetically, the film remains a very special one by borrowing touches of film noir as the smoky poster à la femme fatale proves it. But, as it is not a black and white film, the colour cinematography is used to its full potential, with images that sometimes almost like paintings. This colour becomes particularly majestic, thanks to Dil’s sparkling costumes. There’s also something about this colourful cinematography (and the subject of transsexuality) that also made me think a bit of Almodovar movies.

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Despite its mainly dramatic background, there are some touches of humour in The Crying Game that are agreeably appreciated and make the film less heavy. Of course, it is far from being a comedy, but this scene where Dil throws the aquarium of her ex-lover by the window doesn’t fail to make us laugh.

Now, one last thing I wonder: why is this film called The Crying Game? Sure, Dil sings the song of the same name at one point of the film. But wouldn’t there be a deeper meaning? Could it evoke the sadness of the characters? There are probably many possibilities.

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Words: 410

Image sources

Gracenote, ” Movie Photo: The Crying Game.” Cineplex, 2015, https://www.cineplex.com/Movie/the-crying-game/Photos.

“The Crying Game.” Coral Gables Art Cinema, n.d, http://www.gablescinema.com/events/the-crying-game/.

“The Crying Game.” Roger Ebert.com, n.d, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-crying-game-1992.

Irish Film Studies: Hunger

This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This is my journal entry for Hunger (week 9).

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Hunger was a film on the program that I longed to see since it was directed by Award Winner movie director Steve McQueen (not to confuse with the star of The Towering Inferno and The Great Escape). I hadn’t seen any of his movies before, not even 12 Years a Slave. Dear!!! Well, we had to start somewhere and Hunger was the initiator.

That film made me very uncomfortable, but I think it was meant to be. So, I can positively say he succeed in his task. The film is a one that visually disturbs the viewers by using very crude violence and images of a jail with terrible living conditions. If you feel a bit sick watching those images, you are not the only one.

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There’s something quite clever about this film and that resides both in its aesthetic and narrative aspects. Hunger is an HONEST movie. It doesn’t try to embellish the reality. Of course, all realities are not horrible like the one inside this Irish jail, but life isn’t a bed of roses either. We could definitely call this type of films anti-Hollywood movies. The actors are also terribly convincing, it’s somehow hard to say if they are only acting or if they are truly hurt or hurting people. Of course, a movie is a movie, but how many times have we heard that some movies were physically and mentally hard to shoot? I’m pretty sure it was the case for Hunger.

Now, did I like Hunger? Well, no… I recognize its brilliance for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, but, I honestly prefer movies that are more a form of escapism and this one is far from being one. I’m someone who has always loved beautiful things. On-screen violence can be beautiful depending on how it is executed. But it’s not the case for Hunger. This film is honest but cruel.

Do I want to see more McQueen’s film now? Well, I’m still curious to see 12 Years a Slave one of these days, but let’s say it wasn’t love at first sight with Hunger.

And now, I’m ironically hungry!

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Words: 351

Images sources

Becker Films International, ” Hunger: affiche Michael Fassbender.” Allo Cine, Oct. 15, 2008, http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm_gen_cfilm=115096.html.

“Hunger (2008).” A Film a Day, Nov. 26, 2014, http://afilmadaybysonia.blogspot.ca/2014/11/hunger-2008.html.

Irish Film Studies: Odd Man Out

This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This was my journal entry on The Third Man (week 3)

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Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out was on my long “to watch” list since I read a review of it written by one of my fellow bloggers. Film noir + James Mason + Carol Reed = what seemed to be for me a perfect combination. And it was! I didn’t remember the film was taking place in Northern Ireland, but I guess it was a good thing as it finally created a context (this course) for me to watch it.

To visualize some clips from The Third Man (with Joseph Cotten – I LOVE this actor) was quite relevant as an “introduction” to Odd Man Out. Personally, this brought back good memories of when I was in Vienna with my friend this summer: when we visited Prater (where there is the famous big wheel) and when we spent an afternoon with a friend of mine, Paul Henreid’s grandson, who showed us the famous “Third Man door” where, if my memory doesn’t fail me, Harry Lime makes his first appearance.

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Me, in front of the famous door!

But, aside from bringing back good memories, watching the clips allowed us to make a great comparison with the cinematography of this film and Odd Man Out’s one. Being two noirs, I believed this element is the one that is the most similar from one film to another. For example, the night scenes of a city, showed with a lot of contrasts and shadows, wet streets and dark corners, seem to be recurrent in both films, as well as in film noir in general. In both films there is this mysterious and oppressing ambiance created by all this darkness and complex characters as well.

It’s interesting, because each time I watch a Carol Reed’s film, I can feel I am watching a Carol Reed’s film, even if some of them are very different. For example, my favourite one, A Girl Must Live, a comedy starring Carol Reed’s fetish actress, Margaret Lockwood, obviously has nothing to do with Odd Man Out, but somehow there is something in both films that tells me that it is a Carol Reed’s film. What it is? I can’t quite say. Is it due to the fact that they are British films? Because those are so different from American films, especially classic British films. I don’t know. Of course, it’s easier to do the comparison between Odd Man Out and The Third Man, as they are both film noirs.

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Margaret Lockwood, Renée Houston and Lilli Palmer in A Girl Must Live (1939)

Odd Man Out is not about the green Ireland that we saw in the following movie: The Quiet Man, but this is indeed a way to show us different aspects of Ireland’s life. While James Mason was not an Irish actor, I believe he did an interesting and convincing job. The co-actress, Kathleen Ryan (who was Irish), made me think so much of Patricia Roc, whom I could have perfectly imagined in this role as well (although she was British). The two makes a sad pair and perhaps represent the most tragic aspects of the film, the failure of the man character. Of course, there are many more to discuss about Odd Man Out, but I’ll stop here for the moment.

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Words: 521

Images sources:

“A Girl Must Live.” Silver Sirens, n.d, https://www.silversirens.co.uk/films/girl-must-live-1939/.

“Carol Reed’s Coded IRA Drama Odd Man Out Has the Look but not the Feel of Noir.” A.V. Club, Apr. 15, 2015, http://www.avclub.com/review/carol-reeds-coded-ira-drama-odd-man-out-has-look-n-217923

“Happy St. Pat’s! ‘Odd Man Out’ by Carol Reed Is a Great Irish Drama and a Great Thriller.” Film Noir Blonde, Mar. 15, 2016, http://www.filmnoirblonde.com/happy-st-pats-odd-man-out-by-carol-reed-is-a-great-irish-drama-and-a-great-thriller/.

“Odd Man Out.” Film Forum, n.d, http://filmforum.org/film/odd-man-out-reed-trilogy.

“The Third Man, 1949.” Little White Lies, Jun. 25, 2015, http://lwlies.com/reviews/third-man-1949/.

 

Irish Film Studies: Man of Aran

This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This was my entry about our class discussion on Man of Aran (week 2)

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What a stimulating class it was! After watching Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran (a “staged” documentary), the class was divided in two in order to create a debate on if the film was honoring the reality of the people from Aran despite the fact that a lot of it staged. That was not the exact question, but it was something similar to that. As I like to be original and not always follow the crowd, I went for the “yes” side, those who thought Flaherty was somehow faithful to the culture of people from Aran.

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While I felt a bit asleep during the screening (sorry!), the debate was a good way to stimulate the class and create complete and interesting discussions: first, between our “group”, while we were sharing our ideas, and then, during the debate with the opposite team. I first thought the side who was “against Flaherty’s cinematographic representation of people from Aran” would have more arguments, better and more convincing ones, as this was pretty much the easiest point to defend, but, to my surprise, we turned out to be pretty good and found awesome counter arguments. The more we debated and share our points, the more I was convinced I was on the right side. We first have to understand that Flaherty might not necessarily represent ALL the reality of Aran, but he certainly is faithful to a part of it (otherwise, what’s the point?), and that is a good start. The director gave his vision of what he was filming, but I don’t think he had the intention of overshadowing the reality, maybe more to “glorify” it if I can say so.

The exercise was an interesting one as it allowed us to go out from the usual beating tracks of university courses where people just sit and listen to a teacher talk and talk… It’s because of such original film discussions that we don’t see the time passing in Irish Film Studies!

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Words: 326

Images sources:

“Man of Aran- review.” The Guardian, March 10, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/mar/10/man-of-aran-review.

Criterion Cast. n.d, http://blog.criterioncast.com/post/85200250261/robert-j-flahertys-man-of-aran-is-now-available.