First published in 1623, Shakespeare’s Macbeth has seen a myriad of adaptations, stemming from its cultural relevance within political history. The great Orson Welles, a decade before turning to the silver screen, directed Macbeth for the Negro Theatre Unit in 1936, which stirred controversy within the black community of Harlem, accused of mocking black culture. Though on a grander scale, Welles’ production can be viewed as a telling tale of evil abroad, as Europe became engulfed in strife with the rise of Hitler’s regime, it quickly became an imperative reflection on the duality between reality and fantasy – how difficult it must be to sympathize with a character that so greatly reflects a tyrant’s hysteria.
Author: Greg Mucci
Our film opens in a spacious and decadent turn of the century study, the looming windows holding the horrors of a storm at bay. Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) stands looking out, noting how it is “the crudest savage exhibition of nature”, a commentary nonetheless on Mary Shelley’s noteworthy success of Frankenstein. Or perhaps it’s both a meta-statement that also works to scrutinize the societal place women must adhere to, one that still resonates to this day.
Our Lord, who proclaims himself England’s greatest sinner amongst an angel, Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), regards the frightful storm as nature’s applause for both a sinner and a poet, Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton). It’s Mary, sitting quietly underneath the presence of men, who finds the thunder alarming. Her gown’s aura, angelic in quality, contrasts the dark nature of Mary’s mind, which pieced together the monster that terrorized a village in James Whale’s 1931 precursor, Frankenstein.
The credits open against a blackened backdrop, our vision lost amidst a vast nothingness as we are invited into falling snow. We are then directed to an apartment complex, its many windows dim except for a few. It seems we are outside peering in, though the reflection of a young boy, his luminous hair a halo, tells us we are inside. A little girl in the back seat of a car can be heard humming as a man, who could be her father, smiles back at her, though his expression quickly slips into solemnity. A resident of the apartment complex stands outside and gazes up at a window being boarded shut, an image of someone looking out permanently trapped between the confines of one world and the emptiness of another.
Since its release in 1980, THE SHINING has run the gamut of hypothesis and theories that encapsulates Stanley Kubrick’s film as an intricate, psychological entry into the horror genre; one that is too often ridiculed for lacking intellectual depth or foresight. While most know how far Kubrick veered from the original novel, which Stephen King has openly scrutinized, going as far to produce a mini-series in 1997, what THE SHINING does effectively is utilize time and space in a deliberate effort to entrench us in a descent into madness. Even as the opening credits scroll backwards across the screen, an effect that tells us that the beginning is already the end, we are only allowed access to so much, gliding over our ascending vehicle yet never gaining access to who or what force propels it towards impending doom. Only when it is too late, and we are in the Overlook Hotel, our murderously bloodied winter lodging, are we given entry to the past; one that is covered up with lies and fear induced rationality.
Donning a kimono and brandishing an oil-paper umbrella and a concealed tanto, a man dazzlingly assassinates a crime boss, his appearance hidden until execution. Double crossed by his gang, our crime saturated hit-man’s life is threatened, and subsequently rescued by his younger brother – an aspiring artist who becomes the killer he isn’t. Fearing for their lives, our brothers set out for a safe haven away from their inevitable pursuers, winding up in the mining town of Manchuria, a place that only alludes to a perfect utopia for our fugitives. Hidden under a guise of falsity, their existence beholden to the embrace of a new type of gang, we begin to see the brother’s grapple with shedding their former selves; one that covers his tracks, while the younger falters back from his actions. Despite settling down away from the life of a yakuza, there remains a continual sense of urgency and movement, one that kicks up sand and cloaks our world in a false identity and a distorted hope.
When THE FORCE AWAKENS made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, taking theaters by storm, the world embraced the latest entry into the STAR WARS canon harder than a Wookie. In an age where speculation led to disconcerting ideas about the franchise, the fumes of young Anakin’s pod-racer still filtering through our waking thoughts, the latest entry was an immense breath of fresh air. From the careful directorial guidance of J.J. Abrams, the faithfully assuring story by Lawrence Kasdan, all the way to the redundant yet rousing score by John Williams, THE FORCE AWAKENS was shooting womp rats left and right with precision. What seemed to unearth itself from the confines of the sarlacc pit in what amounted to almost 35 years, were characters that were genuinely likeable, allowing us to let go of a sordid and complicated history.
Three plainclothes navy officers sit propped up at a bar, their cigarettes lit, and bourbon poured before them, aggressively chased by more bourbon. Light pours in from the oversized window, illuminating our central figures, fresh from combat. The bar top divides our characters by the waist, represented as merely half men, emasculated and alienated from the war. In the corner, a uniformed soldier dances to the horns of a jazz record playing on a jukebox. We see him erect, standing not as a man, but a soldier, stitched into his stripes like a battle wound. Represented here aren’t the heroes America has read about, but the fractured fatalities of the post-war masculinity. It’s a scene married to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, our protagonist Johnny Moore (Alan Ladd) symbolizing the frayed effeminacy represented with the woman in red.
When we first see Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), our films heroine, she’s alone gazing at her blood stained hand, its crimson cast against falling snow. Her ashen gown is juxtaposed with her ghostly complexion, the scarlet laden wound across her cheek emphatic. There’s a look in her eye that warns of the events that will unfold, though there’s a yearning that rests on her hand, an instrument that remains unyielding in its faculty. It’s in her eyes, agape with wonder and speculation, that she bears witness to her ivory extremities for the first time. When we hear Edith speak, it’s a voice that comes from within, one that resonates throughout with command, though it expresses what we already believe. Her power comes from her instrument, bloodied and strong yet beautifully empowering.
Whether you believe in angels or not, they exist.
At least for Kevin McCallister they do, our titular character in Chris Columbus/John Hughes’ subliminally dark slapstick homage to the cinema of yesteryear that has been putting children on the naughty list for 25 years. HOME ALONE stands as a very unique take on a tried-and-true, yet worn home invasion subgenre, a genre that typically falls within the realm of horror thriller. Films like STRAW DOGS (1971), BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979) all depict the subgenre in an expressively grim, bleak, and subversive nature that calls to mind the social upheaval and unrest of the 1970’s. Times began radically changing from the free love of the 1960’s, becoming immortalized in the powerful lens of cinema. Things were no longer safe; doors had to be locked and bicycles had to be removed from lawns, especially in the wealth of suburban homes.