Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Art of Persuasion









Wild River
(Elia Kazan, 1960): a film about statecraft as the articulation of bureaucracy, a matter of public relations and, once we get down to it, persuasion. Lippmann-like technocracy comes up against the mess of implementation. It's an interesting film, to me, for its topic alone; but the treatment, too, is interesting. The surveilled lands, the problem of looking out, the space of a river island and visibility on the hill, amidst corn and weed ...

13 comments:

Jesús Cortés said...

An interesting film? I think it´s one of the greatest films of the decade and much better than "On the waterfront" to me.

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ZC said...

Jesús, I don't mean to sell the film short - "interesting" might read like fainter praise than I intend to give it. I'm still thinking about Wild River and would like to see it one or two more times before I really come up with a substantial opinion ... I hesitate to say it's a great film, though. The entire Lee Remick plot (subplot?) seems more or less superfluous, and conventional in a way that distracts from the impressive things the film otherwise does (in terms of space & place in this Tennessee town, surveillance & vision) ...

I'm open to arguments to the contrary!

Jesús Cortés said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesús Cortés said...

It´s not a matter of arguments to the contrary. Yours are good and if you think it´s a great film we agree. Said that, I don´t think there are "subplots" but an integrated vision and gaze. I only wanted to point out it´s not enough to say that one of my favorite American movies of these quite complicated and difficult period is just interesting.
Congratulations for your blog.

edo choi said...

Well, the romance is metaphorical, no? It's the romance between the country and the city oddly played out in method acting! What struck me about WILD RIVER is that this performance style, and the esthetic it suggests for the whole is so modern. This isn't a classical Hollywood film, not the way, say Ford, might deal with the same issue, so much as an ur-contemporary Hollywood film.

I really love the first substantial sequence between Remick and Clift where they go to the house she'd left, and then part the next morning. It seems like such a diversion at first, Zach, you're right about that. But there's also something very nice about that, that history is being told this way in the intimate hesitancy of an encounter between two people. I really think that the romance is key to the film.

Jon Hastings said...

"Well, the romance is metaphorical, no? It's the romance between the country and the city oddly played out in method acting!"

James Gray works this way, too, I think.

edo choi said...

Plenty of folks use romance as a metaphor, surely! But what's interesting to me is less the implementation of a metaphorical construction itself than this particular kind of dramaturgy that strikes me as very modern as opposed to classical, whereby the relationship is less about symbolic social and political gestures and more about hesitant half-articulations, pauses, gasps, cries of desperation etc. Remick is brilliant at all that.

ZC said...

I'm thinking about how integrated the romance line may be; I confess it didn't seem that way as I watched the movie. It seemed rote, and more or less beside the point of the film. But when I next watch, I'll try to see if I can re-orient myself. A romance between country and city? - perhaps, but Clift isn't coded as city so much, is he? Outsider, Yankee, and above all a stand-in for federal government (a lackey imbued with a great deal of distant symbolic power and little immediate, local efficacy). That's why the film is so fascinating as a treatment of statecraft, and the ways that the activities of state engender certain ways of looking at the world (=the land, the people, etc.) and of behaving towards it.

But I think you may be right, Edo, to touch upon the tense gray areas of the romance--the fact that it's narrating a series of desperate, impulsive emotional needs that the characters themselves seem aware of (and yet helpless before) ... it's doomed as a romance, a 'Hollywood romance,' but one can't help but wonder if it is nevertheless durable as a relationship for its pragmatic value. This would seem to me to be a fairly key "modern" measure of the remnants of an older Hollywood story ...

edo choi said...

Yes, I think I was being a little loose with my terms. More like a romance between state and federal.

I'd cite J. Hoberman's review as a strong articulation of a view that holds the Clift-Remick plot line as integral to the whole. Also, comments proffered by Kazan's wife before the screening I saw suggest that Jo Van Fleet's character was not as central to Kazan's conception at first. It was rather over the course of filming that Kazan felt his sympathies tending toward her point of view. Perhaps this explains in part the experience you're describing? A film that is oddly imbalanced. I'm not sure I'd agree vis-a-vis the romance, but I do think you find this problem in the lack of resolution of the opposition between Clift and the local luminaries. For me, that was the most disappointing part of the film. It seems especially deficient next to Preminger's treatment of a similar opposition in the Southern episode of THE CARDINAL.

Jon Hastings said...

"Plenty of folks use romance as a metaphor, surely!"

True - but not everyone, I think, overlays these bold, sweeping, simple (though not simplistic) allegories with a "method-y", surface naturalism. (As opposed to bold, sweeping allegories with a more symbolic, iconic surface.)

For me, this fits with what you're saying about hesitation and half-gestures, and, in this respect, Gray's work strikes me as being closer to Kazan's than it does to, say, Nick Ray's.

ZC said...

I will say that the romance has the virtue of an uncertain trajectory--one could see it going (or ending) any number of ways, and for a number of reasons ...

I'd like to write a bit more about this film in the future. Keep any thoughts on it coming!

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