The Tin Drum (1979)

Childhood is a brief moment in human development whereby purity and innocence are the norm. A significant aspect of that time is spent in the depths of imaginative play with the aid of toys bought by well-meaning adults. The presents’ uses in play purposely and inadvertently serve to shield children from the mundane yet cruel world of adults. As time passes, former children decide whether to cling to the naiveties of their past or to embrace a new adult chapter in their lives with fortitude. The polarizing 1979 film “The Tin Drum” directed by Volker Schlondorff and adapted from the 1959 novel by Gunter Grass explores this struggle in the midst of the impending doom of WWII.

Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent) is introduced into the world with a promise of a tin drum at the age of three. His life leading up to this point is filled with confusion including the true identity of his father as well as the seemingly harsh conundrums adults face. He resolves that he never wants to grow up with the receipt of his tin drum, forcibly falling down a flight of stairs and permanently stunting his growth. Oskar subsequently discovers his talent for shattering glass via high-pierced shrieking, initially using this tool as a means of self-security. However, this aptitude does nothing to protect Oskar against the jarring actualities associated with adultery, death, romance, employment, discrimination, and the inhumanities of the Nazi party. Adulthood is beckoning Oskar; his appearance and his tin drum can no longer shield him.

This film was applauded by critics upon initial release, winning the lauded Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Palme d’Or. It was also met with great controversy regarding the portrayal of underage sex. Some aspects of the film were uncomfortable and difficult to watch. However, a blend of satire, comedy, and the contrast between Oskar’s inner fantasy world and the inevitability of living the full spectrum of life provides a very unique means of telling this dark story. We each experience bleakness in our lives, and use of our own versions of ‘tin drums’ as well as time as temporary shields. We may revert to childlike states in these circumstances. It is therefore vital to use a combination of our emotions and technical skills to face these challenges, helping us to feel accomplished and potentially propelling us into the next chapter of our lives.

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Rear Window (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock has repeatedly been touted over decades as “the master of suspense”. After leisurely conveying character development in the initial stages of his films, we are undoubtedly drawn into their worlds after growing to care about them. Careful cinematography and witty dialogue then set the stage for a multitude of suspenseful acts, which stirs a great deal of emotions including fear, anger, hopelessness, and shock. The classic 1954 film “Rear Window” is no exception. The claustrophobic and restricted settings in this film only serve to enhance our restlessness and anxiety, as well as concern for the beloved actors in the lead roles.

L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries, played by the incomparable and relatable James Stewart, is a photographer living in New York City who has broken his leg due to a workplace injury. He is confined to a wheelchair and thus his apartment, spectating the neighbours through his “rear window”. He gazes upon the diverse yet mundane lives of many of his neighbours secondary to his lack of social and physical activity. On one of his voyeuristic expeditions, he believes that he may have witnessed a murder and becomes obsessed with solving it. His fashionable and intelligent girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (the iconic Grace Kelly), and his nurse, Stella (the hilarious Thelma Ritter), become as equally absorbed as Jeff in this pseudo-investigation. As bystanders, our enthrallment and distance from the actual happenings of the film creates intense discomfort and simultaneous curiosity.

The old adage “a person’s eyes is a window to their soul” refers to unspoken truths that others interpret through our self-perceived hidden expressions. Conversely, I feel that a window could be seen as eyes peering into the souls of others. Referring to our main character’s occupation, photography can beautifully capture raw emotion for eternity. There is a broad scope, depth, and evolution to our daily lives, yet haphazard viewing of our mannerisms may lead to either correct or incorrect elucidation of our realities. This concurrent sense of connection and detachment can lead the viewers/voyeurs to be judgmental of others, which could create suspicion and fear. It is through conversation and approachability that we are able to truly understand and appreciate others’ struggles and joys. Passive scrutiny can therefore be bypassed when we exit through doors and stop peering through windows.

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Tampopo (1985)

The role of food in our daily lives extends beyond its vital function of sustenance. Its variety of tastes, shapes, and colours are central and even symbolic in numerous social gatherings. Memories of specific life events may be associated with a particular dish. Food itself may also conjure a multitude of emotions, ranging from pure joy to intense disgust. The delightful Japanese ‘ramen western’ directed by Juzo Itami entitled “Tampopo” explores the breadth of sensations and feelings associated with delicious dishes. This is accomplished through clever and diverse vignettes, as well as a central story of hope and determination.

Tampopo (Nobulo Miyamoto) is a widowed single mother trying desperately to continue operating her failing ramen noodle shop, “Lai Lai”. A chance encounter with truck drivers Goro (Tsutomo Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) encourages Tampopo to begin a quest for developing and perfecting her ramen recipes. We lovingly watch Tampopo blossom into a supreme ramen queen with the help of self-pronounced ramen experts, occasionally and amusingly tricking fellow competitors into divulging their own secrets! Over the top parodies of westerns and humorous sketches with cuisine as the central player are interspersed throughout the film. Every story told conveys different sentiments experienced with various foods present, including anticipation, elation, fulfillment, nostalgia, frustration, erotica, envy, tranquility, and appreciation.

Tampopo translates in English to the word “Dandelion”. This particular flower has had many uses over the course of history varying from weed to herbal remedy. The range of functions of this plant mirrors the endearing central character’s journey of self-discovery and growing confidence. Blood, sweat, and tears pour into every bowl of ramen subsequent to her decision to improve her craft. Her perseverance and diligence are qualities in which we all strive to emulate in our lives. Passion behind various work or home projects further stimulates us to ensure a high quality outcome. Thus, the achievement of that goal can be extremely rewarding, both or either personally or financially rewarding. As a treat, some would opt to eat delicious ramen to celebrate the fruits of their labour!

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John and the Missus (1986)

Communities are not just geographical dots on a map. They are composed of a multifaceted group of individuals and families providing many essential services. As there may be a central source of industry in a town, for example, that may be a point of connection for community members. This in turn with many other factors as well as human decency creates and fosters human essence, interdependency, trust, and a true sense of home. Community members celebrate joyous occasions, but may even express a wider variety of emotions during difficult times, such as complacency, anger, and sadness. “John and the Missus” is a film starring and directed and written by Canadian legend Gordon Pinsent, exploring community response to duress. The film captures a specific time in Newfoundland and Labrador history, whereby one issue was on many minds in small communities – resettlement.

John Munn (Gordon Pinsent) is a longstanding resident of Cup Cove, a community founded upon by copper mining. Multiple generations of his family have lived in this area, and John therefore has a deep sense of pride and roots to his hometown. The spiritual presence of John’s father is sometimes viewed and experienced upon the screen. At some points during the film, we see that John and the “missus” (Jackie Burroughs) have both cultivated a family and life here, and could never imagine leaving their quaint home. However, two major events delivered shockwaves through Cup Cove. The closure of the mine meant unemployment, and the Smallwood era government mandate of resettlement to larger towns, including providing $1000 to families for moving costs, indicated forced displacement from their beloved homes. Citizens have a myriad of reactions to this news, including hope, guilt, joy, grief, loss, and fear. No one is angrier than John about this prospect, and the film continues to navigate through his own emotions with his family’s support. This movie also encapsulates the absolute beauty and ruggedness of my home province, which allowed me to further engage in this historically important story.

Resettlement has been a highly debated topic throughout the most recent history of the province. Prior to the beginning of the program in the early 1950s, there were already multiple emerging ghost towns due to a poor natural environment and unemployment. The perceived viability of one’s community versus fiscal responsibility, service acquisition, and industrialization were used to rationalize this initiative. A large proportion of the community (initially 90% then 80%) had to agree to this uprooting. Many individuals reported feeling content with the move and the accompanying increase in educational and employment opportunities. Personally, I could imagine a sense of abandonment, disruption, and longing for one’s original place of upbringing in these circumstances. Home is a vital component of our sense of self, and any pressured removal from that environment can be quite devastating and stressful. Some may find the opposite true, greatly welcoming a new beginning. Regardless, the establishment of a home anchors us, allowing each human to contribute to society and to uniquely flourish.

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If you would like to read further about the history of NL resettlement, please click on this link: https://www.mun.ca/mha/resettlement/

This post is a part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy!

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Fox and His Friends (1975)

Financial security is necessary for survival by humans in many jurisdictions of Planet Earth. This is usually achieved via employment, careful budgeting, and sometimes luck. This said luck grandiosely amplifies prior to an individual acquiring a great deal of wealth via other means, such as winning the lottery. However, sudden prosperity can evoke emotional confusion, exploitation, misguided self-worth, and a false sense of hope and stability. The dark side of perceived positive outcomes is an idea which many choose to ignore. “Fox and His Friends”, directed in 1975 by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, carefully examines this rollercoaster scenario and somewhat taboo topic.

Franz Bieberkopf a.k.a. “Fox”, played by Fassbinder himself, works as a “talking head” at a local carnival. The employment of all carnival workers is compromised when the owner and partner of Fox, Klaus (Karl Scheydt) is arrested for tax fraud. It is evident that the two share a strong bond, and that the relationship’s forced dissolution could foreshadow a troublesome future. Contrary to these immediate thoughts, Fox wins 500,000 marks in the lottery which seems to be highly prospective in resolving his lack of incoming finances. All must be right in the world in this instance, as he additionally falls into a social circle of prominent, wealthy gay men. Sophistication and self-absorption enamours them, which is quite different from Fox’s original group of friends he more infrequently associates with at a local bar. Ultimately, Fox’s elatedness and naivety fails to dissect the truth of surrounding lies within the new group of “friends”, and a tumultuous journey filled with backstabbing, manipulation, infidelity, greed, dishonesty, and loss of true identity ensues.

I feel as if there is a duality within the title of the film. Fox’s true group of friends remains present as he navigates this new bourgeois way of life. They are also of the same social class as Fox once was, and this creates a common link between them. The title of “friends” for the shinier new assembly is sarcastic and hypocritical, yet Fox is drawn to them as he aspires to bask in their glory and ascend the social class ladder. This facade of bought popularity and love tantalizes many gullible people, especially those who may be in the midst of discovering their true sense of self. Persons in positions of power may swarm to prey upon others to exploit for their own means, as was the case with Fox. Overall, I believe that this film is a strong reminder to the viewers to take quality time to cultivate one’s own personal growth and true relationships. While strong financial planning cannot be underestimated, individual maturation and life experience could potentially assist us to resist the temptation of entering and partaking in a false world.

 

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