Stella Dallas (1937)

Heroism is often equated with courageous and selfless acts benefitting the health and well-being of other individuals. We often see those deemed as heroes to be role models, subsequently emulating their acts so that we can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in our own lives. Society often thinks of historical figures who risked their own safety for the welfare of others on a massive scale. However, we model our behaviour very often from those we presume to be highly influential and important in our personal lives whether it be parents, friends, or an authority figure. It is often they who demonstrate the greatest heroism of all. “Stella Dallas” is a heart-wrenching 1937 drama directed by King Vidor exploring this very idea.

The always versatile and wonderful Barbara Stanwyck plays Stella Martin, a woman from humble, working class roots who falls for Stephen Dallas Jr. (John Boles), the advertising manager at the town mill from a background of high society. They fall in love quickly, marry, and have a daughter named Laurel. Initially, it appears as if Stella has also selfishly fallen in love with luxury. As well, her brash personality and past upbringing often excludes her from opulent circles. Despite superficial appearances and a crumbling marriage, the motivation behind Stella’s actions is always with good intentions. Laurel is highly appreciative of her mother’s efforts and fiercely loyal towards her. Mutual devotion, embarrassment, anger, and sadness are experienced in one pivotal scene  manifesting into Stella making the most selfless and heartbreaking decision of parenthood.

Parenthood itself is probably one of the most altruistic roles in society. So much energy, resources, and love are directed towards moulding and ensuring that a child will be productive and prepared for the challenges of adulthood. It often does “take a village to raise a child”, but it can be increasingly difficult in the case of single parenting and co-parenting. Co-ordination and compromise are essential to ensure that the child does not feel blame and continues to feel loved. This was especially the case in Laurel’s upbringing in spite of Mr. and Mrs. Dallas’ sometimes icy disdain for one another. Overall, I feel that the bravery and altruism of parents continuously expressed embodies the definition of a hero.

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I do not own the above image.

This post is part of the Inspirational Heroes Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy! Please click on the link to check out other great posts about inspirational film heroes!

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The Phantom Carriage (1921)

New Year’s Eve is deemed as the one poignant day upon which humankind bestows great introspection and reflection on the past year in perspective of their life thus far. “What have I accomplished?” “How have I changed?” “Am I truly ‘one year older and wiser’?” “What does my future hold?” These are a small sample of the questions we may ponder on this day. Many celebrate the fresh hope and opportunity that arise from self-analysis, while others may unfortunately be left feeling despondent. “The Phantom Carriage” is a 1921 Swedish silent film directed by Victor Sjostrom displaying the extreme ends of this pendulum of thought taking place near the midnight hour of this very fateful day of contemplation.

Sister Edit (Astrid Holm) is a highly benevolent yet naive worker of the Salvation Army who is sadly near death due to tuberculosis. During the greatest depths of her illness on New Year’s Eve, she asks her mother (Concordia Selander) and dear friend Sister Maria (Lisa Lundholm) for a man named David Holm (Victor Sjostrom) to visit her. Before meeting this character, a sentiment of disdain and anger has already cultivated towards him. Upon meeting him, the contempt harboured towards him seems quite justified. He is also completely ignorant to the cautionary tale his friend Georges (Tore Svennberg) had told him about “The Phantom Carriage”. The very last person who dies on New Year’s Eve must drive the carriage, and they must also be at all costs obedient to Death itself. Little did Mr. Holm know that he would meet that fate and be greeted by a dear friend who, as in similar fashion to Jacob Marley, prompts ample pause for the “maturity of the soul” through past events, behaviours, and untimely consequences.

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I would be amiss if I did not discuss the technical brilliance of this film. I cannot imagine that double exposure techniques were frequently developed in film at the time. This is absolutely central in increasing the effectiveness of telling this particular story. Furthermore, I found the tones of the images were interesting with brown being representative of indoor settings and blue of outdoors. Neither colour is particularly warm, potentially symbolizing the false sense of shelter in which Holm has enveloped himself. Furthermore, several images in this film have been highly influential in shaping the structure of “The Seventh Seal” and “The Shining”, two of the most iconic films in cinematic history in my opinion.

“The Phantom Carriage” itself is a burden to the lost spirits who have to carry its weight for a full year. However, it is also a symbol for the spiritual and emotional strain that many drag with them on a daily basis. Many of our actions and thoughts are resultant of fear, contempt, and anger. In other words, they are reactionary to the lack of core vitality and humanity necessary to achieving wholeness and true presence. Decency, kindness, and compassion embody the true human condition. Overall, this film does an exemplary job in reminding viewers of the importance of responsibility, love, and respect as integral aspects of our functioning. Grief for former possibilities can be devastating upon the realization of their potential.

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I do not own any of the above images.

This post is part of the Happy New Year Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog! Please click on the link to check out other posts discussing films which take place on New Year’s Eve!

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Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

Human connection is a vital aspect of our daily functioning. It lends us security, comfort, solace, and even a breadth of opportunities. It also allows us to express our inner hopes and desires to others, with the prospect of attaining harmony and fulfilment. Conversely, crafting and sustaining these relationships can unfortunately be met with an underlying assumption that truth must be concealed for fear of judgment and reprehension. Our human core fears rejection, and these undeclared “differences” must be hidden from plain view to conserve our social pedestal. This den of secrecy can include friendships, parent-child and sibling relationships, and marriage whereby we must “please the other” while sacrificing our own integrity at times. The 1973 TV miniseries from Sweden entitled “Scenes from a Marriage” directed by the always introspective Ingmar Bergman examines the damage that this suppression of honesty can inflict upon a relationship.

Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann) are celebrating ten years of idyllic bliss with a magazine spread declaring their tips and tricks for a conflict-free marriage. Johan is a psychology professor at a prestigious institution, Marianne is ironically a divorce lawyer, and they have two beautiful children – the poster of familial perfection. Piece by piece, this picturesque facade crumbles. Over the six-part miniseries, their marriage is intimately dissected through pivotal interactions or “scenes” that occur over a ten-year period. Their relationship dissolves and reignites several times throughout this journey, and viewers learn that their actualities had always been concealed to appease those closest to them in their lives. The blossoming of their authenticity is therefore fundamental in ensuring the growth and sustainment of their connection.

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It has been previously mentioned that the series indeed is comprised of specific “scenes from a marriage”. Each episode provides us a snapshot into the much-needed, honest conversations that have been festering for many years in the lives of this couple. The simplicity of the cinematography and conviction of the lead actors force us to focus on the evolving genuine dialogue between them. It is well known that Bergman and Ullmann’s relationship was a great source of inspiration and material for this whole premise. This carefully composed examination is indeed a case of art imitating life or its past, and the palpability of this very common and relatable story remains exceedingly current.

In general, discussions on any topic may be quite effervescent and fleeting in their beginnings. Over time, they hold the power to drive opinions and shape perceptions. Our pre-existing views enter into discourse, subsequently influencing our presentation of topics and others’ interpretations of unfolding events. Furthermore, our individual worlds are the consequence of thousands of personal experiences and stories that we bring subconsciously into every interaction. This film is one glorious example of how these ideas culminate into expression and empathy within a relationship that mirrors many of our own truths and realities.

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I do not own the above photos in this post.