Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother Gabber

Wise: Well, Werth. Sunday is Mother's Day and it's time for us to honor our mothers.

Werth: Of course. Here's to Mildred Pierce, Margaret White, and Mrs. Bates

Wise: And let's not forget Debbie Reynolds.

Werth: Let's not. She might make us jazzercise.

Wise: One mother of a movie movie I'm awfully fond of is Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited (2007).  The film follows three brothers—Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman)—as they journey across India by train, ostensibly in search of spiritual enlightenment, although the ulterior motive of Francis, who planned the trip, is to find their mother (Anjelica Huston) who absconded to a remote Himalayan convent after the death of their father.  

Werth: She should have checked out Black Narcissus (1947) before packing her bags.  

Wise: Along the way they bicker, get drunk, smuggle a cobra into their compartment, smoke, indulge in fisticuffs, and are eventually thrown off the train.  When they eventually do find their mother, she is both everything they hoped and everything they feared. 

Werth: What else could you expect when Anjelica Huston is your mother?
Wise: Anderson's style is heavily influenced by his cinematic heroes from the French New Wave and 1960's Italian cinema, but The Darjeeling Limited emerged from his admiration for Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, to whom the film is dedicated.  
Ray's films inspired Anderson to travel to India with his co-writers Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, and the resulting screenplay, though still full of his stylistic tics, feels more inquisitive about life, the characters more open to chance entering their hermetically sealed lives.  

Werth: And cobras.

Wise: Even the mise en scène feels much less restrained as Anderson and his longtime cinematographer Robert Yeoman forgo his typically muted palette in favor of dynamic combinations of azure and lime, amber and indigo, cerulean and gold.  The vividness added to Anderson's careful compositions reflects his characters' dawning realization that their dogged myopia has only hindered the search for their mother and prevented them from appreciating life. 

Werth: One of my all-time favorite flicks has not one, but two mothers. Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959) is a masterwork of excess. Already well-known for his overly dramatic romances with tragic turns like Magnificent Obsession (1954), All The Heaven Allows (1955), and Written on the Wind (1956), Sirk really went to town on this story about a pair of mothers—one white and one black who raise their daughters together. 
Lora Meredith (glamor puss Lana Turner) is a poor single mother trying to start an acting career and Annie Johnson (the beatific Juanita Moore) offers to be a live-in maid for her so Annie and her daughter Sarah Jane can have somewhere to stay.

 Wise: Being a maid for an out-of-work actress sounds like a bad career move.

Werth: It actually turns out pretty well for Annie, because Lora is ambitious and is soon the toast of Broadway, fighting for respect, good scripts and fabulous furs.

Wise: So, Annie moved up to being a maid for a diva.

Werth: The movie has long been a source for racial equality discussions. Some have even posited that the 1934 William Wellman directed version was less racist. 
But what I've always found fascinating about this movie is that underneath the unnaturally vibrant colors, the stylish gowns, glittering jewels and grandiose sets is a story of two people who really don't see race. Lora and Annie crawl up the ladder of fame together—and even if Annie isn't on the same social rung, Lora never forgets who she owes it all to. And Annie is eternally grateful to Lora for what she's done for her. The two main characters are oblivious to the racial issues that cause such a stir in the audience. 
Grown-up Sarah Jane (played with sizzling animosity by Susan Kohner) embodies the racial tension by "passing" as white, desiring all the same things that Lora's daughter Susie (Sandra Dee) has, only to find out tragically that pretending to be someone you're not is the real sin.

Wise: Tell that to C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man

Werth: All the great face-slaps, two-timings and passionate embraces build-up to an ending that's a true tearjerkerguaranteed to make you pick up the phone and call your mother.

Wise: Werth & I would like to wish all you Mothers out there the happiest of Mother's Days.

Werth: And remember, you only have one mother... but you have TWO Film Gabbers.

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