40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Review: "The Graduate"

Recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is home from school and unsure of his future. His parents want him to start his graduate studies; he wants to do nothing.

Mike Nichols' 1967 film The Graduate is a fine piece of filmmaking, with a smart script that seems to occupy a space slightly out of normal time. The war in Vietnam was raging, anti-war protesters were out in force, free love was being explored in San Francisco, and the civil rights movement was about to lose Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy to the bullets of assassins. In Benjamin Braddock's world, his only concern is getting quality time in his family's pool.

Ben's aimless idling is about to change: following a party at his parent's house, the wife of the business partner of Benjamin's dad, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) asks Ben to drive her home. He's reluctant to, but finally agrees. When they pull up to the Robinson home, Mrs. Robinson asks Ben to come in with her, to keep her company until her husband (Murray Hamilton, who earlier offers Ben a great piece of advice: "Plastics!") gets home. Benjamin is all nervous tics and jitters around Mrs. Robinson. She offers him a drink, puts on some music, and opens up about her unhappy marriage. Benjamin wants to know if she's trying to seduce him. "Would you like me to seduce you?" Yes, he would, thank you, and the two begin an affair.

The screenplay, by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, is peppered with witty dialog. It's actually a very funny film. The film has aged a bit, at least in concept, and the idea of a younger man having an affair with an older woman (although Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft were only six years apart in age) isn't as scandalous as it once was.

The film has some great music from Simon and Garfunkel, songs that haven't aged, and are just as good today as they were in 1967.

Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson end their affair, right about the time that the Robinson's daughter, Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross), comes home to visit from college. Benjamin is asked by Mr. Robinson to take Elaine out. Mrs. Robinson is not very keen at the idea and warns Benjamin not to do it. Benjamin ignores her advice, and before long, he's in love (or so he thinks) with Elaine.

Elaine finds out about Benjamin's affair with her mother, and isn't very happy about it: her mother had told her Benjamin had raped her. Benjamin is determined to win her back. After some time he discovers Elaine is going to get married, and with that marriage ceremony, with have one of the most famous endings in the movies: Benjamin, at the church, pounding on a large glass wall, with Elaine abruptly running away from her groom to join Benjamin, as the two get away in a bus.

While The Graduate has dated a bit, it's still an entertaining film with a great cast, creative direction from Mike Nichols, and a great screenplay and soundtrack. Recommended.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

They Really Love Me (again!)

The fine folks at Blogcritics.org have picked my review of the ABC reality show Supernanny as an editor's choice pick of the week. You can read the review here, and if you do, let me know what you think.

Also, you can hear part two of my Podcast essay, "Reality Show Humiliation," just click here.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I Love to Watch: Reality Show Obsessions

I'm kicking myself for missing the episode of Trading Spouses that featured the crazy lady. I saw the commercials and part of the first episode but missed the crazy parts in the second episode. I like crazy. It adds a certain...something to the whole reality show experience. People just going nuts in front of the camera. It should be a staple of all reality shows.

One show I'm starting to enjoy is ABC's Supernanny. It goes against the grain of what I normally enjoy as it lacks the elements of humiliation that I enjoy so much in other reality shows. But darn it all if I'm not enjoying it. "Supernanny" Jo Frost visits a family in need of some guidance on how to deal with their children, and Jo comes in and whips everyone into shape and before you know it, BAM! Every single problem is solved. Well, not every problem. But some of them. I suppose if I want humiliation I can tune in to Fox's Nanny 9/11. It's Fox, there has to be some humiliation involved.

Been keeping up with both versions of The Apprentice? It's been drowsy good fun, hasn't it? On Donald's show this week the teams had to come up with a display promoting Star Wars products, and on Martha's show the teams had to sell something on QVC. Haven't we been in this neighborhood before? How many weeks are left before it's all over? Not soon enough. And more bad news: the next series of The Apprentice is currently being filmed. Let's hope series 5 is more interesting than the current series has been.

Next week I'll try to force myself to watch reality shows on CBS. Ugh

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Great Movies: "Shane"

The Western as metaphor has been a staple of American -- and, indeed, international -- filmmaking, from the very beginnings of the cinema to the great "spaghetti" westerns of Italian director Sergio Leone (and, recently, directors like Kevin Costner and the great Clint Eastwood). We know all of the staples, from the villain with the black hat and dual pistols to the heroic cowboy figure and the rugged families who tended the land.

In George Stevens' 1953 film Shane, the Western genre is used to introduce an almost Christ-like mythos in the title character. It's a captivating film that still holds emotional power more than fifty years after its release.

We meet Shane (Alan Ladd) in the opening titles: a lone figure on horseback, up on top of a hill, carefully making his way down into the valley. He is dressed in a simple buckskin outfit. Loyal Griggs' wonderful cinematography gives us a real feeling of time and place, an unspoiled wilderness of nature. Does Shane seem to have a bit of a glow about him, almost like a halo? I think he does.

Shane's journey through the valley brings him to a simple homesteading family, the Starretts: Joe Starrett (Van Helfin); his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur); and young son, Joey (Brandon De Wilde). At this point in the film we do not know anything about Shane; nor does the Starrett family. The family and Shane connect and Shane decides to stay and help Joe with tending to the land.

Young Joey is immediately fascinated by Shane, and as Shane's relationship with the family grows, we also realize that Shane and Marian are attracted to each other. Shane, the loner, does not act on his feelings, but it's obvious to Joe that his wife has her own fascination with the handsome stranger.

In town, a man named Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is not so fond of the homesteaders, driving his cattle through their fences and gardens. There is a small, close group of families that Brutus bullies to get them to leave.

The good vs. evil scenario is beginning to take shape, as are the parallels to the Christ mythos. After deciding to stay with the Starrett family, Shane travels into town to purchase working clothing -- an act of humbling himself, as Christ would have in ministering to the poor. Shane has promised Joey that he'd pick him up a bottle of soda pop, which Shane has to order in the saloon. The local toughs hang out there, and one of them, Calloway (Ben Johnson), immediately challenges Shane; the toughs snicker when Shane orders the bottle of soda pop and Calloway wants Shane to have a real drink; Shane refuses, and Calloway tosses the drink on Shane's new shirt. Like Christ, Shane turns the other cheek (this time), takes the soda, and leaves.

We know that a confrontation is brewing, an inevitable show-down between the homesteaders and the toughs in town. Western justice is the rule of the day, since there is no law enforcement in the community.

Meanwhile, Ryker has brought in a hired gun, the mysterious Jack Wilson (Jack Palance), a Western villain with a black hat and few words. Shane seems to know who he is.

At the Starrett home, young Joey is wanting Shane to show him how to shoot a gun, which he does, to Marian's objection; she doesn't like guns. "A gun is a tool, Marian, no better or no worse than any other tool, an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that," Shane tells her.

Shane is becomming a surrogate father figure to Joey, who follows Shane around like a puppy, and his hero worship is upped tremendously after watching Shane beat up the toughs at the local saloon (no turning the other cheek, this time).

As the film nears its inevitable climax, one of the homesteaders, Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.) has had enough of Ryker's bullying, and heads into town to confront Ryker. Torrey is viciously shot dead by Wilson, and Torrey's death is the catalyst for the other homesteading families to leave. Joe Starrett does not want to leave, and he too prepares himself for a confrontation in town. Shane stops him -- Shane knows his destiny and the battle is not Joe's to fight. Shane must battle evil, a destiny we know he cannot escape or shape. Shane may have pretended to be a normal man during his stay with the Starretts, but we know that he knows he cannot escape his destiny, and must fulfill it -- again, as Christ must fulfill his destiny. "There's no living with a killing. There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks," Shane explains to Marian. Meaning, after dealing with the evil in town, he'll have to leave (if he's still alive); he cannot return to the simple family life of the Starretts, especially in the case of Marian.

There is a lot going on below the surface of Shane. It would be easy to dismiss it as a product of the 1950s, an "oat drama," but there's many layers to this film. Shane is an enigma from beginning to end, a man with a past we do not know, facing an unknown future. Even the cries of Joey, begging Shane to stay, cannot sway Shane from changing his mind (because he cannot), as Shane rides off into the distance.

Shane is a wonderful experience, thankfully preserved through the format of DVD. A must-have for any film collection.
**** out of ****