TIME MACHINE: The March on Washington

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TIME MACHINE: THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the event known as the The March on Washington. Also known as The March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom or The Great March on Washington, the famous Civil Rights event took place in Washington D.C., on August 28, 1963. 

The event was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations under the theme “jobs, and freedom”. Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000. Observers also estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were African-Americans. Organization of the march originated with A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Negro American Labor Council and vice-president of the AFL-CIO and activistBayard Rustin had begin planning the march as early as December 1962. They hoped for two days of protest that included sit-ins and lobbying, followed by a mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Randolph and Rustin wanted to focus on joblessness and to call for a public works program that would employ blacks. In early 1963, they publicly announced “a massive March on Washington for jobs”. Amalgamated Clothing Workers unionist Stanley Aronowitz gathered support from radical union organizers who could be trusted not to report their plans to the Kennedy administration. The unionists offered tentative support for a march that would be focused on jobs.

Without securing the cooperation of the NAACP or the Urban League, Randolph announced an “October Emancipation March on Washington for Jobs” on May 15, 1963. He reached out to union leaders, winning the support of the UAW’s Walter Reuther, but not of AFL–CIO president George Meany. Randolph and Rustin intended to focus the March on economic inequality, stating in their original plan that “integration in the fields of education, housing, transportation and public accommodations will be of limited extent and duration so long as fundamental economic inequality along racial lines persists”. While negotiating with other leaders, the pair expanded their stated objectives to “Jobs and Freedom”, acknowledging the agenda of groups that focused more on civil rights. A coalition of civil rights and union leaders known as “the Big Six”, which included Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., met with President John F. Kennedy on June 22, 1963. Kennedy warned against creating “an atmosphere of intimidation” by bringing a large crowd to the nation’s capital. The activists insisted on holding the march. After a good deal of negotiations with the Kennedy administration and with the different activist groups, finally agreed to a date in late August for the march.

While the event was being organized, it encountered a great deal of opposition from the country’s conservative element. Many conservative politicians branded the event as being organized and inspired by Communists, despite the planners’ rejection of help from Communist groups. This mindset was especially espoused by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who singled out Rustin as a Communist and homosexual. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered an investigation into the event’s organizers for any Communist ties. When he received a report citing Communists’ failure to infiltrate the Civil Rights movement, Hoover immediately rejected it. However, opposition to the event also came from liberal activists. Rustin harbored doubts due to his fears that the march might turn violent. Malcolm X, spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, condemned the event as a joke as labeled it the “farce on Washington”.

On August 28, 1963; participants who lived outside of the Washington D.C. area arrived in large numbers. The event attracted a media assembly larger than President Kennedy’s inauguration over two years ago. The march failed to start on time, due to its leaders meeting with members of Congress. To their surprise, the participants began the march at the Washington Monument and headed for the Lincoln Memorial. The event’s leaders arrived late and linked arms in front of the marchers on Constitution Avenue in order to be photographed leading the march. At least 50 members of the American Nazi Party staged a counter-protest, but were dispersed by the local police. Most of the city’s citizens stayed at home and watched the event on television. The official program, which began after the march reached the Lincoln Memorial included performances by Camilla Williams (who sang the National Anthem), Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Odetta Holmes and the group – Peter, Paul and Mary. Speakers included both Randolph and Rustin, John Lewis (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe), Joachim Prinz of the American Jewish Congress, and Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays, who closed the program. Roy Wilkins announced activist W.E.B. DuBois’ death, which occurred the night before. However, the highlight of the event proved to be Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Historians and activists have been debating on the consequences of the March for the past five decades. Many radicals have embraced Malcolm X’s criticism of the event as a co-optation of the white establishment. Others tend to focus more on King’s famous speech and the civil rights legislative successes that followed in 1964 and 1965. And recently, many historians have been focusing on Bayard Rustin’s organization of the event. Just recently, President Barack Obama The symbo of the March has been contested since before it even took place. In the years following the March, movement radicals increasingly subscribed to Malcolm X’s narrative of the March as a co-optation by the white establishment. Liberals and conservatives tended to embrace the March, but focused mostly on King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the legislative successes of 1964 and 1965, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The cooperation of the Kennedy Democratic administration on the issue of civil rights led the Democrats to give up its Southern Democratic support, undivided since Reconstruction to lure a high proportion of black votes from the Republican Party. More recently, historians and commentators have acknowledged the role played by Bayard Rustin in organizing the event. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 8 of this year. There was one negative consequence from the March. Two months after the event, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy gave Hoover and the F.B.I. permission to initially begin a wiretapping campaign against Dr. King. It lasted until the activist’s death in April 1968.

For more information about the March on Washington, check out the following books:

*“The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights” by William P. Jones

*“Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington”> by Charles Euchner

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Four “1854-1856” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE FOUR “1854-1856” Commentary

If I had to pick one or two episodes from 1985’s “NORTH AND SOUTH” that I would view as personal favorites, one of my choices would be Episode Four. This episode provided a series of sucker punches to the audience that provided the miniseries’ narrative with a strong forward drive. 

The end of Episode Three saw the Hazard family leave their home in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1854 for a visit to the Main’s plantation in South Carolina’s low country. Episode Four picked up a week or two later with the Hazards attending a ball held by the Mains at Mont Royal, the latter’s plantation. Everything seems to be all right in the world for the two families. Both Billy Hazard and Charles Main are on furlough following two years at West Point. And even Virgilia Hazard seemed to be behaving cordially toward her hosts and their neighbors. And then . . . everything goes to pot. On the very night of the ball, Virgilia meets Grady, the slave of neighbor James Huntoon. Ashton Main, still angry at Billy for rejecting her sexual offer two years ago, makes a beeline for sister Brett’s current beau Forbes LaMotte, Madeline LaMotte’s nephew-in-law and the two engage in a sexual tryst inside the plantation’s barn. Unfortunately for Ashton, Billy walks in on her and Forbes and he swings his attention to Brett. The Hazard family’s visit ends when Virgilia becomes romantically involved with Grady before she aids his escape from slavery and South Carolina. Two weeks after the Hazards’ departure, Madeline discovers from her dying father that her dead mother was one-fourth black, making her one-eighth black.

The second half of Episode Four features Billy and Charles’ graduation from West Point in June 1856. George and Orry reconcile after the debacle following Grady’s escape two years earlier. Both discuss Billy’s marriage proposal to Brett. However, Orry is reluctant to give his approval, due to the couple’s regional differences. Billy and Brett’s continuing romance leads a jealous Ashton to sleep with some of Billy’s Northern-born friends at the cadet. Three months later, Madeline informs Orry about her father’s revelation during one of their trysts at Salvation Chapel. Orry suggests they leave South Carolina together, before her husband Justin LaMotte learns about her family secret. Unfortunately, Ashton discovers she has become pregnant, due to her sexual trysts at West Point. She seeks Madeline’s help to abort the unborn child. Madeline leads her to a free woman named Aunt Belle Nin to act as an abort Ashton’s pregnancy. Unfortunately for Madeline, she had lied to Justin about her whereabouts. And upon her return to Resolute – the LaMotte plantation – she learns that Justin had exposed her lie about meeting a friend at a Charleston hotel for lunch. Angry over her lie and unwillingness to tell the truth about her whereabouts, Justin locks Madeline in one of the manor’s bedrooms, allowing her to sustain on bread and water for several days. Madeline’s free born servant, Maum Sally, tries to free her; but Justin prevents the escape attempt and kills the older woman with a punch to the face.

Wow! Not only did a great deal occurred in Episode Four, but important factors in the narrative that drove the story forward. However, before I wax lyrical over this episode, I must point out some of the flaws. One, I found it a little ridiculous that Billy and Charles wore their West Point cadet uniforms during most of their furlough in the episode’s first half. Two, West Point was not in the habit of hosting balls on its campus following a graduation. Following the graduation ceremony, it was traditional for graduates to travel to New York City for a celebration luncheon at an elite hotel during the 19th century. And they would NOT be wearing their cadet uniforms long after the ceremony. Three, Grady told Virgilia that he had taught himself how to read. How? How does one achieve that without anyone else acting as tutor?

My biggest problem with Episode Four centered on Ashton’s trysts with several West Point graduates during the night of the Academy’s ball. I found the entire sequence rather unpleasant and sexist. Let me get something straight. Although I found Terri Garber’s portrayal of Ashton Main very entertaining and well-done, I believe that Ashton is a repellent woman. But what I found even more repellent is author John Jakes’ idea of what constitutes a villainous woman. Ashton, like a good number of his villains both female and male, tend to possess some kind of sexual perversion. In Ashton’s case, she is portrayed as sexually promiscuous. And it is this promiscuity that is allegedly a hallmark of her villainy. Episode One introduced George Hazard arriving at a New York train station in the company of two prostitutes, with whom he previously had sex. The episode makes it clear we are to view George as a young, cheerful womanizer for us to admire. Episode Four featured Ashton having pre-marital sex with Forbes LaMotte and two years later, with a handful of West Point graduates. The episode makes it clear we are to view her as a sexual pervert and morally bankrupt. For me, Ashton’s moral bankruptcy is stemmed from her racism and other elitist views, her selfishness and vindictive nature. Unless she had used her sexuality to engage in rape or some other violent behavior, I refuse to view Ashton’s sexuality as something evil. 

Despite my disgust at the portrayal of Ashton’s sexuality and other flaws found in Episode Four, I still enjoyed it very much. Once again, director Richard T. Heffron displayed his talent for big crowd scenes. This particular episode featured the dazzling Mont Royal ball sequence. Not only did Heffron and Larner did an excellent job with a carefully choreographed dance number accompanied by the tune, “Wait For the Wagon”, they managed to capture the detailed little dramas that filled the sequence – including Virgilia’s first meeting with Grady and the beginning of Ashton’s trysts with Forbes LaMotte. The other major sequence featured in Episode Four also include Billy and Charles’ graduation from West Point. George and Orry’s West Point graduation inEpisode Two merely featured a few graduates receiving diplomas and the friends congratulating their fellow classmates. Audiences get to see their younger kinsmen march in an elaborate parade for the Academy’s guests. The screenplay and Heffron’s direction also explored minor dramas that included George and Orry’s discussion about Billy and Brett at Benny Haven’s tavern and Ashton’s encounters with her cousin’s fellow Academy graduates.

But the episode featured some other delicious dramatic moments. The best include the beginning of Virgilia and Grady’s romantic relationship inside a deserted barn, during a hurricane. This scene not only benefited from Heffron’s direction, but also some outstanding performances from Kirstie Alley and Georg Stanford Brown, who created a sizzling screen chemistry together. Another outstanding dramatic scene turned out to be the breakfast scene at Mont Royal during which the Hazards and Mains learn about Grady’s escape and Virgilia’s participation in it. Heffron’s direction, along with excellent performances from Terri Garber, Jim Metzler (who was a bit hammy at times), John Stockwell, James Read and Patrick Swayze infused a great deal of delicious tension into this scene. But the stand-out performance came from Alley, who did a great job of expressing Virgilia’s lack of remorse over Grady’s escape and highly-charged words about the country’s future with slavery. The actress and Brown also shined in a well-acted scene that featured a visit from abolitionist William Still to Grady and Virgilia’s Philadelphia slum home. The scene also included a first-rate performance from Ron O’Neal as the famous abolitionist.

My article on Episode Three had commented on Garber and Genie Francis’ portrayals of the Main sisters, Ashton and Brett. However, the actresses really knocked it out of the ballpark in a conversation scene between the two sisters during the West Point graduation parade sequence. Another excellent scene featured fine performances from the two leads – Swayze and Read – as George and Orry discuss the possibilities and drawbacks of a marriage between Billy and Brett. However, the episode’s final outstanding scene displayed the brutalities of spousal abuse in the LaMotte marriage. Lesley-Anne Down, David Carradine and Olivia Cole gave superb performances during the ugly circumstances that followed Madeline’s assistance in Ashton’s abortion.

Cinematographer Stevan Larner and film editors Michael Eliot and Scott C. Eyler did excellent jobs in capturing the superficial glitter and glamour of the Mont Royal ball. Larner’s photography perfectly captured the dark squalor of Virgilia and Grady’s Philadelphia’s hovel. And once again, he worked perfectly with Heffron, Eliot and Eyler in re-creating the military color of Billy and Charles’ West Point graduation. Once again, Vicki Sánchez’s costumes impressed me. Mind you, I was not that impressed by the costumes worn by Alley, Down and Wendy Kilbourne during the Mont Royal ball sequence. Their costumes looked more Hollywood than anything close to mid-19th century gowns. And the jewelry that gowns that Genie Francis and Terri Garber wore in that sequence, along with some other costumes:

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Granted, Episode Four featured some flaws in the narrative regarding the West Point graduation sequence and a few other matters. But the episode not only featured some outstanding performances, but also plot lines that really drove it forward. Not surprising, it is one of my favorite episodes in the 1985 miniseries.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” (2013) Review

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“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” (2013) Review

I have a confession to make. I have always liked “THE WIZARD OF OZ”, the 1939 adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s 1901 novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. I used to watch it on a yearly basis as a child. But if I must be brutally frank, I have never developed a deep love for the movie. So when I learned that the Disney Studios had developed a prequel movie to the 1939 film, I did not exactly jump up and down with joy.

I was surprised to learn that the Disney Studios’ history with Frank Baum’s fantasy world of Oz proved to be a long one. Walt Disney had wanted to create an animated film based on the 1901 story, but he and his brother Roy Disney discovered that Samuel Goldwyn had first purchased the film rights before selling it to Louis B. Mayer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Disney managed to purchase the rights of Baum’s remaining Oz novels in 1954. And in 1985, the studio produced and released the sequel movie, “RETURN TO OZ”. However, the film proved to be a box office bomb. And the movie rights to all of Baum’s novels ended up in public domain. Twenty-seven or 28 years later, Disney tried their hand at another Oz movie. The result is the prequel to Baum’s 1901 novel and MGM’s 1939 film – “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. Set twenty years before the novel and the film, “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” begins in 1906 Kansas with barnstorm and small time magician Oscar Diggs working in a traveling circus. Oscar is also something of a scam artist and ladies’ man who has no qualms with seducing the young wife of the circus’ strongman. Oscar is also in love with a young local woman, who has been encouraged by him to marry a respectable farmer. When the strongman learns of Oscar’s flirtations, the latter escapes the circus in a hot air balloon. But he is sucked into a tornado and finds himself in the “Land of Oz”.

Once in this new land, Oscar meets the first of three witches who will turn his life upside down – Theodora. She believes he is the prophesied savior who will overthrow the Wicked Witch that killed the King of Oz. While she escorts him to Emerald City to meet her sister Evanora, Theodora is seduced by Oscar, leading her to fall in love with him. The pair also meets a flying monkey named Finley, who pledges a life debt to Oscar when the latter saves him from a lion . . . at Theodora’s instigation. Upon their arrival in Emerald City, Oscar is charged by Evanora to prove that he is Oz’s prophesied savior by traveling to the Dark Forest where the Wicked Witch resides and kill the latter by destroying her wand. During Oscar and Findley’s journey to the Dark Forest, they meet China Girl, a young, living china doll whose home and family had been destroyed by the Wicked Witch. When the trio reaches the Dark Forest, they discover that the “Wicked Witch” is actually Glinda the Good Witch of the North. She tells them that Evanora is the true Wicked Witch. And when Evanora sees this with her crystal ball, she manipulates Theodora against Oscar by showing him together with Glinda, claiming he is trying to court all three witches. Evanora offers the heartbroken Theodora a magic apple, which she promises will remove the younger witch’s heartache. Theodora eats the apple and transforms into the heartless, green-skinned future Wicked Witch of the West. Oscar, Glinda, Findley, China Girl and many others soon find themselves in a war against Evanora and Theodora for control of Oz.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” earned mixed reviews upon its release, despite becoming a box office hit. Many complained that it failed to live up to the “magic” of the 1939 movie. I do not know how to respond to this complaint. After all, everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Were there any aspects of “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” that I disliked? Well . . . I do have one major complaint and it has to do with the relationship between Oscar and Theodora. What I disliked was Oscar’s failure to apologize to Theodora for exploiting her feelings toward him when they first met. Instead of admitting that he had been wrong to seduce her in the first place, he merely offered her the chance to live in the Emerald City in peace if she would allow goodness back into her heart. And nothing else. Instead of an apology, Oscar offered her a sanctimonious offer of redemption. What an asshole. In other words, Mitchell Kapner’s screenplay refused to allow Oscar to consider that his careless seduction of Theodora gave Evanora the opportunity to transform her into an evil and heartless witch.

Despite this unpleasant exercise of relationships gone wrong, I actually enjoyed “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. In fact, my feelings of the movie seemed to be the same as the 1939 film – I enjoyed it very much, but I did not love it. It was fun, entertaining in its own way. And I could see that the movie greatly benefited from Kapner’s well-paced screenplay and director Sam Rami’s twisted sense of humor. This especially seemed to be the case in Oscar’s relationship with the long-suffering Findley and one of Emerald City’s citizens, the tart-tongued herald and fanfare player, Knuck. Rami and Kapner also did a clever job of allowing the plot to mirror certain aspects of 1939’s “THE WIZARD OF OZ”. The Kansas sequences at the beginning of both movies were filmed in black-and-white, both protagonists (Dorothy Gale and Oscar Diggs) arrived in Oz via a tornado. Both acquire sidekicks during their journeys through Oz. In Oscar’s case, both Findley and China Girl become his companions on the road. After meeting Glinda, he also acquire the friendship of Knuck (sort of) and the Emerald City’s Master Tinker. And both movies end with Oscar providing gifts to most of the protagonists.

At the same time, both Rami and Kapner were wise enough to remember that “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” is the product of early 21st century Hollywood, and not the film industry of the late 1930s. As I had stated earlier, the humor featured in the film struck me as slightly perverse at times – which I loved. And Oscar Diggs’ moral compass proved to be a lot more ambiguous than the innocent Dorothy Gale. Mind you, I disliked his handling of Theodora. But one has to remember that his character has always been something of schemer and opportunist – even in the 1939 film. Speaking of ambiguity, I was surprised to find a few hints of it in China Girl’s character – especially in her enthusiasm to seek and kill the Wicked Witch. In regard to the film’s villains, they seemed to be a different kettle of fish in compare to the Wicked Witch of the West in “THE WIZARD OF OZ”. Although Evanora proved to be evil in a one-dimensional manner, she seemed to be more subtle and manipulative in carrying out her deeds. And Theodora proved to be a real surprise. Her evil seemed to be born from a broken heart thanks to Oscar and her sister’s manipulations, making her the most sympathetic character . . . at least for me. Many reviewers – especially male reviewers – seemed confused over Theodora’s transformation from the naive young witch to the green-skinned, heartless evildoer. It almost seemed as if they did not want to acknowledge the part that Oscar played in her transformation into evil. And I find that rather sad and a little disturbing.

Speaking of the characters, they would not have worked without the first-rate cast that portrayed them. James Franco did an excellent job in conveying Oscar Diggs’ journey from the cheap and womanizing showman to the responsible civic leader that helped free the Emerald City from the evil Evanora’s grasp. Michelle Williams gave a luminous performance as Glinda the Good Witch. Although her character did not strike me as particularly complex, she managed to inject some much needed mystery into the character, making her more interesting than the 1939 counterpart. And Rachel Weisz seemed to be having a ball as the sly and manipulative Evanora. The movie also featured some solid performances from the likes of Bill Cobbs as Master Tinker, Tony Cox as the sardonic Knuck, Abigail Spencer as Oscar’s naive, yet very married Kansas assistant May; and a humorous appearance by Rami veteran Bruce Campbell as an Emerald City guard. But there were three performances that really impressed me. One came from Zach Braff, who added an expert touch of the long-suffering in his outstanding voice performance as winged monkey Findley. Another first-rate voice performance came Joey King in her portrayal of China Doll, who expertly conveyed both the character’s vulnerability and exuberant aggressiveness. And finally there was Mila Kunis, who did a stupendous job in her portrayal of Theodora, the naive young witch who became the murderous Wicked Witch of the West. I was more than impressed by Kunis, for I believe she had the difficult job of making her character’s transformation believable.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” is a beautiful movie to look at. Production designer Robert Stromberg did a solid job in bringing the land of Oz to life. Thanks to him and cinematographer Peter Deming, audiences were able to enjoy the movie’s rich and colorful look that brought back happy memories of the Technicolor featured in the 1939 movie. My only complaint are the few moments when it seemed I was looking at matte paintings instead of CGI during Oscar’s first moments in Oz. I was especially impressed by the scene that featured Theodora’s first appearance as the Wicked Witch of the West. Thanks to Rami’s direction, Deming’s photography, the make-up department’s work and the special effects team, I was more than taken aback by this frightening moment.

In the end, I really enjoyed “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. I did not love it. Then again, I do not love the 1939 movie. But I do believe that this new movie more than made up for the failure of 1985’s “RETURN TO OZ”. Thanks to screenwriter Mitchell Kapner, a talented cast led by James Franco and some first-rate and slightly twisted direction by Sam Rami, “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL” proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film.

“EMMA” (1996) Review

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“EMMA” (1996) Review

There are times that I find it hard to believe I have seen at least four adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma”, in the past year-and-a-half. Four adaptations. There have been a good deal more than four adaptations. But I have yet to watch any of them. The last adaptation I watched turned out to be writer/director Douglas McGrath’s 1996 film, which starred Gwyneth Paltrow. 

Although the actress had been working for a few years, it was her performance as Emma Woodhouse that put her on the map to stardom. In fact, I would say that “EMMA” also proved to be a professional milestone for co-stars Jeremy Northam and Toni Collette. “EMMA” turned out to be the second movie that featured both Paltrow and Collette as co-stars. And the movie also proved to be the directorial debut of Douglas McGrath. Was the movie worth the importance in the careers of the four mentioned? Perhaps.

I would never claim that “EMMA” was the best adaptation of Austen’s 1815 novel. There were aspects of it that I found unappealing or troubling. McGrath’s use of the Jane Fairfax character struck me as rather minimal. In fact, poor Polly Walker was barely able to speak more than five or six lines during her entire appearance in the movie. I got the feeling that the director/writer was not particularly interested in the character. And his limited use of poor Jane made me wonder why Emma would harbor any jealousy toward her in the first place. The characters of Isabella and John Knightley were barely used as well. I found this disappointing, since both have proved to be very interesting in other adaptations – especially the slightly rude John Knightley. Another problem I had with “EMMA” proved to be Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Frank Churchill. I do not if the problem was the actor or McGrath’s writing. But the portrayal of the character seemed . . . off. Frank seemed more busy trying to hide his feelings for Jane, instead of forming any kind of connection to Emma. In other words, this movie did not do justice to the characters of Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, and the John Knightleys.

But despite these flaws, I must admit that “EMMA” turned out to be a very entertaining and first-rate movie. Personally, I believe that the movie’s top-notch owned a great deal to McGrath’s direction. The director shot “EMMA” with a steady pace that allowed the audience to enjoy the greater details of Austen’s tale. This is really a well paced movie, despite the few nips and tuck McGrath inflicted into the story. “EMMA” could never bore me with a slow pacing. Yet, at the same time, it did not race by with the speed of a comet. Another aspect that contributed greatly to “EMMA” proved to be its comic timing. I honestly have to say that the 1996 film might be the funniest adaptation of Austen’s novel. This was especially apparent in two particular scenes – the Westons’ Christmas party, Emma and Mr. Knightley’s conversation about Harriet Smith and Robert Martin, and a specific moment during the Coles’ supper party that I cannot really explain with words.

There were changes to Austen’s novel that many have protested against, but did not bother me one whit. Some have pointed out that Sophie Thompson had been too young in 1995-96 to portray the middle-aged Miss Bates. She was in her early 30s at the time. Even McGrath had initially rejected her for the role when she first auditioned. But once Thompson donned a pair of glasses that made her seem several years older. And the age range for middle-age is pretty uncertain – even to this day. One range stretches from the mid-30s to the mid-60s, in which Miss Bates would fit. Besides . . . Thompson’s portrayal of the chatty Miss Bates is so deliciously funny that in the end, I am glad that McGrath had cast her in the role. Other changes include both Harriet Smith and Emma being rescued from the gypsies by Frank Churchill, the location of Emma’s first meeting with Frank, and the convergence of both the strawberry picking and the Box Hill picnic into one outing.

Two of the bigger changes proved to be Harriet’s reaction to Emma’s engagement to Mr. Knightley and the circumstances that surrounded Emma’s insult to Miss Bates. I found these last two changes somewhat of an improvement to Austen’s story. I have always thought that Austen had glossed over Harriet’s reaction to Emma and Mr. Knightley’s engagement. After allowing Harriet to develop a crush over Donwell Abbey’s master, Austen went out of her way to avoid or evade how Harriet might have reacted to the news. McGrath, on the other hand, approached the matter with a little more realism by allowing Harriet to react with tears. The other change featured Emma’s insult to Miss Bates on Box Hill. In the novel and other versions, Emma’s insult regarding Miss Bates’ intelligence had been laced with humor. Emma’s insult was tinged with malice in this version, due to her anger over the Eltons’ cold reaction to Frank’s regard for her. And instead of Jane Fairfax refusing to see Emma during the latter’s visit to the Bates’ home following the picnic, it was Miss Bates who refused to see her. Now many “purists” might have a problem with these changes. I did not. As far as I am concerned, these changes did not harm the story.

I can say this about “EMMA” . . . it proved to be one of the most beautiful looking Austen adaptations I have ever seen. I am not familiar with Ian Wilson’s work, other than his photography for the 1981 miniseries, “THE FLAME TREES OF THIKA”. And I have not laid eyes on that particular production in many years. I only hope that it looks as beautiful and lush as Wilson’s photography in “EMMA”. My God, I never thought that such lush and sharp colors could look so elegant. The look and style of Wilson’s photography seemed to match Ruth Meyer’s costume designs. The light elegance and pastel coloring featured in Meyer’s costumes almost gave them an ethereal vision – especially those costumes for the female cast. Meyer had received criticism from those who claimed that her costumes did not accurately reflect the Regency decade or English fashion. I was too busy enjoying Meyer’s costume designs to really care.

“EMMA” provided some first-rate performances from the cast. Well . . . let me rephrase that statement. From most of the cast. Poor Ewan McGregor was nearly defeated by McGrath’s written portrayal of Frank Churchill and that damn wig he was forced to wear. The London Film Critics’ Circle gave him the British Actor of the Year award. I am sorry, but I do believe he did not deserve this award. And he would be the first to agree with me, considering his past criticism of his performance. And poor Polly Walker was damn near wasted in her role as Jane Fairfax, due to McGrath’s failure to give her any depth. And lines. There were times I felt that McGrath was more interested in Emma’s reaction to Jane’s “perfections” than in the character. But the rest of the cast fared just fine. Both Greta Scacchi and James Cosmo gave solid performances as Mrs. and Mr. Weston (Emma’s former governess and Frank’s father). I could say the same for Phyllida Law’s silent portrayal of the defeated Mrs. Bates. Denys Hawthorne gave a charmingly humorous portrayal of Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse. But I did not find his performance as memorable as some of the other actors who have portrayed the character. But there were performances that really knocked the wind out of me. Juliet Stevenson was hilarious as the verbose and vulgar Mrs. Augusta Elton. She was so perfect (and annoying) in the role that I found myself wishing someone would bash her over the head to stop her prattling. However, I could stand and listen to Sophie Thompson’s prattling all day. I really enjoyed her portrayal as the equally verbose and pitiful verbose Miss Bates. I especially enjoyed her habit of loudly repeating a word or line in order for her silent mother to hear. Alan Cummings struck me as deliciously insidious as the fortune seeking Reverend Philip Elton. What I found amazing about his performance was his transformation from the slimy courtier to Mrs. Elton’s henpecked and dominated husband.

The three performances that really caught my attention came from Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam and Toni Collette. The latter gave one of the best comic performances I have ever seen in an Austen production. Her portrayal of the easily manipulated Harriet Smith reminded me of Debbie Bowen’s portrayal in the 1972 miniseries. But I believe Collette injected more comic skill into the role. Although Jeremy Northam was slightly younger than the literary George Knightley, he easily conveyed the character’s dignity and wisdom . . . and at the same time injected a great deal of wit and excellent comic timing into his performance. One of my favorite Northam moments turned out to be Knightley’s silent reaction to Emma’s duet with Frank Churchill at the Coles’ party. Northam’s Mr. Knightley looked as if he had found a worm in his salad and his expression had me shaking with laughter. Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of the well-meaning, yet snobbish Emma Woodhouse projected her into stardom. And I can see why. She not only gave one of the best performances in her early career, but I also believe that she proved to be the funniest Emma I have yet to see in any adaptation. Yet, at the same time, Paltrow did a great job in conveying Emma’s more dramatic moments and character development.

Although I do not consider “EMMA” to be the best adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, I have to admit that Douglas McGrath both wrote and directed an excellent film. He was ably supported by Ian Wilson’s beautiful photography, Ruth Meyer’s gorgeous costumes and a first-rate cast led by the excellent Gwyneth Paltrow. McGrath’s body of work may not have been that perfect, but I believe he can look back on his work for “EMMA” with great pride.

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Seven) Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the seventh episode of “THE PACIFIC”

 

”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Seven) Commentary

In Episode Seven”THE PACIFIC” finally ended its three-part focus on the Battle of Peleliu. This particular one centered on Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello) and his experiences with the 5th Marines regiment in the hills of Peleliu Island in October 1944.

The episode began with a montage featuring Sledge and the 5th Marines battling it out against the Japanese Army for a period of time – a first for the miniseries – until their return to the airfield for a brief respite. There, Sledge has a conversation with his company commander, Captain Andrew “Ack Ack” Haldane (Scott Gibson). As the 5th Marines prepare to head back into the hills, Sledge spotted Colonel Chesty Puller (William Sadler) and the 1st Marines regiment heading back toward the beach. One of that regiment’s wounded turned out to be one Lou “Chuckler” Juergens (Josh Helman), barely conscious, while smoking a cigarette.

As Sledge and the 5th Marines returned to the hills, the episode gave viewers another peek into John Basilone’s (Jon Seda) continuing publicity tour as a war hero. Only this time, the novelty has finally worn off. The war bond drive and celebrity status has driven Basilone into his own personal hell. He also seemed to be haunted by memories of Guadalcanal and the death of Manny Rodriguez (Jon Bernthal). This brief glimpse of Basilone’s dissatisfaction will eventually lead to his decision to request a return to active duty.

But most of the episode featured Sledge and the 5th Marines’ continuing experiences on Peleliu. The horrors that the Mobile native had experienced during the landing and the battle across the airfield almost seemed like child’s play in comparison to his experiences in the Peleliu hills. I say . . . almost. What Sledge and the others had experienced duringEpisode Five and Episode Six seemed pretty hellish to me. In this episode, Sledge, his fellow Marines and the Japanese soldiers all seemed, at times, to be experiencing the lowest forms of humanity. And Episode Seven provided it all with brutal combat scenes, gruesome deaths and worst of all, mutilation of bodies – dead or alive.

Earlier in the episode, Sledge had looked upon some of his fellow Marines’ mutilation of dead Japanese soldiers with disgust. One particular Marine even tried to remove the gold teeth from a Japanese soldier, who was badly wounded but still alive. Sledge expressed his disgust aloud, demanding that the enemy soldier be put out of his misery. Later in the episode, he sang a different tune after his company suffered major losses in the command structure. First, a wounded Lieutenant Edward “Hillbilly” Jones (Leon Ford) was killed by stray bullets, while being carried from the battlefield by stretcher bearers. Not much time had passed before Corporal R. V. Burgin (Martin McCann) announced Captain Haldane’s death from a sniper to his platoon. Following Haldane’s death, Sledge finally had an urge to engage in a little mutilation of Japanese soldiers on his own. Fortunately, “Snafu” Shelton (Rami Malek) managed to talk him out of committing an act he would have eventually regretted. The episode ended with the 5th Marines returning to Parvuvu. However, Sledge returned as someone different from the inexperienced Marine that had a reunion with his childhood friend, some four months ago. This was especially apparent in his reaction to the sight of nurses greeting returning Marines on Parvuvu. Perhaps in his mind, they seemed like an illusion amidst the realities of war.

Many fans seemed to view Episode Seven as the best in the entire miniseries, so far. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Some also believe that it is the series’ most depressing episode. At the moment, I believe that Episode Four still holds that honor. But I do believe that Episode Seven was the most brutal in the series so far – with both Episode Two and Episode Sixtying for second place. Director Tim Van Patten did an exceptional job in conveying the brutality and chaos of war in the Pacific Theater. Two scenes that really drove home the fact to me were the surprising death of Hillbilly Jones, which took me completely by surprise; and the image of “Snafu” Shelton tossing pebbles into the head of a dead Japanese soldier. By the time Sledge and his fellow Marines had returned to Parvuvu, I felt as if I had experienced the combat version of hell and beyond. However, I do have two quibbles about the episode.

In real life, a Navy corpsman named Doc Caswell had been the one to convince Sledge not to mutilate a dead Japanese soldier. In the miniseries, it was “Snafu”. My problem with this particular scene stemmed from another in last week’s episode, in which “Snafu” had supported Sledge’s pragmatic reaction to Hillbilly’s order for someone to shut up a wailing Marine with a deadly whack on the head. I found it difficult to view that “Snafu” as the same man who stopped Sledge from mutilating a dead Japanese soldier. And I feel that Captain Haldane’s death lacked any real drama. Do not get me wrong. Haldane was probably an excellent leader and a good Marine. But Scott Gibson’s portrayal of the officer made him seem like a 2.0 version of the Richard Winters character in ”BAND OF BROTHER”. I also found it difficult to experience any surge of emotion over his death, considering that it had occurred off-screen. If screenwriter Bruce McKenna could change history and allow “Snafu” to convince Sledge not to commit any mutilation, then surely he could have allowed the Alabamian to witness Haldane’s death.

The episode did feature some superb performances – especially by Joseph Mazzello and Rami Melek. And while I had a slight problem with the idea of “Snafu” convincing Sledge not to mutilate that Japanese soldier, I must admit that this scene has led me to believe that the two actors had given the best performances in the entire episode. But I also feel that Martin McCann did a fine job in developing Burgin into a top-notch squad leader. When I first saw Gary Sweet’s portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Elmo Haney back in Season Five, I thought it was a bit too exaggerated and something of a joke. But I must admit that not only did he managed to grow on me, I found his portrayal of Haney’s growing sense of despair over the bloodbath on Peleliu very impressive. But I cannot forget Jon Seda’s brief, yet memorable performance as war hero John Basilone. With a minimum of words and a great deal of facial expressions and body language, he did a superb job of conveying Basilone’s despair over being trapped into some kind of celebrity hell. He has grown a great deal as an actor.

Episode Seven capped what I believe to be the best part of ”THE PACIFIC” – a three-part glimpse into the brutality of the controversial battle, Peleliu. I suspect that many viewers might find this surprising. Because so many combatants had died on the beaches and in the caves of Peleliu, the island now has a war memorial honoring the dead of both the Americans and the Japanese.

“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (1986) Review

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“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (1986) Review

The year 1920 witnessed the beginning of Agatha Christie’s career as a mystery novel with the release of her first novel, “The Mysterious Affairs at Styles”. The novel also introduced a new sleuth to the literary world, Belgian-born Hercule Poirot. Another seven years passed before Christie introduced her second most famous character, Miss Jane Marple, in a few short stories. But in 1930, Miss Marple appeared in her first full-length novel called “The Murder at the Vicarage”

Fifty-six years later saw the first adaptation of the 1930 novel – a 102 minutes television movie that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” featured the elderly sleuth’s investigation of the murder of a wealthy magistrate and former Army colonel in Miss Marple’s town of St. Mary Mead. The magistrate, Colonel Protheroe is so disliked by most of the citizens of St. Mary Mead that even the local vicar, the Reverend Leonard Clement believes his death would be a great service to the village. Reverend Clements ends up eating his words when Colonel Protheroe’s murdered body is found inside the vicar’s study. While investigating Colonel Protheroe’s murder, Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack unearth a good number of suspects; including the Colonel’s new widow Anne Protheroe, her lover Lawrence Redding, the Colonel’s only child Lettice Protheroe, the high-strung curate Christopher Hawes, St. Mary Mead’s mysterious new citizen Mrs. Lestrange, small time poacher Bill Archer and even the good Reverend Clement himself. Anne Protheroe and Lawrence Redding each confess to the crime, convinced that the other was guilty. However, both Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack realize that both are innocent and continue their investigation of the murder.

When I first read Christie’s 1930 novel, I must admit that it did not particularly move me. The plot seemed like a typical murder mystery set in a small village. There was nothing extraordinary about it, aside from Miss Marple’s continuous relationship with Inspector Slack. Mind you, I have seen mediocre or bad adaptation of some first-rate Christie novels. And I have seen some excellent adaptations of her mediocre novels. The 1986 adaptation of “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” proved to be one of those productions in which my opinion of it matches the original novel. How can I say this? I found it a bore.

The best I can say about “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” is that it is a close – but not completely accurate – adaptation of Christie’s novel. Unfortunately, T.R. Bowen did nothing with the screenplay to improve on the story. And Julian Amyes’ direction of the movie nearly put me to sleep. It was so boring and slow. Amyes tried hard to make the killer’s revelation interesting. But not even that worked. Between John Walker’s dim lighting of the scene and Amyes’ snail like direction, I fell asleep and had to rewind back to the scene in order to learn the killer’s identity. When a person falls asleep during a scene featuring the killer’s revelation, it is time to go back to the drawing board – so to speak.

Also, the movie was not served well by most of the bland characters that populated the story. Most of them – aside from a few – struck me as dull and one-dimensional. Some of the best characters in a murder mystery tend to be the original victim. Unfortunately, Colonel Protheroe turned out to be one of those rare cases in which the main victim proved to be uninteresting. I found his character so one-dimensional. Not even Robert Lang’s energetic performance could make it work. The character of Reverend Clement had been down-sized by the story’s translation from the novel to the screen. Apparently, Bowen could not find a way to make his character a major part of the investigation . . . which occurred in Christie’s novel. Only a handful of characters seemed interesting to me. And I have the performers to thank. Cheryl Campbell managed to inject some real energy into her portrayal of the vicar’s younger and sexy wife, Griselda Clement. David Horovitch was at his sardonic best as the police inspector who tries his best to dismiss Miss Marple’s sleuthing skills. Joan Hickson earned a BAFTA nomination for her performance as Jane Marple in this movie. I do not know if she truly deserved that nomination. But I must admit that I enjoyed her subtle, yet sly performance as the brilliant, amateur sleuth. I especially enjoyed her scenes with Horovitch’s Slack.

I guess there is nothing else I can say about “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE”. It is not one of my favorite Miss Marple productions. Actually, I feel it is one of my least favorites featuring the elderly sleuth. The original story simply did not strike me as interesting and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did very little to enliven it. Also Julian Amyes’ slow-paced direction did not help matters. The only pleasures I managed to derive from this movie were the first-rate performances of Joan Hickson, David Horovitch and Cheryl Campbell.