Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Cathay Cinema Connection

GH and I have been watching a number of French gay movies. "Times Have Been Better" (2007), directed by Régis Musset and starring Bernard Le Coq, was one of the better ones. Gay son comes out to liberal parents, who freak out.

Watched last week Greta Garbo and John Gilbert smolder in "Flesh and the Devil" (1926), directed by Clarence Brown, with cinematography by William Daniels. The black-and-white silent film, based on Hermann Sudermann's novel The Undying Past, was completely absorbing. After seducing the John Gilbert character, Garbo marries his childhood friend, played by the very handsome Lars Hanson. When her husband finds the two of them in a compromising position, the men fight a duel. In an attempt to stop them, Garbo falls into the icy lake, in a memorable scene. A melodrama, sure, but very pretty.

Last evening, I watched quite a different movie, Yasujiro Ozu's "An Autumn Afternoon" (1962). The Japanese director's last film, it returns to the theme of "Late Spring." A father (Chishû Ryû) seeks to marry off a daughter before she becomes too old for marriage. Unlike the daughter in "Late Spring" who is contented to serve her father for the rest of her life, the daughter (Shima Iwashita) in "An Autumn Afternoon" has her eyes on a young man, but loses him, because she feels obligated to serve her father and younger brother.

The social canvas is much wider in the later film. It takes in the father's former classmates, all successful businessmen now, and their former teacher, whose poverty and reliance on his spinster-daughter serve the protagonist as warning. It also takes in the relationship between the older son and the son's wife, a young couple eager to own a modern convenience such as a refrigerator.

The war is also part of the film. In "Late Spring," it was the cause of the daughter's illness, and so, unfitness for marriage. In "An Autumn Afternoon," the father, who commanded a warship, runs into a crew member. Whereas the subordinate remembers the war fondly as a time of mission and discipline, the father remarks gently that perhaps it is better that Japan did not win the war. I learned from Wikipedia that Ozu was sent to Singapore during WWII to make a film with Chandra Bose. Stationed in Cathay Cinema, he had little inclination to work, but watched American films provided by the Army information corps. In my poem "Heads," I wrote about Japanese soldiers watching American films in Cathay Cinema. Little did I know that one of them was Ozu!

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