Season 1: Episodes 1 thru 12
And now Season 2 kicks off with Episode 13...
Nathaniel: First, readers, an apology. It's been a long time since the last installment of this series and it's entirely my fault. While Nick and Mike were undoubtedly on their horses in blue war paint, ready for battle, I was stubbornly holed up in my room. A strained analogy: this Best Picture twofer is rather like the sprawling Manderlay estate in Hitchcock's Rebecca and I'm like the new Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine). I was feeling overwhelmed. I am trying to get used to my surrounding in the East Wing (Rebecca -remarkably I'd never seen it!). The West Wing (Braveheart) I was avoiding like the plague. But the plot and this entires series requires that one move freely about in both wings of Oscar's mansion. So I finally walked into Braveheart again. I walked in slow motion according to the visual grammar of the movie, and am ready for battle. And there ends my analogy and apology.
...now if only Mel Gibson would apologize to me.
Nick: I DON'T THINK HE'S GOING TO APOLOGIZE!! BUT I WILL, IN ADVANCE! BECAUSE!! IF WE'RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT BRAVEHEART! I SHOULD WARN YOU!! I CAN ONLY TALK LIKE THIS!!! THE MOVIE IS CONTAGIOUS!! IT MAKES ME UNDULY EXCLAMATORY!!! WILLIAM WALLACE IS THE KING MIDAS OF YELLING! EVERYTHING HE TOUCHES TURNS TO YELLING!!! FREEEEEEDOM!!!!!
Nathaniel: Would you like a lozenge?
Perhaps a gag.
Nick: YES, THANKS!! DO YOU ALSO HAVE A CUDGEL AND SOME BAGPIPES THAT I CAN BORROW?! AND PERHAPS A SMOCK WITH A FLEUR DE LIS ON IT! IN CASE I NEED TO LOOK LIKE I'M FROM FRANCE!!!
Nathaniel: Where is Mike?
Has Mel Gibson stabbed him? slit his throat? set him aflame? bludgeoned him to death? None would surprise. Has there ever been a more violence-loving mainstream auteur in Hollywood? Inarguably this is the bloodiest film to ever snag Hollywood's top prize. Even Gladiator (a more appropriate film to go full title boogie into barbarism) wasn't as interested in death blows. It's impossible to look at Braveheart now (for me at least) and not see it as an unfortunate positive reinforcement for Mel's wild eyed sadism... it's like a warm up before the lovingly detailed torture of Jesus or the inventive brutalizations of huge swaths of Mayan extras.
It's interesting to see him paired with Hitchcock though, since Hitchcock himself has a sadistic reputation.
Mike: I just have one word to say about your brutal, Longshanks-style ambush of Braveheart while I was away... FREEEEEEEEE--OK, maybe a few words. Yes, it's unnecessarily sadistically bloody. Yes, it's so historically inaccurate I won't believe anything in it, even if I see corroboration from other sources. Yes, it's puerile and adolescent and downright stupid about sex and politics and ideology and the incredible, unanswerable strategic power of a well-timed cock-waving. Yes, Mel's completely wrong for the part, making its intentional anachronisms blend with its unintentional anachronism into a sort of aggressively loud milkshake. (Which Longshanks wants to drink up.) And yes, Mel is no director, and whatever majesty the film achieves can be ascribed to cinematographer John Toll (but not to editor Steven Rosenblum or composer James Horner, who should both have been drawn and quartered for their work here).
But I like it.
It's never boring, for one, even though it is way too long. I like its fumbling efforts to be about something, not just FREEEEEEDOMMMMMMMM!!!! and bleeding head wounds but also about mythmaking. I like that Mel was reaching back to the era of widescreen Cinemascope historical epics that made up in energy what they lacked in brains. Yeah, it would have been better with Charlton Heston in front of the camera and Anthony Mann behind it, but if we compare it to its modern equivalent, Gladiator, it comes out on top for me, because you know Mel would have brought in ten thousand extras and a dozen rhinoceri (rhinoceroses?) instead of settling for a CGI Colosseum and a couple green-screened tigers.
Nick: Well-played, Goatdog. You write like A WARRIOR-POET! (I am attempting to modulate myself.) I can get behind that whole last paragraph, except that Russell > Mel is already enough to tip me back into Gladiator's camp in this particularly low-riding Best Picture square-off. And though Gladiator is stultifying whenever nobody's shooting an arrow or being chained to someone else, and Braveheart does have it beat for palpable, physical heft, Gladiator doesn't leave the bad, coercively BLOODLUSTY TASTE IN MY MOUTH that Braveheart does.
I also remember how wowed lots of people were by the muddy, immersive, rough-and-tumble quality of all the Braveheart battle sequences when the film came out, before Saving Private Ryan opened three years later and pretty much rewrote the book.
Nathaniel: Points in Saving Private Ryan's favor: It didn't really feel like Spielberg was actually enjoying the carnage. He was just revealing how horrific war is for the most part (which harkens back to that scene we all loved when we covered All Quiet on the Western Front -- violent death is terrifying, shocking and wasteful... even if you're a soldier and you know it's part of the drill). Both of those films feel human when they're dealing with death. With Braveheart I can only anthropomorphize because it feels like a rabid dog to me. I see it stumbling around, foaming at the mouth, looking for something to kill. It's so over the top that it plays like a parody of an epic rather than an epic. But the size of its fanbase is such that I shouldn't reveal how truly terrible I think this movie is...
But I'm glad Mike defended it. It's fresh perspective for me. It's true that it's not "boring" and I'd never thought before to give Mel credit for his mad commitment to everything, not just the slow-motion button. But Mike is right that as a director he is.
Bring out the rhinoceri!!!
Nick: Speaking of the crazy-ass shit that can happen when YOUR FIRST WIFE COMPLETELY F***ING DIES and you don't know how to channel all your emotions about it... who's going to address the ghost in the room? I think she just floated past me. I hope I haven't been tricked into wearing one of her dresses.
Nathaniel: You can wear any dress you like so long as we can get out of these kilts.
[two weeks pass]
Mike: I must apologize for my lengthy absence; I dozed off during the first hour of Rebecca and only woke up recently. I've never been able to get into this film, from its college-years status as the movie I rented the most times without watching (seven), to my two or three viewings since I finally managed to get it into my DVD player (although I guess it was a VCR way back then). Why does it take so damned long to get going? It certainly looks great, although only Hitchcock would think of shooting almost all the exteriors and a handful of interiors against rear-projection. The end product feels like it's actually taking place inside that elaborate model we see during Fontaine's famous prologue soliloquy. As she later says about Monte Carlo, "I think it's rather artificial."
I guess that's just Hitchcock for you, but this feels closer to the boring Rope end of his experiments with enclosed spaces and farther from the exciting Rear Window end. And the leads don't help: Olivier outside of Shakespeare continues to elude me, Fontaine's slack-lipped, stuttering, hunched-shoulders conceit of youthful naivete grates on me, and only Judith Anderson really seems to be on whatever wavelength Hitchcock is going for.
Nick: I don't think I've disagreed with Mike twice at one time, ever. Certainly not in this series. So I'm feeling a little shaky right now; my lip is trembling like Joan Fontaine's and my shoulder is sort of hunched as I type this, while my face turns into a soft-focus mask of despair, and I go prowling around my high-ceilinged hallways, looking for answers. Which is all to say that I like Rebecca, a lot, and I especially like the first hour or so. I love the unease that Hitchcock builds into Joan's growing acquaintance with Maxim de Winter and into Joan's relationship with the woman she "accompanies," and how that woman can't help admiring her success at "snaring" Maxim. The estate is so gloriously designed and photographed; it may be artificial, but it's one hell of a shimmering, satin tapestry. The whole thing just feels so gossamer, but in a creepy and palpably cold way. It gets the du Maurier blend of dread, camp, and romanticism just right.
Admittedly, I like the second half a bit less, though it helps that I always, always forget all the big twists, so I get suckered by the narrative. I appreciate the continuity with Hitchcock's gamboling, picaresque thrillers of the 30s, full of improbable kooks who know just enough to be dangerous. But Rebecca does start to feel a bit gassy and over-crowded, and Olivier's performance gets a little stuck.
Nathaniel - you'd never seen Rebecca before, right? Break the tie!
[three weeks pass]
Nathaniel: "Last night I dreamed of Manderlay again"... or, to be more specific, last night I nightmared of Rebecca again. That is to say, would we ever wrap up this particular BPFTOI ? And this time it's all my fault! In a very peculiar way the movie has become Rebecca DeWinter to me and, like you Nick, I've gone all pinched as if I'm playing Fontaine. I'm totally the second Mrs de Winter ... and the original intimidates me.
It's now been over a month since I've seen the movie and it feels like a ghost to me just like Rebecca. I don't love her/it as much as Mrs. Danvers does (my god, who could?) but I am semi-fond. So rather than playing tiebreaker I play mediator. There's a lot of good stuff here, but there's also too much clunkiness (Hitchcock loves exposition but that boathouse sequence!) for me to accept its lauded place in the Hitchcock canon (his one and only Best Picture winner? Argh).
That said can we talk about Mrs. Danvers for a minute. That negligee sequence!
Did you ever see anything so delicate? Look... you can see my hand through it.
I love that it works as a reflection of the movies inimitable creepy/gossamer quality you mentioned (who could ever put those together? Hitchcock that's who) but it's also so subversively Queer. It's now vying for the top spot in the annals of all time best barely sublimated gay desire scene (Red River's famous "ever had a good swiss watch?" sequence now has formidable competition). Judith Anderson does a fantastic job of actualizing this woman who isn't self-actualized at all. I just loved her. This isn't a new reaction of course since the character is so iconic but, DAMN! Sure Mrs. Danvers is but one blip in a long chronological line of psycho screen lesbians but I guess I'm more than okay with uncharitable portrayals of gay characters when they're done with such style, creativity and craft and not when they're just blandly reflective of their director's "issues" with the same [cough Braveheart cough]
Nick: Anderson is indeed great, and even if, for me, the second half of the film trails a little vaguely after a fascinating set-up, I love that Hitchcock hands the whole end of the movie to Mrs. Danvers, making her all but synonymous with that funereal mansion and bringing them both down together in a giant blaze of neurotic ardor. I love the tension between smallness (hers is a supporting role, after all, and not a deeply contextualized one) and hugeness (the wide angles, the whole estate, the end of everything, the screen filled with smoke). I also love that Hitchcock knows that if you direct a movie carefully, the audience can often detect the heartbeat of the whole film in the fate of a single character. It's as though we zoom in on one persona/relationship, between the already-dead and the soon-to-be-dead woman, and we suddenly see the whole canvas in a different way.
Gibson finds it impossible to delve into his movies like this. In fact, he's always racing out of them toward some larger concept that ultimately has little to do with what he's made a film about. It's "freedom" in this case, even though he's helpless for almost three hours at stitching the battlefield stuff to the halls-of-power stuff in any meaningful way, or at proposing any particular notion of what "freedom" means for these characters, or this film. (Gibson pulled a similarly open-ended non-sequitur with those looming ships at the end of Apocalypto; happily, for him, Christ's Resurrection at the end of The Passion lent some credence to his preferred style of conclusion.) If you have to ditch your own movie and chase an empty slogan in order to finish it, you probably haven't -- you know -- directed it very well. Or told a coherent story, though I like Mike's idea that he's at least gestured toward a myth in a robust, unembarrassed way. Plus, as we've all covered, he does succeed in dicing and stabbing and defenestrating the hell out of a whole lotta people. Maybe FREEEEEEEDOM's just another word for no one left to kill.
Rebecca (1940) was nominated for 11 Oscars and won 2 (Picture & Cinematography) Braveheart (1995) was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 5 (including Picture & Cinematography)
Now is your chance to YELL, readers. Are you slathering on warpaint to punish us for our treatment of Mr. Gibson? Where do you fall on our Rebecca scale of love / like / can't get into?