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Issue 10,  June 29, 2009     —      Wider Screenings, When Harry Divorced Sally!

In this issue:   FEATURE: Michael Michalko, 100 Monkeys     Vince Chiles, Crisis Resolution   Guy Finley, Develop the Power of Patience   Phoebe Chongchua, Are You Buried Beneath Rubbish?   Dr Michael G. Holt, Things to Know About Meditation   Sharon Elaine, Affirmations for a New Day   Joe Love, You Are What You Believe   Wider Screenings, When Harry Divorced Sally    Events   Reviews   Earlier issues   Submit Article

with Robert Cettl     

When Harry Divorced Sally!
Inter-personal Relationships in Cinema

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One of the most rewarding attributes of humanism is the joy possible in inter-personal bonding.  Society has its lone wolves to be sure, but it is no surprise that the telling sentiment once behind Barbra Streisand’s hit song “people who need people are the luckiest of people” should still strike a note of recognition with so many.  From Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to the latest tome on how to improve your relationship, the thrill of communication and the ideals of intimacy between lovers has been an inspirational subject for much popular culture.  And of course, cinema has embraced the study of inter-personal intimacy, from high drama to so-called women’s “weepies”.

The one constancy through films that explore the inter-dynamics of human relations is the emphasis on the nature of inter-personal bonding.  In contemporary times, it is perhaps that timeless question posed by Nora Ephron in When Harry Met Sally that endures, recently re-worked in the Self-Help Bestseller adaptation of He’s Just Not That Into You (and, of all things, Zack & Miri Make a Porno): the sly wondering as to whether men and women can be friends or if the prospect of sex will always get in the way.  Intimacy.  It’s an intriguing theme and an enthralling ideal to aspire towards.  Indeed, in film the theme has its own legacy and examinations of human intimacy resulted in key works that defined the held moral priorities of their time.  Now, with the wondrous advantage that DVD offers by putting the wealth of film history at the disposal of the home viewer, it is possible to either look back and reflect over this legacy or discover it afresh.

Take what one might consider an inter-personal dilemma as presented in the 1940s classic Brief Encounter.  The film concerns a married woman (Celia Johnson) who by chance meets a man (Trevor Howard) at a train station.  Each time they meet, as they wait for their trains, they chat, increasingly fond of each other to the point where they fall in love.  Naturally, in the invigorating mix of passion and yearning that is found in the prospect of surrendering to a lover’s embrace, the two of them make arrangements for an intimate encounter.  However, rather than go through with it, Johnson puts aside her passion and returns to a presumably chaste and staid marriage to a very prim and proper husband.  When the film was released in the 1940s, this self-sacrifice in the name of marital duty was seen as a positive virtue, but today’s films can’t help but wonder if setting aside innate passion for the societal ideal of monogamous traditional marriage is indeed as virtuous and fulfilling as people make it out to be.

The contemporary riposte to Brief Encounter can be found cumulatively in the films of British director Adrian Lyne (profiled as the first director in the Wider Screenings Guide ebook series, Contemporary Film Directors – ebook release details via No Limits / Inkstone Digital), whose tantalizing looks at marital relationships and the prospect of the fulfillment of infidelity in Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal and Unfaithful make his works modern morality tales, exploring contemporary notions of inter-personal needs and the turmoil inherent in fulfilling need in the face of moral convention.  In these popular films there still remains a deferment to the ideal of marriage as a kind of moral standard, but unlike the honourable self-sacrifice of Johnson in Brief Encounter, Lyne (and modernity) cannot help but ponder the dangerous invigoration of the alternative – the inter-personal fulfillment of a lover’s communication as emotional, sexual and intellectual self-actualization.  The legacy of Brief Encounter is that it sets up what many subsequent films measure such inter-personal bonding against – the ideal of intimate love.

So, whilst a classic like Brief Encounter can find solace in an ideal, it is the nature of the ideal as illusory and self-deceptive that consumes subsequent examinations of the theme.  By contrast thus there is, for instance, the seldom seen Maria’s Lovers.  Here, John Savage has idolized Nastassja Kinski from afar for a long time, put her so high on a pedestal that having her is to him all that sustains him as a man.  However, now married to her, he finds that sexually consummating his relationship with an “ideal” ironically diminishes that ideal.  He paradoxically needs the sense of unattainability in order to sustain his “ideal” of love and the perfect partner.  In the fallout of Savage’s resulting psychological impotence, Kinski is drawn to seek other men for the sexual and inter-personal contact she requires: the “ideal” destroys the inter-personal, an idea based on the writings of psychologist Jacques Lacan.

What is one to make therefore of cinema’s continued investigation into the inner workings of humanity’s need to relate and bond with another?  Is there a direction away from tradition?  What are they searching for if not an ideal?  Certainly films can create tales of romantic intensity, indulging in fantasies of the perfect, ideal love but they can also call into question the moral expectations underlying such ideals.  But, to re-state the earlier point, what remains constant is a search for the intimacy of communication – verbal, sexual, emotional – as an innate human need and an important factor in achieving personal fulfillment.  People need people for many different reasons; intimacy being paramount amongst them.

  **   *****   **

The Fans That Turned a Forgotten Romance into an Enduring Classic

(an extract from Robert Cettl’s book Film Tales: Movie Trivia in the Age of DVD)

Director Jeannot Szwarc came late into the production of Jaws 2 and virtually saved the production for the studio, turning it into a huge commercial success.  In return, Szwarc was allowed to make another film as a favour, a film that he felt personally committed to: an unusual time travel romance called Somewhere in Time, adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson, a former collaborator of cult producer Roger Corman and one of the creative team behind the early Twilight Zone.  However, the studio was not impressed by the promise of this film and shortly into it cut the planned budget virtually in half.  Although this necessitated much change in shooting style and design, the director persisted, making his romantic movie the way he felt it should be made.  However, all involved were disappointed to find that the film received an ill-advised release process and proved a flop: few people went to see it and critics loathed it.  Nevertheless it did sell to cable television where it screened regularly over the years and was there re-discovered by fans.  Some of these fans soon organized their own newsletters, gatherings and even excursions to the hotel around which the film is set.  In due course a website dedicated to the film and its following soon emerged.

Other recent Wider Screenings columns in No Limits:
World Cinema and The Secret
Stating Play
James Bond, Partisan...
Star Trek, Star Wars...

Wider Screenings columnist Robert Cettl has a B.A (Hons) in Film Study from the Flinders University of South Australia, which included an international scholarship to the University of Southern Illinois in the USA.  He has post-graduate qualifications in Librarianship and Information Management from UniSA.  In addition to popular DVD reviewing, his writing for McFarland (one of the leading American publishers of film non-fiction) has been collected by such as Yale University Library and the British Film Institute.  His forthcoming work for this market (for release in 2010) is Terrorism in American Cinema: a comprehensive analysis of terrorism as a genre from fears of PLO inspired homeland attacks in Black Sunday to the outright denouncement of the Bush War on Terror in W.  His previous work includes the above extracted Film Tales, now on sale and coming soon as an ebook through Inkstone Digital and Amazon Kindle in association with No Limits.  For analysis and commentary on individual films mentioned in this column (and hundreds of others) and for updates on the latest Hollywood hits and choicest DVD releases, Wider Screenings is now on Twitter.  Any @ reply will be duly answered – there are no automated DMs or tweets.  If tweeting, please mention film title in tweet: requests for films/DVDs to be reviewed are welcomed and given priority.  Free print copies of Film Tales can be won in the tweet ‘n win Film Buff Quiz.  First tweet request being incorporated into Wider Screenings is a retrospective of actor Warren Oates beginning with the film Cockfighter, a seldom seen look at cockfighting in the Southern States and a film still banned in England.

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