Daisies (1966)

What do you do when you realize the world is “spoiled”? In Daisies, the 1966 surrealist comedy/drama directed by Vera Chytilová, Marie I and Marie II decide to directly reflect said world.

Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová) are two young women (maybe sisters???) who reflect the spoiled state of the world primarily by pranking older men. They frequently will go out on dates, have their meal paid for and then hop off the train as it leaves with the man on board.

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Daisies is rife with symbolism. This includes apples, which may reflect the forbidden fruit of eden. Also sausages and eggs which are cut with scissors, potentially representing a break from conventional sexual norms. As well as an overall theme of purposeful gluttony as satire of communist rule leading to greedy dictatorship.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the wide variety of cinematic techniques used while filming and editing. Some scenes are in black and white while others are in color. Further, many scenes adopt interesting color tints to add another layer of experimentation. In one particularly interesting sequence, Marie I and II humorously cut off their limbs with scissors. The scene then devolves into a fast paced patchwork mural over the rhythmic sound of a typewriter. (By the way, yes that is as crazy as it sounds).

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If I had to mark one complaint, it would be one sequence in particular which I felt was a bit heavy handed with its use of symbolism. When the two Marie’s sit on their bed slicing sausages, eggs, pickles, and other food with scissors, the phallic and yonic (yes I had to google that word) overtones felt over the top in a film that clearly skates that boundary throughout. The commentary being made is interesting, but the method of doing so felt obvious and unoriginal to me personally.

For anyone not familiar with surrealist European films, I being no expert myself, a movie like Daisies may be a culture shock. There is very little linear story and a plethora experimental cinematography. With that being said, I feel it always valuable for individuals to keep an open mind and experience new things. Therefor, I would recommend Daisies. I greatly enjoyed watching and it is widely heralded as an important piece of cinema history.

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Pariah is the 2011 feature length debut from writer and director Dee Rees. It’s an expansion of the 2007 short film she made by the same name. The film has been described by Rees as semi-autobiographical.

Pariah was produced by Spike Lee, which I was unaware of until after watching the film. As I watched it, the film did have a similar tone to some of Spike’s work. It was not then surprising to find that out. 6675da943810a1468b4440f94a8b0c03_originalThe movie stars Adepero Oduye in the lead role of Alike, a gifted student struggling with expressing her sexuality to her family. She has a close relationship with her father, played by Charles Parnell, who is a police officer suspected of cheating on her mother. Sahra Mellesse plays Sharonda, a religious and often strict disciplinarian mother and nurse who is in conflict with Alike.

Throughout the film, Alike is close friends with Laura (Pernell Walker) who dropped out of the same high school she is attending. Together they regularly visit a local lesbian nightclub and confide their struggles to each other. On the way to school and club, Alike packs clothes in a backpack to change in and out of what her mother finds appropriate. x950Eventually, Sharonda tells Alike she is going to be friends with Bina, played by Aasha Davis, the daughter of her coworker.  After a time Alike develops feelings for Bina, which leads to a tumultuous relationship and eventually the film’s resolution.

The performances in Pariah are top notch. The relationships are both convincing and full of raw emotion. The scenes of Alike and her father playing basketball together are just one of the many examples. The characters are so interesting and endearing that the movie left me wanting more.fHHHovuNllg.maxresdefault

screenshot3The film also has the unique ability to make you love and hate each character at different points in the film. Particularly the mother who so often is harassing Alike. Despite the harsh treatment, empathy is evoked in the fact that she is also facing an adulterous husband. Further, it is somewhat implied that she has a strained relationship with many of her co-workers.

One minor criticism I have is that occasionally the dialogue or interactions in the film feel unnatural. This is not unique to Pariah, almost every film has moments like this. It’s hard to describe accurately, but unnatural or un-organic is the best wording I can come up with.PariahPariah was an excellent film. Most of the films I choose to watch I anticipate I will enjoy, so it may be rare that I don’t recommend something I watch. This movie is on Netflix and I recommend everyone check it out.

 

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

The Hitch-Hiker was made in 1953 by actress turned director Ida Lupino. It is one of the only noir films directed by a woman. The story is based on true incidents involving hitchhiker/spree killer Billy Cook from 1950-51.

The film stars Edmond O’Brien as Roy Collins, an escaped convict who takes up hitchhiking to avoid authorities. He cons Gilbert Bowen (played by Frank Lovejoy) and Emmett Myers (played by William Talman), in the midst of a trip to go fishing and relax, into giving him a ride. From there on out they embark on a tension filled journey through Mexico as Collins seeks permanent solitude.

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One of the strongest elements of The Hitch-Hiker is the acting. Each of the three main characters give incredibly convincing performances and really drive the movie forward. There is also an interesting study of friendship as Bowen and Myers continually pass up opportunities to escape individually.

One particularly emotional moment comes when all three characters enter a Mexican convenient store to pick up food and supplies. Bowen, who has a child/children (I can’t recall of the top of my head which), hugs the storeowners young daughter. The look on his face and remark for her to “go with God” masterfully express how much he misses his family.

The Hitch-Hiker is also an interesting analysis of the difference between true strength and masculinity as opposed to fear and paranoia. At one point Myers, who begins to break down much quicker than Bowen, even confronts Collins about this directly. The acting and story combine for an edge of your seat experience throughout the movie.

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One minor weakness is the films semi-predictable ending. I will say that though it could be guessed, I remained engaged till the last moment. Watching the movie and becoming engrossed made the ending, while obvious on paper, less predictable than some may claim.

Overall, the film comes highly recommended from me. It is “short, sweet, and to the point” as some may say. It’s also in the public domain, therefor it is quite easy to access. Any fan of the noir genre or those interested in films directed by women will find an enjoyable viewing experience in The Hitch-Hiker.

Crooklyn (1994)

Crooklyn is Spike Lee’s 1994 semi-autobiographical family drama, which takes place primarily on one block in Brooklyn. In previous films, especially Do The Right Thing, there are sequences involving children. In this film, Lee decided to do an entire movie primarily from a kid’s perspective.

The film’s three primary stars are Alfre Woodard as mother Carolyn, Delroy Lindo as father Woody, and Zelda Harris as daughter Troy. The story covers the struggles, triumphs, and tragedies of a family of five based loosely on Spike Lee’s own childhood.

Woody is a determined jazz musician who struggles to find work due to his refusal to compromise and play popular music. Carolyn, a school teacher and hard working mother, must balance a career with keeping her family disciplined. Troy, the only girl in the family, plays peacemaker with her parents while coming to terms with her own self-image.

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Crooklyn (1994) Directed by Spike Lee Shown from left: Christopher Knowings, Delroy Lindo, Sharif Rashed, Alfre Woodard, Zelda Harris, Carlton Williams, Tse-Mach Washington

One of the best parts of the movie is the soundtrack. Featuring all songs of the 60’s and 70’s, Spike Lee took full advantage of the opportunity to display his love for two great decades of music. One memorable moment that comes to mind is Troy walking out of a convenient store to the song Hey Joe. As she approaches her home, the families roommate Vic (played by Isaiah Washington) is being placed into the back of a police car after an altercation with their neighbor.

This brings me to one of the more questionable elements of the film. The family and neighborhood are constantly feuding with eccentric resident “Tony Eyes” (played by David Patrick Kelly). He is constantly berated about his houses odor and accused of throwing trash around. At various times Tony is confronted by children and adults, leading to violence in the previously mentioned instance with Vic. My feeling is that he is probably based on Spike’s own life experiences. Either way, it’s a bit of a strange character who ultimately does not develop into much.

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Similar to that is Spike Lee’s own glue huffing character known as Snuffy. His limited role makes a bit more sense near the end of the film. I won’t divulge the final interaction as it would be a spoiler.

A particularly interesting sequence takes place when Troy goes to live with her Aunt and Uncle south of New York. These scenes illustrate interesting differences between African American communities both geographically and financially. I don’t feel qualified to attest to the accuracy of this, however, I trust Spike Lee as a director. Ultimately, this is up to viewers on an individual basis.

Without giving away any specifics, the conclusion of the film is both sad and uplifting. Spike Lee could’ve easily made this film and focused on one of the male characters, reflecting himself as a child. Instead he painted an incredibly mature and nuanced picture of a girl facing some of life’s most difficult challenges. Even with questionable moments, Crooklyn was an incredibly enjoyable viewing experience. Between an endless chain of great songs and very tender realistic relationships, this film balances fun with a heartfelt emotional core.

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As I round out a month of Spike Lee, this is yet another highly recommended viewing. I hope those that have followed my journey with Spike enjoyed his work just as much as I have. Stay tuned for an upcoming month of films directed by women.

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