Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Delightful Little Moneymaker

Most murders are solved.

The murder in 1954’s Dial M for Murder is no different.

By the film’s end, the audience has seen everything that happened, so the joy in this crime thriller is in arriving at the pre-destined conclusion intact. Along the way, there are a few bumps and hiccups and there is quite a bit of genuine tension, but the end product is about the crime and its results and if the film is saying anything here it is that there is no such thing as a perfect crime, even the complicated one concocted by Ray Milland’s desperately verbose husband in Dial M for Murder.

It is no secret Hitchcock disliked this film. He admitted to Francois Trufault that he made Dial M for Murder because it was simple and safe and he knew it would make bags of money he needed to finance other, more interesting films. Dial M for Murder was already a successful stage play when Hitchcock latched onto it and transferred it to the cinema. The degree to which that transition works is a large part of why this film remains enjoyable. Hitchcock said he resisted the temptation make the play “more cinematic,” opting instead to leave it virtually as it is on stage. Accordingly, virtually all of the film’s action occurs in one room.

A few other things here keep us interested here, but chief among them would be Milland’s excellent performance as the kind of cultured villain who would turn up again in North by Northwest. The other would be Grace Kelly, who simply is Grace Kelly. She made just three films with Hitchcock, this being the first, but she is just as good here as she is in Rear Window or To Catch a Thief, even if she has much less to do here because she is largely the unaware victim of her husband’s complicated machinations.

The other notable twist, preserved from the stage play I presume, is the decision to stick with the conniving husband as the film’s protagonist. This twist puts the audience in the odd position of seeing the film’s events almost entirely from the perspective of the culprit – not the victim. Thus, we know more than Kelly does about what is happening and the drama of the film becomes whether Kelly can figure out what the audience already knows, and in doing so, save herself from first death and then prison.

The film’s further success is down to the dialogue, which Trufault particularly liked. Put simply, this movie is a “talkie” and you have to listen to the dialogue very closely to keep track of the plot and attuned to who knows what, when. Very few films work this way anymore and perhaps more should. Dial M for Murder races by at almost breakneck speed and lurches the audience into caring – almost rooting – for the criminal before forcing moviegoers into Kelly’s corner near the end of the picture. And all of this largely through words and acting. A simple, fun moneymaker that stands up to multiple viewings largely on account of how fun it is to watch these people talk to, at and around one another.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Roads Not Taken

One is never wrong if they call Citizen Kane the greatest American film of all time.

Unfortunately, this safety net has in fact come to work against the film in recent years. Many people coming to the film for the first time are so overburdened with expectations concerning the picture’s sizeable reputation that their first viewing inevitably leaves them both disappointed and rather curious what all the fuss was about to begin with. Others resist labeling Citizen Kane ‘the greatest’ for other, more obvious motivations: They want to be different and buck the convention wisdom. 

 Neither condition applies to me.

I first encountered Citizen Kane in a high school film class and I found its perspective, wherein a newspaper reporter interviews several characters about Kane and the narrative of the picture leaps between time periods in an almost disjointed fashion, completely enthralling. For me, the richness of the film’s themes, its technical achievements and its overall artistic vision have not dulled with time, either. This is quite simply the greatest American film ever made, no matter what criteria one is asked to consider, and it will remain such, I believe for eternity.

Indeed, there are so many angles one can come at when discussing Citizen Kane—a testament, I believe, to its greatness—that one almost does not know where to begin. There are its many technical achievements, in which set design, costuming and makeup reached hitherto unforeseen heights in film. There is the cinematography. Never before had light and shadow been used so effectively, actors positioned in such crucial ways and cameras positioned in such strange and wonderful places (Orson Welles famously cut the floor out of some sets to shoot up and at his actors from their feet to make them appear larger than life).

However, the construction of the film’s narrative and the underlying themes that narrative contains are where I believe Citizen Kane is at its greatest.

Orson Welles, a man who needs no real introduction to contemporary readers, for better and worse—mostly worse, if you know anything about Welles—was at the height of his powers when he made Citizen Kane and the choices he makes as a storyteller are inspired. I have no evidence Wells read William Faulkner or James Joyce, but the notion the conventional narrative underwent a serious revision in the 1930s and 40s should be apparent to even the most casual reader of American and world literature from that time period.  Furthermore, Welles in his infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast had already demonstrated during the 1930s that he had a penchant for turning the conventional narrative on its head through the innovative use of established mediums.

His application of this in Citizen Kane is clear in that he takes the traditional film noir narrative of a mystery in need of solving (in this case about Kane’s last words), fatalism and trust and betrayal and enlarges the genre to tackle nothing less than the entirety of the American dream and what it means to gain and lose things (people, power, love, adoration, hate and prestige). In a film so about narrative, it is telling we never hear from Kane himself. Rather, he is a corpse from the very first frame of the film and instead we hear from those who knew him at his best and his worst, as the narrative leaps here and there and provides sharp and soft shards of a man’s life, who by his own account could have been a great man, but was not.

And yet, for all the cinematic bells and whistles (and what a movie this is JUST to watch, even on mute), for all its tricks of camera and flashes of brilliance, this is at its heart a film about people and their failure to interact with another, to love one another and to live to meaningful lives. All of the characters in Citizen Kane are haunted ghosts, empty reflections of a former “greatness” that when peeled away turns out to be far more prosaic and ordinary than we first believed. Kane’s longtime sidekick still remembers a nameless woman he never spoke to but glimpsed on a New York pier, Kane’s best friend just wanted to write an honest review of Kane’s wife because he could not remember how to do anything honest. 

These are small, simple acts (or non-acts) and yet they all had more impact than Kane’s failed gubernatorial bid or the Second World War on all of those involved. That is because in the end, Citizen Kane is about the roads not taken or the decisions made or not made and what each of those moment renders in the years that follow. What is a life but the fragments of where it touched other people? Kane’s physic interior can be guessed at, but never known. What can be known, both by him and all the other characters, is the decisions they all made and how those decisions created their lives and formed them into the people they became. Thus, Kane’s “Rosebud” was a sleigh ride never taken, a life of complete ordinariness in Colorado wilds that was never possible after his mother sent him East with his millions.

That he seemed willing to trade all the subsequent moments, all the subsequent decisions and outcomes for a chance at that lost life is the tragic nostalgia at the heart of Citizen Kane’s power as a film. For who among us believes every path we chose was the correct one? That all of those roads not taken were truly unworthy of exploration? 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Glamour, Unapologetically

Films do not come more luxuriant than 1955’s To Catch a Thief.

Flush with splendid vistas from the French Riviera, lavish hotel interiors populated with beautiful people and a plot that revolves around priceless jewels and culminates in a costume party, the film as it unfolds almost literally bubbles and sparkles like a cool glass of champagne. Even so, I cannot help but imagine that part of the film’s success is the result of an unintentional contrast brought about by time. In this I mean that if filmed today, such an endeavor as To Catch a Thief would likely come across as opulent and irritating, but under the astute and tasteful direction of Alfred Hitchcock the original retains a unique charm, despite its almost paper-thin plot and rather predictable resolution, that many other films hunger for but more often than not fail to achieve.

The critical difference, I suppose, is glamour and how we understand it and what it meant --- both then and now --- and how Hitchcock was able to harness the glamour of an exotic location and two Hollywood legends in such a pleasing manner. In the case of the former, I doubt the Riviera has ever filmed poorly, but at the same time, I do not think Hitchcock made his choice by happenstance, either. Rather, I believe he chose the sunny coast of South France because it was about as far away as possible, in aesthetic terms, as the soundstages that represented the courtyards and alleyways of 1954’s Rear Window, the masterpiece of film that Hitchcock made just prior to To Catch a Thief.

Indeed, To Catch a Thief is something of an ethereal twin to Rear Window, if you ask me. (The bright, shiny side of Rear Window's dark half of the coin?) Consider, both films essentially track a courtship between an action-oriented, somewhat roguish leading-man and a leading lady -- played on both occasions by Grace Kelly -- who is refined, erudite and wealthy. In both cases, the female is attracted to the man, in part, precisely because of his circumspect employment (freelance photographer in Rear Window, former cat-burglar in To Catch a Thief). To further the comparison, in Rear Window we see grubby alleyways and the confined, interior courtyard of an apartment building, whereas in To Catch a Thief we are outdoors for the vast majority of the movie, swimming in the ocean, riding in open-top cars or moving dangerously across rooftops. If Hitchcock, a man ever prone to boredom, wanted to make a film almost the polar opposite of Rear Window, he did a decent job in selecting this lighthearted romp.

That is not to say the Hitchcock touch is absent from this film. Indeed, a good many of the traits are on display here and part of the reason why the film works so well is that it remains in the hands of master craftsmen. Had another director, paired with another set of stars, made this picture, it simply would not have worked as well. In this sense, the fact that Hitchcock himself abandoned the deeply psychological themes of 1954’s Rear Window and settled on proverbial cinematic, champagne bubbles cannot be held against him if we simply adjust our expectations and allow ourselves to relish the results onscreen.

This is a majestic picture, with much to look at and enjoy, not the least of which is Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. It would be difficult under any circumstances to dislike the two and almost impossible here, where they shine together with real chemistry and purpose. That both are beautiful, charming people is even more obvious in their placement together (I always though James Stewart a bit to parochial for Kelly in Rear Window, whereas Grant seemingly was born in a tuxedo.) The absent power of yesterday's stars is again affirmed, in that if you try to imagine Grant and Kelly's counterparts today making such a film, you simply cannot imagine it being worth watching.

The death of old Hollywood at the hands of tabloids has made the modern day greats less mysterious, in that we know too much about them, and consequently more annoying. If you cannot catch my meaning hunt down the famous bit where Grant during a television interview quips something along the lines that everyone wants to be Cary Grant even Cary Grant wants to be Cary Grant. Back then, the persona and the person were inseparable and that only adds to the fireworks, which in this case, Hitchcock took pains to physically depict on the screen.

As is the case in North by Northwest, Grant is almost entirely a passenger to the plot here and he simply reacts wherever he is thrown. Although Hitchcock utilized this method in quite a few of his films because it put the audience and the protagonist on equal footing, I have always felt Grant seemed the master of the method, perhaps because he made so many comedies, such Arsenic and Old Lace, that required such physical, reactionary acting. Here, he is accused of returning to his former thieving ways and decides the only way to clear his name is by "catching" the thief himself, a feat he almost literally achieves when he grabs hold of the cat burglar on the rooftop of a swanky French villa that has just hosted an equally swanky party.

Of course the real "thief" being "caught" is Grant himself and the person doing the catching is Ms. Kelly, who for the second Hitchcock outing in a row will essentially snag the unmarried, action-oriented bachelor through a combination of glamour, flirtation and mystery. There is then some interesting dissection in the film about feminine virtue, which often appears in Hitchcock’s films with leading actresses of the blond persuasion. That is, Kelly throughout presents herself as graceful and strongly effeminate. Although she is not virginal, she is virtuous. In contrast, the film's true antagonist --- in both the crime and the courting --- is Brigitte Auber's young Frenchwoman, who clearly is not virtuous. Her sexuality, unlike Grace Kelly's, is flouted openly, and therefore is presented as tawdry and insincere. Although Auber's character clearly has some feelings for Grant, it is also apparent she is willing to manipulate him and sacrifice him for herself. The opposite of this, Grace Kelly is honest and supportive, even as she too nudges Grant towards an idea he himself might not have thought of: Marriage.

The results, as I have said, are sumptuous and fun. If this is a "weak" effort of Hitchcock's it can only be thought of as so given the enormity of the man's stronger pictures. The plot twists here are fairly appreciable before they arrive and the thieving itself a rather flimsy and far-fetched excuse for some excellent diversions. Lest we forget, this is courtship on cinema, and as such, the majesty of an allegory feels appropriate. That Hitchcock still chose crime and mystery as the vehicle for his romantic comedy certainly says a great deal about him, but it also works so well here in all of its finery that I doubt viewers complained too loudly.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Humankind as Murderer

Audiences remain divided on 1981’s The Shining.

Despite cementing a place in our shared cultural memory, people are still uncertain about what to make of director Stanley Kubrick’s venture into genre filmmaking. Is The Shining a masterpiece of horror? A glorified art house film? A sly homage to gothic affectations? Or a mixed-up and muddled dud? Engage the most cursory search and you can find all three of these positions being defended vociferously in print and digital material.

Trapped in his own head...
Part of the room for such debate stems from the film itself.

Kubrick, fresh off the less-than-spectacular Barry Lyndon (which also divides critics), famously waded through piles of contemporary novels in search of a new film project before—and this, oddly in my opinion—settling on a popular novel by Stephen King that is essentially a page-turner of a haunted house story. Kubrick jettisoned much of the King novel, keeping only the setting and the bare fundamentals of the plot. The result is a complicated horror film that attempts to depict some frightening realities about humankind that King never addressed.

Kubrick invented the steadi-cam specifically for the film.
Specifically, by following the devolutionary arc of Jack Nicholson’s character from a flawed—and potentially abusive and alcoholic—husband and father to an outright murderer, Kubrick is trying to tell us that ultimately humanity is a violent species of animal that is quite capable of killing others of its own kind. Furthermore, if we consider that the family unit is the basic unit of society and society—or civilization writ large—is that which separates humanity from other animals, then the true horror of what Kubrick is showing us becomes even more clear, because by depicting a man who turns against his own family and attempts to murder it, Kubrick is giving his audience the ultimate depiction of how humanity’s dark tendencies can become unhinged and turned inward.

In avoiding King’s plot of a haunted house, Kubrick instead gives us haunted people, and a palpable theme throughout the film is that we are all standing on the shoulders of violence, so to speak, and that the evil done by other humans in days past somehow lingers and taints the present. As I have suggested, this is vastly different from the King novel. Whereas King viewed Nicholson’s character as being victimized by the external and supernatural forces of the haunted hotel, Kubrick clearly believes the evil Nicholson brought with him to the hotel is his own. In other words, Nicholson needed a space in which to go mad and act out his demons. The Overlook Hotel provides him with one.

However, at the same time, we cannot not say the hotel in the film is not in some way “evil” or “haunted” and therein lies the problem with reaching for an overarching analysis to describe the film.

The blood of past deeds?
In interviews given around the time The Shining was in production, Kubrick discusses ESP and psychic abilities in terms that clearly demonstrate that he believes in such powers and intended his audience to take them seriously in the film. At the same time, the “spirit” of the hotel and its ability to manipulate reality and communicate with the living is also “real,” in that Danny, with his psychic abilities, is not the only one who sees the gallons of blood gushing from the elevator. His mother sees it, too. Thus, we have to conclude that Overlook is in fact “haunted” in some way (all three characters experience it), and this haunting helps Nicholson slip further into the madness that always lurked within him. Keeping the hotel as a psychic force outside the characters with a will of its own also signals that Kubrick wanted The Shining to function as a film within the horror genre and we can therefore safely say that this is a gothic picture in the gothic tradition, albeit one with a heavy focus on the psychological.

I believe the film would have been better served if Kubrick had finished jettisoning King’s plot and gone more with his own instincts (I.E. – That the protagonist’s psychopathology is entirely internal and the place his ‘breakdown’ occurs inconsequential). However, Kubrick did not do this, and we are thus left to contend with the fact the film is partially haunted and partially psychological, an interesting duality in and of itself, but one which I believe has confused both audiences and critics for years. Maybe Kubrick could not make up his mind, maybe he wanted both? We cannot know. It is, however, worth reflecting that duality and partiality are referenced numerous times in the film through the use of mirrors, double images and codes, such as the famous, backwards REDRUM.

King famously hated The Shining and said that what was wrong with it is that it was made by a man who thinks too much and feels too little (film critic Pauline Kael feels this way about all of Kubrick’s efforts in cinema). The charge that Kubrick’s work can come across as cold and being more interested in aesthetics than emotions is not an easy one to deny. Writing about The Shining, Kael said Kubrick’s characters are dead on the screen, and what should be a family drama and homage to gothic horror instead becomes a rather robotic metaphysical examination of the timelessness of evil.  I think she comes closes to grasping what is happening in The Shining but misses its essential point: Jack cannot resist himself or the Overlook Hotel, but his wife and his son can and do, and therein lies hope—and some would say, the foundation for the entirety of civilization.

The "unfeeling" director made a film chronicling his disgust
with humanity's murderous tendency.
Exactly why Jack is different—that is, why he falls prey to the inner murderer all of us have—and why the others, such as Danny or his mother or the cook, who also has “The Shining,” do not is the important question raised by the film. Kubrick himself seems uncertain of the answer, but he does—rather grudgingly, I think—believe that murder in and of itself is one of the most human actions of them all, because it has been with us from the beginning of our existence and will be until the end of our days. But unfeeling? No, I cannot see that. In The Shining what Kubrick has given us is the grimmest portrait of murder possible, one that he leaves little doubt about its ultimate ugliness.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Greatest Irony

George Lucas’s 1977 Star Wars is a great many things.

A childish romp, a sophisticated homage to Hollywood’s long-forgotten serials – Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers and the like – and a secular fantasy for the United States, one whose easily discernible vision of good versus evil rendered it easy fodder for defense department planners and journalists alike to utilize the film’s name as a moniker for America’s nascent Space Defense Initiative in the 1980s.

Star Wars also cleverly cast aside the somber, post-studio system cynicism that dominated Hollywood and film in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and hearkened back to the swashbuckling films of Errol Flynn, to the long, purposeful stride of larger-than-life John Wayne and to a time when the moviegoer, regardless of age, could watch a fun, thigh-slapper of film and come away from it with the simple enthusiasm of a child just returned from his first circus. As a result, it became one of the most successful films of all-time. Then, it became something more than a film...

When it was released, Star Wars was the independent film of independent films. It had no opening credits, but a strange scroll, for which Lucas was chastised by Hollywood's famous guilds, it had little known actors and an almost paint-by-numbers story. Then there was, as we all know, an endless array of Star Wars merchandise, most of which initially came about partly to help Lucas fund and re-coop the expense of making the film itself, but then stuck around and continues to stick around. Indeed, the film franchise would eventually be sold in 2013 for more than $4 Billion to Disney, largely on account of said merchandise and the potential for more of it. (As a famous aside: Alec Guinness became quite a rich man by foolishly – or so he thought at the time – agreeing to take a cut of the merchandise sales in lieu of his usual fee for acting).

All of the above is a long way of saying that we are all living in the post-Star Wars world, and that whether we like it or not, there is no going back to what came before. Star Wars helped finish off what little was left of the Old Hollywood, which had begun to fall apart in the mid-1960s with the collapse of the studio system, and subsequently helped usher in the New Hollywood of corporations, high finance and marketing. Summer blockbusters, an explosion of science fiction, toy tie-ins and – this more than anything else – a new reliance on advanced special effects, which up to this point in Hollywood’s history had largely been limited because they were not strong enough to carry a picture (actors and scripts did that), are all part of the cinematic world Star Wars created. 

That Lucas intended none of the above is relevant only if we choose to remember how radical a film Star Wars actually was when it was released and how uncertain its place in the American cinema would have been absent Lucas’s compelling vision and his drive to completely fashion an independent film out of the best pieces of myth, iconography, religion and popular culture. Put simply, Star Wars is the most important movie of the past 35 or so years, though I doubt anyone now or then, including Lucas himself, would say so if asked.

Part of the reason for this stems from the fact that outside of its obvious commercial success with audiences, Star Wars has enjoyed little critical fanfare.

Film writer Thomas Schatz dismissed Star Wars as “remarkably superficial”; Robin Wood called it “intellectually undemanding.” Little has changed since these initial pronouncements. Indeed, the arrival of the tortured and overwrought prequels has, if anything, only confirmed the view of many outside the usual fan-base that Star Wars is shallow eye-candy that relies on action and special effects to overcome wooden actors, dull plots and intellectually undemanding themes. Lucas’s aforementioned heavy borrowing to generate the grist of Star Wars material has not helped him on this account, either. 

There are, as my own eyes show me, entire shots lifted from brilliant films, such as The Searchers and Lawrence of Arabia, and from lesser efforts, such as 633 Squadron. There is also the matter of the cantina scene ripped straight from a Western, a character named Han Solo who is the interstellar incarnate of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and the film’s two climaxes, the first of which is essentially a sword-fight, shot almost frame-for-frame like a Kurosawa scene, with the second portraying an attack on a space station that plays out in similar fashion to The Dam Busters.

This is not to say Lucas is not an original, for as I have already suggested, Star Wars was indeed a radical film when it was made, a fact that is lost in time and the film’s subsequent success. Nobody, and this includes most of the cast and crew, understood what Lucas was after in Star Wars and when the first cut of the film was completed, the studio heads were terrified to release it. Talking Robots? A Princess? A villain dressed all in black armor? Spaceships? A furry and howling sidekick? It was all quite out there back then and all something no one knew how to classify...

The other major piece of radicalism in Star Wars is its inherent conservatism, which is also another of its ironies. Lucas chose to make an epic science fiction film that was fantastically different from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Franklin J. Schnaffner’s The Planet of the Apes, the other two high-budget science fiction films that garnered mainstream attention. Lucas intentionally eschewed Kubrick’s cold intellectualism and Schnaffer’s hip political sensibility and chose instead to make a movie that recalled myths from Ancient Troy to King Arthur. At its heart, Star Wars is a hero quest, with a protagonist who is chosen by destiny (Luke) and guided by an old sage (Obi-Wan Kenobi) to first confront and then overcome evil (Darth Vader and the Empire). Lucas set his film to a soaring John Williams score that echoes Wagner and created powerful visual contrasts – the colorless Vader and Storm Troopers and the rag-tag Rebels in their orange jump suits – that ensured audiences saw and felt the difference between good and evil on the screen as much as they understood it. Add the equally simple and powerful themes of maturation, of leaving home, of finding and sacrificing for one’s friends of committing one’s self to something outside the self and you have a palpable mixture of emotion that should have assuaged some of the concerns studio executives felt about the film’s content.

At the same time, it has become impossible to separate Lucas the filmmaker from Lucas the businessman and entrepreneur, a fact even his close friends acknowledged by the early 1980s, when the Lucas Empire had become large enough that many began to openly question the man’s priorities. Francis Ford Coppola, John Milieus and Stephen Spielberg, all of whom were Lucas’s contemporaries at film school at the University of Southern California, all speak highly of Lucas and his talent, both then and now. Coppola, who made at least three of the greatest American films in the latter half of the 20th century, has even called Lucas “one of the most talented directors of that time," but like the others, there is a limit to what he will stomach from his old friend's various conversions.

For example, Coppola has said Star Wars does not show one-tenth of what Lucas is capable of as artist. Lucas, Coppola believes, chose the “industrial marketing complex" instead of art. This is a creative collapse that Lucas himself occasionally acknowledged back in the 1980s, when his empire was much smaller than it is today and he was still uncertain of its ultimate direction. Star Wars, he once griped in between installments, “took over his life,” and in doing so, he became precisely what he hated when he struck out on his own as an independent filmmaker: A corporate CEO. “What I was trying to do was stay independent,” he said in 2005, when it was clear he had given up on this desire. “I’m not happy with the fact corporations have taken over the film industry. But now I find myself the head of a corporation. So there’s a certain irony there.”

Indeed, there is Mr. Lucas.

I would venture farther that such a moment of self-awareness, which now have become almost unheard of as Lucas more and more speaks like the media-savvy fight promoter, is even more ironic when one realizes that the corporate takeover Lucas appears troubled by occurred precisely because of the great commercial success of Star Wars. That is, in order to capitalize the increasingly expensive special effects moviegoers demanded after becoming accustomed to adventures like Star Wars, it became necessary for filmmakers to secure tremendous amounts of funding. In most cases the necessary amounts could only be had through the kind of merchandising Lucas pioneered, which more and more was reliant upon corporate partnerships and a new sort of Hollywood money-man who cared not a whit for the artistic value of their financial ventures. Return on investment, and not just return, but staggering Star Wars-like levels of return became the new expected norm.

For all his aloofness and lack of acknowledgement for what he hath wrought, Lucas remains something of a sympathetic character, if for nothing else than for the sensation one has in reading some of his comments that at one time Lucas genuinely believed he would make other films after the Star Wars trilogy concluded and that those films would be more in line with his earlier, more expressive work. Instead, as we are all well aware, Lucas went on to help invent Indiana Jones, yet another fantastically successful amalgamation of Old Hollywood tropes, and tinkered and then re-tinkered with his original three Star Wars films. Lucas then found – or more likely, invented – reasons to make three additional Star Wars films, none of which approached his initial effort in terms of impact or quality, though all made their creator staggering amounts of money.

With each new Star Wars film, with each new scene of perfectly sculpted Computer-Generated-Imagery (CGI), which is to say with each new piece of rubbery unreality that a director who once boasted of hating actors has been able to utilize, we are one step farther away from the magic of Hollywood’s Golden Age and one more step within contemporary Hollywood’s age of visually shallow wonder, for it impossible to imagine nowadays a major film without the kind of staggering budget and without the kind of staggering effects Star Wars requires to capture its audience. (This is especially the case with the prequels, bereft of emotion as they are. Would there be any reason to watch them at all if they were not visually stunning? Lucas has indeed rid himself of actors in those films). And while some of this might be good for the child in all of us, I cannot help but feel like something else has been sacrificed, something that George Lucas of 1977 might have appreciated about classic film, which he borrowed from so successfully. It is a shame then, that he is both the creator and the destroyer of worlds he loves and that we all must both thank him for all the joy his 1977 vision has given to us even as we all suffer from what that vision so crudely discarded and replaced.