Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck

Moonstruck – 1987

Director – Norman Jewison

Starring – Cher, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello, and Olympia Dukakis

Through the years there have been many messages, poems, and letters delivered through the medium of the motion pictures. Some are about strong women, some are about the enduring strength of an ideal, and some messages are just downright personal (love for an idea, a theme, or a people or demographic), but there is no more popular subject than community. Groups of people bound by something larger than each of the individuals, something definable and relatable.  Or in the case of Moonstruck, a community of people that works and lives in New York City.

The film, features a rather typical sort of love story.  A widowed woman, Loretta (Cher), is currently in a relationship that is going nowhere.  Her boyfriend isn’t ready to commit to more, but she comes to realize that maybe she is just settling for less to avoid loneliness.  She lives with her parents, and grandparents and spends all day entrenched in the lives of her loud, boisterous, Italian family.  All day long she listens to her mother, Rose, worry about whether or not her husband is cheating, her father just seems to want to be left alone, and she is caught in the middle.

When her boyfriend, Johnny (Danny Aiello) proposes to her, she travels to the bakery where his long estranged brother works to invite him to the wedding.  Ronny (Nic Cage), is a fiery, passion filled man who is nursing a resentment over the girl that his brother stole long ago.  Naturally, this spirited and outspoken man intrigues Loretta, and she falls in love with him instantly.  Tortured by her guilt over the new-found love, and her betrayal of the man who proposed to her, she is forced to choose between the lie that she loves or the love that’s a lie.

The other, of the two, over-arching themes of this film seems to be lies, and though lies and community seem like disparate things, they end up being very closely intertwined.  Each character has a secret, or at the very least a social quirk that they are trying to repress, but due to close quarters of New York City there is always someone paying attention to what they are doing.  This sort of involuntary interaction with neighbors, family, and co-workers means that privacy is really an illusion.  These people then, for lack of anyone better equipped to deal with the situation, become the support system to either validate or discredit what they are doing.

Loretta is seen out on the town with Ronny by her father, who actually IS stepping out with another woman behind Rose’s back.  After watching the constant fighting and break-ups of a fellow lonely soul in the neighborhood restaurant, Rose is spotted by her father-in-law walking home with him after the two share a friendly, yet intimate dinner.  And everyone who surrounds Ronny at the bakery has been silently watching him grieve his failed relationship for years.  These people are all witnesses to lives, and hidden pains of one another.  They catch each other at their very worst, but at the same time represent to each other, a support system that is deeply important and personal.

Though she doesn’t approve of her father stepping out without her mother, Loretta is bound by the guilt brought on by her own infidelity.  They are locked in opposition with one another, yet they still end up helping each other work out a solution by the end of the film.  Perry (the unlucky-in-love, restaurant patron) and Rose can relate to each other’s feelings of loneliness, rejection, and the humiliation that is a natural part of relationships. And though their support is misconstrued by someone else, they are simply providing support for one another.  Finally, Ronny’s support system is his job, and he uses it as a way to give his life meaning until something else, something more rewarding (read: Loretta), comes along to snap him out of it.

Even though the film is a love story, we understand as an omnipotent, the all-seeing audience, that the support structure would be the same if it were a drama, or a slapstick comedy, or even a mystery.  The love story is the background, the paint on the house that is the story of the community.  More than anything this film emphasizes the ideal that communities are not only important, and necessary, but all around us.  They may get us into trouble sometimes, but more often than not, it is these important connections in our lives that inevitably get us out of trouble as well.

I realize that Moonstruck is just a fun little romantic comedy, but it does strive to describe and illustrate the connection that exists in its story.  Cher, Nicholas Cage, and Director, Norman Jewison, are well aware of this, and though it may not reach this ideal consistently throughout the film, the fact that it tries raises Moonstruck up far above the level of most.  Once again, I’m left wondering why something so glorious and wonderful as “Paper Moon” never made this list, as it features similar themes, and in my humble opinion is a far superior film.

“The one thing we can all agree upon when it comes to the art of cinema, is that all movies should have Cher in them.” – Ashley

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Olympia (Parts 1 & 2: Festival of the Nations and Festival of Beauty) (1938)

Olympia Festival of Nations

Olympia Festival of Beauty

Olympia (Parts 1 & 2: Festival of the Nations and Festival of Beauty) – 1938

Director – Leni Riefenstahl

Starring – Adolph Hitler, and Jesse Owens

Notorious darling of the nazi propaganda machine, Leni Riefenstahl, once had a legitimate career as a filmmaker.  Starting off as an actress, she moved her way up the ranks to produce and direct both narrative as well as documentary films on varying subjects.  This film, split into two parts, is a documentary of the 1936 Olympic games which were held in Nazi controlled Berlin (this was, of course, before anyone knew that was a bad thing).  With both parts clocking in at nearly 4 hours together, it is a daunting watch, but is it worth it?

The Festival of Nations is the first part of the duo, and it is introduced by a long montage of shots panning and dollying through the ruins of classical Greek architecture, and featuring dramatic lighting, a fog machine, and classical statuary.  From there we move on to the running of the Olympic torch from the past into the future (1936), into the stadium in Berlin where the legions of people from each nation proudly march in formation and wave their country’s flag, and await the beginning of the games.  Afterwards we are treated to (or subjected to, depending on your view), nearly two solid hours of footage from the numerous contests of the games itself.  The Festival of Beauty is very similar in structure and length but features a different variety of events, and then at the end rounds out the games with a closing ceremony.

The pros and cons of this film are all weighed out fairly evenly, and in some ways cancel each other out when considering the value of this film historically.  Firstly the black and white imagery is very captivating, alternating between slow motion and full speed  footage of the athletes and with grand sweeping shots of the stadium and the crowd.  The images captured here are completely focused on the relationship between form and function of the human body.  The slow motion shots recall the photography of Eadweard Muybridge in the way they dissect and analyze each and every detail.   Riefenstahl’s camera lingers on each athlete, highlighting the raw power that comes from their muscles working together.  Unfortunately this introduces one of the main problems with the film.  There are only so many different ways to show the same action over and over and over and over and over again.  A guy running is a guy running no matter if you have 2 shots of him doing it or 20.  Likewise, since a lot of the different events are visually very similar, it would have been nice to condense them down to about half of what they were (there is only so much you can do to show track events in interesting ways without getting in the runner’s way)

Second, the film presents an interesting view back in time to what it was like before the Nazi party was as vilified as it is (and clearly deserves to be) today.  This olympics, while hosted by the Nazis, was attended by all the major players in WWII (with the notable absence of the Russians), England, France, Poland, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Japan, and of course the US.  There are numerous scenes of large crowds saluting Hitler (who appears numerous times throughout), German athletes saluting, and lingering shots of a proud waving Nazi flag indicating the winner of the event.  It is in this film, that exists the footage of America’s Jesse Owens dominating each event he participated in.  Unfortunately, there were a number of references referring to him as “…the best of America’s negros…” or talking about pitting his prowess against that of the “white race.”  This provides some interesting questions, “Does the history of what happened after the games, deface and ruin what happened at the games?”  “Is the film art, propaganda, or both?”  With the exception to how the African American athletes are referred to, each nation seemed to get equal billing and equal credit for their contributions to their events.  Does this mean that it should be viewed without the stigma of what the Nazi’s did?  Whether or not it should be judged without bias, it never will be.

Finally, the best part of this documentary comes from watching these men and women at the top of their game, doing what it is they are best at.  This is somewhat marred by the fact that there is an announcer giving the play by play.  The film would have worked better with more of the montage elements of the athletes performing, and less minutia on who was winning.  Also, the symbolism and pageantry was a little heavy handed, and could stand to have been edited down quite a bit.  The main focus of the film (and consequently, the most successful part) is the study of movement, and form found in the mechanics of the human body, not in the history of what actually happened.  I suppose I understand why these elements were included, but they are distracting, and slow.