Archive for June, 2011

Tomanian Talkie

Posted in "Tomanian Talkie" (Week Ten) on June 16, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Adenoid Hinkle" (Charles Chaplin) salutes and presents a speech in the comically absurd Tomanian language in a scene from "The Great Dictator".

This may surprise some people, but motion pictures did not always have sound. This fact even amazes modern filmmakers, who are still stunned when they realize (usually during the editing process) that movies are now “two-thirds sound and one-third image”. In others word, it would be baffling to watch a Michael Bay film and see the explosion, but not hear it. It would seem very incomplete. The first commercially known film to exhibit sound was Warner Bros. ‘s “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson and released in 1927. With the addition of sound to film, the old, highly expressive style of acting became “unnatural”. The beloved, on-screen antics of Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, and Charles Chaplin were challenged. They knew how to act, but they were unsure of what to sound like. Although some like Arbuckle and Keaton sadly faded at this point in cinematic history, Chaplin remained unmoved in his pioneering filmmaking. His career stayed alive into the 1940s, and the insane politics of Europe became a target in his first, full-length “talkie”.

“The Great Dictator” is a direct jab to Adolf Hitler and the hateful ideology he created and promoted. Adenoid Hinkle (Chaplin) is the dictator of Tomania, a country in central Europe that is planning to go to war twenty years after its crushing defeat in the Great War. Part of Hinkle’s plan is to persecute the Jewish population, who begin to be bullied by the Tomanian Army. A Jewish Barber (also played by Chaplin), returns to his shop after finishing rehabilitation at a hospital where he was treated for amnesia after being injured in the Great War. Since he has no knowledge of Hinkle’s rise to power, he, without any hesitation, fights a group of Tomanian soldiers who paint “JEW” across the windows of his shop. His act is seen as courageous to Hannah (Chaplin’s wife, Paulette Goddard) and the rest of the ghetto, and the Barber ultimately becomes a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship. To the Barber’s surprise, he gets a chance to be heard in the climax of the film (I won’t give it away), and his message completely counters the hate and power-hunger of Hinkle.  

“The Great Dictator” was made at a time in the history of the world when one of its primary intentions was to insult the cruel and wicked tactics of Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo. However, the film stands the tests of time, as its over-all message is universal. “Do not hate each other. Help each other.” It reminds us to open a door, lend a hand to those who trip, get groceries for the house-ridden, lend the neighbor some gasoline, or just say a kind word to a depressed friend. As war rages on in Libya and Syria, and ties ware thin between the U.S. and Pakistan, we are also reminded by the “Great Dictator” that we should attempt to heal relations with our fellow people and live with each other in peace, no matter what each of us believe.

The Barber says it all in one quote: “We think too much, and feel too little.”

In this day and age, perhaps nothing is more closer to the truth.

“The Great Dictator” and all images from it are property of  United Artists.

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Golightly, or Go Home?

Posted in "Golightly or Go Home" (Week Nine) on June 9, 2011 by John R. Kitch

In the climatic scene from "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Holly Golightly" (Audrey Hepburn, right) stands in the rain with "Paul Varjak" (George Peppard, left) as she makes her decision.

Is there such a thing as being too tame? Is there such a thing of not being tame enough?

Every college student is familiar with the two basic types. There is the shut-in recluse who rarely goes about the town, keeps to themselves and their studies, and gets by with a meager existence, and then there is the out-going, care-free party animal who is on the scene (or making it) and living it up on a nightly basis as if the sun will not rise the next morning. All of us know them, in general and personal terms, and we are very aware as to which category we fit in ourselves. The two kinds of people are admired for their respected traits, the quiet ones can be quite practical and resourceful, while the rowdy bunch are fun and make anyone feel good about being alive. Of course, that is assuming what is stereotypical, or playing by what is expected.

Holly Golightly is a young woman who all men go crazy for. She talks well, walks with the ideal bounce, kills it in a little black Gevinchy dress, and knows how to bat well made-up eye lashes. If one is looking for socializing, dancing, or drinking, they just need to visit Holly’s apartment. As protagonist of Edward Blake’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (loosely based off of the novella by Truman Capote) Holly (big screen darling Audrey Hepburn) lives a life of luxury bought for her by the rich and powerful men that fall for her charms. Her days are spent sleeping, walking about in the best designer’s dresses, drinking, and staring at the dazzling sight of the diamonds in the window at Tiffany & Co. One night, a new neighbor comes to her door, asking her if he may use the phone. Enter Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a writer who can not help but fall in love with Holly, despite the fact that he knows what kind of woman she is. Holly is, more or less, a party girl who must be taken care of by others, and Paul understands that a struggling writer can not even begin to pay for the debts of Miss Golightly. As a relationship forms between Holly and Paul, Holly’s self-proclaimed status as a free spirit begins to be challenged. She starts to realize that  independence comes with the price of being available to and naive to the intentions of those who grant such a terrific freedom.

It is very easy for anyone to get stuck in a routine. Just as Holly Golightly became used to (and then dependant upon) the reputation she had formed for herself, we tend to fall into a type-based life. It’s good to be a type… sometimes, but that ideology limits what we can accomplish. For Holly, she risks passing up true love if she fails  to drop her charade as a call girl, but in turn also risks loosing a secure life (all be it a rather accomplishment-lacking and monotonous one). If we always remain just the recluse, we will never get to know anybody. If we keep being the party animal, we may become detached from what is personal. It is sometimes necessary to be one, and then the other, but it is almost always necessary, it seems, to be somewhere in between.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and all images from it are property of  Paramount Pictures.

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“This isn’t an Art School! It’s an Insane Asylum!”

Posted in "This isn't an Art School! It's an Insane Asylum!" (Week Eight) on June 1, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Trapper John" (Elliot Gould, left in Hawaiian shirt) and "Hawkeye Pierce" (Donald Sutherland, right in short-sleeve shirt) are interrupted during their golf game for an important assignment in a scene from "M*A*S*H".

The print center is the place where all the “cool kids” hang out.

Of all of the nooks, crannies, and corners of The Art Institutes International-Kansas City (Aii-KC), one will not find another filled with a more colorful cast of characters. The starring cast includes the workers, Shane, Marshal, Ever, Richard, and Anita, with a supporting cast that varies from day-to-day, but usually includes my friends and fellow students, Michael, Shelby, Barry, Valeri, Souradet, Jennifer, Cassie, Ryan, and etc. Special appearances are sometimes made by our instructors, Dr. Pat, Prof. Norris, Prof. Long, or Prof. Glavin, just to name a few.

As far as main characters are concerned, I would definitely say that Shane and Marshal take center stage. They start the conversations and end the disputes. They are funny and witty, but possess courageous characteristics of the hero type. Ever, Richard, and Anita are charming acquaintances to the two protagonists, but are more symbols of authority that try to keep everyone in line without ruining the good mood. Everyone that comes into the print center during the day brings with them the storyline. They create the situations and the dialogue.

Without going into great detail, the humor often comes from what could be considered the “rebellious side” of Aii-KC. The complaints against homework, who has been where and with who, instructors in bad moods, and theories about EDMC’s (the company that runs the school) money pocketing are just some of the topics discussed in the print center that perhaps aire on the side of anti-authoritarianism.

If the print center is anything like a dismal tent known as “The Swamp”, then that makes Aii-KC the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. It may also be suggested that our two heroes, Marshal and Shane, share similarities to army surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John. In one of Robert Altman’s earliest features, “M*A*S*H”, Hawkeye (a groovy and bespectacled Donald Sutherland) and Trapper (a hairy Elliot Gould) are two surgeons drafted into the Korean War. Although they are very good at what they do, they have no time nor respect for strict army procedures and the over-pious commanding kind of Frank Burns (a younger Robert Duvall) and Margaret Houlihan (hotty Sally Kellerman). The semi-anarchy that Hawkeye and Trapper promote make for situations of comedy, but amidst bone-sawing and blood-soaking surgery, the comedy is absolutely black.

Just like the 4077th, Aii-KC has its rebellious type, the kind that are good at what they do, but don’t consider devotion to authority an absolute must. Honestly, professionals, especially the artistic kind, work better when they are not tied down by rules or when they are not constantly asked to report to a superior.

Perhaps I go to school in an insane asylum, but I am happy to have gotten to know the best of the maniacs.

“M*A*S*H” and all images from it are property of 20th Century Fox.

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