The benefits of free association

One makes the oddest connections by juxtaposing unlikely films.

This not terribly original thought occurred to me as I was filing my second report on the Israel Film Festival for Jewish Week a few hours ago. (If you want to know what I thought of the films I have had time to see go to the newspaper's website, linked on the right of this page. You will also find the webpage of the film festival itself linked from there.)

For example, because the b.w. is a devotee of POW escape films and we both have an incomprehensible weakness for the stiffened upper lip of British WWII thrillers, we watched Guy Hamilton's fairly drab The Colditz Story (1957) over the weekend. Then I found myself looking at Thorold Dickinson's Hill 24 Doesn't Answer, a 1956 film that might be characterized as one of the first Israeli features. What grabbed me by the throat was the drab air of melancholy that pervades both films, distinctly a British mid-5os sense that the best is behind us and we must soldier on despite everything. It's sort of a strange Anglo twist on Ford's "gallantry of defeat" theme, amplified almost to a whispered scream by the beautifully bleak monochrome cinematography that DPs Gordon Dines (Colditz) and Gerald Gibbs (Hill 24) bring to the party.
Then I realized that on some level, this is true of almost any British film I've seen made between the end of the war and the early '60s. They all seem infected by a hang-dog air that is almost palpable. It's not just because they're almost always in black-and-white; Hollywood is still being somewhat sparing with color into the middle '50s, too. It's a sort of downright mopiness.

In a totally different vein, but no less interesting, is the connection I stumbled upon watching one of the new films in the Israel festival, a terse, intelligent melodrama by Shai Kanot, Wolves' Moon. This is -- if you can believe it -- sort of a contemporary Western, inasmuch as the hero is a cattle rancher in northern Israel. (An Israeli cattle rancher? Who knew?!) Played by Liron Levo (who should be familiar from some of Amos Gitai's films), he has the chiseled, dark, brooding good looks of a young Montgomery Clift, but the laconicness of a classic American cowboy hero. But when he is responsible for a driving accident that leaves his best friend paralyzed from the neck down, he is faced with a situation that his laconic "man of action" skills haven't prepared him for.

Which is, of course, the central dilemma of Ennis Del Mar in Lee's Brokeback Mountain, another contemporary Western that invokes Ford (Kanot has a direct visual homage to the opening/closing shots of The Searchers) for distinctly unFordian purposes. (And before anyone asks, I don't see any real connection between the Israeli film and Wings of Eagles, although it's an obvious cross-reference; the injuries and their aftermath have entirely different thematic resonances in the two films.)

I've also been watching a lot of Three Stooges shorts lately. I guess I'd better stay away from White House press conferences for a while. That's too obvious a link.

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