I had mixed reactions about this movie. On one hand, I can see how this could have been effective in the 30’s, b/c it does address how scary the effects of being a pothead can have on someone. On the other hand, the overacting and the bad filmmaking gives you no choice but to laugh at the movie and take nothing serious from it. My mixed reactions on this, though, are reflective of Hollywood’s interpretation of narcotics in the United States – they see both sides. However, it seems that lately, the films released have emphasized the humor behind marijuana and other drugs. Seth Rogen-written films (Pineapple Express, Superbad) have used this as a vehicle for his movies’ successes. Unlike films in the late 70’s and 80’s that seemed to focus on the downfall of drug-users (take the Al Pacino-led films Scarface and The Panic in Needle Park), Hollywood has been glamorizing the pot-smoker. Whatever Hollywood’s stance may be, Reefer Madness is one of a kind and rarely does a film become resurrected by a cult the way this movie has.
I think comparing this film with Best Years of Our Lives is very appropriate. Both films focus primarily on the impacts of a soldier’s homecoming, emotionally and politically/historically.
While BYOL was a bit ahead of its time in addressing PTSD as a common and severe symptom of coming home from war, BOTFJ took it to another level and was expressed stylistically by Oliver Stone (for example, the scene where Tom Cruise/Ron Kovic was giving a speech and the sound of the baby crying led to the character reminiscing vividly and reluctantly about the war).
At the same time, Stone’s movie addresses the difficulties of coming home as a paraplegic. BYOL tackles that same issue but through a different character, but its implications are just as effective. Both characters go through humiliation, de-masculination, and fight through their respective relationship problems (Homer struggles to re-connect with his gf, as does Kovic with his high school fling and his family).
Another issue both movies do a good job of addressing is alcoholism. In these two movies (as well as many others), it seems that alcohol and drug use are prominent escapes for an ex-soldier whenever an attempt to forget about the war is needed. Fred in BYOL exposes his drinking to his family, and Kovic takes this to another level by going to Mexico and using his disability checks to finance his alcoholism. Of course, resorting to alcoholism affects the person and everything around them and exacerbates the life of the individual.
I thoroughly enjoyed both movies because they express the same issues, yet stylistically they are different because each movie is a product of its time. While this has an effect on how the director expresses these issues, in the end they are perceived virtually the same way: a soldier’s homecoming is not all parades and nurses-kissing-the-sailor in the street – the transition is difficult, for lack of a better term, they need all the support they can get.
By far the most poignant film we have seen this semester. We covered a lot in our class discussion, from differences/similarities in gender roles between blacks and whites, the specifics about the bus boycotts, and the difficulties of being a black or white person during this time period.
One thing I was hoping we would go into more detail, though, was the choice to have the film narrated by the Sissy Spacek’s daughter. Roger Ebert said on his website that the narration was pointless and it didn’t add anything to the plot or the emotional aspects of the film. I disagree with this. I don’t think you can get a more objective point of view, considering the time period. The daughter has no concept of race or discrimination. She only sees the love and care of her family and Odessa (Whoopi Goldberg). I find the daughter as a narrator effective because it allows us to be immersed into the shoes of Odessa and the mother, while also giving us the opportunity to step back and analyze the struggles from both sides.
The Long Walk Home was beautifully made, and did well with incorporating fictional characters into a specific historical event. Instead of telling the story of the main historical civil rights leaders (MLK, Rosa Parks), we got to see what life was like during the bus boycotts from one of the 40,000 people who protested it, as well as the whites who were caught between supporting and opposing the boycotts.
I was very impressed with this film in many respects. There are not many movies like this one, i.e. a movie made during a certain time period that is about that specific time period. This made it very challenging yet interesting to analyze.
In class, Dr. M showed us the trailer to this film. I did not know how much the producers wanted to romanticize this genre lead the viewers to think that this was going to be another love story. Maybe the intention behind this was that they did not want to explicitly express that this movie was going to tell the story of three WWII veterans returning home and how their lives would forever be changed. This topic may have hit too close to home at the time and playing that angle would have turned a lot of people away. Regardless, the strategy worked since millions of people went to the theaters each week (I think the number said in class was 9 million?), the film garnered seven Oscars, and it is included on AFI’s numerous lists of greatest-movie categories.
One thing I was disappointed about in class today, though, is that we never got a chance to compare this movie to the other ones seen in class. I felt I made a good contradiction between this one and Matewan, which we saw the previous week. Since I did not get a chance to blog about Matewan, I think I”ll just kill two birds with one stone. The thing about Matewan is that it is not that different than Best Years. The former was made in the 80’s and tells the story about labor unions in WV, an 80’s where labor unions were consuming the media again. However, this movie does not end with any closure (like Best Years does). The fate of the labor unions was unknown in the 20’s, as was the feeling in the 80’s as well. Best Years seems to solve much of the problems with love. Each soldier finds a woman who is willing to take back the man and adjust to their state of being. It seems far-fetched now, but it helped balance the movie’s perspective on what it was like for a soldier to return home and what their future held at that time (propaganda during WWII seemed to express that a soldier’s homecoming was all sunshine and flowers, when that was not the case at all).
I won’t even get into the specifics about the complexities of each soldier upon their return to their families, but I will say that it captured them very well and in very different ways. This led to many poignant scenes in the movie that I’m sure viewers from the 40’s would have been tear-jerking non-stop. Take, for example, the scene where Homer helplessly has his dad help him get ready for bed because of his lack of hands.
I am glad I got to see this movie, and it definitely falls in the same bubble as the other historically accurate films we have seen (Matewan, Last of the Mohicans, Glory, Amistad, Gone With the Wind). Furthermore, the movie itself serves as a bridge for connecting audiences of today and helping us relate to our current events.