Saturday, February 12, 2011

30 Day Movie Meme: Day 19


Marlon Brando in The Godfather (1972)
This wasn't a hard decision, seeing as The Godfather is both my favourite film and the movie that first introduced me to Marlon Brando. I was a late bloomer, having only seen the film for the first time in 2004, the year of Brando's death. I credit the film, and Brando's performance, with jump-starting my classic film viewing binge for the last six (almost seven) years. It was the first time I realized how remarkable a film can be and how powerful a person's performance. On those occasions when both the film and lead actor are equally worthy of each other, it can solidify a viewer's love for film, as it did mine.

Members of the Mafia don't have my sympathy. They ensure, through their violence and dominance, that corruption will endure. The Mafia wipe out those, big or small, who stand in their way or offend their family's honour. With Francis Ford Coppola's groundbreaking direction and Brando's iconic and influential performance, The Godfather and the character of Don Vito Corleone remain compelling examples of what a thoughtful script and an effective performance can do for a film about an illegal underground operation that maims and kills.

I don't have a lot of love for Michael Corleone because he becomes everything his father was not (but I love Al Pacino in the role!). Vito is a different story. Coppola and Brando managed to convey the life regrets of an aging Don; a once indomitable man who now fears the old adage "the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children." He slowly becomes a broken man as he loses one child ("Look what they did to my boy."), only to have the other follow in his blood-soaked footsteps.

Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
My mom showed this film to my sister and I when we were children. I was probably 10 or 11, at the most. The fact that my mom managed to make two young girls watch a black and white film from the 1960s was a remarkable feat in and of itself, made all the more incredible by the fact that we loved the film so much we'd watch in often enough to recite dialogue. While this isn't necessarily the best Davis film (that would probably go to All About Eve or even Now, Voyager), it's my absolute favourite. Not only was it my introduction to Davis, much like The Godfather introduced me to Brando, but her performance is probably one of my favourites, ever.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is an odd little film, part-horror and part-camp. You don't know whether to laugh or cringe and the fact that it can consistently make you do both is a big part of why I love this film so much. Joan Crawford is wonderful as the wheelchair-bound Blanche, older sister to former child star, Jane (Bette Davis). But make no mistake, this is Davis' film and her performance is outrageous and over-the-top. Those might sound like bad qualities in a performance, but who wants subtlety when you have Davis in your film? She's perfect as the off-her-rocker, crazy-jealous former star who wants nothing more than to regain the glory days of the fleeting fame she experienced as a child.

My favourite scene also conveys the internal conflict of this aging beauty: Jane starts singing a song from her youth she once sang at the peak of her fame. Wearing a dress that is identical to the one adorning the doll version of her younger self, Jane's child-like nature comes through, only to come to an abrupt halt when she looks in the mirror and comes face-to-face with mortality and the passage of time.

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