The Recklessness of The Reckless Moment

Spoilers Ahead

Max Ophul’s 1949 film, The Reckless Moment, was created during what film critics call the period of Classical Hollywood Cinema.

 

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“The Reckless Moment” film poster – 1949

This period of American filmmaking was tightly constrained by long term studios who controlled a film’s production, distribution and exhibition. A year after the Paramount Decision that “broke up” these suffocating rules in 1948, The Reckless Moment was produced. The Reckless Moment still contains some stylistics features of production on a strict, efficient budget. But, Ophul’s film managed to challenge the audience’s expectations of Hollywood cinema in the mid 1900s.

The motion picture “Production Code” were the moral guidelines for a film, and weren’t loosened till the 1960s. The Reckless Moment manages to break one of their rules outright. The story of murder and blackmail contains immoral characters that are never truly punished. In the mid 1900, evil characters always got what they deserved; its what made audiences comfortable. Ophul’s film breaks this rule and it gives other variations in Classical Hollywood Cinema’s style. The Reckless Moment is character/goal oriented, contains a “private world versus public world” tone, and the story wraps up with the right amount of closure.

The Reckless Moment focuses on Lucia Harper, a mother of two whose husband is overseas. Her daughter, Bea, gets romantically involved with an older, corrupt man, Ted Darby, who won’t leave the family alone until he is paid off. While attempting to break off their relationship, Bea ends up murdering Darby, only to have her mother, Lucia, discover and hide the body.

The mother-daughter turmoil is what the beginning of the film focuses on, until a shady gambler, Martin Donnelly, enters the messy picture.

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Blackmail becomes the focus once more as Martin wickedly threatens Lucia with Bea’s love letters to the murdered man, Darby. The audience will find itself getting caught up in this family’s disaster. They will be drawn in by the negative lens that family was portray with. We get quotes like “a family can surround you sometimes” (39:00). Or, when discussing the cover-up, Lucia saying “everyone has a mother like me” (43:00). Finally, Donnelly hits it home when he mentions “you’re quite a prisoner aren’t you?” (43:52) when talking to Lucia.

Classical Hollywood Cinema focuses on character oriented stories, but The Reckless Moment focuses on Lucia as well as Lucia and her family, when it comes to the main conflict. One could relate it’s narrative to the narrative of the television show Breaking Bad from 2008; in terms of a normal, American family becoming corrupted by the head of the household trying to do what is best. The protagonist, in turn becoming a criminal.

Ophul’s film follows the Classical Hollywood Cinema guideline of contrasting the character’s private world with the public world. It does this by placing its audience in media res, or in the middle of things. Right away, the storytelling places us at the end of Bea and Ted’s relationship that has been ongoing for a non disclosed amount of time.

We see the end of Bea’s relationship, her becoming a murderer. And thus, audiences are taken on the wild ride that is Lucia, trying to keep her (and her family’s) private secrets from public view.

This leads to blackmail from Donnelly who ends up falling in love with Lucia, a Classical Hollywood Cinema trope I thought this film did a stodgy job enforcing. We, as an audience, have to keep track of all the secrets being kept while also wondering how they could possibly be resolved.

Audiences are placed in the middle of the sinful narrative when Lucia disposes of Ted Darby’s body. The scene is a four-minute-long, silent sequence where we can’t help but reflect on how the situation could get so out of control. How would we handle this particular problem? The scandalous narrative is climaxed when the blackmailer, Donnelly, becomes a murderer along with Lucia. We feel, as an audience, that these private secrets must come into the public light.

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The last Classical Hollywood Cinema content-rule The Reckless Moment draws upon is a final sense of closure for audiences. American audiences at the time (1949) are used to getting either a sad or a happy ending. Everyone wanted something nice that ties the story up with a bow and lets them walk away from the theater with a solidified, satisfying ending. A main character either fails or succeeds in his or her endeavors and their desires condemn or liberate them.

But, with Ophul’s film, we are unnerved at the ending. None of the immoral characters are brought to justice for their actions by law enforcement. The police are the antagonist we are all waiting to descend upon our character throughout the film, but they never do. When it comes to the ending of The Reckless Moment, one cannot check a yes or no box in reference to it being a happy ending. Lucia’s family is safe from criminal trial, but, they have to bear the weight of their actions and secrets until they die. This is a concept we don’t see in Classical Hollywood Cinema. I appreciate the film’s ability to let the audience decide for themselves if the character’s actions were moral or immoral.

All in all, The Reckless Moment doesn’t adhere to Classical Hollywood Cinema’s guidelines. But, it is disguised as a film that does.

That is how change comes to be in Hollywood- slow and unsure. There is a focus on a character and her goal, while also branching into themes of moral and familial responsibility. Full of tracking shots that show us a criminal, private world hidden from the public. And finally, an fragmented sense of closure that we have to put together ourselves. I can say that the end of The Reckless Moment made me consider the lengths we go to for our families, especially when they stretch into immoral actions.

This topic being explored in the 1950s during such a strict time in cinema should be applauded.

 

 

 

Work Cited

Ophul, Max, director. Reckless Moment. Colombia Pictures, 1949.

William Wordsworth on Romantic Immortality

IMG_0336In studying the Romantics of Great Britain and those who are still remembered today, I found myself wrapped up in the idea of immortality, and how everyone was, and still is, so captured by its meaning. Translating the hardships of human experience into written form is not an easy task, but poetry has the ability to grasp it so elegantly and soothe the aching of confused human heart. In the period of the Romantics, the average person rarely saw the age of forty (Longman, 3). A British man or woman of this period (1800-1850) lived in a time of social strife, human rights debate, and class struggle. Along with all the historical turmoil, there was a surge of the written word by many poets we still read today, poets like William Wordsworth.

Portrait of William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon (National Portrait Gallery).

Wordsworth was born in 1770 and lived to be 80 years old, a triumph of this time period. Literature brewed in the turmoil, like it always has and always will, and the complacency of individuals in society began to be explored, and deemed dangerous. The Romantic period was as good as any for humans to reflect on their individuality and their existence in the natural world. The power of imagination is boundless and it flourished in the eighteenth-century, combining with philosophy, theology, medieval stories, and scientific truths. People became increasingly interested of the concept that we all perceive our own realities, and, if we want, we can try to write it down for others to comprehend.

The first four stanzas of William Wordsworth’s 1804 “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” describe a state we’d diagnose today as depression. Written in 1802, these stanzas end with a profound question of sadness, in reference to his love for nature that has seemed to be lost,

“Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”

Wordsworth did not return to and finish the “Intimations of Immortality Ode” until his colleague, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, replied with his own “Dejection: and Ode” as a reply and an encouragement. Wordsworth sets out to depict the struggle of the human experience with morality and develops a tone of the “common man” so that other might read his Ode and be comforted. Like most works that dive into the narrative of human life, the ode starts with the topic of children (the stage we all start our lives as) and weaves it throughout. Right away, in the epigraph, we get the paradoxical notion that “The Child is Father of the Man” (Longman, 553) implying that who we are as children determines who we are as adults. Wordsworth accounts for the importance of childhood in human development with this, “The Child is Father of the Man”, belief that he illustrates. To expand on this notion, Wordsworth believed that the soul predated the body, and that the more we live in the natural world, the more we forgot the divine world. That is, the more we get caught up in worldly anxieties, the farther we stray away from our intrinsic compassion for others and the delicate world around us. But, we cannot reach this compassion without embracing the idea of an immortal soul.

Wordsworth’s ode is filled with “shadowy reflections” and fleeting dreams as he, the writer, questions why he is upset with his depressed circumstance and uninterest in life. In 1802, Wordsworth ended the poem with a grieving question about the gleam of life and how it had escaped him (ll.56-57, Longman) but then, picks it back up and spends the rest of the ode answering his own question. I believe Wordsworth ultimately came to conclusion that joy within the human heart, the tenderness of compassion, and the excitement of fear, is what makes the “glory and the dream” of human mortal life worth experiencing. He comes to formulate this opinion, with the help of Coleridge, by use of figurative language and a change in mindset. He comments of the mental ability to remember things that make you happy, like childhood and how they aid us in curating a more appreciative, loving perspective of the natural world. The reader themselves undergoes this shift as we travel with Wordsworth’s narrative of human life and its relationship with the divine. Wordsworth is looking upwards at “the Soul that rises with us” (ll.59, Longman), no longer in his depressive episode and ready to try to find our human glory that we are given as children, but smother with adult life and custom. While painting the picture of this concept, Wordsworth compares and contrasts the fear or death with the freedom of embracing morality. In a typical Wordsworthian fashion, nature is beautifully incorporated, first with anguish and resentment. As “Intimations” movings along, the active voice calls up nature to help him rejoice in his newfound hopes for “primal sympathy”(ll.181, Longman) , including birds, lambs, meadows, and hills.

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Caspar David FriedrichWanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818

Wordsworth’s poem “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” could be viewed as a man trying to ease his personal fears that turned into a poem that eased the fear of a society. When it comes to the concept of immortality, especially in a time when people were trying so desperately to understand the divine, we usually outright fear human morality. This notion can lead us to depressive episodes like Wordsworth’s; the longing to understand and extended beyond our mortal life is human, and Wordsworth knows this.

With “Intimations: An Ode” a reader can be comforted by the power of memory a “faith that looks through death” (ll.185, Longman) to get them through the darkness of human life. In the end, we are presented with a stoic character, not afraid that the children can play by the shore, but comforted that he can still hear its waves.

 

Work Cited

Damrosch, D. (2003). The Longman Anthology of British Literature (The Romantics and Their Contemporaries). New York: Longman.

Post-Classical Storytelling Analysis of the Experimental La Jetée

Carolyn Lewis

In the 1960’s, film was getting a makeover, and filmmakers wanted innovation and fresh, new stylistic narratives, especially in France with the French New Wave (Lewis). In Hollywood, production had been tightly bound to moral codes that directors had to follow. The films made during the era of Classical Hollywood Cinema had their own production-efficient, fixed, careful style. Chris Maker’s 1963 “experimental” film La Jetée a two-dimensional, sci-fi, philosophical-drama does something new with the classical narrative. The film is accompanied by a lot of silence, but it is alleviated with an instrumental score, eerie whispers, wet heartbeats, and airport noise. It explores human existentialism through its beautifully composed stills, narrative focus, and constructed world.

CHC is upheld also with its odd, but careful construction of its world, a stylistic feature of CHC that wants to build a believable illusion. The film makes sure the audience understands its storytelling, pausing on our main character as he goes through scientific experiences by a Head Experimenter. The story itself is meditative and philosophical, using black and white photography and a clear narrator throughout. To establish setting, the audience is given a series of narration over the history-book-esque, wasteland of Paris after “World War III.” Then, we are sent to the Past, a place full of peaceful images such as animals, nature, and children. We get moments of calm, like the Man watching the Woman from the Past who he cares for. The sequence of calm, restful images is broken by the sound of bats screeching, the audience being reminded of the terrible Present the Man must return to. This sequence also contains the only moving image, the Woman waking up for a few seconds before we cut away. A dateless, dream-scape that has not seen war, the Past represents a place that our character longs for, but cannot stay in. When we are sent to the Future it is full of shadows, the characters appearing as floating heads that represents the dark ambiguity of the times to come.

La Jetée follows the style of Classical Hollywood Cinema (CHC) by focusing on a character with a goal, a Man chosen to travel through Time as a prisoner. The narrator is omnipotent and detached, his tone not giving empathy to our main character and these life-changing events. He only refers to the Man as “the child whose story we are telling” (2:08) or when we meet him in the Present, “He was the man whose story we are telling” (6:09).  The Man has been obsessed with a moment of his childhood for all his life. Our character is chosen for a government experiment in the Present because of this strong mental capacity for memory. Underground and away from the radioactivity, the German Scientists whisper incomprehensible conversations. These whisperings are paired with stills of men whose faces are flooded with high key and low key lighting to make them appear skeletal. This is in reference to the fact that they are time-traveling, test subjects meant to save the dying human race. Our main character travels through Time until he finds out that the moment he holds onto from the Past is “the moment of his own death.” We don’t get much about his backstory, just that he has a strong memory that aids him in helping his captors.

There wasn’t a love story per say, a narrative feature of CHC, but an almost platonic, larger-than-life bond between two human beings who happened to be male and female. Everything seems bigger than the characters, especially in their last moments together in a museum of “timeless animals”. Maker places the couple into wide spaces full of taxidermied animals that seems to allude to the story of Noah’s Ark, complete with coupled animals and a human pair. These moments are accompanied by orchestra instrumentals that swell and calm like breathing, then smoothly fade back to the Present. The Woman refers to the Man as her “Ghost” and accepts that he will come and go in her life. The film’s focus is on the man’s growth as a weapon for the Head Experimenter, but it is mixed with these moments of beauty between two human beings. Their relationship might be another possible allusion, this time to Adam and Eve in Eden (the Past).

All in all, Marker’s film has dark, eerie closure for the audience and its main character. The final scene is a the moment of the Man’s death, tying up the film but leaving us speechless. In the film, Past, Present, and Future are places. It is, and isn’t, a carefully constructed illusion since the whole film probably didn’t have a large budget and didn’t rely on moving pictures. It is a different kind of constructed illusion, using photographs to tell a complex story about time. It breaks, but still respects Classical Hollywood Cinema style, building off of it in a new way. Chris Maker’s La Jetée is a love letter to film, wonderfully frozen in time and bravely exploring new ways to tell humankind a story of itself.

Watch La Jetée now right here.

Works Cited

Lewis,. [Channel Criswell]. (May, 28th, 2015). Breaking The Rules – The French New Wave
    [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0R7R0JHvvgo

SparkzMxzXZ (Oct 27, 2017) “La Jetée (1962) [english subtitles]”Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLfXCkFQtXw