Archive for March 26th, 2011

“Then who do we shoot?”

These five words uttered by Muley the sharecropper being thrown from his family farm by bankers near the beginning of The Grapes of Wrath echo in my head.  He is frustrated by the seemingly crooked game of cards his world has become and wants to know who has been dealing him these losing hands from the deck of life that is so stacked against him.  And all he gets is anonymity and buck-passing.  He is flailing at boogeymen.

I had John Ford’s classic film of John Steinbeck’s novel on in the studio as I worked yesterday, a ritual I perform at least once a year.  I never cease to be amazed at the topicality of the film in almost any hard time and am moved by scene after scene in the film, even after all these years.  It has long been one of my favorites and has shaded my view of the world since I was a child.

I remember distinctly the first time I saw the film.  It was a very snowy day during our Christmas break.  I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old and my brother and I sat down to watch Ed Murphy’s Hollywood Matinee, a daily showing of a film from the Syracuse TV channel that we were able to pick up with our antenna that laid on the roof of the the old farmhouse in which we lived.  Ed Murphy was a boozy white-haired local TV/radio personality who introduced the movies, which were usually cut haphazardly to fit in extra commercials.  Murphy also presided over the Dialing For Dollars portion of the show where he would pull a telephone listing ( a Syracuse phonebook cut into pieces) and call a lucky listener for a cash prize.  I can’t remember exactly how the rules worked but I remember a lot about watching that particular movie.

I remember thinking how Tom Joad was not a particularly good man, especially as a hero.  He had just been released from prison and talked about killing a man with a shovel in a fight.  He had a quick and angry temper but a tenderness when dealing with Ma Joad and his family.  I also remember seeing in the faces of the bank men and the bosses at the farms and orchards that same mean-spirited bully attitude I  could see in the faces of bullies at school.  actually, there was a great familarity in the whole movie.  I could see traces of my family and many people I knew in the Joads.  People pushed and prodded and never quite able to gain their footing, never in control of their situation.  We weren’t Okies but these people were everywhere–average people who struggled on small farms or worked long hours in factories.

This observed familiarity with these characters has only grown over the years.  I recognize more and more people in the faces of those downtrodden Joads and see many scenes in the film that are  analagous to situations in our times.  It’s a movie that I feel is a must-see for everyone.

Here’s a nice review of the film from the New York Times (short ad at the beginning-sorry!) that includes a couple of clips including Muley with the bankman and Tom’s farewell to Ma, which may be my favorite scene in amy film.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: