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Posts Tagged ‘Bette Davis’

Watch on the Rhine- Bette Davis and Paul Lukas, 1943

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In Praise of the Fighters

There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.

There are men who struggle for a year and they are better.

There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still.

But there are those who struggle all their lives:

These are the indispensable ones.

Bertolt Brecht, The Mother,  1930

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I came across this short poem/song taken from the play The Mother written by Bertolt Brecht and was reminded of one of my favorite movies, Watch on the Rhine, which featured one such indispensable fighter. I was reminded, as well, of the path we are hurtling down as a nation, especially in the light of the events here of the last few days and weeks. The transformation is accelerating as all guide rails that have protected us in the past are smashed aside. The parallels between what is happening here at the moment and the formation of other authoritarian/fascist regimes in the past century are haunting.

But this short verse and this movie favorite of mine remind us that in almost all of these other regimes, they have been opposed and often defeated by people of great strength and resolve. They were Anti-Fascists or Freedom Fighters who put aside concerns for their personal benefit or safety and devoted their lives to opposing, in every possible manner, the cruelty of fascist rule.

You might read this and shake your head and think that this is an overstatement of what is taking place, that things are not so dire as I might see them and that we are light-years away from fascism.

I hope you’re right.

But I remind you that in all of these past regimes there were large numbers of their citizens who thought just that same thing, that such a thing was inconceivable. It can’t happen here. But authoritarianism creeps up on you, taking hold little by little. Then, when there is a window of opportunity for it to impose its total will on the citizenry, it accelerates at a pace that exceeds the ability of normal response to restrain it.

It may be too late beyond that point but for these people who stand in brave opposition. The fighters.

I urge you to see Watch on the Rhine if you get a chance or at least read the original play. The film was made in 1943, adapted for the screen by Dashiell Hammett from the prize-winning play written by his wife, Lillian Hellman. It concerns a well-heeled family in the Northern Virginia area across the Potomac from Washington whose daughter ( played beautifully by Bette Davis ) returns home from a war-torn Europe for the first time in many years with her husband and children. It is set, and was written, in the year or so before before our entry into World War II.

Her husband is a German freedom fighter named Kurt Muller who is a fugitive leader in the underground movement against the Nazis. He is played by Paul Lukas in a magnificent performance, one that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor that year over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bells Toll. Yes, it was that good.

His Muller is the common man who finds himself in the role of the selfless hero willing to give up everything– his career, his family, his life– in order to stand against evil. Muller did not seek this task but knows that it is one he must shoulder. His words are simple, direct and powerful.

Lukas, who also originated the part on the Broadway stage, is brilliant. Whenever I see this movie, I am haunted for weeks afterwards by Lukas’ performance. The power of it thrills me but I find myself questioning my own strength and beliefs as a human. Thankfully, to this point, I have never been put into a situation like that faced by Kurt Muller and hopefully never will.

But would I be able to stand with even a fraction of the grace and courage of Lukas’ character?

I really don’t know.

There is a different first line of Brecht’s song at the top of the page taken from another translation of the verse from its original German: Those who are weak don’t fight.

I sincerely hope I don’t fall into that category if the situation ever presents itself at my door.

And I worry that it is coming up my walkway even as I write this.

 

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GC MYers- The Untold Want smThis is another new painting headed to the Principle Gallery this weekend for my show there, Part of the Pattern, which opens next Friday, June 3.  This piece is 14″ by 34″ on paper and is titled , The Untold Want.  The title was taken from the title of a very short poem from Walt Whitman that contained the phrase that spawned and became the title of  the  Bette Davis movie,  Now, Voyager.

It’s a great film with a great cast, the kind of movie that could not be made today without becoming something other than what it was intended to be.  It’s the story of a young lady from a wealthy family who is hindered and defined by an overbearing mother.  She suffers until she meets a therapist (played by the great Claude Rains) who finds a way to let her break free and find her own definition of self.  To discover her own untold want.  He quotes the Whitman poem as she leaves his care.  He has given her the tools and she, the Voyager, must discover the world on her own.

There is a lot more to it than that, of course.  But I think that little synopsis captures what I see in this painting.  I see it as being about moving out into the wide world on one’s own terms, unafraid to show oneself as they truly are.  Visible for all to see, flaws and all, and ready to uncover all the mysteries that the world has to offer.

At least, that’s how I see this piece.  I like it, like the feel of it, like the color and tone of it.  It has a sturdiness and simplicity that I find appealing, like a piece of Craftsman furniture.

Here’s the poem:              

 The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,  

Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.

-Walt Whitman, The Untold Want

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REMINDER: Engage Nepal

The clock is running on the event for the Soarway Foundation.  Every donation of $25 and above gets a signed poster like the one shown below as well as a chance to win a painting of mine valued at $5000.  This event ends June 6, 2016 so click on the Crowdrise link below or click here  to see how you can help and possibly win!

Soarway Poster -Engage Nepal

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Watch on the Rhine 1943Tonight is night when the Oscars are handed out for the best movies, directors, actors and so on.  I’ve always been a big film fan and I always look forward to seeing who wins even on the years when I have hardly seen a movie.  It also makes me think of many of my favorite movies, films that stick in my mind and, like any other  form of art, define who I am.

A few weeks ago, I saw one of these favorites of mine, Watch on the Rhine.  It was made in 1943, adapted for the screen by Dashiell Hammett from  the prize-winning play written by his wife, the great Lillian Hellman.  It concerns a family in the Northern Virginia area across the Potomac from DC whose daughter ( Bette Davis in a supporting role here) returns home from a war torn Europe for the first time in many years with her husband and children.  It is set, and was written,  in the years before our entry into World War II.

Her husband is a German freedom fighter, Kurt Muller,  who is a wanted leader in the underground movement against the Nazis. He is  played by Paul Lukas in a magnificent performance, one that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor that year over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bells Toll.  Yes, it was that good.

His Muller is the common man who finds himself in the role of the selfless hero willing to give up everything– his career, his family, his life– in order to stand against evil.  It’s not a task Muller sought but is one he must shoulder.  His words are simple, direct and powerful.  Lukas, who also originated the part on the Broadway stage, is brilliant and, whenever I see this movie, I am haunted for weeks afterwards by Lukas’ performance.  The power of it thrills me but I find myself questioning my own strength and beliefs as a human.  Thankfully, I have never been put into a situation like that faced by Kurt Muller and hopefully never will.  But would I be able to stand with even a fraction of the grace and courage of Lukas’ character?

I doubt it but I don’t know.

But I know that this movie’s ability to fix that question in my mind for weeks make it a great movie with great acting and world-class writing.  Hopefully, this year’s movies will have a film like Watch on the Rhine that will haunt future generations when they watch it years from now.

 

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Casablanca-posterSome of my favorite films to have on in the studio are those that have something to do with World War II.  Not necessarily combat films, although there are a number of those that I find really engrossing, but rather films that have to do with the periphery of the war and how the world coped with a raging war or its aftermath.

Of course, many will immediately think of films like Casablanca and I can’t deny that it is one of my favorites as well.  It’s just a treasure trove of great dialogue and powerful moments ( the dueling anthem scene with Nazis being drowned out by the patrons exuberant  and emotional La Marseillaise is a classic) and remains as powerful a story today as ever.

idiots delightI think I am most taken by the film that deal with the ideology of the times.  For example, Idiot’s Delight, starring Clark Gable, was made before our entry into WW II and was an appeal to the nation to rise up against the Nazi tide that was sweeping through Europe.

It’s filled with great ideological dialogue, words that really do more than just propel the story forward.  They’re meant to stir and anger, to drive people to action.movie-watch-on-the-rhine

Another along the same lines is Lillian Hellman‘s Watch on the Rhine with Bette Davis and an incredible performance from Paul Lukas as the simply worded Resistance fighter.  Again, it takes place before our entry into the war and portrays us as innocent and naive but as the events of the film take place we, as represented by the characters, begin to understand and show our resolve to fight for freedom.

There are so many powerful films from this time that it would be impossible to list them all in a simple blog.  The Best Years of Our Lives, Mrs. Miniver, 49th ParallelHangmen Also Die!  and on and on.  They were meaningful films in a trying time and I think the overriding emotion of them still shines through.  I recommend that anyone with a feeling for the drama of history take a look…

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