heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
[personal profile] heron61
Thoughts on 2 Films - Passengers (2016) & The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
I was initially interested in seeing the new SF film Passengers, but from what I've read it is both highly formulaic and also reinforces misogynist and racist tropes, and thus I won't be seeing it.

However, reading about it reminded me of a film [personal profile] teaotter & I saw last year, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959). It was (at least as far as everything I've been able to find) the very first last man in the world film, and served as a precursor and model for many others, later films. However, unlike almost all the rest, this last man was black and was brilliantly played by Harry Belafonte. This film starts out with a degree of confidence in skilled acting uncommon in modern film making - Harry Belafonte's character alone, in a dark chamber in a coal mine, and Belafonte wonderfully carries this scene for more than 10 minutes.

Naturally, like many later films, the protagonist heads to NYC, and like all of them, he isn't actually the last person alive. Instead, we have what seemed to me (especially 4 years before the Supreme Court struck down US miscegenation laws in Loving vs. Virginia) some fairly daring and well-handled romantic tension and the suggestion of an eventual romance with a young white woman, with further tension introduced by the arrival of a white man. I first heard of this film in an article about a phrase that has thankfully vanished from film, and had one of its last uses in this one - "I'm free, white, and 21" (said thoughtlessly by the white woman to Belafonte's character, with predictably uncomfortable results).

As I said, I haven't seen Passengers, but from what I read, it more misogynistic and far more racially problematic than a film made almost 60 years ago. What also fascinated me was reading reviews and reactions to The World The Flesh & The Devil - modern discussions of this film (like this excellent and detailed review ) seemed much like my own reaction, impressed with the films ideas, bravery, and treatment of race. Then, I saw a New York Times review of the film from 1959, which was was very different indeed, and not at all how I suspected it might be, and included lines like:
The evidence is that a good idea, good direction and good performances—at least by Mr. Belafonte and Miss Stevens, to a lesser degree—have been sacrificed here to the Hollywood caution of treating the question of race with continuing evasion of more delicate issues and in polite, beaming generalities.
I suppose that review should remind us all that hopeful progressives who want more out of media have been around rather longer than I expected.

In any case, we live in an era when TV is (as a whole at least) notably better than it has been in any previous decade, concerns for money and an overall fossilization of the film industry have made most films by large studios considerably less daring, interesting, and worthwhile than many older ones.

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