[1937.2] The Awful Truth

I will be watching all 10 nominees from 1937 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it. 

Cary Grant could have had chemistry with a dead plant. Nineteen thirty-seven’s The Awful Truth showcases the man’s ability to play deadpan earnest while playing aloof goofball. The balance is impeccable and its allows all the characters involved to shine in their respective roles. This combination of traits works well for romantic comedy; it plays foil for a lover spurned and a more straight-edge love interest. The combo is pliable, too. It allows this character to jump from alpha to beta depending on the direction plot dictates. Because the traits are so pervasive, flexible, non-conformist, what does it matter that Irene Dunne wasn’t simply a fern stuck to the wall?

Because the last and most precarious variable is the combination of time and place. Grant afforded himself a niche that continues to cut across time. His accent placed him from San Francisco through Gary down to Raleigh and up to New York. The virtue of black-and-white photography is that it allows only for a limited range of saturation and hue, while brightness is relatively fixed between the binary of zero (black) to one (bright); this is what adds a layer of complementary guffaw to the opening scene, wherein Grant, as innocuous but conveniently wealthy Jerry Warriner is asked about his “suntanning.” In order to show this effect, perhaps his skin-tone did deepen – but it is almost impossible to tell. Could Grant, as Jerry, have conveyed aloofness in another manner and in another time? Probably, but it makes its more conducive to a 90 minute slice to have all the parts functioning at a high level, with a clear start and end to the thought process. The Awful Truth is the 1937 equivalent of the points in film form. Cary Grant is the catalyst that makes this movie tick.  Continue reading

[1940] The Philadelphia Story

This powerhouse film dramatizes relationship-building to cathartic effect. Over the course of seemingly less than a week, we exhibit the full cycle of most of The Philadelphia Story‘s main characters’ synapses realigning as they come to realize their past mistakes, present unhappiness and future malaise simultaneously and work effortlessly to redefine themselves as modern people in the modernist sense: that self-consciousness is the righteous path and function, in their case, life, follows form. The Philadelphia Story huffs through almost two hours and the audience is better for it, almost, in the most modern way: that there exists a strived-for completeness, when in fact the audience must know that this is the question. In a way, whether intentional or not, through a modern lens The Philadelphia Story defines modernism through postmodern means.

Because through hyperrelapse behavior and infinite loops of information, the modern (in a contemporary sense) man and woman knows that the ultimate goal is to strive for completeness with the full intention of achieving a sliver of happiness completes his or her journey. Ever the pessimist, he or she is honest, which is the key component to the argument against The Philadelphia Story. At its core the film is art and the sped-up premise is meant as a plot device, eschewing reality for core competency; after two hours, the audience must leave with an impression – good or bad – that the film did not flounder. It is reasonable that the film is somewhat dishonest because I think that the writing and acting is compelling enough, and through seasoned performances from Cary Grant (C.K. Dexter Haven), Katherine Hepburn (Tracy Lord) and Jimmy Stewart (Mike Connor), it is slightly obvious that the production team was in on this joke. Continue reading