Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Emma J Lennox reviews her ten favourite films, Part 4

USA 1941
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Screenwriters: Helen Aberson & Harold Perl (book) , Otto Englander(story direction), Joe Grant & Dick Huemer
Runtime: 64 mins
Certificate: U
DVD Distributor: Walt Disney DVD

Populating my list of films are vagrant, emotionally scarred outsiders and my animation choice is no different; Disney's classic Dumbo (1941). The tale of the circus freak with ears 'only a mother could love' is a sentimental choice from childhood, but subsequent viewings and post modern cynicism hasn't dulled its quality. A beautifully rendered animation, (the only film other than Snow White to use watercolours backgrounds,) the plethora of colours and imagery form a vivid, illusory story unmatched by any other Disney film. Featuring the only lead Disney character not to speak, Dumbo is a tightly scripted, visually inventive tale of overcoming adversity. It has a range of humour including visual prat falls, funny characterisations, popular culture references and satire. Even as a child I was eternally grateful for the absence of any insipid love song to slow the pace, and the closest attempt 'Baby Mine' can be forgiven for its 'mad elephant' house setting. Accidentally getting drunk on champagne is unlikely to be a plot point used in any of today's children's films, but in Dumbo it leads to the most surreal, enjoyable experiences in animation. The pink elephants on parade sequence is a disturbing march of big band buffoonery from the animators' imagination with wonderfully bizarre lyrics; “I can stand the sight of worms/ and look at microscopic germs/ but Technicolor pachyderms are really too much for me.” Eventually salsa dancing elephants turn into a range of fast driven vehicles and end up as clouds as it fades to the morning after. The crows who appear in this scene were once criticised for being racial stereotypes, but this view has been generally dismissed by the fact that they are sympathetic and interesting characters. Their jazzy 'when I see an elephant fly,' complete with scatting and trumpet singing, is the most entertaining song in a Disney film. It is also the crows that lead to the revelation that every outcast wants to hear; “the very things that keep you down are going to carry you up and up and up”

Punch-Drunk Love
USA 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson
Runtime: 95 mins
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

My next defected hero is Barry Egan in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love (2002). It is a dreamlike Hollywood romance told through a distortion of music and colour. Emily Watson plays Lena Leonard, the love interest to Adam Sandler's oddball loner in a story which crosses genres from comedy, to drama to thriller. As with Don't Look Now, Punch Drunk Love engages the audience through their senses but instead of imagery and editing it fades to a spectrum of colour-scapes and uses an intrusive soundtrack. Depending on how Egan is feeling the mood of the film alters. Under duress the soundtrack is a clashing and clattering percussion like an erratic heart beat as Egan's blood pressure raises. On the other side is a romantic waltz interjected with refrains of Shelley Duvall's He Needs Me, mixed with moments of colour and lens flares. Critical studies of film music suggest 'unheard' soundtracks produce our immersion into the story. Yet it is reversed in this case, the dialogue is insignificant and misplaced, at times barely audible, whereas the music takes over the emotional impact. It may disrupt the realism, but in heightened moments of fear or love, the emotion for the viewer 'feels' more authentic. Paul Thomas Anderson's unconventional humour appears in unexpected bursts and he has an exceptional cast to pull it off, including Luis Guzman and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman almost steals the film with one angry phone call to Egan where the two men are are so enraged with each other as to be rendered dumbstruck with frustration; (“Shut up! Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut up! (pause) now, are you threatening me, dick?”) It is a purposefully clumsy and magical romantic comedy which combines fifties' love story charm with modern off kilter characters.

Read the final Part 5 tomorrow!

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