Monday, July 31, 2006

So Red the Rose

So Red the Rose (1935) was based on the novel of the same name by Mississippi writer Stark Young. It is a film unavailable today on tape or DVD, probably because it seems by contemporary standards too retrograde, especially in its treatment of the Old South and of slavery. It is told from a perspective sympathetic to the Southern viewpoint and makes no attempt to politicize its subject or to view slavery as anything other than a benign practice. In its portrayal of the Southern belle and plantation life it looks forward specifically to the film Gone with the Wind (1938), which may have borrowed elements of the earlier film.

This film begins with scenes of slaves working in the cotton fields to the musical strains of “Way Down on the Sewanee River (cf. Mississippi). The tone is one of tender tribute to a lost way of life. Even though the film romanticizes that way of life, there are ways in which it accurately portrays plantation life and life on the home front.

The first scene of the film makes clear that war is about to break out with the North. We see the old patriarch Malcom Bedford (Walter Connolly) telling the main house servant how nothing will ever change, war will not happen, and everything will continue as it always has been. The film then proceeds methodically to refute this assertion by showing how things do change. One by one sons of the family go off to the war and die. The old patriarch goes off to the war after he is rousted out of bed by Yankee soldiers and forced to show them the way on the road to their headquarters. He returns months later exhausted and shortly after dies.

So Red the Rose offers three perspectives on the Civil War. First is that of Duncan (played by Randolph Scott), cousin and suitor of Valette Bedford. Because he was educated in the North and has friends there, and because he sees the war as a conflict between Americans, he doesn’t support the war or want to fight in it. In a sense he is like the plantation owner, unwilling to accept that change must occur, unwilling to be drawn into the battle because he sees it as fundamentally at odds with the concept of one America. (He never articulates these positions but I infer them from his statements and behavior).

Another perspective is that of survival. The matriarch is at first afraid of war and afraid of the loss of her family. She gradually strengthens throughout the film until she is capable of acts of courage, even when faced with the burning of her beloved home. A similar development of character occurs in Valette, played by Margaret Sullavan, who at first begins as a coy and flirtatious Southern belle but who gradually develops in strength and moral insight.

A third perspective is that of the home front. The film takes place almost entirely on the plantation Portobello, and we learn of the war mainly through bulletins flashed on the screen, through visitors to the plantation, and through reports that filter in. The focus is on a family’s struggle to survive. The story is told from a sympathetic point of view, but even through the film seems sympathetic to the Southern way it is mainly sympathetic to the plight of a family in a time of crisis.

One minor recurrent theme is that of brother vs. brother, embodied in the reluctance of Duncan to go to war, and brought to a head when he finds a Yankee raider wounded in his house and being protected by his family. Scott goes from being a neutral to being a fierce partisan more intent on being partisan than on being human.

The main house servant, well played by Clarence Muse, is a dignified man who though subservient and clearly possessed by the role he is playing does not embody most racist stereotypes. He speaks Latin, and he is of course thoroughly loyal to the family, even when other slaves want to be freed. The stereotype he does reflect is that of the “good” house slave, loyal to his family even when offered the possibility of freedom. In this stereotyped role, the good house slave knows what is good for him and sticks by his white family. There are clear echoes in this kind of character of Thomas Nelson Page’s “Marse Chan” and of the slave in Simms’ The Yemasee who begs not to be freed by his master. At the same time, there is no shucking and jiving in Cato—he is a character with his own dignity.

From a modern point of view the most problematic element of the film is the portrayal of the slaves as contented with their lot, simple, and easily misled. They are easily convinced to give up their work, run amok, and steal possessions of their owners—we then see a scene of slaves comically tackling chickens and hogs. When Valette and her brother go to the barn and reason with the slaves, she reminds one of the slaves of how he picked her up and took her to the house when she broke her wrist and the little brother then reminds him of the rabbit trap he has so far failed to make for the boy. The man seems overcome with guilt. In the next scene we see the slaves walking en masse to the house singing “Go Down, Moses,” or some such song. They have completely changed their minds about wanting to be free. There is a similar scene when the old plantation owner decides to go to war and all the slaves come to the house singing “Go Down, Moses.” In general, So Red the Rose holds with the notion that slavery was an enlightened, paternalistic, benign institution, and that slave owners treated their slaves well.

There are a number of emotionally powerful scenes in the film, as when the mother has a “vision” that her son has been killed in battle and Duncan and the head servant go with her out to the battlefield where they discover his body. This precipitates Duncan’s decision to go to war. The scene in which the Northern soldiers prepare to burn the house as the family watches is especially effective.

Valette’s character looks forward to Scarlett O’Hara. Both are of a type that must have predated Stark Young’s novel and Margaret Mitchell’s—the innocent, pampered Southern belle who confronted with the challenges of war must change in order to survive.

The real theme of the film is the struggle for survival in the face of change and the growth and transformation in character that takes place in the individuals confronted with change.

Only one person in the film, a visitor from Texas who is one of the first to die in the war, has a Southern accent. Most everyone has a British accent.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Wild River

Wild River (1960), directed by Elia Kazan, offers conflicting schizophrenic perspectives. Set in the early 1930s, the movie begins as if it is a documentary, with images of raging floodwaters and a close-up testimonial by a young father about how his father-in-law and three young children drowned in a flood. A voiceover explains that to quell the floodwaters Congress in 1933 passed legislation to create the Tennessee Valley Authority. By constructing a series of dams, the TVA would control floods and save human lives. (The generation of electric power is never mentioned). The TVA would purchase property of people living on the river and they would be relocated. Some people, the voice suggests, would refuse to move voluntarily.

The TVA is presented as a modern and progressive force, a positive development that would bring American individualism into conflict with the federal government. But individualism is only part of the issue. The Garth family lives on an island that the rising impoundment waters will inundate. The eighty-year-old matriarch Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) is the individual who refuses to move or be moved. Through the visual imagery of the island the film expands the concern with individualism to encompass lifestyle, culture, and history. Old farm buildings, a weathering but rugged old farm house, corn fields, human figures that dart in and out of the corn rows, industrious black workers—this is a glimpse into another world and another life, a world that is part of the American world but that is cut off from the mainstream. To Ella Garth and her family the TVA is the enemy.

The film does not take a stand on this conflict between Ella Garth and progress. Progress must happen, it argues, because progress offers benefits and a safer life to the people who live along the river. The lives that are displaced or simply erased, it also argues, are a sad and inevitable consequence of progress.

Other films and literary works have taken a similar approach to the same conflict, but with more empathy for the displaced. This film is so neutral that it lacks power. This lack of vigor is mirrored in the strange relationship that develops between Ella Garth’s granddaughter Carol (Lee Remick) and the TVA agent Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift), who has been sent to convince the old woman to move. Chuck speaks and moves with the realism of a robot. Carol is beautiful and genuine and wistful and equally lifeless. At the end of the film, Chuck is watching as final preparations are made to raze Ella’s house. Carol approaches him to report that Ella has died. She delivers the news, and he receives it, with the kind of interest one would evince at the news that an aspirin bottle is empty.

Chuck is passive both physically and morally. He becomes increasingly concerned about Ella’s situation and goes out of his way to find another house for her to live in, but he never relents in his efforts to move her. He seems attracted to Carol but is strangely reticent when she declares her feelings for him. She tells him that she loves him and that she wants to leave with him and all he can do is reply that “I don’t know what to say.” When threatened, he often backs off. Only when a gang of town drunks beat them up does he propose marriage. He seems to relish being beaten. It’s as if it takes pain and humiliation to arouse him. Why does Carol love him?

The union of Carol and Chuck is the film’s statement about the relationship of progress and tradition. They unite harmoniously and tradition vanishes. This love plot is a disjunctive counterpoint to the plight of Ella Garth. These two lines of narrative don’t ever fit neatly together, but they do make for an interesting if unsettled film.

The relationship between Carol and Chuck does allow Elia Kazan to direct several intense scenes that remind us of his best films. Ironically, Kazan’s film portrays the consequences of Ella Garth's stubborn resistance against progress as a tragedy, but a tragedy viewed with casual interest rather than with genuine emotional apprehension.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart

The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart, is a fine example of narrative, human and landscape portraitures, cultural analysis, and personal memoir and reflection. The book recounts the author’s walk, from west to east, across Afghanistan in the winter months following the September 11 attacks in New York and the defeat of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The reasons for the walk do not ever come quite clear, though Stewart on occasion hints at them. What he does say, all that he is really able to say, is that he had to do it.

Rarely have I found a book so readable, and the narrator/author so enigmatic and engaging.

Afghanistan was in turmoil when Stewart began his walk. It remains in turmoil today. Everyone he meets is suspicious of him and what he is doing. Sometimes he admits to being Scottish, and at other times he pretends to be Indonesian and Muslim. He walks through the regions of numerous Afghani tribes, and his account provides a vivid sense of the diversity of people in this nation, and an understanding of the conflicts they have suffered.

A guiding spirit for Stewart in his walk is the 16th-century Mughul Indian Emperor Babur, who also traveled with his armies through Afghanistan, following the same general track, and writing his own account of his journeys. Like Stewart, Babur was something of a poet, and his narrative of his journey, which Stewart often cites, provides a sometimes ironic, sometimes humorous, always illuminating counterpoint to Stewart’s own story.

In his walk Stewart meets numerous Afghanis along the way. He presents them as human individuals and is largely free of western prejudices. Some he likes better than others. He simply describes what he encounters. At times he makes judgments, offers analytical observations. On other occasions, he simply describes. His style is extremely precise and economical, but it beautifully evokes the land through which he walks.

Halfway through the walk Stewart picks up a huge dog, whom he names Babur after his medieval guiding spirit. The dog accompanies Stewart for the remainder of his journey. He is an old and aging animal, and the journey is a struggle for him. Stewart’s love and admiration for Babur is touching, and in a way it reveals his own essential loneliness. One of my favorite passages:

Babur the dog, in the heart of the blizzard, stopped to savor the bouquet of a wet grass hummock. As we moved on the weather shifted, as did the sharp angles of the slopes, revealing new valleys on each side. My mind flitted from half-remembered poetry to things I had done of which I was ashamed. I stumbled on the uneven path. I lifted my eyes to the sky behind the peaks and felt the silence. This was what I had imagined a wilderness to be.

Stewart never speaks of being lonely, but it is hard not to find loneliness in his story. Here he is walking through the vast empty reaches of an alien land, one which he knows well but in which he does not find himself particularly welcome. A westerner among easterners, he seems always on the lookout for connections, and only rarely does he make them. Only in Babur does he make a deep friendship.

The further he walks, the deeper he moves into hostile territories. In a chapter close to the end of the book, he describes an encounter with Taliban sympathizers in a town that is still largely unreconstructed. The tension in this chapter, as he is continually accosted and questioned by men who may or may not mean to do him harm, is intense. At one point three men invite him to go with them to inspect the town spring. He declines. Later one of them laughingly tells him that if he had gone with them they would have killed him.

Stewart apparently is a kind of polyglot, at least where it comes to Asian languages, and this ability serves him well as he makes his way on his walk. His knowledge of Asian history allows him to place in perspective the cultures and regions through which he passes. He makes clear that Afghanistan is a region that has often been at war, within itself as with other nations. Various tribes and religions have clashed. Yet never has the country suffered so deeply as it did beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1980 followed by the Taliban takeover in 1990 and then the overthrow of the Taliban by U. S. led forces in 2001. The Russians cruelly treated various tribes, but no group seemed more intent on erasing the remnants of earlier culture as the Taliban, who destroyed anything that clashed with their faith. Stewart dispels the notion that the Afghanis would have welcomed the Americans and British forces that invaded to overthrow the Taliban. Most of the people Stewart encounters regards them as simply another invading force, and he often has to lie about the fact that he comes from Britain in order to protect his own life.

Many of the people he meets seem indifferent to the cultures that came before them. Stewart passes through one small village built high in the mountains, on the site of an ancient capital city. The villagers are systematically excavating the remains of the buried city, but not to preserve its memory but rather to sell artifacts to western museums and treasure collectors. They are doing this because it is the only way they can make money to eat, to survive.

In a sense, Stewart presents the land and peoples of Afghanistan as a place the world ought to know better. But even more he presents it as a nation in collapse as a result of its interactions over the past decades with conquering nations. It is losing not only its identity but its culture, its history.

Towards the end of his journey, fatigued by walking and tension as he moves into hostile territory, you can sense in Stewart an irritation—with himself, with his situation, with the unfriendly and often inhospitable people he meets. He grows more willing to rely on letters of introduction from chieftains in villages through which he has passed. At points he even comes across as an ugly Westerner, willing to pass himself off as an “important person” in order to get better treatment. The chapters grow shorter, and he seems impatient with his journey. Yet on the last day of his walk he has what amounts to a moment of transcendence:

This moment was new to me. I had not dreamed or imagined it before. Yet I recognized it. I felt that I was as I was in this place, and that I had known it before. This was the last day of my walk. To feel in these final hours, after months of frustration, an unexplained completion seemed too neat. But the recognition was immediate and incontrovertible. I had no words for it. Now, writing, I am tempted to say that I felt the world had been given as a gift uniquely to me and also equally to each person alone. I had completed walking and could go home.

This is one of the best travel books I’ve read. There is a huge body of travel literature out there, much of it dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, narratives of westerners traveling to lands that to them were alien and strange and primitive. Writers of those narratives often wrote with a perspective specific to their own culture and their own national prejudices. Stewart largely seems to avoid those prejudices. He is an excellent writer, a prose stylist of considerable skill and accomplishment. He is a careful and detailed observer, in the fullest sense of the word.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

God’s Little Acre

God’s Little Acre (1958) gets right the comic tone of Caldwell’s 1933 novel. It correctly conveys the tensions between town and country, between the rural dirt farm of Ty Ty and the town life and affluence of Augusta. It preserves the family structure and other characters from the novel. It fails in a number of fundamental ways. While the film is almost always interesting, it frequently strays in confusing and unsatisfactory ways from the plot of the novel. Fraternal jealousies do not lead to murder in the film. Only Will Thompson (Aldo Ray) dies, by accidental gunfire, after he turns on the power at the cotton mill. The raw sexuality of the novel is missing. It could never have been properly conveyed in a 1958 film, and even today it would possibly push the limits of what mainstream films can do. I think specifically of the scene in which one of the men has sex with Darling Jill in front of the rest of the family.

One failure of the film is its attempt to make Ty Ty noble. He invokes God at the end of the film and seems redeemed from his hole digging ways. He seems more interested in the welfare of the family, in keeping his sons alive, than he does in finding grandpa’s gold. He seems able to look above the horizon in a way that the character in the novel, an abysmally depressing novel, never does.

The novel suggests that environmental conditions of the prevailing economy, the conflict of agriculture vs. commerce, and human sexuality control the actions of the characters. There is no free will, and the one person who attempts to exercise free will, Will Thompson when he turns on the power in the cotton mill, is shot to death. He is the figure of masculine power and sexuality in the novel, the one individual who asserts himself, has the women he wants to have, and he is shot down. The film suggests some of the same dynamic relationships, but softens and weakens them. The film lacks the hard unrelenting edge of the novel, its clinical indifference to the characters, especially to Ty Ty.

The characters in the film do not look like people who live on a farm and spend their days digging holes looking for gold. They look too well fed, too well dressed, and they sweat only a little. The women walk around in high heels and starched dresses. The men appear to be only lightly soiled after a day of shoveling dirt in a fifteen-foot deep hole. These people and their ways of acting and talking and dressing are overly sanitized. They live in a house much too big for a man who is able only to barely subsist.

Ty Ty in both the novel and the film is possessed by the lust for material things. His oldest son Jim Leslie has gone to the city to marry a wealthy woman. His daughter’s husband Will Thompson eschews life on the farm and chooses another kind of enslavement at the cotton mill. Ty Ty chooses not to farm and instead digs holes for 20 years in the hopes of finding gold which his grandfather supposedly buried there. Why he believes the gold is there is never made clear. Ty Ty digs holes in search of elusive treasure for the same reason Will Thompson works at the cotton mill. It is the choice of affluence and material things over the virtues of farming. This is the dialectic established in the film, and though it is suggested in the novel Caldwell doesn’t idolize farming and does not suggest that farming in some way creates virtue in the breasts of those who till the soil.

The film is schizophrenic in a way. It is broad comedy at the beginning as we watch Ty Ty and his sons dig holes and rely on the albino Dave Dawson (well played by a young Michael Landon) to divine the true location of the gold. The comedy of the film is like the broad comedy of a comic strip, whereas the comedy of the novel is focused at people so different from most of us readers of the present day that they seem almost like alien beings. Somewhere past the midpoint, however, the nature of the film changes, and one senses an attempt on the part of the filmmakers to portray the family in a more sympathetic light, especially Ty Ty and his struggle to quell the tensions rampant among his sons. By the end of the film, with its somber and tragic scenes, one almost forgets the broad comedy of the opening scenes and the digging of holes.

I am reminded throughout this film and the novel it is based on of Faulkner’s story “Lizards in Jamshyd’s Courtyard” and the false treasure out at the Old Frenchman’s Place. Did Faulkner borrow from Caldwell, or vice versa? Could Caldwell have seen the 1932 Saturday Evening Post version of the story that later became the penultimate chapter of The Hamlet? I am also reminded of Anse Bundren in As I Lay Dying, who sometimes seems more like the Ty Ty of the film than the Ty Ty of the novel. But these are subjective and unreliable judgments.

The film’s conclusion seems to suggest that Ty Ty is such a crazy fool that he really isn’t to be taken seriously. Greed, ambition for wealth, seems in some way to be responsible for the tension and discord in the family (not to mention sexual jealousy which the film makes far less of than the novel does). At the end of the film everyone is happily tilling the field, planting cotton seed. Griselda and her husband seem happy with one another, at least for now. But when Ty Ty strikes an old metal shovel with the plow blade and decides that the shovel is a sign from God, he starts digging again. Is this just a brief interlude or the beginning of another 20-year cycle? The suggestion is the latter, that old Ty Ty will just never learn, and that despite all the suffering and unhappiness in the film it all really doesn’t matter because these characters are rural redneck farmers and you can’t really expect any better of them (which is pretty much what Caldwell suggests too).

The cotton mill episode is more effectively treated in the novel and is an exploration of how industry—one extension of the comer-oriented world of the modern city and of modern America in general—exploits the individuals. In the film Will Thompson is accidentally shot. In the film he is brutally and cruelly shot by two henchman for the cotton mill owners, who show no concern for the many people who have been put out of world. The aspect of labor vs. owner disputes is watered down in the film, and therefore one of the more controversial aspects of the novel is softened, just as the graphic sexuality and violence of the novel is watered down, erased, or blurred.

The production values of the film are strong. There is good black and white cinematography. The music by Elmer Bernstein seems to me out of touch with the subject of the film and a little precious. Robert Ryan as Ty Ty is excellent, as is Tina Louise in her role as Griselda (Tina Louise is the future Ginger of Gilligan’s Island—she was a wasted talent—this film shows she could act). Buddy Hackett is strangely but appropriate cast as Pluto Swint, the buffoonish, clownish candidate for sheriff and suitor of Darling Jill. Darling Jill herself seems miscast and lacks the sexuality of the character in the novel, while Tina Louise is the burning female character in the film in every way.

For the most part, the film portrays the rural unlettered farmers as simpletons unable to make practical decisions or to lead practical lives. Although Caldwell shares this opinion, for the most part, he sees the farmers as victims of economic and environmental forces. In general, this is a film that has been overlooked and should be better known.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Superman Returns

Superman Returns suffers from identity confusion. Is it an action movie, a religious film, a study in fathers and sons, a romance, or something else? Is it about an alien super hero in the real world, intent on serving and protecting the human race? Or is it a comic book story brought to life where arch villains such as Lex Luthor can create continents by tossing alien crystals into the ocean? This schizophrenic conundrum was a problem for the first series of Superman films and was most effectively solved in Superman II (1980), the most satisfying of the group.

Putting aside the fact that a superhero by definition is a fantasy which could not exist in the real world, I wish Bryan Singer and crew had created a more realistic and credible set of disasters for their hero to confront. The crystalline continent growing out of the North Atlantic was too reminiscent of various threatening disasters welling up in Lost in Space and the early Star Trek episodes—conceived and built on an artificial set.

If a Superman really existed he would have to confront real world problems like terrorism and war and tidal waves. All the Superman films show their hero grappling with problems in his personal life—mostly focused on Lois Lane—but they haven’t succeeded in convincing me that they really know what to do with Superman as a public figure. His challenges are always larger than life rather than the kind of challenges that confront us in our real world. (The much underrated 2000 film Unbreakable did an admirable job of showing what a super hero’s life in the real world might be like; so too sometimes did the television series Smallville in its portrayal of the private life of a young Superboy trying to live an anonymous life and make his way on the earth).

The heartrending truth is that if Superman existed we might avoid disasters such as the World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the South Asian tidal wave, and so on. But he doesn’t exist, not here and not anywhere else. Beyond the laws of physics that say such a being is impossible, there is the metaphysical reality of our world full of error and strife, chance accident, planned carnage. As the film shows Superman flitting from one rescue to another, I felt painfully reminded of the real world which this film is not about. We need help, lots of help, but we’ve got to make our own way.

We are not supposed to think of such matters in a film such as this one. I was entertained. Brandon Routh was fine as Superman. Kevin Spacey, working at about 15% of his capacity, was excellent as Lex Luthor. All the other principals of the comic book series were there. It was nice to see Noel Neill and Jack Larson from the 1950s television series with small parts. Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent, the earthly adoptive mother of Superman, was a welcome small role as well—with only a few lines and three scenes, she brought her character fully to life. I wanted more.

The film deftly hints at Superman’s symbolism as an earthly savior, and all the iconography of the Christian savior is there, from the father who sends his son to serve the human race, to the various images of crucifixion, to the empty hospital bed at the film’s end. In one scene Superman hovers high in the atmosphere above the earth, listening to the sounds of all the difficulties, dangers, and travails of the human race (how can he handle them all?) Interwoven with these ideas is the relationship of father and son, crucial to the plot, and which I won’t comment on further so as not to ruin the experience for any unlikely reader who hasn’t already seen the film.

Superman Returns was loud and entertaining. It had something of the quality of the first Star Trek film (1979), which spent too much time reintroducing you to beloved characters and actors whom you hadn’t seen for a decade. But there is more of a real plot here: the requisite Superman cast of characters is on hand, and should we really ask for much more?

I would still like to see a Superman film that explores his life and the problems he would encounter in a real world. And I am looking forward to a sequel.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Loved One

The Loved One is a 1965 satire of American life, specifically of life in Los Angeles and Hollywood. Based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh, the movie as directed by Tony Richardson shows the influence of another novelist of Hollywood, Nathanael West in his novel The Day of the Locust. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon also comes to mind, but I’m not sure it’s an influence here, only an analogue.

The film industry, corporate America, funeral homes, death, the cult of celebrity, the space program, mothers, child geniuses, religion and religious leaders and evangelism—all fall under the film’s withering gaze. The point of view is British: the film follows the experiences of Dennis Barlow, a young poet (a hilariously bad poet) from England, prone to excessive drinking and absolutely without scruples, who comes to Hollywood to live with his uncle, a famous painter (played by John Gielgud) who has worked for and been co-opted by the film industry for 39 years. His Hollywood house—with its simulated thatch roof and its cracked and empty swimming pool—is a symbol of what he has become. This is the basic thesis of the film—that Hollywood and materialism and a general atmosphere of deluded romanticism pervade America and consume its citizens and their best talents. Money is the motivating force behind all things. Dreams, illusions, and fantasy are its bywords. The funeral industry with its emphasis on preserving the illusion of life for a “loved one” who has died is an extension of this tendency. Even the space industry and the military are caught up in this false yearning for immortality. God is a corporate executive who hovers in a helicopter high above the Los Angeles landscape, surveying all that happens, making decisions when profits flag.

A small colony of British expatriates in Hollywood regards itself as a last bastion of civilized values in a land of corruption, though they themselves are as much a part of the atmosphere as anyone else—they just don’t realize it.

The film is most notable for its array of absurd and outrageous characters: the gravel-voiced advice columnist (the Guru Brahmin), Mr. Joyboy (played brilliantly and disturbingly by Rod Stieger), Mr. Joyboy’s ravenously obese mother, the soulless tycoon played by Jonathan Winters and his feckless brother (also played by Jonathan Winters). Liberace, the incarnation of Hollywood glitz and glamour, has a small part as a coffin salesman.

Despite many moments of hilarity and a biting view of modern America, the film is disjointed and uneven. Transitions between scenes are jarringly sudden (this may have been intentional, but as a method it seems dated now). Though the plot moves forward there is a lack of coherence. Nonetheless, there is nothing else like this film. Its black and white cinematography is outstanding. As a visual set piece, Whispering Glades Cemetery is mordantly overwhelming. The film reminds me in a way of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. In its patchwork way of interweaving characters and subplots, in its satiric view of its subject, The Loved One also reminded me of Robert Altman’s Nashville, and in fact it’s difficult not to see this film as an influence on Altman. It is fierce, biting, satire, and it glows ominously with despair and dark pessimism.