Here it is folks. It’s all happening. I have finally started a film review blog that probably only I will read, making content that is not only irrelevant to current film culture, it’s probably so subjective that you will ask: “What is she smoking?”
The answer is of course, Marijuana.
Ever since I started working on a miniseries shooting in Ft. Hood, Kileen, TX, I have needed to smoke copious amounts of the aforementioned intoxicant just to keep my head on my shoulders and my tooth-beaver gnawed nerve endings from exploding. Synapses need numbing time to time, people.
Since I have begun this process i have also become enamored with a local snack called Magic Pop, a crispy large wafer of popped corn and wheat or something, kind of like huge magical disks of cereal or communion wafer. Strawberry and cheese are my favorite flavors, they have just an indication of taste. I went through a phase of eating them before and my little sister told me, “Stop eating Magic Pop or you’re gonna just… float away”. My feet are on the ground this time folks.
Hopefully this will be a good outlet for my hot brain juice. I’m just gonna pour it on in here whenever I feel like it and we’ll see how it goes. So without further ado, my “review” of Charade. Not sure all posts will have this format. We’ll see.
COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY REVIEW OF CHARADE
in a faux academic style, by Natalie
Charade is a grandly built, multifaceted film which initially promises a screwball comedy but inside contains the dynamic, gyroscopic intensity of a psychological thriller. The laughs that happen between Hepburn and Grant are the slo-mo, softball, and intentionally silly of a fun caper.
Hepburn’s gently overstated and airily theatrical responses indicate a lighthearted romp. Grant’s shifts between gummy-mouthed sarcasms and unexpected slapstick humor punctuate the steadily unravelling plot, however, what gives this movie a real edge is the hyper-cinematic and dark, kinetic trick shot sequences that truly animate the film.
These punchy interludes of chases and dramatically lit action expertly build psychological tension. One thinks of the intense, slow-burn introspective angles that Hitchcock employed, but where his are more somber and laden with marble-heavy psychological impact, partially due to the fact that he was in filming weighed down by huge, ponderous studio cameras, here in Charade we witness a perhaps new limberness of movement and expressive dynamic design predating the liberated camerawork of Sam Raimi.
Our eye dances across screen, soaking in the gorgeous, refined 60s chromatics and smart plays. There is at times a dancing change in tone between the two storytelling speeds, leaving us shifting gears – however, as we witness through several, increasing-in-speed loop-the-loop plot twists, swirling in tighter and tighter to the end, we are meant to be shifted around: for the main underlying question of the film is: what is the truth?
The relationships between Hepburn and the threatening male characters she meets, including Grant, alternate in a cyclical friend-is-foe, foe-is-friend manner that illuminates her inner ambivalence or lack of ability to determine truth. The untrustworthy men who hound her (supporting character actors brilliantly portrayed, particularly James Coburn and an inventive Walter Matthau) all want something precious from her that she knows she hasn’t got or can’t find.
Their hard stances belie a gentle attack: they never truly harm, only threaten and, eventually, point the way to the treasure which turns out to be hidden in plain sight in the form of incredibly valuable postage stamps.
If we are to look at the stamps as a representation of the value she does not recognize in herself, they would perhaps symbolize exchange, ethics, a code of value or order; or: the incredible value of the transmission of truthful information. The mechanics of the story are, at heart, eloquent in their simplicity and clear in their design. Her grueling choice at the end between trusting words from a supposed truthful authority, and those of a supposed liar and killer exposes the growth of her intuition.
Her inner knowledge communicates the truth to her, which then later leads her to triumph in the personal moral choice of handing over the treasured stamps. What she needed all along was to develop her own inner judgement, which then psychologically externalizes in Grant’s surprise true identity as the Ambassadorial official who could have, had she made the wrong choice, damned her to prison and prevented his companionship. Essentially she creates the path for her masculine inner truth to reward her by showing his true face once she has developed this inner balance and poise.
The film has a charming reiterated theme: each time Grant reveals a new identity, she must reassess and redefine her code of morals. Is she willing to love a man who is knowingly and admittedly untruthful? Would this lead her down a path of deteriorating morals, robbing the love of it’s victory? Fortunately she develops deceptive inner strength at each turn (I say deceptive because Hepburn’s character effuses helplessness and twee bafflement when confronted with obstacles).
The expression of Grant’s love for her is, for the duration of the film, confusingly hidden. The subtext that he is using her to gain information for selfish ends only partially illuminates this ambivalence. Is it emotional or moral? Both? The two are consistently blended or at odds with the other in the film. Only when the final shoe drops to we understand that he too has agency to love, that his withholding has a different meaning than we assumed. Perhaps he truly hadn’t meant to fall in love with Hepburn and was in expressing morality in remaining distanced, or had he wanted to ensnare and manipulate her the entire time? WAS he conning her, even as a lawful man playing a thief?
The state of the art studio production is a central figure of the film as well. It brings us the delicious stillness that allows the mind to wander into a near dream state, particularly in the rear-projected barge scene, eerily echoed by special effect when they chance under the Parisian arched bridges. The locations are abundantly beautiful: transporting us to rain drenched Paris and the Alps, and lush ski lodges particularly well displayed in the saturated film of the 1960’s. I should also mention the personally-designed-by-Givenchy wardrobe that is predictably stunning, the height of 60’s modern.
The film is incredibly well made: it seems the filmmaker was defining new rules of expression that seems at first glance to fit into the well-worn formulas of previous eras of film, but as it unfolds, the bold directional choices veer us into new territory unexpectedly. Much freedom seems to have been given to the actors, who take this each in his or her own direction, and infuse the narrative with freshness. Each new sequence seemed to presented a different challenge to the director, who seizes each new moment with vigor and expansive artistry.
These sequences have their own stand-alone virtue, yet also fit into the main story arc with clever narrative call-backs and reappearing riddles. An externalized dream, the film pulls us into a different, liminal world displaying the swirling oscillation between illusion and truth that is the crucible for individuation.
Thanks to The Blonde At the Film for image collages!
Her blog post is wonderful. #goals