Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire

director: Elia Kazan
Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden
Writer: Tenessee Williams


Originally a play by the playwrite Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire has been parodied in popular culture on countless TV sitcoms, radio shows, improv skits and movies. Many a macho American male, seeking to demonstrate his masculine sensitivity and theatrical prowess, has belted this cry at one time or another. Usually to the mild perturbation of the opposite sex. But why? The answer is simple…

Marlon Brando.

Prior to seeing this film, the American public had no inkling of Modern Acting. While Brando had stared in another film The Men a year earlier, A Streetcar Named Desire is the film that put the young actor on the map. It was also a film that forever changed the landscape of American film acting grounded in dramatic realism.


Blanche Dubois – a fragile, manipulative southern belle with a healthy streak of alcoholism, and a propensity for grandiose self-delusion– pops into the lives of her sister Stella and her sister’s husband Stanley Kowalski. She arrives on the pretense of taking a vacation from her job as a school teacher. It turns out that the real reason she is there is cause she was fired from her job after seducing a 17-year-old student. Underlying all her troubles is the emotional scar of the suicide of her girlhood fiancé. In short Blanche is a crazy crazy-maker who seeks to live in a world of fairytale southern hospitality.

When she arrives at her sister’s house, Blanche is immediately dismayed to see her sister in a co-dependant marriage with the brutal, earthy, emotionally and physically abusive Stanley Kowalski. She openly disapproves of Stanley’s treatment of her sister Stella. Stanley, who cannot stand the pretentiousness of Blanche’s manipulative ways, sees her as a threat to the couple’s marriage. He seeks to divest her of her delusions and this culminates in his raping Blanche who in turn suffers a total mental breakdown.

Why this movie is flipping awesome:

Ok. I still remember seeing this movie at 19 years old in my college film library and being thoroughly impressed. After seeing Brando’s performance I had a solid understanding of what good acting truly was. This was the movie that set the bar for modern American film acting and his name was Marlon Brando. It is important when watching this movie to keep in mind the fact that prior to this film, acting grounded in dramatic realism was not really seen much on films in the United States.

That said, Marlon Brando’s acting is simply genius. Brando’s acting is charged with raw emotional energy and firmly grounded in the reality of the moment. If there is a textbook performance for good acting, this is it.

Vivian Leigh is also annoyingly good as Blanche Dubois. Watching her act against Brando is like watching a caterpillar get mauled by a gang of army ants. She is nowhere as phenomenal as Brando, but does justice to her part and fits the role to a tee.

Kim Hunter is good as Stella. It’s a shame she was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, as it seems to have tempered her career during that time. She is very nurturing as Stella and it is no wonder that she also played the benevolent ape, Zira, in the original planet of the Apes.

Karl Malden is pretty good as Stanley's friend who tries to get romantic with the Crazy Southern Belle Ms. Dubois.


This movie is a must see for all actors and anyone who is interested in learning about acting. Great performances. Brando is a textbook for good acting.

Other movies I would recommend if you liked this one are:

Young Lions, On the Waterfront, The Wild One, Sweet Bird of Youth, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Harp of Burma(1956)

director: Kon Ichikawa
Starring: Rentaro Mikuni, Shoji Yasui,

The Harp of Burma aka The Burmese Harp is a Japanese anti-war film originally produced in 1956. It is about a Japanese soldier who travels across Burma disguised as a monk during the aftermath of the Japanese surrender. Based on a children’s novel by the author Takeyama Michio, it won many awards and accolades at the time of it’s release including an honorable mention in the Venice Film Festival and the first ever San Giorgio Prize after tying with the winner. The movie itself is kinda a tearjerker so if you like sad movies about departures you will like this one.


The setting is Burma 1945. A platoon of Japanese soldiers is patrolling the jungles of Burma. Led by a Captain Inouye that used to be a music teacher, they are a rather strange bunch who enjoy singing English ballads in four part harmonies during their breaks. One of them, a corporal named Mizushima, accompanies them on the Burmese harp.

While camping out in a Burmese village, the soldiers learn that the war is over when their camp is peacefully overtaken by Allied forces. Most of the group is shipped back to a prison camp to be processed and sent home.
Before leaving Captain Inouye sends Mizushima on a volunteer mission to help negotiate the surrender of Japanese forces further north.

Mizushima goes on the mission, but when he arrives the soldiers refuse to surrender and, except for the private, they are all killed in the ensuing battle. The private flees the battlefield, traveling across Burma disguised as a monk. One day he spots his old platoon on the road returning to the prison camp from a work detail but he does not acknowledge them.

Back at camp, Captain Inouye is convinced that the monk they saw is Mizushima. He and his men organize an elaborate way to communicate with Mizushima asking him to return home with them using a parrot and song.

What I liked about this movie:

Acting-wise, there are some real gems. Shôji Yasui gives a very sensitive performance as private Mizushima, a man who is torn between his desire to return home and the fact that he is forever changed by the experience of war. Rentaro Mikuni is very likeable as Captain Inouye. He gives a moving speech at the end of the film while reading a letter from his fellow soldier and friend. There are many other performances that are quite interesting including the other soldiers in Mizushima's platoon and an old Burmese lady who helps the soldiers in the prison camp.


The movie is really poetic in it’s storytelling in a way that is quite endearing and almost surreal at times.. The idea of a group of soldiers who sing in chorus while on break from patrol might seem pretty preposterous considering that they would be ambushed and killed in a second. However, if one is open to the fact that the movie is more of an allegorical piece than a realistic one a whole experience opens up. Early on in the movie there is a spectacular scene where the soldiers are serenading

Ichikawa is a very good storyteller and his visuals are very beautiful and ghostly. The movie is in black and white and I would love to see the color version that was produced in 1985.

Other movies I would recommend if you liked this one are:

In the Mood For Love, The Burmese Harp(1985), The Thin Red Line, The Deer Hunter.

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