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March 2016

52 Movies: Week 13 - Track of the Cat

When I brought up this film last year in one of the threads, I mentioned that I had first seen it as a child on a day off school, and that it was a bit of an odd thing for an eight or nine year old to sit through. It’s not particularly action-packed, but is actually rather talky. My guess is that I was pulled into the plot by the sense of tension and fear that is created in the opening sequences, as well as by the slight hint of the supernatural, which made it a little creepy. Was it a real panther or some devil that was harassing the family? A couple scenes stayed with me for a very long time, well into adulthood, until I finally saw the movie again in the late 90’s when it came out on VHS.

The plot is fairly straightforward. The dysfunctional Bridges family finds themselves snowbound on their mountain cattle ranch by an early unseasonal blizzard. Along with the family is present the youngest brother Harold’s fiancée, Gwen Williams, and the old Indian hired man, Joe Sam. The family is cowed by the crude and domineering middle brother Curt (Robert Mitchum), with the passive assistance of their bitter, Pharasaical mother and alcoholic father. Eldest brother Arthur (William Hopper) is noble and a peacemaker, but ultimately too non-confrontational, while Harold (Tab Hunter) is viewed as still wet behind the ears, and hasn’t yet learned to stand up for himself. Sister Grace (Teresa Wright) is a sad thirty-something spinster.

The story starts with Joe Sam waking Arthur to tell him that something’s at their herd, possibly a panther. The old Indian has a superstitious fear of the first snowfall of the year, believing that it brings along with it a ghostly black panther, the same one that killed his family years ago. Arthur is sympathetic to the old Indian’s fears, but the bully Curt ridicules them both. Curt and Arthur decide to go out in the snowstorm to try and kill the panther, leaving the rest of the family to bicker while awaiting their return. The film cuts back and forth between the squabbles in the ranch house and the tracking of the cat, with the absence of the two brothers causing additional tension. Without giving too much away, it can be said that a number of events occur which bring much of the tense familial undercurrent to the surface.

While some critics have described Track of the Cat as an offbeat Western, at least a few have viewed it as an art film masquerading as one. It’s based on the novel of the same title by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, whose earlier novel The Ox-Bow Incident had been successful filmed by director William Wellman in 1943. With Track… however, Wellman had in mind something a bit more experimental. He had for a long time wanted to film a black-and-white film in color. The idea was to use muted colors for almost everything, saving any bright ones only for dramatic effect. This is especially noticeable in the outdoor scenes - - the pine trees are all more gray than green, and the only colors that stand out are such things as Curt’s red coat, spots of blood in the snow, and the blue matches used to start a fire.

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The “art film” notion goes deeper than that, however. The film is dark and tense, not in the manner of a noir picture, but more like a European tragedy. The family dynamics are portrayed in a mature and realistic manner, playing almost like a stage drama, while the hunt sequences have a haunting element of awe and mystery uncommon in American movies of the time. These two things make for a fascinating mix.

The cast has only eight members, and they are uniformly good, with Mitchum, Hopper, and the great Beulah Bondi (“Ma Bridges”) being standouts. An unrecognizable Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer from the Our Gang comedies plays Joe Sam. The film does feature the more demonstrative acting style of pre-Method Hollywood, but it’s largely free of histrionics and over-drama.

There’s little doubt that director Wellman and the producers conceived this movie as somewhat of an experiment. It was apparently a box office flop, and contemporary critics were divided. It has gained a certain amount of respect in later years, however, as more recent critics tend to be appreciative of the stylized look, the smart, tough script, and the intelligent handling of deeper than usual psychological themes. It’s strange to think that as a nine-year-old some 45 years ago, I was ahead of the curve. Then again, I was an odd kid.

(Further note: If you like the film, by all means read the novel, which is excellent. The central section, with Curt lost in the snowstorm and trying to find his way home, all the while trying to resist his growing fears, rehearsing his memories, etc., is a 100 page tour-de-force, and an absolutely masterful piece of psychological writing.)

—Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies which he's put to good use working on the insurance side of the healthcare industry for the past 20 years.  He's published a number of book and music reviews, mostly in the small press, and sometimes has even gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa.


What Is Actually Happening

The formerly all-, or perhaps all-too-, American Disney company can get along with brutal dictatorships but not Christians. That goes for Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Salesforce, Unilever, CNN, Apple, and others--including the National Football League (!). Have ordinary conservatives figured out yet that corporate America is as big a proponent of liberal social doctrine as the government?

It's becoming routine for the media to put "religious liberty" in quotation marks, at least where Christians are involved.

A National Enquirer story about Ted Cruz being unfaithful to his wife got lots of attention last week, with people pointing out that the Enquirer was right in several similar cases in the past (e.g. John Edwards). So it's odd that this story about Hillary Clinton got no attention at all as far as I know. Really odd. I just can't figure it out. (Hat tip to Neo-neocon.) 

 (See this post for an explanation of the title of this one.)

 

 


Judas is neither a master of evil nor the figure of a demoniacal power of darkness but rather a sycophant who bows down before the anonymous power of changing moods and current fashions. But it is precisely this anonymous power that crucified Jesus, for it was anonymous voices that cried "Away with him! Crucify him!"

--Pope Benedict XVI


After hearing Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah and say: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21), the congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth might well have burst into applause.  They might have then wept for joy, as did the people when Nehemiah and Ezra the priest read from the book of the Law found while they were rebuilding the walls.  But the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ townspeople did the opposite; they closed their hearts to him and sent him off.  At first, “all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (4:22).  But then an insidious question began to make the rounds: “Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?” (4:22).  And then, “they were filled with rage” (4:28).  They wanted to throw him off the cliff.  This was in fulfilment of the elderly Simeon’s prophecy to the Virgin Mary that he would be “a sign of contradiction” (2:34).  By his words and actions, Jesus lays bare the secrets of the heart of every man and woman.

--Pope Francis, Chrism Mass, March 24, 2016


Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, Jesus gives himself to us as food and, in the washing of feet, teaches us the need to serve others. On Good Friday, in the mystery of Christ’s death on the cross, we contemplate that undying divine love which embraces all mankind and summons us in turn to love one another in the power of the Spirit. Holy Saturday, the day of God’s silence, invites us not only to solidarity with all who are abandoned and alone, but also to trust in that faithful love which turns death into life. These, then, are days which speak to us powerfully of God’s love and mercy. In one of her visions, Julian of Norwich hears the Lord say that he rejoices eternally because he was able to suffer for our sake out of love. Let us prepare then to celebrate the coming days with gratitude for this great mystery of God’s mercy, poured out for us on the cross of our salvation.

--Pope Francis, General Audience, March 23, 2016


52 Movies: Week 12 - The Scent of Green Papaya

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I find it interesting that so far almost half of our movies have been Asian, and here is yet another, this one from Vietnam. The Scent of Green Papaya takes place in Saigon in 1951, which means that the First Indochina War is taking place, but that does not play a part in the movie at all. It is the story of a 10 year old girl, Mui, who has just been hired to work in the home of a middle class family. The family consists of the parents, the father's mother, and their three sons. The mother's shop where she sells fabric and sewing notions is in the front of the house.

Week12-floorThis is not a story of the miserable life of a child who is forced into hard labor in an unkind family. Mui has to work hard, but she is treated well and her work is not too much for her to bear. The older servant who works with her is a good woman, and the mother of the family, who has lost a daughter who would have been just Mui's age, is very kind, indeed, she loves Mui, although not in a demonstrative way.

The family is not a happy family, each member seems to be caught in his own little web of sorrow. The father, while physically present, lives in a sort of invisible isolation booth. He sits and plays music and barely responds to his wife's comments and conversation. The oldest son, who is in his late teens, is seldom home. The middle son is very angry, and torments small things. The youngest son, who is about 5, torments Mui with cruel pranks. The grandmother lives upstairs and spends her days alone in prayer, mourning her husband and granddaughter. The mother is the sole provider for the family, and she works hard for them while mourning the death of her daughter, and coping with her husband's occasional disappearances.

In contrast, Mui is that very rare person who is completely content with her own life, and who lives in constant awareness of the beauty that surrounds her. She gazes in rapt attention at the life that unfolds before her, and the viewer becomes a party to her vision.

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Here we pause a moment and contemplate the way the milky liquid of the green papaya drips onto its leaves . . .

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and marvel at the little treasure chest they secret inside themselves,

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or we look out the window in the morning and anticipate the new day.

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I love this scene. Can't you just see the anticipation in Mui's back?

Mui's innocence is tangible, especially in contrast with a certain lack of that innocence in even the youngest member of the family. The film also retains a certain aura of innocence even though the characters may not. I'm sure that I am not the only viewer who became a bit nervous when Mr. Thuan came on the scene.

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We are so jaded that even the most blameless encounters can seem suspicious, but there is nothing to worry about here. Mr. Thuan's interest is born in his love and concern for the grandmother of the family, and he and Mui become fast friends.

This movie, which won the Caméra d'or (Golden Camera) award at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, is, as you can see, very beautiful, and would be worth seeing for that alone. It is, at least in the first long part of the movie, a very muted beauty filled with greens and browns.

Week12-fretwork

We look through many beautifully fretted windows and walls. The family's house is filled with a variety of wood hues. I was struck, as I was in Pather Panchali, by how much of Mui's life is lived outside, and the house has a feeling of being drawn from the elements of nature. The sense of being surrounded by the natural world is also enhanced by the constant songs, cries, and chirping of birds, and insects.

The second, and much shorter part of The Scent of Green Papaya, takes place 10 years later, when the family, due to difficult financial times, can no longer afford to employ Mui. They find her a job,a better job, with a young man with whom the viewer knows, Mui has been infatuated for years. At this point, the film becomes filled with color.

Week12-red dress

I find that many of these newer Asian films, both regular films and some of the graphic films of Studio Ghibli, are filled with a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty around us—both the beauty of the natural world, and that of man's creation. The filmmakers are not afraid to take their time and move slowly through the story, giving us time to soak in the beauty that we see, and by contrast really highlight the crassness and emptiness of so many American films.

The Scent of Green Papaya can be found on YouTube, or streamed from Amazon, or you can get the DVD from Netflix. I am seriously considering buying the DVD.

—Janet Cupo has been commenting on this blog for about as long as it's existed, and has her own excellent blog at The Three Prayers.


We might well ask ourselves just one question: Who am I? Who am I, before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd? Am I ready to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I stand back? Who am I, before the suffering Jesus?

We have just heard many, many names. The group of leaders, some priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who had decided to kill Jesus. They were waiting for the chance to arrest him. Am I like one of them?

We have also heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We have heard other names too: the disciples who understand nothing, who fell asleep while the Lord was suffering. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who did not realize what it was to betray Jesus? Or like that other disciple, who wanted to settle everything with a sword? Am I like them? Am I like Judas, who feigns loved and then kisses the Master in order to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those people in power who hastily summon a tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I think that in this way I am saving the people?

Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation is difficult, do I wash my hands and dodge my responsibility, allowing people to be condemned – or condemning them myself?

Am I like that crowd which was not sure whether they were at a religious meeting, a trial or a circus, and then chose Barabbas? For them it was all the same: it was more entertaining to humiliate Jesus.

Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, who find entertainment in humiliating him?

Am I like the Cyrenean, who was returning from work, weary, yet was good enough to help the Lord carry his cross?

Am I like those who walked by the cross and mocked Jesus: “He was so courageous! Let him come down from the cross and then we will believe in him!”. Mocking Jesus….

Am I like those fearless women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, and who suffered in silence?

Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who lovingly carries the body of Jesus to give it burial?

Am I like the two Marys, who remained at the Tomb, weeping and praying?

Am I like those leaders who went the next day to Pilate and said, “Look, this man said that he was going to rise again. We cannot let another fraud take place!”, and who block life, who block the tomb, in order to maintain doctrine, lest life come forth?

Where is my heart? Which of these persons am I like? May this question remain with us throughout the entire week.

--Pope Francis, Palm Sunday homily, April 13, 2014


Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride....

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.

--Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2016, October 4,2015