As I mentioned in my post about In the Heat of the Night, I’ve been quite lucky with my picks for the 1001 Movie Challenge lately. So much, that in fact it sparked a completely new interest in these films for me. A spark, that was fading lately and therefore in a great need of being ignited again, as some of the previously chosen films has failed to deliver for me.
But that’s not the case of the three films I’m shortly gonna talk about today. They all have one thing in common – they all deal with the equality questions. However, each of them does it in a totally different way.
Shaft (1971) – dir. Gordon Parks
As I’ve lately been on what could be called a ‘black cinema wave’ (or probably more like ‘black heroes in films wave’ thanks to the I am Not Your Negro documentary), after seeing In the Heat of the Night, Shaft was my number one pick for the next film from the list. I was eager to see how the position of black people in film has been evolving, and to see it from a totally different perspective this time.
Shaft is the first real badass black (private) detective in film – not a victim anymore, but just a really cool and tough guy, who doesn’t give a damn and takes orders from no one. And hell yeah, he gets all the women, too. He’s not been ripped off his sexuality, quite the contrary. He has a great deal of a good self-esteem and knows his worth. Quite a refreshing change.
The story takes place in Harlem, NYC, which is largely inhabited by black population and the black mafia seems to be in charge here. White people seem to be just a bunch of helpless fools, who know what’s going on but are unable to stop it and take charge. The blacks are simply winning here.
Once again, knowing the context of the times when the film was made, makes it much more valuable and therefore a perfect fit in the mix of I am Not Your Negro (for some historic background) and In the Heat of the Night. Not only it takes you to a different environment than In the Heat of the Night does (NYC as opposed to the much less civilized South and shows that dramatic difference), it also makes you wonder, how the hell did they get away with a film like this in early 70’s, just three years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and four years after In the Heat of the Night was made! It’s a drastic change! (I mean, one of Shaft’s lovers is actually white!). A major step forward and a great achievement.
You can also trace some roots of many of the future film detectives here (white or black). Yes, this film is in many ways revolutionary. But for you to fully appreciate it and be able to recognize it, you really need to know the social context. Otherwise you will probably be wondering why a film like this would make it on the list as it won’t seem that special to you without all the background.
The Last Wave (1977) – dir. Peter Weir
The Last Wave directed by Peter Weir, with Richard Chamberlain in the lead was my next pick as it also deals with some ethnic issues. Chamberlain plays a Sydney based lawyer who defends five Aborigines in a ritualized taboo murder.
Truth is, I was expecting something quite different that what I’ve got. This is a very disturbing film (I mean, am I the only one who finds just the simple appearance of the Aborigines scary here?!). The ethnic politics are not presented in your traditional packaging here. No long court scenes and a play of lawyers as you might expect. This is a thriller which will give you quite some chills and you might not exactly enjoy a good night’s sleep afterwords.
So, I can’t say I have enjoyed it in the real sense of the word. It’s hunting in a similar way David Lynch’s movies are (and I’m not a great fan of those). However, I have to admit that Peter Weir has done some great job here and deserves all the praise he gets for this film. The masterly built atmosphere, the use of a highly disturbing music, the great performance given by Richard Chamberlain (probably the best I’ve seen from him so far)… All that will keep you stuck to your seat till the end.
A Passage to India (1984) – dir. David Lean
Racial issues, different cultures, all that has always been of great interest to me as you can see. And a film by David Lean about colonized India… I mean, what more can you wish for!
Set in the 1920’s, a young English woman (Judy Davis) travels to India to marry an Englishman, the son of the old lady she is traveling with. These two ladies, unlike everyone else in India, are keen on getting to know the real India and its people. However, that’s something so unusual that when a friendship starts to form between them and an Indian doctor, it is destined to end as a disaster.
This film is another masterpiece from David Lean and unfortunately his very last. It once again raises some very important questions… Remember how I said I do not understand how anyone could ever think they’re superior to someone just because of their race or skin color? (read more) Well, this film takes it to yet another level.
A human race, specifically British colonialists. Place: India. I can’t help but feel utterly disgusted by the whole western world and its constant need to spread its culture, its values and laws into the rest of the world. They think they are saving them, but are they really?
David Lean and his slow storytelling allows you to go deep into the characters and the place of events and truly absorb the atmosphere. He once again excels at embracing different culture with a great respect towards it. Another film that is still so relevant today.. Now probably more than ever.
The most striking to me was the absolute ignorance of the British towards the Indian culture. They simply came there, took over the rule and built their own culture all over again. They built a little Britain inside India. Why would you do that?
What’s the point of traveling and living in a different country if you don’t take the slightest interest in the traditions and the way of life there? Why would you ignore local culture and surround yourself with only the old and familiar? Why would you not wanna learn anything new?
And why on Earth would you despise the local people and look down on them? I’d feel humbled and wanted to learn.
I might be a bit more empathic towards these topics coming from a nation that in its history has been many times oppressed, being forced to give up its identity and language. We have been under the rule of others (Hapsburgs, Germans, Soviets), fighting for our freedom and the right to rule our country the way we wanted (was that a good choice from today’s perspective? I’m not so sure looking at our politic situation nowadays but that’s beside the point). No country should ever be under the rule of other.
I don’t know why the western or ‘civilized’ world always thought its ways are the only right ways.. And why does it think the rest of the world needs it so much? Why do we feel like we are the saviours and not the intruders, not even a little? Maybe, if our world wasn’t so intrusive we would not be dealing with the terror we are dealing with today…? I’m not saying it’s necessarily so, but films like these just make me wonder.. Have we done everything right? For one, I don’t think the western culture is exactly saint..
P.S. Can we please get David Lean back? I miss him.