Friday, March 02, 2007

THE RIVER - Author as Elder . . . Movie Marathon

Martin Scorsese said in a DVD interview, "Practically every image in this picture just sings with color and light. There’s no doubt in my mind, The River is one of the most beautiful color films ever made.”

Months can go by and I never watch a DVD movie, then I sometimes will quite accidentally have a movie marathon as I did most recently. The very best film for me I saw at that time proved to be The River -- a reference to one of the many rivers flowing through India along which a young English girl lived with her family. This girl, Rumer Godden, began writing as a child, ultimately producing many books and poems throughout her adult life.

The movie titled the same as her book, which is semi-autobiographical, was filmed as a consequence of being championed by the son of the famous impressionist French painter, Renoir. The son, Jean Renoir, a renowned film maker directed the film with an unlikely American producer, Kenneth McEldowney, who was also a florist, characterized in several Renoir linked references here as an "eccentric" who had, also, became enamoured with the book, and movie-making. The director, Renoir, had been able to purchase film rights from the book's author, then collaborated with her to write the screenplay. There were many complications involving financing, Indian government requirements which seemed often as though they would prevent this film from being made. I think that many times some of the better quality films experience extreme challenges and setbacks, requiring great perseverance to complete them. Sounds a lot like life.

I found the film on DVD, part of The Criterion Collection, to be quite remarkable to view and was left with the impression technologically I was seeing a period piece of much more recent vintage than from when it was actually filmed. The influence of Renoir the painter's,
sensibility and style evidences throughout the son's movie. My eye was sometimes caught by film frames that captured multi-branched massive trees reaching upward against the varied colors of the sky.

I was quite unfamiliar with this movie, the book, or it's author though that may not be the case for many, certainly not those familiar with Godden's writings, or Renoir's film career.

While I was at that video store, during the entire time I was perusing the displayed DVDs, there was audio music and dialogue playing in the background throughout the store. Though I only glanced briefly at the video, my attention was periodically drawn to what I was hearing. Finally, when I was checking out I inquired as to the movie title. I was told that movie was "The River," that it was about India. I decided I'd add this DVD to what had clearly shaped up to becoming a personal movie marathon.

I determined I had rented a gem, after listening first to a special DVD feature interview with Martin Scorsese discussing what an impact this movie had on him as a small boy when it was released as a technicolor film. He shared this movie viewing experience with his father and saw for the first time a culture different from that which he had known as an American of Italian descent.

"The River" was filmed in India with footage of actual community life in action interspersed with the actors performances. Not all characters are portrayed by professional actors which is sometimes a criticism of Renoir's movies. The much younger author, now an elder, Godden, gave a very candid interview of her life in a special feature on the DVD, along with scenes captured on film when she returned to India with her adult daughter from Scotland where they had moved many years earlier. Her years in India had been filled with many happy moments and memories, coming of age experiences, the development of her writing skills, traumatic events.

I came upon this movie quite by chance in our communities video rental store which features independent and foreign films as well as features often lacking major distribution, many of which are not often found in the more commercial video stores. Since I only watch DVD movies spasmodically, with long periods passing when I see none, there is little sense in my committing to a monthly fee program by mail, so for anyone who is a subscriber to such a service, these DVDs may be available there.

There must be numerous other DVD viewers like me, as my video store seems to survive through the patronage of other local residents and college students. I'm so glad, since so much commerce, including video rentals now, is increasingly designed to require yearly subscriptions and regular monthly payments.

Even the pharmaceutical companies are not immune from wanting "regular subscribers" for more of their offerings. That was the case a few years ago when a prescription I needed to use only for a short time, two or three times a year, for nasal congestion was removed from availability, then replaced by a "better" product that had to be used year 'round and would not have immediate effect if I tried to use it as needed. I digress as I sometimes do.

Back to my video store -- I went there seeking one of the Academy Award nominated films, then just started scanning the shelves to see what new DVDs had appeared since I was last there some months ago. Any other films I might have selected weren't available, but I was surprised to find an obscure title which came to my attention when some time ago I had watched Peter Falk in "Checking Out," so added that to my collection.

As for "Checking Out," Falk portrays an older professional actor who has called his family together one last time. He has joyously proclaimed to them his decision to take control of the time when he departs this earth, has distressed them that the time he has chosen is soon. I found the movie to be a light-hearted, sometimes funny attempt with the intent to address a serious topic of death and dying. Previews at that time had reminded me of another Falk movie, "The Thing About My Folks," which I vaguely remembered seeing some months ago. All of these movies were released by the same company though I later found my obscure titled one in my movie marathon disappointingly did not have Falk in it which is what had prompted me to rent it in the first place.

When I viewed this DVD group I rented, (there was another I don't even remember now,) I soon found I was not experiencing the comic relief watching that obscure comedy I had hoped to have -- releasing all those healing endorphins into my body as a result of my expecting to be laughing aloud, but that did not happen. I guess my weak reaction is not the fault of the movie, but must just be the emotional state which sometimes descends upon me in this house. Failure to appreciate the humor must just be me, so I hardly feel presently qualified to provide a meaningful critique of those comedies. For whatever the reasons the movies of a more serious nature seemed to have the potential for stimulating my feelings.

In reference to those movies I mentioned being a disappointment, I recall some time ago watching some comedies and strangely, to me, they just didn't seem to elicit my humor either, though I thought that was a capability they possessed. In fact most movies I have seen from months ago, and now more recently, seem to just pass directly through my eyes and ears without completely registering. I find myself wondering why these comedies don't connect, assuming it must have been funny to somebody. I surely do want to try some more comedies again in the future. Maybe my failure to react to comedies and some serious movies is simply due to my mood and sense of needing to stimulate my senses and fill my mind with input that requires no personal investment or effort on my part at those times. Is this just part of the recovery process from loss of a loved one, which seems often to be the question I ask myself, when my feelings, and even reactions are different than what I expect?

But these more dramatic movies like "The River" and certainly "Babel" (which I just watched) -- as did "Crash" in an earlier year, do connect and resonate with me, though the latter two are quite different from "The River." I'll plan to select some more movies in the months ahead when the mood strikes me. I'm sure I'll be looking for movies in The Criterion Collection.


  1. I was always a huge movie-goer...and took my kids to many, many movies too. Now, we're all very much into movies...whether we actually go to a theatre or watch them on DVD. I don't go to theatres much anymore...too expensive, etc. I have a membership to Netflix...and before that to Blockbuster. I love watching movies in the comfort of my home by myself or often with my kids.

    I hadn't heard of The River Joared...thank you for the review and the recommendation.

  2. I've just finished watching Visions of Light - The Art of Cinematography for my visual storytelling class. I haven't paid much attention to film and light but it was interesting to just finish and complete my homework and read your post today.

    I've not seen The River. But watching this DVD and the movies they used over time as an example made me want to go back and watch Citizen Kane or Easy Rider or other classics that are noted for their cinematography.

  3. Thanks for the review. I will look for that one soon.

  4. The River was indeed a magnificent film. It had a special meaning for me. During World War II, I was stationed at a U.S. Army base that was located near the banks of the very river (I think it was named Hoogly, a branch of the Ganges) that is depicted in the film.
    My wife, who is intimidated by computers and the Internet and does not even inter-relate with its contents, is a film "scholar" of sorts. (She gives a monthly lecture on a particular film at our community.) I passed on your thoughtful posting to her, and she enjoyed reading it very much.

  5. Joy: I'm with you about not going to movie houses much 'cause the sound is too loud in recent years.

    Motherpie: Your class sounds interesting as does the video you mentioned watching. Have you noticed the light aspect in the photos Claude takes at "Blogging In Paris?"

    Mort: So glad you told us about the special significance this movie holds for you, since you spent some time in the area. Hope our words stimulate your wife's interest in the Internet and maybe even blogs. Sounds like she could share some interesting material with us.

  6. Your "The River" review has motivated me to seek out this film. Over the weekend I watched "Elephant Man" a 1980 film that should be watched when one has lots of emotional energy. Also saw "Osama", DVD Afghanistan,Golden Globe Winner 2004 Best Foreign Language Film. I recommend this one to those who appreciate foreign films. This film is a profound statement on Afgan life from a young girl's and women's perspective.

    I enjoy watching films at the theater first and then at home on DVD or if necessary on VHS. As a boy my Mom and I would go to the local show, Westown, Detroit.

    My experience with the early times of grief did alter my reaction to movies and life events especially humor.

  7. I followed your link to "The Criterion Collection" Thanks for the heads up to a valuable movie resource.

    One strange film that I saw on a cable movie channel is "Grey Gardens" a documentary. Check it out if you have not seen it. Unforgettable.

    Synopsis from "The Criterion Collection"

    "Meet Big and Little Edie Beale—high-society dropouts, mother and daughter, reclusive cousins of Jackie O.—thriving together amid the decay and disorder of their ramshackle East Hampton mansion. An impossibly intimate portrait and an eerie echo of the Kennedy Camelot, Albert and David Maysles’s 1976 Grey Gardens quickly became a cult classic and established Little Edie as a fashion icon and philosopher queen. Thirty years later, the filmmakers revisited their landmark documentary with a sequel of sorts, The Beales of Grey Gardens, culled from hours of never-before-seen footage recently found in the filmmakers’ vaults."

  8. The Criterion Collection is one fantastic dvd movie resource. I've been wanting just such a site for finding movies. By the way I ordered The River from my library today.

  9. Bob: Thanks for the information about some movies I'll want to watch. BTW there is a list of ElderMovies/Documentaries/Foreign Films at "Time Goes By"
    with more being added as Elderbloggers recommend them, that you might find interesting, also some links to other bloggers with movie listings.

    Chancy: The movie you mention sounds interesting to me, also. Thanks! Glad you like The Criterion link, and am glad I accidentally came across it in the first place.

  10. Wow! Such wonderful reviews and suggestions!

    This is why I love blogs - learn something everyday.

    Thanks Jo, and commentors!