Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Wild One

I'm getting addicted to movies from the 1950s. Cinematically, it's such a different world that it just blows my mind. I feel like a stranger in a strange land, watching these movies. Every little thing stands out for me.

For example, take The Wild One (1953), starring Marlon Brando. Plot: A gang of bikers led by Brando reduces a town to anarchy when the aimless youths descend en masse upon the straight-laced populace, overwhelming them with ennui and purposelessness. My initial impressions:

• The soundtrack is very typical for the time – endearingly overwrought and intrusive. Those filmmakers really wanted to make sure they manipulated our emotions for us.

• I think these bikers are supposed to be in their late teens and early twenties. However, Brando was twenty-nine when he made the film and many of his pals look about thirty-five. Didn’t Hollywood cast real teenagers in teenage roles back then?

• Brando…okay, I might as well say it. In this movie, he looks too gay for words. Have a look at the photo. I have to remind myself that this movie influenced the look of the gay leather man subculture, and not the other way around. Have another look at the photo – that mouth, those eyes! Very sexy.

• Brando’s voice is totally different from what I imagined. I associate him mostly with Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, which should give you some idea of my approximate age, ha, ha! In both of those movies, he had very stylized way of speaking, so I didn’t know what his real voice sounded like. Turns out it’s very soft and very high-pitched. Not what you’d think from looking at him. Plus he has a very pronounced, nasally Midwestern accent. It sounds so different from the way I talk that I have to wonder what I must sound like to people from the Midwest.

• The setting looks spectacularly fake, almost surrealistically so, especially at night. The little town looks like a hollow set on a Hollywood lot. Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum looks like this, too, and it’s great. It’s very striking and weird.

• Brando has a great line in this film. He and his biker pals wear leather jackets with the name of their gang: Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. One of the girls in this small town asks Brando what he’s rebelling against, and he looks at her and sneers, “What do you got?”

The Wild One may not be “early” Brando’s most emotionally powerful work (that would be On the Waterfront), and it’s not the most surrealistically weird 1950s movie I’ve ever seen (that would be Night of the Hunter), but it’s well worth a trip down memory lane, especially if you’re looking for something different to download to your iPad.

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  1. I think it's particularly interesting to watch movies from those days (and for the decades on each side) and recognize how much more media savvy we are now. The soundtrack thing wouldn't fly now, but I suspect it was pretty common for the times.

    Oh, and the difference in the length of shots in older films is interesting - we're in a much twitchier age...

  2. Chris! Bless your heart. I knew you'd leave me a comment. :)

    Very perceptive! I could never quite pin down what about these 1950s films sometimes makes me so impatient. I thought it was something about the pacing, and maybe it is, but I hadn't even considered the length of the shots!

    The thing about us being in a twitchier age is so true. I look at this movie and I think about the Transformer films, ha, ha!

    And, interesting, too, about watching films from the decades on either side, especially (for me) the 1960s. Somewhere around Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy or Bonnie and Clyde, you can see the shift into the type of movie we know today (at least with the pacing).

  3. LOL! I'm so predictable...

    Actually, while the 1960s/1970s might be a bit more like what we're used to now, I think the shots are still pretty long compared to now.

    I'm sure there's a PhD dissertation out there that ties modern attention span, multitasking, and shot length/cut frequency together... ;)

  4. If there isn't such a dissertation, there should be. That would make for very cool reading!

  5. I adore vintage cinema! Brando, though, not so much. :)

    My treasured collection of b&w movies ranges from 1930s musicals and classic horror to 1950s sci fi to 1960s dramas. And I'm dead set against colorization.

  6. Agreed, KZ - colorization is a horrible thing.

  7. KZ, your collection sounds awesome!

    Chris, I'm totally with you and KZ on colorization. Black and white filming looks gorgeous.


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