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The International Writers Magazine: The World Through Cinema's Eyes

Life lessons in Cinema
James Skinner

‘Back in 1961 a West End stage production directed and acted by the late Anthony Newly was based on a poignant phrase, written as graffiti by an unknown author on a forgotten wall. It is still resonant today. It read: ‘Stop the world, I want to get off!’ The story line was simple enough. A circus performer, who marries the boss’ daughter is disillusioned with his existence and begins to ‘sleep around’ only to find in latter life that he wasn’t so badly off after all.

A sort of moral that lives in most of us when we think that we are in bad shape and ‘want to stop the world and get off’ and then find, under reflection that we’re still alive and kicking and that’s what really matters.

The world today is in a bloody mess! No doubt about. But if we take stock of the situation what do we find? There’s nothing much we can really do about it. Can I stop the Iraqis from killing themselves? Can I put back the clock 100 years and stop the mass production of gas guzzling motorcars and other oil producing ‘planet killers’? I can’t. But neither can the vast majority of humanity regardless of where they are in this world. In fact if you go back to the movies industry, Hollywood and all the other great sectors of the industry have been advising us for years on the frailty of mankind and the injury he is inflicting not only upon himself but on the rest of the life on the planet. They also point out the good side and how most of the world’s population is simple and the citizens just want to get on with their lives the best they can.

I spent hours brooding over this, not because I wanted to ‘stop the world and get off’ but because I love the movies, especially the old ones and thanks to all the reproduction systems invented up to and including the CVD we now have on record the history of mankind as seen through the screen dreamers.

Enter Internet to back up my thesis!
Thanks in particular to two websites, I can navigate and dive into the depths of the movie industry and not only research to the nth degree but catalogue and synthesize the meaning of each script and the hidden messages in them that tell me what has been happening on Earth over the last century and a half and why we are in the mess we are. Wikipedia to start with followed by IMDB, or as per the initials, ‘Internet Movie Database’.

The first for basic information and the second as the inexhaustible encyclopaedia on the cinema. contains practically every film ever made. It does not only list the cast as well as the production team but gives a sort of synopsis of the theme, the biography of all persons involved, and a rating according to the viewers of the webpage. Fantastic! The page also selects, according to the comments of the web ‘visitors’, the top ten movies ever made. Before I continue, it is worth bearing in mind that this type of assessment is also carried out by Time Magazine, Movieline Magazine and the American Film Institute to name but a few. As if you didn’t know! Well, taking a cross check of these assessments, a sort of common denominator, most of those selected in the top ranking are more than 30 years old! Some even date back to the silent days. In fact, there are very few that are recent, meaning within the last decade.

There are epics like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ or ‘Gone with the Wind’ that deal with contemporary history; politics, example ‘All the King’s men’ and even musical comedies like ‘Singing in the Rain’ that relate to the evolution of the movie industry itself. Each in its own way, as my late father used say, ‘has a moral to the story’. I have listed my own preference because I consider that the hidden meaning in each can sum up what is lacking in today’s world and ironically was predicted much earlier in the movies that I have in mind.

These are in my opinion the greatest ever (not listed in ranking order):
a. Casablanca (1942) – Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman.
b. High Noon (1953) – Garry Cooper, Grace Kelly.
c. The Glen Miller Story (1953) – James Stewart, June Allyson.
d. To Kill a Mockingbird (1966) – Gregory Peck.
e. Dances with Wolves (1989) – Kevin Costner.
f. Schindler’s List (1992) – Liam Neeson.
g. Gigi (1958) – Leslie Caron, Louis Jordan.
h. Educating Rita (1982) – Michael Cane, Julie Walters.
i. Water (1985) – Michael Caine and Co.
j. Roman Holiday (1953) – Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn.

There you have my selection with the following morality built in:
a. Most of the world’s movie lovers know the story off by heart. Refugees running from Nazi Europe with a love story to spice the film. My moral interpretation is that of a freedom fighter and a hard core businessman joining ranks to fight against despotism. This no longer happens.
b. A good sheriff does away with a bad gang of cowboys. Great, we can all see that. But the real message is that the rest of the good guys don’t help him. Isn’t a great deal of this going on today?
c. Here we have the story of an Icon. Although Glen was a hit in the thirties he died at the top of his career during WWII. This movie proves how Icons live on. Don’t Evita Peron, Diana Princess of Wales, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevarra and many others ring a bell? Die early and you live for ever.
d. Racial hatred and bias is the background to this one. What I see is a very lonely widowed lawyer with two kids on his hands that leads a lonely life until a race related trial brings him back to life. Are single parents like that today? I’m glad am still married to the one and only partner of my life.
e. Set during the American Civil War, a cavalry officer is sent out to the Wild West to claim a Yankee outpost. Joins sides with the Indians and is ostracised by his own army. Moral that I observed? The beginning of the destruction of natural resources! The Indians respected nature in their survival habits until the Cavalry turns up. Lieutenant Dunbar realised it. We see the rise of consumer opulence and the subsequent destruction of wild life. The scene where a dumb soldier wipes his bum with a sheet from Dunbar’s diary is, in my opinion, the climax of the film.
f. We all remember Oskar Schindler. The non Jewish Nazi who saved a group of Jews from the Holocaust. My simple verdict is the observation of the indifference of the ‘mighty’ (the Nazis) to the fight for survival of a sector of outcast and sometime opulent humans caught in the onslaught of horror by their fellow humans. How many millions of humans today are going through the same horror? Darfur, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Iraq, and all that mixed bag of Africans reaching out for Europe! That’s what I saw in this film.
g. Ah! Male chauvinism at its best! France at the turn of the XIX century was full of them. But that is not my main feeling about this one. It’s Maurice Chevalier when sings, ‘I’m so glad, I’m not young, anymore!’ How true to form this must be today in the minds of many elderly people. I’m included.
h. This is a straightforward not-so-young human, seeking a renewed lifestyle. Mature student mixes with teenagers in a modern university. I know; I’ve done it! Good heavens! Don’t we see this everywhere today? Most people are wishing to change their existence. How about the story behind the title of this essay?
i. Now; this brings me to my retired honorary role as a British Honorary Consul. Set in the Caribbean on a fictitious island, a forgotten British Governor, on a forgotten British colonial possession, suddenly strikes richness and is instantly in the limelight of her Majesty’s Government back in Westminster. This film simply shows that greed is in all of us including the British Government. Nobody cared about the islanders until they struck rich. Today’s world, right?
j. Finally we come to this delightful romantic comedy that launched the career of the unforgettable Audrey Hepburn. Sure, it’s all about a very prominent person in the high echelons of society, non other than a European princess that decides to take a romp on the town. As usual, there is love in the air. My final sneaky insight? The press! This movie showed me, rightly or wrongly that there was still an element of ‘ethics’ and morality in the media of the day. This princess is seduced (not literally) by a journalist who is only out to scoop a story. In the end he does not, and throws $5000 (a fortune in the fifties) worth of story into the Rome Coliseum.

Take a look a today’s press and what do you see. Indescribable filth! Every bastard sector of the media is out to make a fast buck whether they destroy lives, institutions, countries; it doesn’t matter a hoot!

So there you have it; my views of the world, as deviously seen through the interpretation of many old movies. I have hundreds of others that could be used for analysis of other sectors of today’s society.
Most are in their mid fifties, slightly younger that I am!
© James G. Skinner. November 2007

James is our Spanish correspondent

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