Thursday, December 5, 2013
Sunday, December 1, 2013
When you mention Grave of the Fireflies to someone who’s seen it, they give you a rueful grin. “Saddest movie ever,” they say, or something like that.
I’ve seen Grave of the Fireflies three times: most recently in advance of a screening happening at TIFF Bell Lightbox, here in Toronto, next month. I don’t know if I’ll be attending that screening or not, but I did want to write about it, to help promote the film, and hopefully entice you, if you haven’t seen Grave of the Fireflies, to go. Because sometimes, it’s good to be sad. And when it comes to being good, and very, very sad, Grave of the Fireflies is nearly unparalleled.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Carnivals tread a fine line between entertainment and pity. The performers are talented and they work hard; but they live a transient life that, we suspect, they might not have chosen if their luck had been better. We feel much worse for the carnies we see in old films—especially the fat ladies and dog-faced boys and the like. What a way to make a living. But then again, at least they made one.
Tod Browning understood the complexity of audience reactions when it came to this world. He knew it better than most, having worked in carnivals as a talker (like a barker) and a clown. Some of his films, include the silents, The Unholy Three (1925) and The Show, and the early-talkie, Freaks (1932) are set in carnivals of one kind or another. Though these films are very different, they all present us with real characters—people with real problems—who make their way in a business built on the weird and the phony. The films’ structures reflect this: the dignity of their leads juxtaposed with high kitsch. Browning, no arthouse snob, never polished the carnival life for the sake of ‘deeper meaning.’ What you see is what you would have got, had you been there.