So God Made a Farmer

A beautiful tribute to farmers. Their work now takes a lot of sophisticated knowledge and hard work, Mr. Bloomberg.

Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 12.00.20 PM

The Southerner

TheSoutherner1945_90973_678x380_01262016112616

I saw Jean Renoir’s The Southerner (1945) described so beautifully on 4 Star Film Fan,  that I had to get it. I was curious about how a French director would portray the Old West.

The Southerner begins with Sam Tucker’s old uncle dying in the cotton fields where he’s picking cotton along with Sam, his wife Nona, and Granny. The uncle’s dying words to Sam are that he should get his own land and not work for someone else. This convinces Sam to buy a plot of good land that’s been neglected for years. His boss lays out all the risks inherent in farming on your own and promises Sam, he can always return to work for him. The boss isn’t a villain; he does seem to care about Sam and his family and someone needed to give him a head’s up, because contrary to what I’d learned and seen in films farming is not a sure thing.

Sam packs up his family and belongings on an old jalopy. When they get to the land, they see that the house is a shack that’s one windstorm away from destruction. Sam admits that he should have checked out the house before buying the land, which was when I knew that the outcome for Sam sure wasn’t certain. Sam’s a nice guy and strong. Both he had his wife work hard, but Sam held some romantic notions about farming that gave me pause. He’d forgotten to check on the condition of the well.

The well wasn’t usable so Sam had to beg an ornery neighbor for water. As time goes on, the skinflint neighbor resents Sam more and more. As mean as the neighbor was, he did have a point. Sam and other pioneers should thought out their plans more.

The tensions build as bad luck and naive pelt the Tuckers throughout the film.

Hardworking and always cheerful, Nona is the perfect wife. She soon makes the shack homey and repairs what she can. She keeps the kids clean and happy and usually puts up with Granny’s constant complaints.

Sam’s friend Tim has moved on to the city where he works in a factory and makes a fortune, $7 per day. He offers Sam a job, but Sam envisions the life of a small farmer as his vocation. Often I thought Sam should take his family to the city.

A major threat in these parts is Spring Sickness. Granny’s a Cassandra always harping on about it because several of her children died of it. Caused by poor diet, lacking dairy and produce, Spring Sickness can be lethal. Just as you can’t see a gun on a set in Act One and not have it go off in Act Two, someone was bound to get Spring Sickness because the Tuckers’ diet was mainly fish, coffee and corn mush. Sure enough, Jot, the son who’s about 4, comes down with Spring Sickness and has a massive open sore on his face. The boy is lethargic and may not make it. The kindness of the doctor and a friend of Sam’s helps the Tucker’s obtain milk and veggies. The idea that one can make it on his own in the West is simply not true. It probably ain’t true anywhere. I did think that Renoir would have the boy die. I wasn’t long into the film before I expected disaster and I think sparing us the worse was a shortcoming of The Southerner (both the novel and the film).

Hard times hit repeatedly. Storms beat down the house and the fields, the final one sets the family back to square one.

One of the best lines in the film comes from Tim:

All you farmers is just the same. Gamblers! That’s what you all are, to a man. Year after year you starve yourself to death and hope that some fine day – well, I think you’re loco.

I’d never considered how true this line is. Farmers, especially in the past, were in some cases just as reckless as the people who raced to San Francisco or Australia during the Gold Rushes.

The Southerners is an earnest film that showed me a different side of Western Expansion from what I’m used to. There’s no language that would be a problem for children. There’s a scene with a “lady of easy virtue” in a saloon, but she comes across pretty tame and the banter veils the non-family friendly subject matter.

Victoria, Season 2, Week 5

VICTORIA_EP7_25-7f0bd4b

The King over the Water

The episode begins with an assassination attempt while Victoria and Albert are out for a carriage ride. When talking with Lord Peel, the PM, Victoria suggests she smoke out the assassin by going for another carriage ride. Albert’s astonished and thinks it’s foolish, but Peel agrees and admires the queen all the more for her courage. Seems like a genius double win for Victoria.

So off they go for another ride and this time Victoria’s got a super, bullet-proof parasol, which Albert made. He sure is handy.

The assassin, who’s an unfortunate, poor man with a club foot and a hump back, again tried to shoot the queen. He was quickly arrested and the palace security is increased, which is tedious.

Needing a change of pace, Victoria proposes a trip to Scotland, where she always wished she could go when she was growing up. Off they go to a Duke’s home where there’s lots of “foreign” food and dancing in the woods. Still as host, the Duke keeps a tight schedule including the blaring of bagpipes for an alarm clock and mind-numbingly boring poetry readings for the visit.

To cure the boredom, while on an outing, Victoria and Albert quickly tell the Duke they’re riding home separately. Albert assures the Duke they’ll be fine because he has a great sense of direction. (Famous last words.) Off they gallop into the highlands. We’re treated to beautiful scenery.

scottish-highlands1

Scenic Schotland – I’d love to see this

Turns out Albert’s sense of direction isn’t that keen. With no compass or map and with gray clouds looming, our royals realize they’re lost. No matter which way they turn, they can’t find the way back to the castle. As night falls, they realize they must find shelter and wide up staying with an old crotchety couple in their cottage. Plenty of humor is drawn from the peasant farmer and his wife not knowing who their visitors are. Victoria learns to darn socks and Albert tells the farmer that he works at a big factory. The night is a true vacation from their real roles. (This trip with the night in the cottage is pure fiction. Victoria’s diaries show no such experience and there’s no reason her daughter would have expunged it.)

At the castle everyone’s in a state because the queen is lost. The next day, Victoria and Albert are “rescued” by dozens of guards and soldiers. The farmer and his wife learn that they were hosting royals.

As for some subplots:

  • Mrs. Skerret dances night after night with a dashing Scottish lad, who’s smitten. She will not let him write to her in London. So she’s leaving herself open to Mr. Francatelli’s advances, though she’s also been snippy with him.
  • Ernst, who’s seemingly come to terms with his illness, offers Harriet, his lover, condolences for her husband’s death. She’s in no mood for this and rebuffs him. Their relationship is dead though Harriet doesn’t know Ernst has syphilis. So we’re treated to this impossible tension about a relationship that can’t be. It’s tough being all all-knowing spectator. We can try calling out to the TV, but we know that doesn’t work.
  • The assassin, a character based on “Hunchback William Bean,” gets off lightly with a jail sentence rather than execution since there were no bullets in his gun. He was homeless and prison was a home.
  • The Duchess hoomphs and comments sourly once or twice, so nothing’s moving forward there. She doesn’t get lines that are all that funny. A lot of the dialog, that’s meant to be funny is just cliché.
  • The two gay noblemen have a romantic moment in the Highlands, though the blonde man is quite jealous that his lover is engaged to be married. I can see the jealousy, but doubt anyone in his shoes would be surprised. I bet what would normally happen is both men would marry and they’d carry on their relationship in secret. The only thing that would endanger the situation would be if one had to move far from the other because of family property that had to be managed.
  • Albert is increasingly critical of Lehzen, Victoria’s maid and governess. She wasn’t allowed to go to Scotland. Albert sees her as a threat and doesn’t like how she does things.

After the serious Irish Potato Famine episode, this week we had a pastoral vacation and some light entertainment. While the assignation attempt was real, the night at the farm wasn’t. Thanks to the Internet we can know what’s historic and what’s not and enjoy a night of fine British drama.

Ugetsu Monogatari

What a powerful movie! I just bought it because I thought a geisha film might be interesting. I had no idea that this Mizoguchi (see Life of Oharu ) film would be so entralling.

A fusion of two Japanese ghost stories and a story Guy de Maupassant, Ugetsu Monogatari tells the story of two brothers with obsessions that bring their families to ruin. One brother, low class farmer, dreams of becoming a samari; the other, a potter, dreams of making a fortune and showering his wife with luxurious presents. Given their low social status and the hierarchy of the day, both dreams are ridiculous.

Set in a time of civil war, pursuing these dreams results in the families’ destruction, one wife’s murder and the other’s rape and eventual fall into prostitution. Both men are shown as foolish and obsessed and they fall prey to ghosts as they ignore the warnings they receive.

Mizoguchi’s cinematography is exquisite and the composer’s music alluring. Mizoguchi uses cameras as no director I’ve seen does. Viewers are taken to a dreamy sometimes crazy world as they follow the brothers’ obsessions. The story is haunting, and acting, especially the actresses’ performances is quiet and powerful.

ugetsy

I watched with the Criterion Collection commentary on, which helped me appreciate the story and production. I might not have realized that the princess was a ghost till the end as I lacked a knowledge of how Japanese ghosts operate. A Western ghost would not have been so subtly portrayed. This is definitely a movie I’d watch again.