Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Seeing the Details in the Classics

I love old movies, the classics, the not so classic, the obscure, I just like the qualities of old movies. For one, they don't move as quickly as movies do today, there usually isn't a lot of arguing in them and if there is it is brief and then the repair is quick to come also. I appreciate the fact that there may be a murder in the story, but unlike today's television shows and movies, I don't have to watch a Crime Scene Investigator or Coroner split the deceased open and look for clues. (I have the willies just thinking about it.) I like to see the use of simple stories that warm the heart, even if they do have a sad ending, for example, The Glen Miller Story. I love the movie Penny Serenade, it's heart rending, but a loving tale. One of my all time favorites is Mrs. Miniver, this 1942 story set in England has all the things that make a movie great, a haunting musical theme, a simple rivalry, the beauty of a rose and the juxtaposition of the second world war going on in the background.

There are the classics like Casablanca, if you ever have a chance to see it, look past the story and look at the background, the movement of light and darkness, the same holds true for the movie Algiers. The true art of these movies is not just in the story, but in the production values as well.
Movie makers make mistakes sometimes, and often they are blatant and sometimes they are so minuscule that they are easy to miss, no one ever notices. A case in point is the movie Double Indemnity, an example of the film noir genre, it has a little flaw in it that most people don't even think about, in this movie Barbara Stanwyck hides in the hall of an apartment building behind the door of Fred Mc Murry's flat. When he opens the door he cannot see her because the door opens into the hall. It seems that the fire code generally accepted around the United States after the Great Chicago Fire requires that doors from hall into apartment open into the apartment, the same holds true with houses. It is standard building practice I understand. Of course, in this movie it is important that the door work the other way or Ms. Stanwyck would be standing out in the open and thus it would ruin the story.

One evening after having watched this movie I couldn't sleep, so I was working on trying to find that, “happy place,” that we are often told to look for when our minds are working overtime. I thought back to the church of my teen-hood and I saw myself standing in the middle of the sanctuary and I gazed upon each of the stained glass windows, hoping that I could find some peacefulness in them and by doing so maybe whatever was troubling my mind would be abated. The window to the east was the famous picture of Jesus holding an armful of lilies, the portrayal of him as, “The Lily of the Valley,” (think of the film Elmer Gantry here,) on the west was the picture that has been printed on so many funeral home paper fans, that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd complete with a lamb in his arms. Then I looked to the south where the light was coming in the strongest, the window on the south of the church was the very well known picture of Jesus knocking at the door. I had looked at the window a thousand times, or so it would seem. No one had ever pointed out to me that in this famous picture there is no doorknob on the door.
The painting made into stained glass is based on the Biblical text from Revelation 3:20, “Look at me, I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and you open the door, I'll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” I didn't realize until several years after I had sat looking at the window that the reason why there is no knob on the outside of the door is because then Jesus can't force his way in, he can't jiggle the handle, he can't pick the lock, you have to let him in. Come on, admit it, you've had moments like this where the light finally comes on and you really, “get it.”

What I really learned form this is that the building code that God uses is no knobs, doesn't matter which way the door opens. Oh, and lighting, stained glass works best with good lighting. Just like in Casablanca.


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