This War Has Put an End to Decent Things

Hope and Glory Title Photo

For many, childhood is a war: a battle of wills with adults, a rage against growing up, a fight against awakening into the violent world of adulthood.  It’s not surprising then that many of the greatest films about childhood and coming of age take place against the backdrop of actual wars.  Three of the top five films in my list of the 41 greatest films about childhood involve war and how children and adults learn to deal with it in different ways.  Many of the films on this list (including the film at number one) are no doubt sentimental favorites (arguments could easily be made there are grander artistic achievements further down the list).  It should come as no surprise that these sentimental favorites were first seen in childhood and that many of the films come from directors delving deep into the wellspring of nostalgia and semi-autobiography; those indelible moments from our shared childhoods crystalized onto the silver screen.

I was about the same age as the protagonist, Billy Rohan, when I first saw John Boorman’s Hope and Glory.  I loved every bit of it, and even at that young age I knew there was something unique about its point of view.  It painted war as how I imagined I (as a child at the time) would’ve reacted to it: a blast of excitement in an otherwise mundane suburban life previously populated by games and make-believe.  Here my soldiers and toys had come to life, dirigibles suspended in air over my streets, German bombers flying overhead, danger and adventure lying in the rubble of my neighbors demolished homes.  The juxtaposition of adult horrors and children’s games (a juxtaposition dealt with far more seriously and catastrophically in films like Forbidden Games and Come and See) resulted in a picture of scrappy, working-glass survivors striving for a sense of normalcy and return to innocence in a world gone stark raving mad.  Continue reading

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The Mirror of Film

The Tree of Life - Submerging memories through film.

Still awash in fresh memories of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, I watched for the first time Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror.  The problem I’ve had with Tarkovsky films in the past (especially Stalker, which I found tedious and nearly impenetrable though certain moments and images have stubbornly stuck with me) is that I feel like you need an advanced degree in Russian history to understand the context and symbolism.  With Malick’s film, however, illuminating the way, I found Tarkovsky’s The Mirror to be deeply rewarding on multiple levels, and it emerged as an unforgettable cinematic experience deserving of repeated views.

The two films are strikingly similar: deeply personal, semi-autobiographical, supplemented by other art forms (classical music is used exquisitely in both, while The Mirror also drew upon original poetry) and constructed in a stream-of-consciousness style made to evoke dreams and memories.  Both films are deeply rooted in the childhoods of their makers. Continue reading

What Would Sylvester Stallone Do?

ATTENTION FILM FANS:  Put Son of Rambow at the top of your Netflix queue right now!  For some reason this family friendly feel-good British indie import never became the break-out hit is should’ve been in theaters.  I honestly think American audiences were confused by the title and thought Sylvester Stallone was actively involved in the project.  I also think this film is ten times funnier and more honest than recent indie blockbusters like Napoleon Dynamite or Little Miss Sunshine.  For folks from my generation, this film is for you, and it’s everything Michel Gondry’s miserable Be Kind Rewind wished it could be.

CAPTION:  Oh, those crazy kids!

Hope and Glory v. 8.0, 6 September 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Garth Jennings’ hilarious Son of Rambow is a nearly perfect Generation-Y update of one of my favorite films from childhood, John Boorman’s vastly underrated masterpiece Hope and Glory. Whereas Boorman’s Hope and Glory was tinted with melancholic Graham Greene era nostalgia and told the story of a young boy coping with Germany’s blitzkrieg over England during WWII through the power of make-belief, Jenning’s laugh-out-loud Son of Rambow takes a post-modern 1980’s pop-culture inspired look at a young boy’s escape from a harsh religious upbringing through an obsession with the movie Rambo: First Blood.

When a religiously oppressed Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner, with the perfect comic timing only an untrained child actor could provide) forms an unlikely friendship with a criminally neglected and movie-obsessed Lee Carter (Will Poulter, first seen on screen smoking a cigarette while making a bootleg video in a packed theater showing the original Rambo), the two decide to make their own Rambo-inspired film to enter in a local contest. Insane stunt-driven Tom and Jerry inspired antics ensue while Will has to hide his new activities from the family-focused Brethren and the family-impoverished Lee can’t help but get in trouble at school.

When Lee gets suspended for a mishap with a dog statue, a kite, and a science teacher clipping his nose hairs at just the wrong time; Will unwittingly attracts the attention of an inexplicably popular French exchange student and his bumbling British entourage who can’t wait to take part in the film. What follows is a hilarious kids-level satire of the movie world complete with an ingenious Boogie Nights style series of scenes that show an exclusive underground club on school grounds where kids dance to bad 1980’s music while chugging soda after downing Pop Rocks and highlights the bizarre brotherhood of filmmakers and actors that inevitably arises from such shenanigans. And that’s not the only connection to auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, as like There Will Be Blood, this Son of Rambow also features a pivotal scene of an emotionally distraught child covered in oil. And did I mention that like my novel The Thief Maker many scenes take place at a nursing home where Lee lives unattended by his jet-setting mother and step-father? Trust me, this is much funnier. Luckily, like Boorman’s clearly influential classic, this film is also wonderfully photographed and chock-full of naturalistic acting from the young cast.

Sure, Son of Rambow lacks the gravitas and realism of Boorman’s semi-autobiographical Hope and Glory but it packs a similar emotional wallop for those in my age group who grew up pretending to make movies in their backyards with neighborhood kids after the latest GI Joe or Transformers episode aired and were inspired by the latest Star Wars or Indiana Jones film before those franchises were raped for opportunistic profit during our disenfranchised adult years. For a generation of late 20’s and early 30-somethings who spent their childhoods disengaged watching endless marathons of The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges on TV while action stars like Sylvester Stallone pounded movie theater audiences into a bloody pulp, Son of Rambow is pure imagination-inspired movie magic that will tickle the funny bone while successfully playing for our sympathies. In an increasingly strange year of hidden gems and quiet sleeper hits, from cathartic and clever documentaries like Man on Wire to wickedly dark Graham Greene tinted comedy-dramas like In Bruges, Garth Jennings’ touching and uproarious Son of Rambow just might be the most accessible and deserves to become a cult favorite on DVD.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0845046/usercomments-65

SON OF RAMBOW is rated PG-13 for mild profanity, 1980’s British social mores, pre-adolescent French ennui, and cartoonish violence and reckless behavior all involving children.