Monday, December 14, 2009

1927/28 - 7th Heaven

Dear Commuter,

I understand that you are in a rush to get home or to your girlfriend's place or to the bar. I fully appreciate that you have been waiting on the platform for a good five and a half minutes before this train arrived. I even empathise with you for the cold temperature you must endure in this badly ventilated subway. But is it not possible to step aside for three more seconds to allow me to exit the carriage before you elbow your way inside? Must I squeeze between you and your fellow impatient commuters in order to avoid the avalanche of limbs? Is it really that important that you are the first one to board? I mean, the train is not going to leave without you. In fact, if you made way for the exiting passengers, we would be out of your way a lot sooner. Instead, you force us to file out one at a time, allowing the possibility for the weakest among us to be caught up in your stampede and fail to exit altogether. Poor thing.

Humbly yours,
An Exiting Passenger

Last night, I watched the silent classic and nominee for Best Picture of 1927/28...

7th Heaven
Frank Borzage
Benjamin Glazer
(based on the play by Austin Strong)
Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Ben Bard, Albert Gran, David Butler
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
3 wins, including Best Director and Best Actress

Chico (Farrell) is a poor Parisian sewer worker who dreams of a better life. For some reason, his heart is set on becoming a street washer, which I guess is one step up from the sewers, so who am I to argue? Diane (Gaynor) is a poor Parisian prostitute who dreams of a life without her abusive big sister. One day, as Diane endures yet another beating, Chico intervenes to help her. Then, when the cops begin rounding up all the prostitutes and taking them away, Chico once again saves the day by claiming that Diane is his wife. In order to keep up the ruse, Chico reluctantly allows Diane to live with him and, like all good romance stories, the fake love slowly grows into genuine affection. However, World War I forces them apart again as Chico is called into the French army. Despite their separation, they maintain a strong connection as they wait to be reunited.

7th Heaven almost defies categorisation since it borrows from several genres. Mostly, it is a drama, but there are a few slapstick comedy sequences thrown in for good measure, and later, once the war has begun, it becomes an epic special effects-laden action flick. At its heart, though, it is a love story, plain and simple. Our two protagonists have struggled in their lives and they learn from each other how to improve themselves. Diane learns the art of optimism and Chico finally abandons his atheism. Yes, these messages of faith and confidence are somewhat shallow, especially the religious elements, but the film is just so darn cute that it somehow gets away with it.

The war sequence is particularly engrossing and it seems no expense was spared in the production of those scenes. Even by today's standards, the explosions and voluminous extras are quite spectacular. It even took me a while to figure out the hundreds of cars driving towards the front were only models.

A large part of the film's aforementioned cuteness is thanks to Janet Gaynor, who is simply adorable as the meek and innocent Diane. As almost everyone around her succumbs to the melodramatic emoting that is fairly standard for the silent era, she manages to remain subtle, making smart use of stillness. Also worth noting is Albert Gran, who creates a wonderfully endearing comedic character.

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