Sunday, December 22, 2013

Film Classics of the 20th Century

So far in this series, we've looked at Christmas in Connecticut, Desk Set,  When Harry Met Sally . . .,  Who Done It?,  That Darn Cat!,  Cactus Flower,  Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune.   Film classics are the films that grab you, even on repeat viewings, especially on repeat viewings.

movie montage

1990's Edward Scissorhands stars Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder in one of the bleakest, while still most moving, studies of humanity -- with or without a Christmas backdrop.

Directed by Tim Burton from a script by Caroline Thompson, Edward (Johnny Depp) is a creation of Vincent Price's -- a boy he is making from parts.  But Price's character dies before he can attach the human hands so Edward is left with what was supposed to be temporary scissor hands.

And he's left in the castle he was created in.

Until one day, Avon comes calling with busybody Peg (Dianne Weist delivering the same peformance she always gives).

Peg's so 'well meaning' that she takes him back to her pre-fab home and her pre-fab family where she makes painful looks she's apparently unaware others can see.

And forever she works to 'normalize' Edward, to conceal who he is and to force him into her limited view of what life can be.

While Peg, her husband (Alan Arkin), their son and the bulk of the neighbors go out of their way to pretend that Edward is 'normal' and 'accepted,' Peg's daughter Kim (Winona Ryder) has a more honest reaction.

The scream is genuine and much more truthful than Peg's attempt, upon first seeing Edwards, to back out of the castle insisting that she's come at bad time.

Kim continues to eye Edwards in a suspicious manner.

Her boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) sees Edward as a joke.

And Edward is a joke -- if like Peg or Jim you judge him by your standards.

Jim wants to break into his own home.  Because he's spoiled and entitled.  He says he'll use the money for a van -- "our van," he insists to Kim -- but he's such a liar who knows what would have happened if the break in had been successful?

Things go wrong and Edwards is left behind as the police respond to the alarm.

This is where you start to see the facade crumble.

Edward has never been accepted.

People have pretended to accept him and congratulated themselves for their own 'tolerance.'

Now that chips away.

But as he loses the town, he gains Kim.

She tells him thank you for not ratting her or the others out when he was arrested and appeared before the court.  She apologizes for not telling him it was Jim's house.  He surprises her by revealing he knew who's house it was.

Kim:  Then why'd you do it?

Edward:  Because you asked me to.

Jim and Kim.  The perfect fake couple for a fake community.

Only Kim's changing and she's not pleased with Jim.

She's changing and she's seeing Edward as he is.

Edward's wonderful all on his own.

He doesn't need a make over -- not via Peg's expertise with Avon, not via a 'career,' not via explanations of how he's just like everyone else.

If, like an awakened Kim, you can accept Edward on his terms, you can see how wonderful he is.

And maybe if he'd been presented as he was, and not the spin Peg provided, he would have been accepted?

Maybe not.

But as the spin unravels, the 'sweet' community makes clear that they never really accepted him and were always watching and waiting to turn on him.

One neighbor asks Kim's little brother if they've caught Edward yet -- the police.  When the kid shrugs, the old man insists that when it happens, "let us all know like a good boy."

Play your role because if you cease to play your role, the facade of 'community' falls apart.

When Jim attacks Edward in front of the entire neighborhood, the 'good' people recoil in fretting (sad that Jim had to do what they all wanted to do) while only Kim is enraged that Edward's being attacked.

The community always defined him as the monster and the outsider and now they don't bother to conceal that or their opinion that he doesn't belong.

Edward will escape to the castle he was created in.  Even there, he will not find peace.

The same community that pretends to be outraged by laws being broken, is more than happy to show up like mad villagers.  They use the 'laws being broken' as their excuse to justify openly expressing their hatred for Edward but they don't respect the laws that require them to stay off his castle grounds.

And Jim is the product of this community.  The hot head, yes, but the embraced hot head.  The one encouraged to act, the one raised to act.  And his action is to attempt to kill Edward.  When Kim tries to save Edward and Jim attacks Kim, Edward doesn't bother to hold back anymore, he kills Jim.

Unlike her parents, Kim knows Edward can't be altered and shouldn't.  She knows the town is waiting to rip him apart and that, if there was a way to talk it all out, the hatred and fear would still be under the surface and waiting to rise the next time Edward made an innocent mistake.  He can't change and he's too real to live in a fake community.

So Kim lies to the people that Edward is dead and they return to their homes.

And she grows into an old woman without ever being able to see Edward again.

Winona Ryder opens the film in heavy make up as an old woman telling the story of Edward Scissorhands to her granddaughter. She's then absent from the screen for approximately 30 minutes until she shows up as teenage Kim.

Tim Burton cast types in supporting roles.  He went with actors in the roles of Edward and Kim.

They're fleshed out in the script, they're fleshed out in the performances.

Edward is the horror show monster and to ensure that the audience grasp the monster is man-made, created by the community he's taken into, a strong and talented actress was needed.  Winona Ryder has to be able to create Kim, to make her fully dimensional and to be her in every moment on film -- even when she's not the main focus of the camera.

The others can be -- and often are -- a little wooden, a little fake, a little TV-ish.

That's because the characters are fakes, faking their way at 'acceptance' and 'tolerance.'

Johnny Depp is amazing in the film and it made him a movie star.

But that wouldn't have happened with anyone but Winona in the role.

Drew Barrymore wanted the role.  She could have played the part from the moment Kim learns Edward knew they were breaking into Jim's house.  She could have played that and played it very well.  But, in 1989 when Edward Scissorhands was filmed, when she was 14-years-old, she didn't yet have the range to play the Kim prior to that moment, to be unlikable and mean.

If Kim's not disgusted by Edward in the first half, her realization, her awakening carries no weight in the second half.

It's no longer about anything but another sweet girl falling in love with a misunderstood boy.

Winona makes Kim's growth about the facade.  It's not just Edward she awakens to, she awakens to the entire town.  She realizes what Jim is and breaks it off, yes.  But she also, in the tree decorating scene, gets across with her eyes and her body tension that Kim realizes her mother doesn't have a clue and she needs to humor the woman.  Bells?  Yes, that's what's needed to make life perfect, more bells on the tree.

This realization has to take place -- and the audience has to see it -- for it to be believable that Peg's daughter would tell Edward to run.

Peg who thinks everything can be smoothed over, every reality ignored and suppressed?

Winona's Kim awakens to reality and knows that's a lie.

That awakening is required for Kim to tell Edward to run, for her to know that there is no way to calm the community or remove their lust for vengeance.

It's a brave and layered performance by Winona.

And she also achieves something onscreen that no other woman -- not once in the 13 years since the film came out -- ever has.

She has chemistry with Johnny Depp.

We like Johnny.

The New York Times is saying his career is over, that he's passe.  We don't think so.

But we do think he needs to be cast with Winona again.  And real soon.

Because a good looking man -- and Johnny's gorgeous -- can make a career out of freaks and oddballs . . . as long as the looks last.

Looks don't last forever.

And if he wants a career in his mid-50s and beyond, he's probably going to be expected to play husbands -- to believably play husbands.

And the only believable onscreen relationship he's ever had to date was with Winona Ryder.

Desperation is attempting to change or expand your screen persona after you're not wanted for roles.  Skill is expanding your persona while it's still in demand.

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