This is my third post for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge 2016.

I really wanted to like The Group (Finnish translation Ryhmä). It’s a story of eight young women who graduate from Vassar in 1933. It is the time of the Great Depression but these women are not really the ones to suffer because of it. They have time to worry about other things such as extramarital sex, birth control, miscarriages, cheating husbands, violent dates, sexism in the work place, mental health issues and lesbianism. Controversial subjects in the 1930s and also in 1963 when the book was published. These days not so much. I am sad to say but I found both the book and the film (directed by Sidney Lumet in 1966) tedious and dated. I didn’t care for any of the characters and I didn’t understand why they were friends in the first place. Also, eight main characters is just too much. Trying to get to know all of them is difficult. The movie is 150 minutes long and in desperate need of editing. The cast is pretty great with Candice Bergen, Shirley Knight and Richard Mulligan to name a few. And kudos to the costume department, the look and style are impeccable. Apparently The Group was an inspiration to Candace Bushnell when she wrote Sex and the City. However, SATC hasn’t yet lost its attraction unlike The Group.

 

ryhmä

Cover of Ryhmä 

group

DVD Cover

 

*Spoiler alert*
Hannah Kohler has written a universal story about the insanity of war and what better backdrop than the Sixties, California and Vietnam War? Jeannie and Kip loose their mother in a tragic accident. This loss defines the teenage siblings’ lives for years to come. Kip gets into trouble, fights with his dad and on a whim decides to enlist and go to Vietnam. Jeannie gets into trouble with the first eligible man that comes along (a medical doctor no less) and settles for a quiet but unhappy life as a housewife. However, fate has other plans. For Kip the true nature of war uncovers gradually. There are no heroes, no honor. Just regular guys trying to survive day to day the best they can. And when Kip has finally had enough, he resorts to an act that will change his life forever. Back home Jeannie finds the lust for life with a young and beautiful but reckless anti-war activist Lee. Together they try to help drafted young men to avoid active duty by falsifying medical certificates. This side of the story I have no problem with. Kohler has done her research. The thing that is missing is the ever so important atmosphere. Kohler doesn’t describe enough the surroundings, clothing, decor, music etc. This story could have taken place anywhere, anytime. And for a 1960s enthusiast this is a bit disappointing. The lesbian relationship between Jeannie and Lee seems pointless. I don’t think that plot twist brings anything new to the story.

This novel inspires me to search for other novels or short stories about the Vietnam War and the home front. Preferably something that was written and/or published in the 1960s or 1970s. I have to research this topic further…
kohler

 

This is my first post for the Classic Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge 2016.

Christa Wolf, one of East Germany’s most recognized authors, made her breakthrough with Divided Heaven (Der geteilte Himmel; Jaettu taivas) in 1963. It was filmed the next year by Konrad Wolf. It’s a love story with social criticism. Rita is a young and innocent girl living in the countryside, Manfred is a highly educated chemist. They fall in love at a dance and everything seems to be just perfect when Manfred takes Rita to the city and they set up house (sort of) at Manfred’s parents’ house. For a while it seems that the couple could live happily ever after in the privacy of their loft room. Before Rita starts her studies to be a teacher, she takes a summer job at a rail car factory. There she befriends some co-workers and gets a glimpse of the system. The system here meaning of course the socialist society and machinery.

Manfred also confronts the system and is disappointed when he’s efforts in chemistry are not recognized. So he decides to defect to West Berlin. Rita follows Manfred and is surprised how easy it is to cross the border. (The story takes place just before the Berlin Wall is built). But Rita will not stay, she describes it like “being worse than a foreign land because everybody speaks a language you understand”. For Manfred, West Berlin is a dream come true: “Don’t you agree the West is at our feet right now?”

So it is not the Berlin Wall that separates these two. It’s their ideals. Manfred finds East Germany stifling and still very much haunted by the trauma of war. In West Berlin he has a chance to work and pursue a career.For Rita, East Germany is all she knows. She sees the problems with socialist society but also sees the good things in her life and home. She has friends who are incorruptible (like her co-worker Mr. Meternagel), who really believe in doing the right thing and serving his country.

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Divided Heaven was probably the first East German novel I’ve ever read. Even though, I’ve had Christa Wolf on my TBR list for ages. I don’t know if I’m that impressed. Wolf’s style is a bit plain. I do still think that it was worth reading just to get some insight into the life of East Germany in the sixties. The film was more to my liking, more stylized and still relevant.

The sixties is absolutely my favourite decade. It had the best music, films, design and fashion. But it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t all about the Swinging London. There were no fun and games for some. Poor Cow is a novel by Nell Dunn. The writer along with Ken Loach adapted her book to film in 1967. Director Ken Loach is the master of social commentary. And apparently so is Nell Dunn.

I first read the book (Finnish translation Kukkinut ja kukoistanut) and I was disheartened. The story of a young mother Joy (who in her innocence is almost childlike) has married a thug, a thief and a robber named Tom. Life is pretty good as long as Tom has money. The young couple even move to Ruislip that is a more reputable part of London. Joy dreams of a traditional suburban life even though Tom lives the life of crime. And it is inevitable that things will fall apart. Tom gets caught for his crimes and goes to jail for a few years. Meanwhile Joy starts an affair with Tom’s friend Dave and for the first time Joy feels loved and respected. However, Dave is also a criminal and also goes to jail for 12 years. After that Joy is adrift. She finds work in a pub but soon turns to nude modelling and even prostitution. She sends letters to Dave proclaiming her undying love and promises to wait for him. She even tries to divorce Tom but when Tom comes back home she soon conforms to his presence and starts to dream about middle-class life again. And all along the reader knows that her dream is not really realistic. And even Joy herself knows that. Is it better to conform to your class and situation than to dream of a better life? Is it giving up when you face the facts and do whatever it takes to survive? Tom and Dave accept that the life of crime is all they know and make no apologies for it. And Joy doesn’t care how her man makes his living as long as it is also in her and her son’s benefit. The reality of working class life in London in the sixties seems a very dreary one indeed.

nelldunn

The film directed by Ken Loach is kitchen sink at it’s best. Joy’s world is mostly sad, dirty and poor. You know it from the beginning that this town is surely no Swinging London. But what I like most about Ken Loach’s directing is that he always finds a tint of joy and happiness in the most unhappy situations. The part with Joy and Dave’s love affair is so sweet and lovely that you want them to have their happy ending while very well you know that it is not going to happen. The cast is also excellent: Carol White as Joy and Terence Stamp as Dave are wonderful. And Donovan‘s music is just right, comforting and beautiful. At the end of the film you want to believe that there is a way for Joy to be happy even if she doesn’t ever climb the social ladder.

Separation

04.02.2016

Separation (1967) was directed by Jack Bond and screenplay written by Jane Arden. According to the DVD booklet Separation is a forgotten gem. And why forgotten? Separation didn’t receive good reviews back in the sixties. Perhaps because it was too art-housey? Or because the protagonist Jane is a 40-year-old separated woman who has not just left her child and husband but also taken on a younger lover? The world was not ready for this sort of thing. It was not ready to see a middle aged woman having a nervous breakdown on film. I have to say I don’t understand why this film isn’t appreciated just like all the other great new wave films of the sixties. Like Blow Up or Clèo de 5 á 7 or Sedmikrásky. It has it all: Procol Harum on the soundtrack, wonderful clothing choices, a female protagonist who has the perfect facial expressions (I adore Jane Arden now), an elusive storyline and some dead-on social commentary on the role of women. What’s not to love?

Thanks again to BFI for this DVD & blu-ray release!

separation

Lola Bensky

07.01.2015

I immediately wanted to read Lily Brett’s novel Lola Bensky when I saw the cover. And read the book jacket that mentions the words “London music scene”, “1967” and “rock stars”. The novel is all that but also much more. It is a work of fiction but very autobiographical at that, the author did in fact work as a rock journalist in Australia in the 60s and she did interview many rock legends.

Lola Bensky is an Australian 19-year-old music journalist who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Lola has heard many gruesome stories of the horrors of Auschwitz. These stories Lola recollects in her thoughts and sometimes even shares them with her interviewees. Lola meets and interviews for example Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. And even Paul Jones and The Bee Gees are mentioned. The passage about Paul Jones is brief but it made my day! Lola recounts her interview with Mr. Jones whom she finds very confident and direct in a good way, without false modesty.

The themes of confidence, modesty and self-esteem are very crucial in the novel. Lola Bensky, who is quite content to be a rock journalist, doesn’t know how to enjoy life or to appreciate herself. She feels fat and rather than living the life of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll like so many others in music business, she spends her time working and dieting (or planning her cockamamy diets consisting of boiled eggs and watermelon). To Lola’s mother Renia, excess weight is something suspicious, as only the traitors in death camp were allowed enough food to eat, others suffered from severe malnutrition. The Holocaust is Lola’s trauma through her parents, Renia and Edek, even though Lola herself was born after the war and didn’t experience it firsthand. The badly traumatized survivors didn’t know how deal with the fact that they survived while so many others died. To Renia her survival is a constant source of antagonizing guilt which lives on in her daughter. So, The Holocaust continues to be a collective trauma also for the next generation. Everywhere Lola goes she reflects her own Jewish roots to other Jews. How to make peace with a past so dreadful? How to live and go on knowing that humanity is capable of inflicting such horrors?

The novel also brings up gender issues. As Lola talks with Janis Joplin and later Mama Cass, they both reveal the difficulties of working in a very male dominated rock music business especially as women who are not considered to be sexually attractive or beautiful in the traditional sense. However, Lola finds both Mama Cass and Janis Joplin to be happy and content with their lives. Many of the beautiful and thin celebrities Lola meets seem to be more unhappy and troubled despite their perfect appearances.

All in all, Lola Bensky is a novel about making peace with your past and finding self-worth as a woman. And stories about some great rock music personalities whose depictions might be true. Or not.

Lily Brett’s interview in The Sydney Morning Herald. 

I can’t praise James Garner enough! He is an awesome actor and I remembered just how awesome when I watched again The Americanization of Emily (1964). Wonderful movie, wonderful star(s)! An American naval officer Charlie Madison (James Garner) is a self-proclaimed coward. He intends to navigate through World War 2 without actually seeing any combat. Unfortunately, his commander has this persistent idea that on D-day (Normandy landing) the first dead man on Omaha beach must be a sailor…  Charlie has no intention to be that particular sailor, for he has found true love in the form of a spirited and beautiful English woman called Emily (Julie Andrews). There is a real lesson to be learned in this film. And that lesson is that there is no honor in war. War is awful, despicable and just sad and no one should glorify it. James Garner is excellent as Charlie. He is dashing and charismatic. And for Charlie, well he is no coward, just sensible and realistic in his approach to the idea of war.

I first noticed James Garner in The Great Escape but that film was all about Steve McQueen for me. The Americanization of Emily is truly James Garner’s show. I also loved Garner’s more recent role on television in 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. He played grandpa Jim Egan and was totally charming and funny. At the age 75+ he hadn’t lost his charisma one bit. ❤