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Beautiful, idealistic, and self-absorbed is no way to go through life--or is it?
This is a sympathetic portrait of the Black Bear commune, and you'll come away thinking that the founding members were incredibly lucky--not so much for living the free love communal lifestyle as for not being injured in the mix of idealistic self-absorption and do-it-yourself medical treatments (including midwifery) that characterized life there.
It's clear from the affection with which the founding members talk of each other that it was overall a great time for them, and there's obviously a strong bond that unites them still. Some left the commune to form nuclear families, get jobs, and educate their children.
What's frightening, though, is the stunning level of self-absorption that makes a few of the members fail to think at all about how these principles affected their children. "We were like our own tribe," recalls one boy (Aaron Marley), who ran through the trails and woods with the other kids and later got a crew cut to rebel. I guess there are no snakes or poison oak in the California woods. He later is handed off to a foster family in the commune when his mother went off to paint and find herself; when he wanted to live with a Native American woman nearby, his mother came back, called on his father (who was elsewhere), made a big stink, and got him back on the commune--though not, apparently, with her. So much for the "children have choices" idea.
In another story, though, a child is given a choice, and it's scary. Tesilya's story is the most frightening, and it's a good thing that she tells it so that the audience can see that she's alive and thriving as an editor today. The Shiva Lila cult, which supposedly "worships children," comes to the commune and starts to take it over. When the commune members drive them away, Tesilya is asked to choose and decides to go with her mother. She's FIVE! What would you do? As the cult wanders to the Philippines and India, working all the time on its stated mission of breaking parental bonds, her mother drifts away at some point and Tesilya's left with a bunch of other children, many of whom die of diphtheria (freedom from DPT shots must have been part of the freedoms of the commune). Eventually the cult makes its way to Oregon, and by chance she meets up with some of the Black Bear commune people, who welcome her with "We have been waiting for you. Where have you been?" Uh, she's maybe 10 at this point? (The film doesn't say.) "Glad to have you join us, or whatever." She obviously gets an education somehow, but as Aaron, the boy who later becomes a biochemist, says, "We (children) were pretty much lab rats for the adults" and their ideals.
One of the former cult members is quoted as saying something like "Wanting to save the world can be a huge ego trip." This film presents it all--the love and the self-absorption and the ego-tripping--and lets you make up your own mind.
Burning Daylight (1928)
Not entirely like the book
This is the third version of Jack London's novel BURNING DAYLIGHT (1910); others were filmed in 1914 (a two-part version) and 1920. The plot has the city versus wilderness theme typical of the times. Elam Harnish, or "Burning Daylight," is called this because he has the habit of rousting his comrades out of bed with the admonition that "daylight is burning." Like many of London's heroes, he's a strong, intelligent man, and he prospers because of his foresight in the Klondike gold strike.
Burning Daylight's taste for speculation and gambling leads him to San Francisco, where he's taken in by the usual suspects: soft living, an over-sized ego, a group of corrupt capitalists, and a Woman from the City who lures him away from the faithful Vergie, the former dance-hall girl turned stenographer who has followed him to the big city. Cheated by his so-called business partners, Burning Daylight realizes his mistake and administers a little frontier justice before escaping with Vergie back to Alaska.
The performances here are good at times, although the scenes set in the Klondike rely too obviously on painted sets rather than on the more sophisticated effects typical of Chaplin's THE GOLD RUSH.
Bachelor Bait (1934)
Better than you'd think
The dialog is much sharper than you'd think; it's genuinely funny. Of course, some of it may be funny only in context: when one character asks what another would say, the Stuart Erwin character replies, "Peanuts, almonds, walnuts. . . "--getting around the prohibition about saying "Nuts!" while letting the audience in on the joke. Stuart Erwin is all right as the Average Joe, and although something's clearly lost for modern audiences in watching Rochelle Hudson's facial expressions (like Botox before Botox existed), the secondary characters are good. Pert Kelton ramps up her tough-talking sidekick schtick to become a tough-talking antagonist who'd be a perfect candidate for the matrimonial bureau except that one of the qualifications is that the ideal girl hasn't been touched by human hands. "You've got me there," she cracks. Watch for Berton Churchill's posing for a picture as a crime-fighting (all right, bumbling) district attorney; his expressions are priceless.
They Drive by Night (1940)
Recycled plot device?
Warning-- spoiler ahead.
Those who like this movie might want to check out Bordertown with Paul Muni and Bette Davis. This film seems to be a remake of the earlier one in several ways, the most striking of which is the love plot. In Bordertown (see IMDb comments), Paul Muni is a poor but ambitious Mexican lawyer who is disbarred by the Anglo establishment. He becomes first a bouncer and then a partner of nightclub owner Eugene Palette. Palette's wife Marie (Bette Davis) takes a liking to Muni's character and after driving her oafish husband home one night, drives through the automatic garage door opener into the garage but neglects to turn the car off, with predictable results. After Muni spurns her, she tries to blame the murder on him and ends by going mad. Sound familiar? The drunken husband/automatic garage door opener/murderous wife section of They Drive By Night is borrowed from that earlier film.
Tom & Viv (1994)
Miranda Richardson is extraordinary
Spoiler Alert! This is a film that improves with subsequent viewings. It represents only a small, limited portion of Eliot's personal and artistic life, as other posters have said, but the performances make the movie worth it. All of the performances are well done, but Miranda Richardson is extraordinary as a woman who sometimes struggles to keep herself under control and often loses.
The film seems muddled in its presentation of Viv, however. The script has all of the usual mentally-ill-person-as-victim-of-society rhetoric--she's brilliant, a creative free spirit, etc.--and it puts in Mrs. Haigh-Wood's mouth a long speech to Eliot implying her disappointment that he isn't taking care of Viv despite her faults. At the end, the audience is indeed dismayed by her treatment. (And would it have killed Maurice to pick up a pen and write during those long years of her confinement?) But Richardson has been so convincing in her portrayal of an unpredictable force that cannot be controlled, even by herself, that there's a genuine sense of menace. Viv does threaten violence to others as well as to herself, after all, and her breezy dismissal of it as "well, we're alive--no harm done" doesn't help. Although the scene of her being remanded to the institution is sad, there's also a palpable sigh of relief.
In short, lots of convincing, no-easy-answers suffering all round.