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Idiot's Delight (1939)
Not so much a "relic" as an artifact of a particular time and place -- and state of mind. While Sherwood's play was quite a strong (and sometimes heavy handed) criticism of the nature of man (and woman) as we approach an inevitable war; his adaptation for the screen is lighter, quirkier, and focuses far more on the American, Harry Van, than on the French weapons-monger (who has been radically Americanized and re-molded into a capitalist-industrialist.) Before we had the luxury of hindsight about Hitler, Mousselinni, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, fascism, Naziism, and capitalism, the focus was on the use of war as a social whip -- both restraint and stimulus. The play takes place completely in a resort in the Italian Alps -- but the film only gives us this setting as Act II. As a result, much of the preamble politics of the play are missing, instead replaced by an extended romance between Gable and Shearer for movie audiences.
The artifact (aside from a wonderful look at the con and film-flam of traveling entertainers and the crowds they draw) here is the political analysis of a looming war BEFORE we knew what WWII would eventually become. The "Anti-War" of Idiot's Delight is anti-war in general, not anti WWII. This is film is a pacifist -- not an isolationist. And, Harry Van's & Norma Shearer's con and film-flam are identical to that of the master politicians -- an attempt to distract us from what is coming with dancing girls, fancy stage effects, and mind-reading tricks.
It is also interesting that it was released in January of 1939 -- the bookend for that year's OTHER Gable war film, Gone With The Wind. While GWTW looks back at a war that pitted brother against brother and neighbors/friends against each other -- complete with all war's worst foibles and consequences -- this one is looking forward through the mist of mis-information and missing information at the war in Europe. It is forecasting the same foibles and consequences as the Civil War, WWI, and all other conflicts which wasted lives, inflicted unbelievable pain, wasted the wealth of nations, and de-stabilized the lives of all -- all for such laudable motives as greed, pride, lust for power, and jingoistic nationalism.
It's hard to believe (and yet believable, because we do have artifacts like this) that the conversation about the looming war in Europe during the late 1930s wasn't so much about Hitler, the Nazis, or global domination as it was about occupation, tyranny, and profit to be made at the expense of lives.
And that is what makes this film an artifact, rather than a relic. Relics are just old and outdated physical evidence of the past. Artifacts show our connection to the past -- because they tie our humanity to the same emotions, behaviors and thoughts of those who came before us.
the thing we know for sure about de Palma....
The thing we know for sure about de Palma is that there are no accidental or unintentional images, cuts, camera angles or words in his movies. What looks rough was intended to look rough. What looks like a careless frame was there to look careless. This film, like "Hi Mom" & "Greetings" (and even "Get to Know Your Rabbit) is not part of the Hollywood so many "reviewers" leaving their drivel in IMDb (aka the un-united statesmen) are either railing against or rallying behind.
As far as I could tell, this was a look at the world through De Palma's own Snake-eyes - via a camera, and a script HE wrote. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a view of the world from his camera will not look like anybody else's, and most surely won't be subject to anybody else's rules or political agenda.
Back in the day when Martin Scorsese made "The Last Temptation of Christ," I got cornered next to a conversation of religious conservatives who were ranting about the "Jews who control of Hollywood" being behind Scorsese's film. I had to laugh -- and did. They all turned to look at me like I was next in line for the noose -- and so I pointed out that Scorsese was New York Italian Catholic -- and had contemplated the priesthood. And that he'd made so much money and reputation points for studios that no studio, executive, or other influencing body could or would try to influence or control the content of his films.
So again, there's a laugh here if you think De Palma is the tool of any studio, influential group, or left-wing agenda. The truth is, each filmmaker has a point of view that is their own - - or at least the ones who make the films we want to see.
And -- if you think Hollywood -- that herd of cats who make the entertainment which may well be our last exportable natural resource -- is wrangled into the lock-step of an agenda other than making money and making entertainment, then you've obviously never met a writer, an actor, a musician, an artist, a computer nerd, a designer, a makeup artist, a stunt coordinator, or an agent. As a group, the only thing they have in common is lust for MAKING. Individually -- their beliefs are as varied as Tom Cruise and Tom Waits. And their personal agendas may sometimes reach the light in the projector -- or the flash of paparazzi cameras -- or the blare of a talk show microphone.
But the statements made in these point-of-view films are artworks giving voice and image to the mind of the artist. Like Guerneca, Rhapsody in Blue, or Oliver Twist -- art is not just entertainment, beauty, or cleverness -- it is the expression of a personal agenda by its very nature. Artists are meliorists. They believe they can, and that they have the right, to change the world.
so get over yourselves. It's not a plot. It's free speech. And Brian De Palma has always been enamored of not so much speaking his mind -- as filming his mind.