I Found It At the Movies: 1961–Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan)


Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1961: Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan)

I guess most of the time I’m a little skeptical of movies, music and even people that incessantly wear their heart on their sleeve, since their emotions can become so loud that they threaten to squash everything else in their way, including thoughts and perspective. I also have come to realize that, just like anything else, there are ways to cheat in film. Want to make someone cry? Just throw on some particularly heartfelt music. Want us to think that what you’re doing is cool? Use an extended scene of slow-motion. The list, of course, goes on.

I imagine the above are all criticisms that could easily be lodged against this film (or, for that matter, against most of Kazan’s career). But, as they say, the exception makes the rule, and this film completely cuts through any prejudgements I might have.  

Simply put, I find Splendor in the Grass one of the most moving, emotionally devastating films ever made. Along with Holiday, it’s my favorite film about the pressures of conformity. And, as I’ve said before, it’s in a small group of my favorite love stories of all time, (along with Gertrud, Letter from an Unknown Woman, A Place in the Sun, The Shop Around the Corner and Casque d’or). The wonderful ending would also find a place in my top ten.  

Does it cheat? Probably. Does it wear its heart on its sleeve? Definitely. But do I care? Here, not one bit.  

What moviemakers can learn: Try to let the natural elements of your movie (the acting, the settings, the framing, etc.) generate the brunt of the emotions you are trying to achieve. Only add things like music and a bold visual style when these elements need some enhancing.

Other contenders for 1961: A good number of gaps this year. These include: Michel Deville’s Tonight or Never (Ce soir ou jamais), John Ford’s Two Rode Together, Samuel Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A., Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s West Side Story, Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été), Jean-Pierre Melville’s Léon Morin, Priest (Léon Morin, prêtre) and Roberto Rossellini’s Vanina Vanini and Viva L’Italia!. I also need to revisit Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, as it’s been too long since I’ve seen it for me to know where it would place on this list. Of what I have seen, there’s no close runner-up, but I do really like Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence and Jacques Demy’s Lola. And I love Robert Rossen’s The Hustler and J. Lee Thompson’s The Guns of Navarone.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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