Tag Archives: Carol

Movies bring back the ‘50s with lessons for today

Fear of unexpected strikes from overseas. Battles over First Amendment rights. Simmering tensions of inequality.

It’s no wonder the 1950s are all over movie screens.

Whether by fortune or fate, movie theaters are alive with stories — from the communist witch hunt of Trumbo to the lesbian injustice of Carol — that plunge audiences back into the paranoia of the Cold War and the social suffocations of the decade synonymous with Eisenhower, the suburbs and the ever-present threat of the bomb. By returning to the ‘50s, filmmakers are finding stories that illuminate the politics of today.

First came Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, a thriller that, at its heart, is about the justice America affords captured enemy combatants and the strength of a morally strong individual (Tom Hanks, who else?) to stand up against a national tide of overzealous patriotism.

After the 1957 capture of Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), James B. Donovan (Hanks) struggles to give Abel a legitimate legal defense, a right that few agree he deserves. The film’s second half, when American pilot Gary Powers is downed in the Soviet Union, serves as a reminder — with clear echoes for the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay — of the value of treating prisoners of war the way a nation would want its own POWs treated.

For Spielberg, who vividly recalls crouching under his desk at school during duck-and-cover drills, the time of his youth is linked to the present.

“There’s so much relevance between the late ‘50s and today,” Spielberg says. “I lived through the Cold War and I was very aware of the possibility of walking down the street and seeing a white flash and being atomized. I was very, very aware of what a tentative and insecure time it was, especially for young people.”

In Trumbo, director Jay Roach resurrects Hollywood’s darkest chapter, when Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston) and other screenwriters and directors — the Hollywood Ten — were blacklisted by the studios after refusing to answer questions about their involvement with the Communist Party posed by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Suspected of “un-American” political beliefs, hundreds of other artists were refused work for years. HUAC presaged U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade.

“There are periods of time when fear takes over, the last time being these last 14 years,” said Cranston, drawing a parallel to post-9/11 surveillance.

While the ‘50s climate of Trumbo was more feverish than it is today, recent rhetoric on Syrian refugees and the rights of Muslims in the United States has, for some, recalled the era’s pitched politics.

“In our political environment these days, the use of fear and outrage and victimization is very common,” Roach said. “I feel like it’s just as much a film about today as it is about what it was back then.”

Boycotts are also again being called for some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Police groups have said they will boycott Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight after the director protested police brutality. Tarantino has defended himself by citing his First Amendment rights.

“It’s still happening in different forms,” says Nikola Trumbo, daughter of Dalton Trumbo. “I mean African-American kids being shot by the police on a regular basis. This country building a wall to keep out our Latino neighbors is shocking and appalling. And then there’s Edward Snowden.”

Carol is director Todd Haynes’ second trip to the ‘50s following his Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven (2002), a story in the style of a Douglas Sirk melodrama about a Connecticut housewife (Julianne Moore) who discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay and begins an affair with a black man (Dennis Haysbert).

In Carol, adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel first published under a pseudonym and titled The Price of Salt, Haynes again mines the tragedies of the decade’s social constrictions. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara star as two women drawn together — a romance later cited in a “morality clause” when Blanchett’s husband seeks custody of their child.

“We probably are at our own peril underestimating how much was really brewing in the ‘50s that became evident in the ‘60s,” Haynes says. “There were a lot of questions being asked as well as a lot of anxieties and conformity being expressed.”

Those underlying strains are also at play in Brooklyn, the Colm Toibin adaptation about an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) who lands in a New York not so different from the midtown of Carol — one where both freedom and restriction surround women trying to go their own way.

That these films have arrived all in the space of a few weeks owes much to coincidence. (The script for Carol was first penned 18 years ago.) But after the stylish ‘50s resurrections of Mad Men and Tom Ford’s A Single Man, it’s apparent that no decade offers the same mysterious blend of convention and nonconformity, in quiet collision, as the ‘50s.

Fall movie season brings a wealth of quality LGBT feature films

Ellen Page was first approached about the true-life gay rights drama Freeheld when she was 21, just coming off her breakthrough in Juno. It was seven years before the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a right, and six before Page, herself, came out.

“It really did align with an internal process I was going through with my own identity, with my own struggles of being closeted,” says Page of Freeheld. “It’s lovely to be part of a film that’s reflecting upon why we need the Supreme Court ruling and why we need to continue to strive to equality. I think the film is reflecting a time when that change is happening.”

As much as change is in the air in 2015, it’s also on the screen. Though Hollywood’s track record when it comes to telling the stories of LGBT lives is far from gleaming, this fall season boasts one of the richest and most varied batch of films yet to dramatize the struggles of gay and transgendered people.

Freeheld (in theaters Oct. 2) is about Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and her domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Page). When Hester, an Ocean County, New Jersey, police officer, began dying of terminal lung cancer in 2005, she appealed to the county Board of Freeholders to allow her pension to go to Andree. Though it would have been automatic for a married couple, the board initially refused.

Eight years after a documentary short on Hester won an Oscar, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) has penned the dramatization, directed by Peter Sollett and co-starring Steve Carell and Michael Shannon.

Todd Haynes’ Carol (out Nov. 20), based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, is about the illicit love affair between two women (Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara) in the conservative 1950s. A lushly detailed period film, thick with an atmosphere of socially enforced repression, the film rides a wave of praise from the Cannes Film Festival, where Mara shared in the best actress award.

Blanchett, in an interview at Cannes, said that while love between two lesbians is of course central to Carol, it’s ultimately about love, regardless of gender.

“There’s something Romeo and Juliet-esque about it,” Blanchett said. “There’s a universality to the love story that moves it out of the niche. It’s about the perspective or the feeling of being in love for the first time. And, yes, it’s not immaterial that there are two women at the center of it. But at certain moments, it kind of is.”

Also in November is The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech). Based on the 1920s Copenhagen novel by David Ebershoff and starring Eddie Redmayne, it’s a fictionalized account of Lili Elbe, among the first to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

While that trio of films is expected to play major roles in awards season, there are others in the mix, too.

Roland Emmerich, taking a break from the disaster spectacles like White House Down and The Day After Tomorrow, depicts one of the most pivotal moments in the gay rights movement in Stonewall (Sept. 25), a drama set around the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots in New York’s Greenwich Village.

And months after the celebrated transformation of Caitlyn Jenner, About Ray (Sept. 18) is about a teenager’s (Elle Fanning) transition from female to male, and how her family reacts.

It can be overly optimistic to take any seasonal trend as a sign of wider industry progress. Studies have confirmed that Hollywood continues to lag in representing the diversity of its audiences. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg school recently found that among the 4,610 speaking characters in the 100 top-grossing films in 2014, only 19 were lesbian, gay or bisexual. None were transgender.

Many of these films also struggled to make it to the big screen. It took Carol almost two decades to finally get made; screenwriter Phyllis Nagy wrote her first draft in 1996.

Equality for LGBT people also, of course, continues to be a divisive issue for some across the country. Page recently confronted presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz at the Iowa State Fair on his views on gay rights.

But in a year marked by significant advancement for gay rights, many, like Page, are buoyed by the upswing in this fall’s films — a crop of movies that add more lesbian and transgender stories to the indelible, but largely male movies (Philadelphia, Milk, Brokeback Mountain) that have come before.

“I wish there were more gay stories and I do think that that’s happening,” she says. “That does seem like something that’s getting a lot stronger, thankfully — a voice that’s getting stronger, a community that’s getting stronger.”

‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ will set you back $116,273

The cost of six geese-a-laying spiked considerably this year, while most of the items in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” saw little to no increase, according to the 31st annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index.

A set of gifts in each verse of the song would set you back $27,673 in stores, an increase of less than $300 — or 1 percent — from last year.

But shoppers turning to the Internet would see a bigger bump of about 8 percent over last year’s online prices, bringing the set of gifts in each verse to $42,959.

Buyers looking to purchase all the items each time they were mentioned in the song — 364 that is — would spend $116,273, a modest 1.4 percent increase from a year ago.

PNC’s sources for the Christmas Price Index include retailers, the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia-based PHILADANCO and the Pennsylvania Ballet Company.

Here is a look at the full set of prices from PNC Wealth Management:

– Partridge, $20; last year: $15

– Pear tree, $188; last year: $184

– Two turtle doves, $125; last year: same

– Three French hens, $181; last year: $165

– Four calling birds (canaries), $600; last year: same

– Five gold rings, $750; last year: same

– Six geese-a-laying, $360; last year: $210

– Seven swans a-swimming, $7,000; last year: same

– Eight maids a-milking, $58; last year: same

– Nine ladies dancing (per performance), $7,553; last year: same

– 10 lords a-leaping (per performance), $5,348; last year: $5,243

– 11 pipers piping (per performance), $2,635; last year: same

– 12 drummers drumming (per performance), $2,855; last year: same

On the Web…


‘12 Days of Christmas’ items top $114K

The price of lords-a-leaping and ladies dancing has spiked this holiday season, but other items mentioned in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” still cost the same as they did last year.

Buying one set of the gifts mentioned in each verse costs $27,393 in stores, or 7.7 percent more than last year, according to the so-called Christmas Price Index that PNC Wealth Management updates annually. And if you buy all 364 items repeated throughout the carol, you’ll pay $114,651 — 6.9 percent more than last year.

Last-minute shoppers who turn to the Internet will pay even more for all the gifts — about $173,000.

“We were surprised to see such a large increase from a year ago, given the overall benign inflation rate in the U.S.,” said Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC.

The federal government’s core Consumer Price Index rose only 1.7 percent this year.

In the three decades since the list was started in 1984, year-over-year increases have averaged 2.9 percent, which is the same number as broader U.S. inflation. But it’s a fickle list because the price of some items has barely budged, while others have soared.

Seven swans cost $7,000 this year, the same as in 1984, while the cost of a single partridge went from $12.57 to $15 during the same period. One pear tree to put that partridge in? Thirty years ago it cost $19.95, but will now set you back $184.

The cost of nine ladies dancing is now $7,553, or 20 percent more than last year’s $6,294, while 10 lords-a-leaping jumped 10 percent, to $5,243.

Seven items on the list cost the same as they did last year, including gold rings and turtle doves, while pipers piping, drummers drumming, and the pear tree showed only modest changes up or down.

The swans are the most expensive item at $1,000 each. The eight maids-a-milking still cost a total of just $58 because the federal minimum wage hasn’t risen. At $7.25 each, they’re the least expensive gifts in the song.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. checks jewelry stores, dance companies, pet stores and other sources to compile the list. Among its sources this year were the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Ballet Company.

Hallmark replaces ‘gay’ with ‘fun’ on Christmas ornament

Greeting card giant Hallmark said this week that it shouldn’t have changed the lyrics to “Deck the Halls” on a new holiday ornament that stirred a backlash from customers online.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based company has been defending itself after it began selling a miniaturized version of a tacky holiday sweater that changes the lyrics to the holiday carol. The ornament removes the word “gay” and emblazons the sweater with the phrase: “Don we now our FUN apparel!”

Critics took to Twitter and Hallmark’s Facebook page, accusing the company of making a political statement by using the word “fun” to replace “gay.” Some Facebook commenters said they would never again buy Hallmark merchandise and that the change amounted to the company rewriting Christmas classics in the name of political correctness. Others suggested removing the word “gay” demonstrated a homophobic bias.

The company initially responded by saying the multiple meanings attached to the word “gay” meant the sweater’s lyrics would be “open to misinterpretation.”

“The trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: `fun.’ That’s the spirit we intended and the spirit in which we hope ornament buyers will take it.”

The company updated its statement on Oct. 31, saying it was surprised by the public’s response and that it now realized it shouldn’t have changed the lyrics.

“We’ve been surprised at the wide range of reactions expressed about the change of lyrics on this ornament, and we’re sorry to have caused so much concern,” the statement read. “We never intend to offend or make political statements with our products and in hindsight, we realize we shouldn’t have changed the lyrics on the ornament.”

But Hallmark spokeswoman Linda Odell said the company has no plans to stop selling the ornament.

Teacher strikes ‘gay’ from carol

For a time, there was no “gay” in the “Deck the Halls” sung by first- and second-graders at Cherry Knoll Elementary in Traverse City, Mich.

A music teacher temporarily omitted “gay” when preparing students for a Christmas concert in the Traverse Area Public Schools system, according to numerous reports.

The unnamed teacher allegedly removed “gay” because children giggled when they sang the word. Instead, she had them sing, “Don we now our bright apparel.”

Now, Cherry Knoll’s principal said, kids are back to singing, “Don we now our gay apparel.”

Meanwhile, parents and educators continue to sing out their opinions – both disapproving and approving of the teacher.

One gay teacher defended her professional colleague, explaining on Facebook, “You can’t have little kids singing a song when they’re giggling … it won’t work, and it’ll look like they’re making fun of gay people.”