Daisies is hard to describe, it needs to be experienced. And you should. The protagonists are wonderful, and there is still, 50+ years later, something unusually freeing about watching two young women gorge themselves on food and drinks the way they do.
Interestingly, after initial good reviews, the film was pretty much banned in its native Czechoslovakia by the communist regime for “depicting the wanton.” However, it is now generally regarded as one of the great Czechoslovak movies of all time.
Apologies for the long break – there have been some family stuff as well as day jobs which have required all our energy for a while. So our posts might be a tad sporadic for the time being, but we have not given up. Promise!
Kelly (Towers), a working girl, arrives in a new town. First off, she makes good (i.e. sleeps) with local law enforcement Griff (Eisley) who advises her to practise her profession in the neighbouring town, lest she destroy the reputation of this one. The men of this town only like to fuck harlots – not see them around when they go shopping!
But Kelly is traumatised by and tired of her days as a prostitute and wants a different life for herself. She is also smart, strong and resourceful. So when she sees that the town has a children’s hospital, she applies for a job and is hired on the spot. Not only hired – she is a huge success!
Through her work and her new friends, she is introduced to Grant (Dante), the richest man in town, and the two fall hard for each other. However, Grant’s best friend Griff is not too impressed by his friend’s choice of romantic interest…
From the jazzy opening scene onwards, we were thoroughly enthralled by The Naked Kiss. Melodramatic though it may be, it is also intensely watchable and engaging. It constantly goes off in unexpected directions and keeps you on your toes.
We loved Miss Josephine, Mac, Kelly – basically all the women in this. We also loved the noiry feel of the movie, and the sense of doom and destruction we felt throughout. It’s shocking and pulpy in just the right ways, but it also has great performances, gorgeous cinematography, a musical number, and a bald prostitute beating a man with a frying pan. So if that doesn’t make it a must-watch, we don’t know what will.
Jennie (Munro) is a small town girl living in a lonely world. She takes the midnight train going anywhere. Well, actually, she gets a drunken ride with a couple of older men to their apartment in London and is raped and abandoned. But that doesn’t sound as nice.
Her whole life she has dreamed of the luxury and fame she’s been sold in commercials and movies, but when she tries to pursue it, she is brutally punished by every man she meets. After the rape, she meets barman Bob (Stride) who invites her to stay with him, and the two start a relationship. However, Jennie is not satisfied with just staying at home and being a girlfriend – she wants a career of her own, which Bob sees as a threat to their relationship. Actually, he sees everyone as a threat to their relationship, and would rather have Jennie stay at home and never talk to anyone but him ever again. When she meets abusive producer Karl Denny (Badel), she immediately (and completely out of character) surrenders to him and leaves Bob.
Now, Bitter Harvest is an interesting one. Everything we’ve read about this movie (which, granted, isn’t a lot, but still) seems to suggest Jennie is a manipulative, selfish young woman who will do anything to get ahead, and who doesn’t appreciate what she has. But this is not how we read it at all.
What we saw was a young, sweet and naïve, though willful, girl who stood up for herself and dreamed of a more exciting life. When she told “nice guy” Bob she was pregnant at their first meeting, she wasn’t lying but thought she told him the truth – she had had sex (read: had been raped) and thus she must be pregnant.
Also, she never lies to Bob about what she needs money for, or where she’s going. She just (rightfully) assumes that this is her choice to make, and that if he loves her, he will support her choices. However, despite his kindness in taking her in when they both think she’s pregnant with another man’s child, Bob is a controlling and condescending asshole who resorts to threats and violence when Jennie makes her own choices. When she refuses to leave with him, he tries to strangle her, suggesting he’s not really the nice guy he is painted to be.
Jennie’s willful and autonomous side is also what makes her complete surrender at Denny’s slap seem out of character. Personally, we feel that in order to control her like that, he needed to build up to it, not slap her on the first night. However, perhaps her hope of a better life blinds her.
Finally, just a couple of words about the popular interpretation of her “little black book” that the police find in her apartment: we didn’t interpret that as evidence of her “promiscuity” as many suggest, but as evidence of Denny prostituting her. However, none of us has read the book the movie is based on – our interpretation is based solely on the movie we watched. And in that, we think Jennie has been unfairly treated by several viewers.
As mentioned, there are some similarities between Jennie and Patsy from The Small World of Sammy Lee, made especially clear to us as we watched them as a double feature. The difference is that Patsy stumbles into the sex trade because of her love for a man, while Jennie falls into it due to ambition and a hope for a better life for herself. Thus, Patsy makes it out while Jennie must be punished. Really – give us time and money and we can probably write a thesis on this. Although we suspect this has already been done many times over…
So, how do we feel about Bitter Harvest? We think it’s an interesting film to watch, but it’s problematic enough that we can see how it has been removed from the list.
What we learned: Apparently, girls should be satisfied with what they have, whether it’s an uneventful life in a small, dead town or as a spouse to a man prone to violence whenever he doesn’t get his way.
Next time: Bonus: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
Victoria Page (Shearer) is a young, ambitious ballet dancer who, after a party, is invited by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook) to try out for his company. At the same time, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) gets a job with the same company coaching the orchestra. As Vicky rises to be the new prima ballerina (after the old one got married), Julian also rises through the ranks as a composer. The culmination of both their work is a new ballet, The Red Shoes, based on H. C. Andersen’s classic fairy tale. Julian composes while Vicky dances the lead.
The ballet is a great success, and its two rising stars fall in love, something Lermontov is none too happy about. He fires Julian, and Vicky, though torn, decides to go with her boyfriend. She marries him and he starts composing operas, also to great success. However, despite her meteoric rise to fame in Lermontov’s ballet, Vicky spends the following year out of work.
Next season, Vicky goes back to Monte Carlo on holiday with her aristocratic aunt and runs into Lermontov again. He convinces her to dance The Red Shoes once more, but on the night of the performance, Julian comes and demands his wife choose between him and the ballet. Crazed (or possessed?) by this ultimatum, Vicky loses her mind and her control, just like the protagonist in Anderson’s fairy tale.
It’s clear that Lermontov is supposed to be some sort of parallel to the shoe maker in the fairy tale, but honestly, he’s not the devil here. He encourages her ambition – an ambition that comes from her, not any outside force. Sure, his encouragement comes from mainly selfish reasons, and he may have some ulterior motive of his own, but at least he want her to follow her passion. Julian seems to think she should be content being the wife and muse of a talented composer, despite her own obvious talent which she is unable to develop once they leave the company. In our opinion, Julian is the bad guy here.
This film is spectacular and definitely a new favourite of ours. It’s an intriguing story with great, often eccentric, characters (we particularly love the other members of the ballet company), gorgeous costumes and breathtaking dancing. The performance of The Red Shoes – a ballet within the film – is wonderful and somewhat reminiscent of the Berkeley musicals from the ’30s, beautifully incorporating cinematic effects with amazing dancing to tell the story.
It seems to us that women’s ambition is a dangerous thing (in which case Lermontov is the devil), although we’re not sure for whom. Is it scary for the men who lose control over them, or for the (fragile) women who will crack under the pressure of trying to balance a traditional role (doting wife and house maker) with a professional career? Possibly both, but it seems like women tend to pay the price – especially in morality tales and fiction (let’s not even go into the sexual undertones of this film and, indeed, the fairy tale on which it’s based).
What we learned: A happy and full life should have room for love and ambition. To have to choose is unfair (especially when it’s one gender asking the other to choose while they themselves can have it all..). Also, things haven’t changed much for ballerinas in the last 7 decades, judging from the parallels between this film and Black Swan (2010).
We’re going back in time to catch up on a recent addition to the list, and what a great addition! Judy O’Brian (O’Hara) is an ambitious young club dancer with ballet dreams. However, when she goes to a meeting with Steve Adams (Bellamy) to audition for the American Ballet Company, she sees the professional dancers and is intimidated by their (very impressive) skills. Thus, she runs out before seeing Adams.
Adams leaves his office at the same time and tries out his smooth umbrella game on Judy, but is brutally rebuffed. She goes back to the apartment she shares with a fellow dancer and they are visited by Bubbles, aka Tiger Lily White, (Ball) – a former dancer in their troupe who has made a name for herself in Burlesque. She is looking for more girls and hires Judy as a stooge – she is to dance ballet during breaks in Bubbles’ set to rile up the men who have not paid to see art.
As if Judy’s life isn’t complicated enough, she also starts dating Jimmy Harris (Hayward) – a rich drunkard who is still in love with his ex-wife. When Bubbles finds out she goes after Jimmy herself, and the humiliation of her job, Bubbles’ insensitivity and her crushed ballet dreams culminate to enrage the so far kind and sensitive Judy.
After an amazing speech to the leering audience, Judy gets into it with Bubbles who, after initially playing the outraged victim, reconciles with her fellow dancer and with herself. As for Judy, she has another encounter with Adams and things are definitely looking up.
Dance, Girl, Dance was a great addition to the list. It has strong female characters and great dance scenes – two things we absolutely love. The fact that this is the first film with a female director comes across as well (although there are of course male directors who can write and direct women – we’re not trying to be sexist here). The issues addressed in the film are interesting coming from a female perspective, and Dorothy Arzner handles the lives of dancing girls in the ’40s with a slightly different take than Busby Berkeley. Great dance movie – great movie!
What we learned: is it worth sacrificing one’s dignity for fame and money? Also, a double feature night of Dance, Girl, Dance and Split (2016) leads to strange dreams of James McAvoy as a ballet dancer…
P.S. Confused about numbering? Check out this handy disclaimer!