Movies

Flash Gordon; Resurrection; Somewhere in Time; The Glacier Fox

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• The latest version of FLASH GORDON can be enjoyed (somewhat) as "high camp." Viewed in any other way, it would probably be irrelevant to make such passing observations as that:

1. The aptitude for inane and stupid dialogue is shared by creatures from planets other than the Earth.

2. When an English-language film is shown in Italy or France, English titles have to be supplied. With space-creatures, fortunately there are no such difficulties. They understand every idiomatic nuance of our language at once; indeed, they speak in British accents. (Coincidentally, the film was made in Britain.)

3. True to the chivalric traditions of Earth, our hero goes to another planet in order to save his own. But when he is offered a choice between saving the entire Earth's population and keeping his lady, he chooses to keep the lady, whom he had met only a couple of days before at an airport.

4. It is gratifying to learn that even on other planets weddings are performed to the tune of the Wedding March from Act 3 of Wagner's Lohengrin.

• At first I thought that RESURRECTION was going to be, at long last, a cinematic treatment of Tolstoy's novel by that name. But it is a very modern film, set in Kansas and California, about a woman who discovers after a severe automobile accident that she has extraordinary powers to heal others. There are bits of telekinesis thrown in, along with postmortem experiences followed by returning to life. Although one cannot vouch for the authenticity of any of it, the theme is treated with seriousness and dignity and is absorbing throughout.

The film is an unusual melange of characteristics. Some of the transitions are a bit awkward, and some parts of the script are somewhat wooden. Yet the unusual theme of the picture exerts a continuous fascination. Life in the Kansas heartland is depicted with affection, though also with unsparing realism. The actresses playing the two major roles are nothing short of magnificent. Ellen Burstyn as the healer is better than she's ever been, and Eva Le Gallienne as the ancient grandmother deserves an Academy Award. Every facial expression and gesture is so vibrantly authentic that her performance is a perfect example of "living the part down to one's fingertips."

Probably the finest theatrical performance I have ever seen was of Eva Le Gallienne some years ago as Queen Elizabeth in Schiller's superb play Mary Stuart. Those who are not patrons of the theater have missed much by not seeing her in her many unforgettable performances. But it is gratifying to report that old age has not caused her to lose her touch.

• The film proceeds smoothly and with a kind of quiet dignity, with never a lapse in atmosphere or taste such as would have destroyed it in an instant. Though it is a tender and passionate love story, the final response to SOMEWHERE IN TIME is that of a pervasive, gnawing sadness, which is difficult to account for at first.

Stories involving time warps strike a peculiar emotional chord in most viewers. In 1972 an old woman whom he (Christopher Reeves) has no memory of ever having seen quietly slips him a note saying, "Come back to me." Eight years later, after her death, when he is trying to write a play, he sees a picture of the same woman when young; if only he could go back in time to that period, 1912. With a unique type of effort, explained to him by his philosophy professor (of all people), he lies unconscious on his hotel bed while at the same time he (the same he, presumably) "returns" to 1912, while yet knowing, from his library research on the period, what is going to happen after 1912. In spite of this, returning to that year, he exerts a causal influence on happenings then, as a result of his 1980 decision to "go back in time." Had he not made the decision in 1980, his visit to 1912 would not have occurred and her life in 1912 would have been different. (What if one could go back in time and keep one's own parents from meeting?) Yet while he is "in 1912" he has his memories from 1980 and, knowing what will happen, lets slip bits of information not yet known to anyone else.

So far, there is only an interesting story based on a flimsy metaphysical foundation. Why then does the film evoke such sadness? It is, I think, the conviction that settles upon one that the future is already set in concreteâ€"that even in the present the totality of one's future is predetermined: not in the mild sense called "determinism," in which one's future can be carved out partly by and through oneself, but in the strong sense called "fatalism," in which the future is already set regardless of what one may do; that freedom is an illusion, and all one's life is simply "going through the motions," like a puppet, though unbeknownst to oneself. So persuasively does the film involve us in that world that, for the moment, we come to share its (false) premises, giving us a feeling of helplessness that triggers the sadness.

• It is not only in quality of car production that Japan has come to outperform the United States. Filmed in the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido, THE GLACIER FOX contains no human beings at all, but it contains many memorable scenes of the northern wilderness from one season to the next, and in particular the daily life of a family of glacier foxes. In the dunes bordering the Sea of Okhotsk, two foxes meet and find a place to rear their young. We see the family life of the parent foxes and their four young pups and follow them closely through their first year of life: the careful rearing of the young, the finding of food, and the many day-to-day incidents of family life. Later we see the mother fox caught and killed in a trap and the father rearing the young pups and preparing them for independence and some months later ejecting them from their parental home and sending them each on their way to find their own prey and their own mates. In the end all the foxes but one are killed by man, and the closing shot is of the area where we saw the little ones play together and confront the world for the first time, all empty now because human life has replaced animal life on that part of the island, and the humans allowed no room for the animals.

It's not the usual Disney-style animal story in which no actual cruelty is shown on the screen. The detailed exhibition of the family life of foxes, and the carefree grace and beauty of the young pups, lead us to identify strongly with the animals. We see the world totally from their point of view, with man as the enemy who finally kills off the animal life with traps and guns. Just as in the excellent American documentary of a few years ago, Wolves and Wolf-men, we are shown in detail the "highly evolved" behavior of the animal family, how they pose no threat to man, and how they have (as it were) "nobler souls" than most men; we want to kill anyone who harms them.

The only ingredients that don't fit were added by Hollywood: a raucous sound track and the somewhat raspy and whining voice of the old man who is the off-screen narrator. If you can watch the film while using ear-plugs, you will find it a gratifying and solemnly moving experience.

John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His book Understanding the Arts will be published this year by Prentice-Hall.