Arts & Entertainment
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BY John Prizer
May 6-12, 2001 Issue | Posted 5/6/01 at 2:00 PM
The current blossoming of Chinese cinema reveals a culture circumscribed by family ties in a manner not seen in most of the West for more than a century. Yi Yi begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral.
The intervening story centers around an upper-middle class Taiwanese family whose cohesiveness begins to unravel when its matriarch suffers a stroke. Her middle-aged daughter, Min Min (Elaine Jin), is no longer able to cope with being a wife and mother and leaves everything for an extended spiritual retreat. Min Min's husband, N.J. (Wu Nujen), is confronted with the reappearance of an old flame (Ke Suyun) and ethical problems at work.
Director Edward Yang avoids the obvious melodramatic clichés, finding emotional truth in small gestures and the textures of everyday living. His characters aren't conditioned to yield to instant gratification. This denial causes them great pain. Yet they're able to get on with their lives without self-destructing. Despite their defects, this gives them great dignity and strength.
For almost 2,000 years Western civilization was fueled by the interaction between Christianity and Greco-Roman culture. But most contemporary opinion-makers in the academy and the media aren't interested in either tradition except to deconstruct them. The Robe, based on Lloyd Douglas’ best-selling novel, is a good example of mass entertainment's contribution to this cultural mix before Hollywood turned politically correct. Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) is the Roman tribune in charge of Christ's crucifixion. While gambling at the foot of the cross, he wins the scarlet robe worn by Jesus.
Marcellus believes the garment is bewitched, and when it disappears along with his Greek slave (Victor Mature), he sets out to destroy it and the followers of Jesus. But the patrician tribune has a conversion experience which puts him into direct conflict with the bloodthirsty emperor, Caligula (Jay Robinson). The story may at times be over the top, but it effectively dramatizes the risks taken by the first converts in pagan Rome.
Family is usually the place where we learn how to love, and it's not always easy. Yet a person's moral values are forged in this crucible. Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women is the saga of the four March sisters, who love each other fiercely as they negotiate life's misfortunes and their own petty jealousies. Hollywood has adapted it four times. The best is George Cukor's 1933 production, one of the Vatican's top 45 films.
The movie begins in New England during the Civil War. The Marches’ father is off fighting to free the slaves. Romantic rivalries and a mean-spirited aunt (Edna May Oliver) create problems. Tomboy Jo (Katherine Hepburn) moves to New York to become a writer. Her coming-of-age is the story's emotional spine. Jo is an exemplary role model for our times. The needs of family are her first priority. Her spirit isn't embittered by disappointments in her personal life.
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