Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February Blind Spot: How Green was My Valley

There are many films, especially those made decades earlier, where their reputation, good or bad but mostly bad, usually precedes their presence in pop culture references than anything that actually concerns film itself. And more often than not, these films are only remembered for all the wrong reasons for no fault of their own. My choice for this month’s blind spot, 1941’s Best Picture Oscar winner How Green was My Valley(1941) – ‘the film that beat Citizen Kane(1941)’ – is one such film. In February, all of us are in the high pitch Oscar fever with ceremony just a few days away. Since last year, I have been trying to get through all the Best Picture winners and hence, I thought it will be a good idea to choose past winner for this month. Last year I did the same thing with The French Connection(1971). I am continuing the trend this year with How Green was My Valley.

This is a story of Morgan family, 1 BIG family, leaving in one small village in South Welsh at the start of 20th century. Like many small villages, most men in village have one business. In this case, it is coal mining. Morgans have six sons and one daughter, Angharad . Their youngest son, Huw, is our narrator and protagonist. Their father and all five sons work in collieries.  Being a small and close-knit community that most villages like this are, Father Morgan is not only the patriarch of Morgan household but also a well respected, authoritative person of the community. Their daughter is the most beautiful face in the valley and their sons are voice of youth, young, dynamic leaders of tomorrow. What we get for two hours is this family, and subsequently everyone around them, going through uncertain phase of their life.

We see them going through workers strike that their father vehemently opposes but has to participate for the sake of whole community. We see them trying to live through consistently dropping wages but increasing risks and in case of Angharad who falls in love with Mr. Gruffydd, their local priest, but has to marry son of mine-owner because he thinks he will not be able to provide for her, we see whole community turn on to them for something she herself strongly opposed. However when it comes to Huw, family has high hopes for him. At least their father does; he has seen what collieries can do to man and very capable, hardworking men like his other sons. He doesn't want his eldest to go down that gutter as well and is visibly upset when Huw decides to follow their family tradition. Mother, on the other hand, seems quite contend with him following their father's or brother's footsteps. "If he could be as good a man as his father or his brothers, I will be fine with it", she says. There are many occasions when she says something like this, very simple and practical, and I love that about her.

I tried not to go into this one with too many preconceptions. In this case, it was slightly easier since only thing almost anyone talks about it is being ‘that’ film. It almost doesn’t exist beyond that but I will admit I wasn’t super excited about it either. And first 15 minutes confirmed my belief. It might be that I am watching too many 2013 movies in the past few months that theatricality of a 1941 film bothered me a bit initially. Not like I have that problem every time I watch a classic and I do watch fair amount of them but it was bit jarring this time around. It also could have been that voice over narration which felt bit too on the nose. I was almost certain then that I will just have to slog through this one. I was going to take this as a sort of dress rehearsal of what I expect majority of my 19 remaining Best Picture winners will be.

But then, something unexpected happened! As I kept going through it, I get more and more into it. That voice over narration disappeared almost completely. It appears here and there till the very end but not to the point of my initial annoyance. I got used to the type of acting and was even able to see beyond it. By the end of it, I was completely into it to the extent that I kept praying for Father to be well in the end from the second alarm blares over that valley. I credit most of this to its screenplay. What I find most interesting in it, apart from turning me around completely on it, is how much it manages to put in it in those two hours. There are almost too many characters for it to handle - 6 sons, their daughter, parents and few other add-ons like Bronwyn, their daughter-in-law, and Mr. Gruffydd, local priest. But it manages to give almost every one of them enough screen time to warrant their existence and at the same time keeping it easy enough to follow.

It is also funny that even though my favourite part of the film was screenplay, it was also the only department I had problem with. I like everyone in their respective roles, I like the direction, I also like how Ford makes it look like. But I really don't have much to say about any of them except it was good. Screenplay is something I have already praised for it's depth but I will go into couple of loose ends here as well. Movie starts with that voiceover narration I've already talked down. In it Huw talks about finally leaving the valley after 50 years. When it ends, he couldn't be more than 15. So what happens over the rest of 35 years that is worse than what we have already seen that makes him leave? I don't get why would Ford put that bit at the start if rest of film has no intention answering it. I don't want dwell too much on it since, as I said, I quite like this film but it was something he could have easily avoided.

So let’s address the elephant in the room – How does it measure up against Citizen Kane, Mecca of films? Let me make two things clear first. One, I have only seen Kane once, about three and half years ago, so the only thing that I remember about it is what’s Rosebud? Absolutely nothing else! So yes, it is highly overdue for a re-watch which brings me to my second point. Based on that first watch, I am not that big fan of it. Hence it never was high on my list of re-watches. My reaction to it was somewhat similar to that of Joey and Rachel’s(That’s a Friends(1994) reference for you. Go, figure!). I might have rendered my opinion useless after that preamble but at this point, I actually do prefer this one over Kane. And if you know your Oscars and your Citizen Kane, you would know that it was always going to be impossible for it to win. If there is anyone to blame here, blame Academy for making that decision; ‘tis the season after all!


  1. Hi! I heard you on Ryan's podcast! I had already read your post and you really made a good case for watching the film. I find most films from the black and white era have slow starts. Nowadays we tend to plop viewers right in the middle of the story assuming they will assume a lot of the setup. I came though to tell you I really enjoyed your thoughts on your family and how you related to this film through that common link of respect for your father. Cheers. PS. Wasn't it fun to be on a podcast!?

    1. Thanks! You are absolutely right about setting up. Its just that I am usually not bothered by it. SO I thought it was something worth deliberating over.

      It was my first time doing it. I was bit nervous but it certainly was fun. :)

  2. Glad you liked this one. I prefer Citizen Kane, but this is still a good Best Picture winner. :)

    1. I am sure you are not in the minority but as long as we agree on this one ... :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...