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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Aren´t you...?

The films ´Strangers on a Train´ (1951) and ´The Odd Life of William Pearl´ (1955) got my attention for several reasons. Mostly, because they reflect fame and image in completely different ways. These two black and white films happened to cross my path in the last two weeks.

´Strangers on a Train´ (1951) was made by Alfred Hitchcock. I watched the slightly longer, British version, because that version had a better balance of the story lines.
The story starts with a stranger who approaches an upcoming famous tennisplayer in the train. The stranger seems to know a lot about famous and important people, because he reads the peoplepages. They get into conversation and the stranger moans about his father. The tennisplayer loathes his unfaithful wife. The stranger steers the chat to his proposal: what if you would murder my father and I would do you a favor in return? At this point it all goes wrong. The tennisplayer is not alert enough and considers this dangerous request to be a joke. The psychopathic stranger takes these fantasies for real and carries out his part of the deal. The tennisplayer does all he can to avoid his destiny and bad press. He feels he is guiltless, yet is terribly afraid that he is in severe trouble. A cigarette lighter will save the tennisplayer from his heading downfall.
The film is considered a classic and is an example of the classic linear scenario. The phenonomenon of the doppelgänger is Hitchcocks main theme and in this film it is systematically brought to the maximum. You see doubles everywhere. Also the cross-theme crosses the screen in different ways.

´The odd Life of William Pearl´ (1955), my own translation of ´Het wonderlijke leven van Willem Parel´ in Dutch, is a film about the Dutch comedian Wim Sonneveld. He is considered to be one of the late The Three Grand (the other two were Toon Hermans and Wim Kan).
In those days, radio was the most popular medium in the Netherlands. Sonneveld was asked to end a popular weekly show with a funny character. It became Willem Parel, the organ grinder, one of his most popular characters. After two years he has had enough and wanted to move on, because he felt the character was becoming more popular than himself. To ditch his most popular character, he used this film for the audience to part with Willem Parel and to get to know him as a cultural comedian.
The story starts with the announcement that Parel would disappear. So Sonneveld gets a visit from a cross Parel who steps down his dressing room poster after Sonneveld´s performance in the Nieuwe Pien de la Mar Theatre. The rest of the film contains the actions of the organ grinder and his association. Sonneveld walked round as the spruce looking, tormented comedian and Parel did most of the talking wherever he went. Parel starts to lead actual organ grinders from all over the country into lobbying for equal rights. They pay a visit to the small-minded board of a broadcasting organization, a striking skit of the board of the VARA broadcasting organization. Then they protest outside the mayor´s house. At a swank party Parel made a stir with his popular cheerfulness. The members of the board and the swank lady who organized the party know Sonneveld. So when Parel leaves amongst other things a substantial pub bill to be payed, the police naturally, go after Wim Sonneveld.
The film was well received in the newspapers. Only the swank set reacted scornfully. The film did not become a great success. However it led Sonneveld into contact with an American agent so he could play in several American films, like ´Silk Stockings´ with Fred Astaire.

http://vriesdemark.schrijft.nl/parel.htm (in Dutch)

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