Monday, 7 January 2013

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

What though the radiance
 which was once so bright
 Be now for ever taken from my sight,
 Though nothing can bring back the hour
 Of splendour in the grass,
 of glory in the flower,
 We will grieve not, rather find
 Strength in what remains behind;
 In the primal sympathy
 Which having been must ever be;
 In the soothing thoughts that spring
 Out of human suffering;
 In the faith that looks through death,
 In years that bring the philosophic mind.            

                             - William Wordsworth

Nothing is more delicate than a young girl's heart. That's what we learned from Elia Kazan's 1961 hit. Although it is considered slightly melodramatic it's a heart-felt and poignant movie inspired by a true story. By inspired by a true story, I mean it's based on people that William Inge knew when he was growing up. At first, Inge wrote Splendor in the Grass as a novel. One day he met up with Elia Kazan and they both agreed that it had lots of potential to be a great film. 

Although there is no nudity or overtly noticeable sex in Splendor in the Grass it was very sexually controversial. The film itself revolves around a young girl's sexual awakening. In an earlier cut of the film than the most well known one, there was a quick shot of nudity. The shot to be precise was a nude shot of Natalie Wood from behind. This shot infuriated both Hollywood and the Catholic Legion of Decency and Elia Kazan was forced to remove this shot. Despite it's controversial premise, Splendor in the Grass was well received among audiences and critics alike. In fact, it introduces Warren Beatty and Phyllis Diller into the movie world. 

An interesting fact is this film was the first Hollywood movie to contain a French kiss.

The film begins in a wealthy community in Kansas, 1928. The two key characters are Wilma Dean Loomis and Bud Stamper. Wilma is a young and attractive girl who is intelligent and loves Bud more than anything. Bud is your typical masculine teenager. He's a very talented football player and he too loves Wilma as much as it is humanly possible.

Bud's father is pushy and resembles every other father in films like this. He's the kind of the father who has decided what Bud's future will look like. He wants Bud to go to university and get a degree. Bud wants to marry Wilma. After being told off by his father, Bud decides to give into his father commands and leave Wilma. This leaves Wilma heart broken. Suddenly all that was beautiful in life burns and Wilma goes beyond the verge of a nervous breakdown. She no longer eats and her parents have no choice but to send her to an institution. As time passes, Wilma's chances of improving look dim and Bud is caught up in a situation that leaves him in a state of constant guilt. 

Let me start off in the most obvious place to start off on. I have a problem with films where all the characters do is wine about their lives. This is sort of one of them. However, what makes Splendor in the Grass different than most films like that is in this, the characters mature and they can see how naive they were in the past. 

Another slight issue is at points the dialogue was a little ridiculous for example, when Bud's father is instructing him to wait off on marrying Wilma, Bud exclaims "I don't know if I can wait! I love her so much!" Luckily the poor dialogue was delivered by talented actors, making everything bearable. 

Natalie Wood proves to be more than just an attractive face. I'm certain Kazan coached her to truly take on her character, and it shows. We feel sympathy for her the entire film. Ned Beatty was good in this as it was his debut, but he did not give a shattering performance. 

I enjoyed Elia Kazan's clever interpretation of the poem, in fact the way I see it, this is more an adaptation of the poem "Splendor in the Grass" than a true story. It is a beautiful poem and the way I see it, it's a poem about maturity. When you were younger, everything was beautiful and innocent, but as you mature the beauty is gone and you must face the realism of life. As Wilma matures, she finally begins to understand this.

Splendor in the Grass,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty and Phyllis Diller

1. Splendor in the Grass

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