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D was over last night, so I suggested watching The Manchurian Candidate. He hadn't seen either, so I thought we should go with the original. I'd watched it for history class in highschool and remember being absolutely gripped.

Here's the thing. It's really clunky. Really clunky. The acting is stiff (with notable exceptions for Angela Lansbury and Vivien Leigh, who got top billing and about 15 lines of dialogue). The camera angles are ostentatious but artless. Things are constantly out of focus. I was retroactively even more impressed by Citizen Kane for its ability to pull off deep field focus, cause this movie utterly fails at it, and it was made thirty years later.

And the structure, too--oof. There's a third-person narrator for exactly three scenes. I assumed it was a news reel until it started talking about Frank Sinatra's nightmares. And then...it disappears for the rest of the film. The first hour to hour and a half is exposition. Some flashbacks, but mostly just lengthy expository speeches. I understand why it's reputed to be one of the worst books ever written. This film is also full of people proposing marriage at first sight, and everyone else just rolling with that.

But for all that, it is completely unmatched for its capturing of a political moment. I'm going to rewatch the remake tonight to see, in direct comparison, how it solves the narrative shortcomings. But a movie made in 2004 comes from a very different context than one from 1962.

So definitely watch the original.

I think it's striking, too, in that the movies that were made in the 60s that we still watch were remarkable or ground breaking in some way. It's easy to forget what they were remarkable in comparison to. We don't generally watch the run of the mill cinema from the era. So being thrust into something that mishandles black and white and can't focus the camera is jarring. (Also people blink SO MUCH. I don't know why, but it's distracting.)

ETA: just rewatched the 2004 remake. It's an all around better film, but somehow less special for being a more standard paranoid psychological thriller. Does some very interesting things with the original, including giving the women way more agency, and not having everyone act like a nut. (Seriously, in the original--people just don't behave that way. I don't mean the brainwashing. I mean everything else. I don't think the author understood how human beings work.) One hundred percent worth watching both, especially to watch Liev Schreiber and Denzel Washington both slowly breakdown in extreme close up staring straight into camera. Seriously, they are both magnificent actors, and well worth watching.
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