I’ve slacked majorly on the updating since the semester is coming to an end of I’ve been swamped with work (thing have been considerably less stressful since I decided to just fail my Media and Culture class and retake it next semester). But I didn’t want to just let the week go by without ANY updating. Luckily for you, I wrote a little something for Rotten Tomatoes that I can post here. Perhaps unluckily, though…. it’s more Borzage stuff. Are you getting sick of seeing him on the main page yet?

Trina isn’t a character one might normally consider then thinking about film heroines, romantic or otherwise. On the surface, she seems quite weak – when we first see her she’s crying over the breadcrumbs her soon-to-be love Bill is throwing on the ground for the birds because she’s so hungry. And it’s easy to think that she spends most of the film taking emotional abuse from a man who doesn’t want her. But, as with so many Borzage heroines, Trina’s love for Bill helps her find her own inner strength, and helps her see the strengths and weaknesses in Bill that he refuses to see in himself.

At a glance, Trina’s relationship with Bill does make her appear weak, and perhaps early on in the film she is in a way. Bill’s fear of commitment and being tied down brings him to attempt to “balance out” his acts of kindness and love wo Trina with harsh words and criticism. But Bill’s harshness is never meant specifically to hurt Trina, he uses them to try to convince himself that he doesn’t want to be tied to her. Trina recognizes Bill’s restlessness and creates a home for him, making herself a stabilizing influence, while allowing him room to grow and discover himself. While Trina knows who she is and has the ability to tie herself to one place and one person, Bill is still drifting, unsure of who and what he is. In this way, Trina’s strengths far outweigh Bill’s, and we see this as early on as the second scene. When Trina confesses to Bill how poor she is, Bill suggests that she should turn to prostitution, or even suicide. Trina confesses that she considered both, but couldn’t bring herself to do either. While both Bill and Trina view Trina’s inability to follow through with either of these options as cowardly, in reality it just shows Trina’s ability to keep going in the face of adversity, whether its in the form of poverty or in the form of Bill attempting to deny his love for her.

Trina doesn’t realize how strong she is at first. While she is able to ignore Bill’s criticism of her, knowing he doesn’t mean it, she is unsettled by his constant threats that he’s going to leave her. That fear muffles the fire and strength she has inside of her and she can’t display those things around him. Those qualities blaze brightly, though, in her scenes with their sleazy neighbor, Bragg. We get small flashes of the independence she has when she bluntly refuses his advances. But in Bill’s presence her insecurities get the best of her. This does allow Bill to take advantage of her fears to help assuage his fears. While he does love Trina, it’s not until she shows her independence and her ability to share his world that he actually realizes it.

Trina’s weakest and strongest moments come with the revelation of her pregnancy. She confesses it to Bill out of fear and weakness. She tells him he’s going to be a father after another of his speeches about how he might leave at any time. She frantically tells him that no matter where he goes, he’ll always be tied to her. In that moment, the complete terror she feels at the thought of losing Bill brings down her defenses and she is seen at her absolute weakest. Bill leaves, intending to hop a freight train. But he changes his mind, and when he returns he finds Trina shopping for his dinner. In this moment, Trina shows not only that she’s come to know what Bill truly wants, even better than he does, but she begins to stand up for herself. She confesses to Bill her faith in God, when earlier she had told Bill she didn’t believe in “that stuff”. Trina realizes she has the ability to survive on her own, but she also knows that she won’t have to. In typical Borzage fashion, she’s ascended to a higher emotional and spiritual level. Her journey has finished. Now it’s her job to help Bill get there, too.

Bill attemps to rob a toy store to leave money for Trina and the baby so he can take off. The robbery fails, and Bill is shot in the arm. When Trina finds him, she cleans and wraps his wounds, taking care of him physically as she’s always taken care of him emotionally. She realizes what Bill was trying to do, and tells him defiantly that she wouldn’t have taken the money anyway, again showing the strength she has in her convictions. She then stands over him and tells him exactly what he really is – scared. “For a big husky man, you’re awfully scared of a little thing that ain’t even born yet.” She again tells him that she and the baby will be fine on their own if he leaves. But by this point it’s obvious that it’s Bill who won’t be okay without Trina, and now he’s finally realizing it, too. Trina’s helped Bill realize who he is an what he needs.

Bill realizes he can be tied to Trina without being tied down. Trina realizes her home is with Bill, no matter where they are. They escape on the freight train together, counting down the months until the birth of their child. December. “Sort of a Christmas present, huh, Bill?”

By: Katie Richardson

I figured I’d start thing out with my favorite movie…

Year: 1933
Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell, Walter Connolly, Arthur Hohl
Availability: Not on DVD or commercial VHS, but can be found through rare video dealers. Try http://www.robertsvideos.com

Frank Borzage was the master of romance. His films were so much more rewarding than most romances because his characters truly earned their happiness. His very best films were made during the very worst of times, the Great Depression. Mannequin, Bad Girl, and his masterpiece Man’s Castle all stand out as three of the best films made in the 1930s.

In Man’s Castle, Borzage manages to make even such a harsh and awful time seem like a fairytale, and the precedent for that style is set in the very first scene. It’s Central Park at night, filmed in extremely soft focus, giving the scene a romantic and gentle feel, while what’s going on in the scene is anything but. Bill (Spencer Tracy) is sitting on a bench, throwing popcorn to the birds, watching almost apathetically while Trina (Loretta Young) cries to herself because she’s so hungry. The rest of the film works in this same way, turning the most tragic and hopeless of situations into a dreamy fairytale. Borzage creates a the fairy tale not by ignoring the problems of the world around them, but by making them live through these things to earn their happiness. The soft and dreamy feeling makes the film warm throughout, enforcing Borzage’s message that home is about who you’re with, not where you are.

Borzage stresses the connection between Bill and Trina and their isolation from the “rest of the world” early in the film. After they meet in the park, Bill takes Trina to a fancy restaurant, where they’re eventually kicked out because they can’t pay the bill. They follow that by walking the streets of New York. With not enough money to shoot on location, or even afford ectras for the backlot, Borzage used rear projection for this scene, and it only helps to make Trina and Bill stand out from the masses, and emphasize their separation from a happier world.

Not until they get to Bill’s Hooverville home do they mix in with the surroundings. These are the people they belong with. But despite the natually shabby appearance, the squatters village is filmed like a majestic castle. Bill and Trina make their home here, but it’s what that home symblolizes to each of them that drives the story onward. To Bill, home is nothing more than something that ties him to one place, and he constantly tells Trina throughout the film that he’s likely to leave her at any time. To Trina, the home is the one place where she’s finally found stability and something permanent. She refers to it in the film as her safety zone. She tells Bill that he’s free to leave anytime he wants, and even though that though truly does terrify her, she knows that even if Bill leaves, she’ll still have their home.

At first glance, Bill and Trina’s relationship doesn’t seem particularly loving or stable. Bill’s fear of being tied down leads him to ridicule Trina, and Trina’s need for committment and affection leads her to take that ridicule without fighting back. As Bill’s love for Trina grows, so does his restlessness, because he thinks that loving Trina means benig trapped. Bill constantly struggles between keeping himself free and making the woman he loves happy. This shows in his struggle over the stove that Trina wants. At first, he refuses to buy her the stove on the installment plan, knowing that he’d have to stay around for a year just to pay the stove off. Eventually though, he relents. His presentation of the stove to Trina is the most beautiful scene in the film. After a few minutes of gentle bullying and banter, he bring the stove into the house, surprising her. Trina, so overjoyed by the gesture, drops to her knees in front of the stove and dissolves into tears. It’s an awkward moment for Bill, not because of his lack of affection for Trina, but because he has so much for her that seeing her so happy makes him uncomfortable.

The struggle between Bill’s desires – to be free and never tied down, and to be loved and to love someone – continues to drive the plot of the film until the extremely satisfying ending, where Bill discovers that he doesn’t have to have one thing or the other.

By: Katie Richardson

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