Tag Archives: American History

TV Review: The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age is a significant period in American history that began in the 1870s and lasted until the 1890s. This period is considered the golden age of industrialization and rapid growth in the American economy. This era witnessed the birth of many business giants, important inventions, and the rise of many wealthiest families. This was also the period of the shifting of wealthy generations where the old and new families were struggling to join the rank of elites and high societies. Julian Fellowes‘ latest creation is based on that struggle.

The HBO drama focuses on two rich families. The old money van Rhijn-Brook family and the new money Russell family. The latter is inspired by the real-life Vanderbilts who once were the-then wealthiest family in the United States. A sense of rivalry exists when the race of joining the elite ignites within the society and during all this hullabaloo, young Marian Brook became a lively figure between the two families when she moves from Pennsylvania to New York to live with her estranged aunts.

As true to the aristocratic nature and Julian Fellowes accurately admitting, The Gilded Age is the American Downton Abbey or shall I say, the American answer to Downton Abbey that was also created by Fellowes. Not sure if I must suggest that the dramas written by Fellowes are for rich people but there is no harm in developing an interest in dramas about the noble or upper-class lifestyle that proudly displays a fine exhibition of the aristocracy.

The show has taken good care of small accuracies and being a period drama, the costume and the production design are just marvelous. There is a scene, I think in the pilot or the second episode when the party host announces that she will organize a card game of Cinch. I found the name interesting so I googled it and I discovered that Cinch, which is also known as High Five, was the game that developed in Denver, Colorado in the same timeline where this drama is shot.

Downton Abbey fans are in for a treat as the music score, powerful dialogues and direction reminds you of the Downton Abbey show. Not only that, many characters of The Gilded Age will make the audience recall some Downton Abbey characters. The biggest one is Lady Agnes van Rhijn whose quick-witted one-liners will make you remember Lady Violet in Downton Abbey. Then there is Mr. Bannister, the butler who holds the same commands as Mr. Carson. The young chemistry of Jack and Bridget in the servant class is similar to Daisy and Alfred in Downton Abbey.

But one aspect where The Gilded Age edges over Downton Abbey is the representation of the Blacks. Downton Abbey have extremely shorter and limited roles but The Gilded Age has quite a take on the lives of African Americans. And their representation is the most different from most of the shows that are doing a favor to diversity. The show is giving its audience a sharp look at the certain existence of ‘elite’ African Americans which is quite disappearing from the script pages when we watch a historical drama where the Black Americans are mostly portrayed as slaves. One guarantee of trusting the Black representation is accurate is hiring Erica Armstrong Dunbar who is a Rutgers University history professor who specializes in Black American women of the 18th and 19th centuries, as a historical consultant.

The audience must also remember that this show is taking place in New York in 1882 which is around 17 years after Lincoln‘s historic Emancipation Proclamation, the ratification of the US constitution’s 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. So yes, the presentation is accurate, and more than that, the show still threw the shades of racial segregation and portrayed them as some second-grade citizens. Because this was still a fresh struggle for recognition.

Lady Agnes’ son Oscar is shown as bisexual and the flow of the characterization clearly proved that making him bisexual looked terribly forced. His being in relation to John has nothing to do with the story but just wanted the audience to recognize that LGBTQ+ existed in those times. And forced portrayals have this very problem in the films and tv shows that the writing and the direction of such chemistries do not come up with some genuine addressing.

Many of the cast have given fair performances but I will pick both the leading ladies Christine Baranski and Carrie Coon as Lady Agnes and Bertha Russell who gave top performances. Stage actress Louisa Jacobson, Meryl Streep‘s daughter, was first-rate and will take time to learn a lot since this is the beginning of her career. She made a television debut in such a bigger project.

Just like Downton Abbey, the show will be covering a lot of historical events and present portrayals of famous American people like the first season managed to do on a few occasions. For example, Linda Emond as Clara Barton who was the founder of the American Red Cross, and Ashlie Atkinson as Mamie Fish who was a lavish party-throwing socialite. There is a scene where Thomas Edison lights up the New York Times building, a historic moment in New York city’s history that is a real incident with few
changes for the dramatic effect. It was a mesmerizing shot to end one of the episodes and give the real incident its due respect to define the best moments of the Gilded Age.

The Gilded Age is a spectacular portrayal of elite American history. Those who are enthusiastic about period dramas will surely love watching this. I am believing that The Gilded Age is definitely increasing its fanbase, especially amongst the Downton Abbey loyalists. The story has a lot of potential to stretch the drama to at least five seasons.

Film Review: Spider Baby (1967)

The Merrye family suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Merrye Syndrome that causes mental, physical, and emotional regression. After the death of the family patriarch, the family chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) looks after his children and tolerates the brutality and madness of the three Merrye siblings; spider-obsessed Virginia (Jill Banner), Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), and Ralph (Sid Haig). But protecting them from the heinous crimes becomes almost impossible when the relatives of the building owner arrive with their lawyer and secretary to claim the ownership.

There was a time for the spooky and horror films that achieved cult status in Hollywood and Europe in the 1960s followed by Giallo films of Italy in the same decade until the late 1970s. This was a special wave created by some innovative filmmakers who believed in setting trends of the genre.

Two prime examples to make my point is Robert Aldrich‘s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho. But those films were directional classics of the genre and their production budgets were around $1 million. This Spider Baby was a low-budget film with a production investment of hardly $60-70 thousand. Maybe the reason is that director Jack Hill was making exploitation films in those times and this kind of film had a relatively low budget because, from the business point of view, they were never able to compete with the biggies of those times.

Spider Baby’s accomplishment is the presentation of the elements of black comedy and horror. The story itself was unique for the audience. Plus the actors of that syndrome did a lot of justice with their crazy portrayals. I was completely sold at the beginning scene where Virginia suddenly arrives in the room with two butcher knives and a rope which she calls her ‘web’ and brutally kills the visitor. The camera work and Jill’s body language were phenomenal. So was the main theme of the film that gives you a very exciting gothic feeling.

How good is it? Well, it definitely is not a masterpiece due to the low budget but an easy visit to the spooky genre for entertainment. Spider Baby will be remembered for its story and horror elements.

Ratings: 5/10

Film Review: Passing (2021)

I swear I never knew the word ‘Passing‘ has a racial meaning and that is unsurprisingly connected to American history. Passing is a term that is used for light-skinned Black Americans who can assimilate into the White majority or in other words, they are accepted or perceived as ‘White’.

This film is based on Nella Larsen‘s 1929 novel ‘Passing‘ about two light-skinned Black American friends who meet each other after a long time in the Harlem neighborhood of New York in the 1920s. Irene (Tessa Thompson) is married to a Black doctor while her friend Clare (Ruth Negga) has passed as ‘White’ and is married to a wealthy white man John (Alexander Skarsgård) who ranks and regards Black people low. Clare rediscovers the truthfulness of life in Irene and tries to gather more with her friend until she ‘pass’ out.

The film is slow-burn but the emotional application is more burning on Clare’s side. The revelation and denial are shocking as it looks disturbing when Clare agrees with John that she is white. Although it is dramatic, the story is executed in the right direction so that the audience gets to feel how difficult it was for a Black to be accepted in a society most of the Whites more than a hundred years ago.

Passing is a technical brilliance with a delicate sense of crafting of the screenplay and direction. The subject was given its piece of thoughtful tribute to that generation who were divided in color concentration. Thompson and Negga were brilliant, especially the latter made us feel heartbroken with her remarkable body language. I am surprised Passing got not a single Oscar nomination. At least Negga deserved the nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Ratings: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Birth Of A Nation (2016)

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The Birth Of A Nation is a salvage of the fates of Black American community in the chapters of slavery from the American history. The Birth Of A Nation is the reminder of the bondages, brutalities and the tortures, and the vengeance which falls rebel to them and deaf to the manipulated ears.

This perhaps is the second black slavery film in last few years (the other being Twelve Years A Slave). But my honest opinion is that this not only betters Twelve Years A Slave but in my opinion is ‘perhaps’ the best film of 2016 so far.

The darkest of the subjectivity is the naked eyes of Nat Turner witnessing the cry of freedom in despair whose soul is imprisoned and the least the poor slave can do is drop or hold some tears, the scenes are heart-shattering but remarkable picturising. Another object of protest is the use of the Bible among the whites and the blacks. The understanding of the holy book playing the cruel game of offending the slaves; and the rage and revenge committed through the read has a severe impact.

With all the cruelty in the display, the film missed the tricky part of not showing the rape scene of Nat’s wife. The brutal beating which began a birth of the rebellion in Nat’s heart was much of a demand which secluded the luxury of the torture to be like icing on the cake but missed.

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The violence of the revolt was the arrival of omen on the establishment; as per the records in the history books, the black rebels even went on to kill white women and children but fair enough to limit the graphic violence. If the excellence of filmmaking had enough potential to grow on the viewers, the last attack on Jerusalem gives you the best Oh Boy! moment with a highly impressive camera work. This ultimate face-off is another ingredient of the artistry in the making of this film. Conclusions are painful but the final 15-minutes especially the fate of Nat Turner are jaw-dropping technical finishers.

I would like to pass my huge compliments to Nate Parker for this very important project for which he wrote the screenplay and directed to the utmost effort. Also did he finance the film and played the titular role of Nat Turner. All the performances were appealing; camera work and film editing were far superior.

Keeping the controversy that bombed their box office result aside, The Birth Of A Nation is a spectacular film enriched with the most dynamic presentation of pain and loss dreaming towards the freedom in agony. It is a cinematic brilliance.

Rating: 9.2/10

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