A Place In The Sun (1951) Directed by George Stevens
After a conference on Gender, Nature and Culture and Rosi Braidotti's inspiring keynote speech on Saturday my response to A Place In The Sun is deeply affected.
This film is a testimony and a criticism of capitalism. It portrays the spiraling effects of love as a commodity, sex as a tool of capture, and money as a killing trap.
Poverty and religion need to be abandoned in the 1950s America for the imagined riches that come through money. In fact, to be included in the definition of humanity necessitates the desire to be well off, to be upper class, ultimately to not be in need of anything. That desire as a motivation for action leads to an ethical dilemma. Ultimately, the society and its system of law which continually constructs the American Dream and feeds this desire, electrocutes a man for desiring. He needs to be excluded from humanity.
Another matter here is the telling of a truth. Or the relativity of any truth. As a viewer of the film I believe to have seen that there was no murder, yet, in the end the convicted main character believes that unrealized desires do in fact make him guilty.
There may be a dream of movement towards the sun, but this film illustrates how the unequal situatedness of people determines their ability to advance on the path.
I could talk of love and sex, abortion, Clift and Elizabeth, but will refrain for now and just say one last thing: the loon.
I've already waxed lyrical on an earlier post about my youthful obsession with Montgomery Clift. I ask myself why I find this film still so enduring and so fascinating.
Could it be the look? As mentioned in the extras, Stevens was a master stylist (or is that just the amazing outfits designed by Edith Head?) Montgomery Clift and a 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor certainly have chemistry and looked good together, which makes the actions of Clift's character George Eastman all the more credible as the film unfolds. It has something to do with old-school glamor for sure.
But I think what still makes A Place In The Sun so irresistible for me is the good old class conflict portrayed, the aspiration, the American Dream going sour, the groundbreaking allusions to pre-marital sex, seeking abortions, Shelly Winters being so convincing as a dowdy factory worker, the electric chair, being Elizabeth Taylor's "pick up", Clift's method before there was method, a steady camera hand mixed with occasional vérité style, that over the shoulder shot, possibly THE romance you can't have. Finally, Clift's white t-shirt/leather jacket combination.
So, is that enough reasons for you to watch this classic?