Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Way We Were

Lowdown: A thorough look at the relationship of two very different people over many years.
Watching The Way We Were is like going back through time on a journey to see the way films were. Directed by the recently deceased Sydney Pollack and starring Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford, this 1973 film covers an interesting historical era as its subject matter but is also a mirror to an era gone by as far as movie making is concerned.
The plot follows the two hero characters over a significant portion of their lives, focusing and linearly progressing from one specific time to another. We start off with our heroes in a prestigious college, 1937: she is an outspoken and very ideologically motivated communist that is marginalized for her opinions; he is a popular dude that is good in sports and successful in everything he touches, girls included. She is attracted to him but is also offended when his story gets the nod from their professor and not hers.
Next we meet our heroes during the earlier part of the USA’s engagement in World War 2. She does radio skits, he is a navy officer, and romance beckons. By the time we meet them again, towards the end of the war, they are a couple; but friction is looming as Streisand’s ideological stances cannot give way to Redford’s pragmatic approach. We continue with them through the years as Redford becomes a proper author and then moves to Hollywood to help his book become a film, communists are hunted down by the administration, and the couple becomes pregnant. Through the conflict between the two’s approach and the events that shape their lives the prevailing notion is that people and things don't change much.
As films go, The Way We Were is pretty slow and subtle. It does not feature fast editing and the camera is quite stable; instead it relies on the power of its characters and its actors to develop a presence we can identify with through the short glimpses we get at them. Thus, while the plot is far from the most riveting ever, The Way We Were offers a moving experience.
Yet as I have already said, the main ace up The Way We Were’s sleeve is its blast from the past factor. I’m not talking about shots of New York looking not unlike the way it looked to me as a curious child back when I first visited it, but mainly the difference between the subtle ways in which The Way We Were is made and The Way We Were moves when compared to contemporary cinema. We have been trained to accept nothing less than constant stimulation, but natural life is not like that and cinema shouldn’t be like that; yet most of what we watch is like that, usually through artificial means. Watching The Way We Were made me mourn the world of cinema and what has become of it. Yet, to be completely honest, I was occasionally also craving the stimulus I am so used as I found myself wishing The Way We Were got a move on.
Best scene: Streisand shares her bed with a very tired Redford in a scene that starts as a comedy but ends up supposedly erotic. Supposedly, because by today’s standards of titillation it as is exciting as reading a women’s magazine.
Technical assessment:
Having watched this one on our PVR, after ABC2 has had it on air, I can’t comment much about the presentation’s technical qualities.
What I can say, though, is that according to its credits The Way We Were was shot in Panavision, which generally implies a 2.35 to 1 aspect ratio. Displayed on our 1.78 to 1 screen (falsely sold as widescreen to most people), the film displayed some gross panning & scanning effects that were truly distracting. An example includes a scene in which Streisand is in her college class listening to her professor who just gets cropped off the screen even though he was obviously supposed to be there. In another scene, Streisand is having a conversation with Redford’s nose (the only bit of Redford that managed to get in the frame).
This should no longer be the case. I have hated panning & scanning even when I was watching laserdiscs on a 20” TV, always opting for the version featuring the original aspect ratio. With big screens now being the rule rather than the exception, there is absolutely no reason for this habit to continue.
Overall: Not the most interesting film ever, but a film that did make me reminisce about the days when films were made the way they should have been made and not the way the studio thought they would sell better. The Way We Were is a 3 stars film, but when compared to contemporary material it gets an edge that gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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