Something Wild (1961 dir. Jack Garfen)

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Sandra’s Verdict

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I attended a small screening of Something Wild with the director, Jack Garfen, at the Renoir in Bloomsbury last week and was fortunate enough to listen to him introduce the film and be able to question him about the film’s themes and depictions after the feature.

Carroll Baker, Garfen’s wife at the time of filming, plays the 17-year-old protagonist Mary Anne in this formerly banned film with delicacy and agression. Although her character is raped early on in the film she remains immaculate and sophisticated (not a hair out-of-place) as she then goes through poverty, self-destruction and captivity. Having kept ‘what has happened’ a secret she leaves her parental home and prematurely moves into the adult world of Manhattan’s rougher quarter. During the course of the film she seems to tumble-down a rabbit hole, marching, floating and stumbling, she passes through various locations without finding peace and leads herself to the edge of Manhattan Bridge where she is pulled, ‘saved’ and captured by Mike (Ralph Meeker).

We are then taken through a series of scenes where Mike having failed to win her over with milk, bread and steak keeps her locked in his one-roomed basement flat. After a series of fracases, during which Mary Ann kicks out at her strangle holds and Mike attempts to show his admiration, though flawed and dependent, she is finally to reach an equilibrium again via Broadway and Central Park. It is unfortunate then that she returns to Mike’s needy embrace.

The craftsmanship of Something Wild is excellent from the script to set design to lighting. Nevertheless I could not understand why after being freed Mary Ann would return to wed her captor and I posed this question to Garfen at the end of the screening. Garfen of course defended his ending and talked of the praise that the film had got from some feminists because of the strong female protagonist. His interviewer pointed out that feminists, who argued that she was not truly liberated because she returned to her captor and thus suffered Stockholm syndrome, were missing the point.

The film according to Garfen dealt with a lot of issues that were in his subconscious at the time of making it, such as his having survived a Dachau concentration camp in Nazi Germany whilst his Jewish family were killed, his relationships and his emigration to New York. Garfen identied with Mary Ann having also been in captivity and consequentially unable to accept love from the women he had been involved with. This is an interesting comparison but I think it is important to accept that although Garfen attempts to give the film a romantic ending with Mary Ann being married and reunited with her mother, this seems hurried and unconvincing as she seems to have resolved everything over the course of a few months.

I enjoyed this film and accept that in its context it was a challenging film for audiences to watch; however I cannot help but feel disappointed by the backtracking at the end. I would have preferred it if May Ann had liberated herself and moved forward toward an alternative future rather than meet the expectations of marriage, children, and bondage.

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