Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Giant (1956)

Texan Rock

With Oscar season filling most film blogs with contemporaneous chit chat about who will and who won’t, how about a return to a film that already grabbed one of those prized golden figurines – enter Giant.

Giant is a film of truly gigantic proportions, running in at just over 200 minutes. It’s fair to say you should probably mentally and physically limber up before nose-diving into this one. Set in the 40s Giant follows the life of wealthy ranch owner Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict Jr. played by the broad shouldered Rock Hudson. After investigating into the prowess of a prize winning stallion, Hudson soon falls smitten to the lustful and boisterous charm of Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor). Taylor’s frank objectivity and un-abashed directness equate with the un-tameable stallion that Hudson is so taken with. Their relationship, then, undoubtedly rests upon Hudson’s admiration for all things feisty.

But to call Taylor’s character feisty is somewhat facetious. Taylor soon reciprocates Hudson’s forward affections and after just twenty somewhat minutes has packed her bags and said sayonara to Maryland and moved on down to buck up with Hudson on his home turf at Reata Ranch, Texas. Taylor’s mollycoddled ways are soon put to the test by the intrusive figure of Hudson’s sister and co-ranch owner Luz Benedict. It is in Taylor’s aspirations and endeavours for equal status that she asserts her domineering and authoritative characteristics, first confronting the issue of stay-at-home house wife and then taking on some of the broader issues of sexual inequality that are endemic of the Texan tradition.

Along with Taylor and Hudson is the unforgettable appearance of James Dean in his last role, sadly dying before the film’s release. Dean inhabits the role of misunderstood isolation symptomatic of a society predicated on inclusion and exclusion, of roles and functions and archetypical expectations. Dean’s lonely existence descends into total remoteness after the passing of his only acquaintance Luz. Subsequently however, Luz’s’ will and testimony provides Dean with a small allotment on Reata Ranch. Hudson’s strategic negotiating to relieve him of this small area of land is refused by Dean claiming that, like Luz, he too “is a little sentimental”. Dean’s procurement of this area of land suitably titled “Little Reata” is later rewarded when his fracking efforts expose vast quantities of un-harvested oil and he is propelled into a lucrative reality as an oil tycoon.

The film details a myriad of intricate narrative sub-plots that each in turn look at confronting and exposing social stigmatisation, ultimately with Hudson’s character presented as the dominant force of obstinate tradition, blighted by the new generation sowing the seeds of universal equality. Hudson’s archaic ways are not only threatened by liberal optimism as the landscape, un-changed for generations, slowly becomes subjected to the inevitable alterations by Dean’s growing industry; modernisation dominates both the landscape of nature as well as society.

Causing much controversy with its leftist agenda, Giant has earned its place among film history as an investigative venture and exposition into the modes of segregation in the south that demarcate and define the roles of certain individuals. Like most George Stevens films there is an uncompromising nudge as to the social realities of the ‘American Dream’. Retrospectively, the film’s ambition is somewhat obscured by the sheer monumental length and its involvement with social taboos often appears contrived and unrealistic as characters neatly fit into broader stereotypes of misogynist; liberalist; outcast; etc. And though Dean’s presence is memorable, I certainly disagree with the seemingly universal concession that Giant is all about his charisma.

Giant’s epic epic-ness then, provides glimmers of momentary splendour. But ultimately if a deep-south-cattle-ranch-social-expose is on your agenda I would thoroughly recommend creeping past the Giant and settling on Martin Ritt’s Hud.    

Josh Pomorski                    

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