This year's Mill Valley Film Festival features a cornucopia of new films to be savored and enjoyed by the rabid movie going public, but two of the best films at the festival this year are classic pieces of cinematic history that chronicle that most difficult of times, childhood.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" was director Elia Kazan's first feature, and predated his more famous works like "On the Waterfront" and "A Streecar Named Desire". Kazan brought life to a rather drab tale of a young girl named Francie Nolan and her struggle to overcome the poverty and frustrations of her family life in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. Peggy Ann Garner won an Oscar for her role, and she carries the movie, conveying the tragedy of her existence with long, dreamy stares into space that have been emulated by young actresses ever since.
Despite some dated moments, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is filled to the brim with atmosphere: the grimy streets of the Brooklyn slums are brought to life, with all the requisite newsboys, laundry-hanging housewives, and racial immigrants coming together to create a morose, melancholy environment that practically defines the term "tear-jerker".
Dr. Seuss is about as far away from that as is possible, and he co-wrote another festival revival, "The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr. T", one of the strangest, weirdest, coolest movies I've ever seen. Get this: little Tommy Rettig hates playing the piano, no matter what his Mom says. His piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker, is a sadistic mastermind, obsessed with the piano and all it stands for. Tommy rebels against Terwilliker, and the fun begins. Tommy runs through a surrealistic nightmare as he races the clock to save his Mom from the evil clutches of Dr. Terwilliker. Anyone who was forced to sit through piano lessons as a kid will probably appreciate this movie, but practically everyone will love the incredible set design. Long, intimidating staircases built out of piano keys are oppressively presented. Groups of pudgy tough guys chase after Tommy. Tommy gets to wear a really cool hat with a big hand sticking out of the top. What else could any big or little kid ask for? The Mill Valley Film Festival runs through October 15, and you can call them at (415) 383-5246. If you can't make the festival, check these two movies out on video, they're well worth the time.
Copyright 1995 John A. Lavin
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