Wednesday, June 7

1953 - Random Cinematic Year in Review

A Random Cinematic Year In Review


 By: Emery Martin-Snyder

Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.

1953 saw two major historic events that had and continue to have major cultural ramifications on the artistic and entertainment industries. Both of which, over six decades later, have come to be an accepted standard in the world we live in, for better or worse.

The first event to highlight of 1953 took place on August 12th. This is the date that the U.S.S.R. tested their first thermonuclear device, the JOE-4, a hydrogen bomb. This event effectively added a true and definite Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) aspect to the Cold War. Hydrogen bombs differ from the previously detonated atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki eight years prior because of a bunch of science stuff that essentially translates to way bigger explosions. The combined energy of both devices dropped on Japan in 1945 was approximately 1000 times less than that of our most powerful hydrogen bombs.

Less than a year later, as part of “Operation Castle”, the U.S. would drop Castle Bravo in Bikini Atoll, yielding approximately 2.5 times more energy (and nuclear fallout) than had been expected. The crew of a Japanese fishing boat named Daigo Fukuryū Maru that was in the area would become the world’s first victims of a thermonuclear device, including one fatality of acute radiation syndrome. This turned out to be the inspiration for the greatest cultural distillation of fear in cinematic history… I am of course referring to Ishiro Honda’s GODZILLA (or GOJIRA more specifically.)

Other master auteurs would offer up their cinematic apprehensions regarding nuclear fear in the coming years. Films like Akira Kurosawa’s I LIVE IN FEAR (’55), Stanley Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE (’64) and Andrei Tarkofsky’s THE SACRIFICE (’86) are only a few of the most prolific examples. This is still a very pressing issue today. In fact, just last year cinefiles were treated to a highly underseen update on the cultural reflection of that fear with Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi’s SHIN GODZILLA. This film shows us how little things have changed in the past 63 years… and it does so in beautiful color… I watched it on my TV.

Segue anyone?... If I may lighten the mood a bit, the other significant historical event that happened in 1953 was the FCC’s second iteration of the standard known as the National Television System Committee or NTSC. This newer standard is what allowed for the broadcast of color television. Various processes of filming and projecting a film in color had been around for a long time, as early as 1902 if you count additive coloring systems. But over 50 years later and over 25 years after the invention of the television, there still hadn’t been a system in place to actually broadcast anything that took up more bandwidth than black and white. It would still take about a year before the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade became the first national color broadcast. Slowly but steadily, the medium followed suit and by 1965, half of all prime time programs were broadcast in full color.

So if you’re in your mid 30’s like I am and you remember growing up in the 80’s watching ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney” every Sunday, give the FCC a call and thank them for the NTSC. Or just say it out loud in front of your Smart TV, Amazon Echo, Android device, Apple TV or Kellyanne Conway’s microwave… They’re listening.

Emery's Notable Five

5 – SUMMER WITH MONIKA (Directed by Ingmar Bergman)


This, like most of Bergman’s work begins with a rather capricious and light hearted tone and ends on a far more serious note. By its final credits, you feel as though you have experienced the equivalent of a cinematic gut-punch.

4 – TOKYO STORY (Directed by Yasujiro Ozu)


If you think that you have an aversion to small stake quiet family dramas, you’ve never experienced Ozu. His films are touching and impactful without being tragic or overwrought. His set direction, his shooting style and especially his actor’s composure gives the relationships in this film that perfect ‘lived in’ feeling that a lot of Hollywood dramas lack. To many of his fans, this is his best film. I love it but it’s not my favorite. It is however, a great place to start if you are currently unfamiliar with his work.

3 – UGETSU (Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi)


In a lot of ways, this is a story that is as old as time. It’s a stern warning against the perils of unwarranted ambitions and greed. I like old parables, especially when seen though unique traditional lenses. The storyteller is usually more important than the story. But in this case, I’m kind of a sucker for both.

2 – THE WAGES OF FEAR (Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot)


Nicknamed the French Hitchcock, Clouzot had been sharpening his figurative tension building cinematic teeth for years before he made this film. This is the very definition of a high-concept thriller. Its beauty is in its simplicity, four guys in two trucks full of nitroglycerine drive up a bumpy road. I can’t really articulate why this works so well but it’s one of the most respected pieces of cinema ever and for good reason.

1 – PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (Directed by Samuel Fuller)


This is my favorite Samuel Fuller and that is saying a whole lot. I flat out love a multitude of his flicks. The dialogue in this film is robust to say the least. You will likely find yourself pretending to understand all the jargon in order to make yourself feel cool. That’s what I do. The clear standout in this flick is Thelma Ritter’s Moe, an informant trying to make enough money to for a burial plot. She’s quirky and unique, strong and opinionated… she’s like a manic pixie stool pigeon. I don’t think it’s possible not to fall in love with this film… seriously... Fight me!

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