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“Barefoot in the Park” a Film by Hal Wallis Essay

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Updated: Mar 22nd, 2021

Introduction

For this review, I chose the 1967 American comedy film titled Barefoot in the park. The film was based on a 1963 play by Neil Simon going by the same name. I chose the film because it is a beautiful love story that bears all the hallmarks of a good narrative plot including humor, tragedy, and a happy ending. I grew up in a society that advocates for the institution of marriage, where divorce was frowned upon.

I still uphold the principle that marriage should last until the death of one or both partners and this film by drawing to a close that rules out divorce. I have also found the plot of the film attractive because I can relate to the experiences of the main characters. I understand how difficult it can be for two people with different personalities and upbringings to try and live together in a manner that pleases both parties. Besides the sentimental elements presented above, I also found the development of the plot interesting.

For one to make a good scholarly review of any work of art he must completely understand the work well. I found the direction of the film clean and the story easy to follow. I only watched the film once but even without having to watch the film again, I can accurately describe the sequencing of scenes and how the story progresses from start to finish.

In order to do a proper review of the film, it is imperative that I understand what other scholars have written about it. However, I have tried to do find material on which to shape a critical analysis but I have discovered that very little has been written about both the film and the play. In the instances that I came across it in written works, the film was mentioned only as a reference while discussing other works by Simon or other writers of the time.

For example, in the book Anglo-American interplay in recent drama, the author Ruby Cohn makes mention of the film as she explains that Simon, in his plays, reduced the traditional dramatic effect to contrasting personalities. “In Barefoot in the park, Paul, a conservative attorney, is married to Corie, who enjoys walking in the park like a free-spirited Bohemian,” (Cohn 15).

The play and film have also been remotely mentioned by writers following the careers of the actors and actresses. For example, in the autobiography titled Myrna Loy: the only good girl in Hollywood, the author Emily Leider makes mention of the play, explaining that the play kept Myrna popular through the 1960s. “Despite the turbulence of the Chicago run, the Blackstone Theatre production of Barefoot in the park, enjoyed immense popularity and yielded Myrna a prize, the Sarah Siddons award, presented annually for an outstanding performance in a Chicago theatrical production”, (Leider 299).

With fundamentally no literary work to ground my analysis on, I plan to focus my critical analysis on the cinematographic and narrative elements of the film. In this regard, I will assess the technical elements of the film and the story-flow techniques and try to draw parallels with modern trends of film. In the final presentation, I will provide a summary of the plot before delving into the technical aspects of the review.

The first fight between Paul and Corie shapes the film by providing the ground on which Paul will base his later actions

The first fight between the Bratters was laden with comedic elements but it is the reason why the duo almost broke up as well as why they ultimately came back together. In the scene, we first see the Bratters trying to sleep on their first night in a new apartment. In the scene, Paul and Corie are preparing to go to bed and Corie starts asking Paul why he never loosens up. She says that in stark contrast to her character, Paul always carries himself in a proper and dignified way. Paul, who had already entered the bedroom, comes back seeking to find out why Corie thinks he always carries himself in a proper and dignified manner.

Corie, in retaliation, brings up a number of issues, albeit satirically. For instance, she informs him that before they got married she actually thought he slept in a tie. Undiscerning the satire in the statement, Paul confirms that he only sleeps with a tie-on occasion. Frustrated by his failure to understand her satire, Corie chooses to bring in a more practical example. She reminds him of a time he refused to walk barefoot with her in Washington Square Park.

Paul argues that the temperatures were too low and tries to bring an end to the argument. As he tries to soberly walk out of the argument, Corie draws him back in, indicating that he will not have an easy walk-out from the fight. Paul still insists that he does not see the point of partaking in the argument and eventually settles into sleep. In order for the scene to bring out the desired effect, the cinematic design had to be structured in such a way that it evoked the intended response from the viewer. Below is a complete analysis of the Mise en scène (placement on stage) elements of the scene and how they contributed to the development of the theme.

Set design

The design of the set was consciously arranged in a way that would allow the different shots of the two parties to be easily compiled in a way that will help the viewer follow the story easily as well as estimate the practical distances. Every piece of furniture has been placed in a place that will be practical in relation to the other elements on the set. For instance, the dining set has been tucked away next to a wall in order to allow both characters the space in which to engage each other, further drawing in the viewer to the conversation.

Lighting

The strength and positioning of the light in the scene help shape the mood as well as make the timing of the actions realistic. The light is subtle enough to make the viewer appreciate the fact that the scene is set at night but its focus also helps the viewer maintain attention on the two actors. By this, the viewer is able to relate to the emotions of the characters in a manner that helps him/her later relate the fight with the eventual outcome of the film.

Costume

Paul and Corie are fighting a few minutes before they go to bed. It was, therefore, imperative that for the scene to appear realistic, the costumes of the actors had to work with the other elements on the set to reflect the timing. Corie is in her pajamas while Paul has his shirt slightly unbuttoned indicating that they are planning to go to bed. Having Corie wear pajamas and Paul in work attire also contributes to making the argument by Corie that he is too rigid and always formal sink in even further. The costume planning for this design makes it easy for the customer to picture Paul as a person who would not find walking barefoot in a public park in freezing temperatures interesting while contrasting his character Corie’s. It is on this backdrop of contrast that the director shapes the rest of the film.

Film stock

The filmmakers used a fine grain for the entire shooting. This is because the film is a romantic comedy and would therefore need the viewer to be drawn in by the quality of the picture in order to focus on the development of the story. In the particular scene that has been discussed above, the grain quality was exceptionally fine, allowing the viewer to steer away from the distractions that would have been present had there been some quality challenges to deal with. An introduction to the various shots, the eye quickly identifies the various elements in the rooms and their specific positioning in relation to the main subject. This then allows the viewer to maintain focus on the main character in the shot without having to wander trying the find out what some of the captured elements are.

The film Barefoot in the park is a good reflection of urban living in 1967

1967 has been defined as one of the most historically significant years of film. It is during this year that the filmmakers started making movies that resonated with the culture of the time. Instead of making films that primarily focused on historical events, the cinematographers of the time came up with films which individuals living in urban areas, and those aspiring to live what was considered a modern life could find interesting.

Barefoot in the park was one of such films and it was mainly shaped by events surrounding urban living and how the relationships of the time worked. At the time of the film, urban living had attracted the masses and individuals were making the big migration from rural areas to the towns in search of the elusive white-collar job. In the film, we learn that Paul is an attorney, and because he is just starting his practice, he has to contend with the per-average living standards (Barefoot in the park 23). Paul and his new wife Corie live in a small apartment and to operate on a very tight budget. This was the norm around all urban areas of the time and film does well to represent the events of the time.

Cinematically, the filmmakers used various elements and techniques to help the viewer relate to the time the film was created (Bellour 45). Modern living required that individuals who ascribed to it dressed in a particular way. A shirt and tie look was considered formal like it is today, and individuals who considered themselves professionals were required to stick to this dress code when discharging formal duties. We learn this from the different scenarios that present Paul either coming from or preparing to work. He is always dressed in a sharp manner compared to the other characters in the film such as Victor Velasco.

From the film, we are also made aware of the fact that materialism was rife in the year 1967. When Paul and Corie were looking for a house, they already had set their minds on the particular features and furnishings they would have loved in their house of choice.

When comparing what they find and what some of their neighbors have, the Bratters feel sad for themselves and Corie commits to making the necessary repairs to make their tine apartment more comfortable. However, even with the house refurbished, Paul is not comfortable with the small bedroom, while Corie is always talking about a few things that she could be bought and installed in the house to make their lives more comfortable.

A shift from traditional living to a more contemporary livelihood is also presented as an element of the culture in the United States in 1967. Paul, Corie, Victor, and Ethel go out for a meal and drinks. In order to cut down on costs, Victor suggests that they join him at a restaurant whose owner he knows. They end up drinking as a function of their socialization time. This trend where women could go out to drink with men was a function of modernity and by it being presented in the film it is an indication that it was vastly acceptable at the time. Divorce has also been presented as one of the elements of modern living that were acceptable in the period that the film was shot.

Corie feels that her differences with Paul are enough grounds for demanding that they part ways and she pushes this agenda even at the time when Paul arrived homesickly and needed her support. From historical studies, divorce greatly frowned upon the years leading to the 1950s but from the film, we discover that into the 1960s individuals regarded divorce as the standard way of ending unsatisfactory marriages.

Starting in the 1960s feminism was taking root in the United States, with its foundation being in the urban areas. In the Bratter household, the wife Corie appears to have more authority in the relationship and is the key decision-maker in the family. She is the one that identified the house to which they relocate and does everything in her capacity to make sure that the house is livable. When Corie feels dissatisfied with the relationship, she is the first to express her disappointment and tries to get Paul to sit down and find a proper solution.

Paul does not take her appeal seriously and goes on living life as usual until she makes heightens her push by threatening to divorce him. In the period that Corie is demanding a divorce, she sleeps in the bedroom, while Paul, who should be the man of the house, spends his nights on a sofa in the living room. When it appears like Paul is not responding the way Corie would like, she kicks him out of the house, and in his disappointment, he goes out and does some heavy drinking, which gets him to loosen up.

For Paul to get access to the house, he has to do all the things that Corie wanted him to do, including risking his life while trying to impress her with his new-found don’t-care attitude. Corie ultimately appears as the dominant person in the relationship. This rise of feminism is well portrayed in the film and it presents a revolution that would eventually lead to the passage of legislation that promoted equal opportunity for men and women.

From the different scenes in the film, we are made aware that going to the cinemas was a culture of the time. In the Bratter house, there are a number of film posters on the walls, from the popular films of the time. Society at the time was shaped by artists and with the further development of cinema, they (the artists) had a better platform to showcase their ideologies. For instance, the fashion designers of the time would use the films as a platform to exhibit their products.

Sometimes these creations were too liberal but after they were presented in the film they were easily adopted and became incorporated into society. As a viewer, we are made to believe that some of the demands Corie was making had been shaped by the pop-culture, which at the time was shaped by film and cinema.

The set of the film, particularly the house in which the Batters reside, presents the minimalist decoration trends of the time. In the house, every piece of furniture and decorative element appears to be where it is supposed to be. The arrangement of the items on the set is in such a way that it leaves just enough space for the characters to move and properly interact. In the same period places like hotels only had the necessary installations to make living comfortable and most of them were designed to allow for human interaction. This functionality-purpose of all aspects of living is well presented in the film.

As far as the cinematography of the time is concerned, in 1967, most of the films coming out came out in wide-screen resolutions (Dudley 112). The entire film was shot and edited on wide-screen and this presents the audience with the chance of enjoying the film when viewing it on the huge screens of the cinema halls. 1967 was a landmark year when it came to the development of ‘impact-films’. The viewers wanted productions with which they could relate and Barefoot in the park was one such film.

Conclusion

This essay had set out to show how the film Barefoot in the park, which was made in 1967, responded to its historical moment and preserving the cultural elements of the time. From the film, we are introduced to a number of critical aspects of society and the elements that constituted modern living at the time.

From the discussion and heavy exemplification provided above, it has been clearly illustrated that from the film, we are able to learn that social-cultural elements such as feminism started rising in the period when the film was released. We are also made aware that it is the conduct of men at the time that made women assume the role of head of the family and take charge of decision making in relationships. From the film, we also learn that cinema was a major influence in modern living and this has been explained by citing relevant examples from the film itself.

Works Cited

Barefoot in the park. Ex. Prod. Hal Wallis. United States: Paramount Pictures. 1967. DVD.

Bellour, Raymond. The analysis of film. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000. Print.

Cohn, Ruby. Anglo-American Interplay in Recent Drama. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.

Dudley, Andrew. Concepts in film theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. Print.

Leider, Emily. Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood. University of California Press, 2011. Print.

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