Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Islands in the Stream”

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Unfortunately I’ll be following up my favorite of this week’s mega-Hit Me With Your Best Shot with my least favorite. Islands in the Stream is the most forgotten of 1977’s Best Cinematography Oscar nominees, so I’d been hoping for a surprise that never came. The least visually interesting of the bunch, you kind of wonder if the Academy was just taken with the film’s landscape or if this was the result of some carryover love for Patton with Islands reuniting director Franklin J. Schaffner and director of photography Fred. J. Koenekamp (who won the cinematography Oscar in 1975 for The Towering Inferno).

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Not to be too harsh on the imagery, because some of it is quite lovely. For its sun-bleached shores, there is a remarkable range to the color palate that stirs more connection and intrigue to the material than its construction. Most impressive is the film’s night sequences and the beautifully captured light among the darkness. Koenekamp evokes the faintest glimmer of the soul underneath the text that the film is only fleetingly invested in, even if the composition misses the mark on what could have been a trance-like experience of introspection.

The effect is a film that is never firing on at least half of its narrative cylinders, and as a result some of its more insidious ideas take the spotlight.

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If the film is visually uneven, it comes from a flat interpretation of a text all too interested in antiquated (if unobtrusive) masculinity. It may not be of The Revenant‘s shit-in-the-woods brand, but the film is lazy in its assessment of what should aspire to and what they can be excused from. Like Close Encounters, there are a host of daddy issues, but unlike Spielberg’s film our affections towards the father are never earned by weak excuses. With George C. Scott’s Hudson’s only surface regard for his parental and romantic responsibilities and his sons’ blind faith in his example, consider Islands the kind of macho crap that drives me insane.

However, my Best Shot selection does sneak in some insight of the destructiveness of male expectations…

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The film may not condemn the extremes Hudson’s son goes to in order to earn his affections (it does quite the opposite), but this shot does come as a jolting shock. The suggestion of the scene is that it is noble for him to risk breaking his body to prove his masculinity to his father, made even grosser by the fact that it works. By suddenly shocking the audience with actual blood at least we can question the punishing gender roles for ourselves.

More of Hit Me With Your Best Shot!

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