Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair: South Pacific (1958)

I know I have been dropping words like sumptuous, lush and lavish in my descriptions of the musicals I have been watching over the past month and in most of the instances it has been more than a deserved attribute within the larger film, often serving as one of many factors in the escapist cinema and its varied mise-en-scenes.  However, now having seen the absolutely stunning South Pacific I am rather certain that this is the singular example of use of Technicolor within cinema, as not only does it manage to use it to draw attention to the vivid landscape on which the narrative is set, but it also uses the various dyes individually to set a mood for the space of the island in a vibrant and wholly different way.  South Pacific, itself, is not the most moving or stirring of musicals by a long shot, indeed, proving a bit on the dated side throughout and as heteronormative as things come in terms of musicals, yet this factor of visual aesthetics proves to be the most rewarding element carrying the viewer throughout its admittedly exhaustive runtime, looking and feeling more like a western than a musical per se.  Yet, one must remember that this is a Rodgers and Hammerstein production so runtime is a bit more in line, pulling from grand musical numbers and reprises of these numbers as a means to create narrative flow and an evocation of sentiment.  Complete with a overture and intermission theme, this is about as dedicated to a musical recreating its staged look as one can find and while it does not always translate to enjoyable cinema, South Pacific must be acknowledged for its integral approach in moving between the language of film musical and theatrical musical, taking risks that do occasionally pay of in magnificent ways, whether it be the absolutely perfected use of lighting throughout the film to give it a saturated almost humid feeling that is in line with the island or the fact that the performances often break the fourth wall as if to draw attention to the performative elements at play in the genre.

South Pacific is a rather expansive plot considering its lengthy runtime, although much of the narrative is centered on the space of a Word War II military base in a nondescript location in the South Pacific.  The film focuses primarily on the going-ons of Army nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) an idealistic young woman who takes great pride in her serving her country, but has also come under questioning for her relationship with a French exile named Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi) who is under the watchful eye of the American government for his having killed a man prior to his coming to the South Pacific.  Meanwhile, other members of the military located on the island are doing their best to convince locale native and trading pro Bloody Mary (Jaunita Hill) to allow them access to the island of Bali Ha'i a place that is off limits as sanctioned by the American government.  The understanding that Bali Ha'i is such a lush and untampered place drives many of the men into a blind ambition to navigate the space, most notably Lieutenant Joseph Cable (John Kerr) who is eventually able to make it to the island and meet with a young woman named Liat (France Nuyen) who he becomes romantically involved with, immediately discovering that she is the daughter of Bloody Mary thus leading to their being confirmed as man and wife.  As the narrative unwinds the relationship between Nellie and Emile is complicated by a variety of factors, whether it be Nellie's hesitation to embrace a relationship with the ex-patriate due to his mysterious past, or Emile's own concerns about the lasting possibilities he could possess for a young up-and-coming woman while he is a lowly farmer that also happens to have children from a previous marriage.  After failing to "spy" on Emile for the government, Nellie asserts that he is not as terrible as her higher ups assume and he is recruited to help with a campaign in the area.  After a notedly troublesome engagement with the Axis, Nellie assumes Emile to be lost, thus taking it upon herself to raise his children.  In the final moments of the musical, much to her surprise Emile returns and the two set down to dinner in a new tropical family scape.

Post-colonialism.  Perhaps the most complex and theoretically dense of all the post-modern theories.  However, it is deservedly so, because the mass subjugation of person's based on skin color and economic variants from their mostly western counterparts is problematic and frankly outright absurd. While South Pacific is not the most clear-eyed and well-intentioned consideration of issues of colonization, it becomes bluntly apparent within the opening moments of the film that this is its primary concern.  The setting is perhaps the most obvious element of this, both in the fact that much of it is a recreation of the American space through the GI's using an island as their own personal rec center, complete with a bar and various leisures.  The notion that the American military could move into a space and essentially set up shop is wildy problematic, but a reality in terms of what overseas stations have become, particularly in non-Western countries.  The addition of Emile to the mixture ply makes the narrative that much more complex and decidedly on the side of problematic.  Of course, individuals like Bloody Mary and some of the other locals represent a knowing opposition to this colonizer, particularly in their methodologies for exploiting the various lieutenants and higher ups for money and goods, in exchange for trinkets and non-value items.  This is a literal reverse for what many were doing to Native Americans during westward expansion.  The film does become troubling when all of this is set up in the kaleidoscopic lens of the the Technicolor adding a degree of magical realism to what were, undoubtedly, real issues during American occupation of the South Pacific.  If one needs examples they can certainly consider the occupation of spaces like The Philippines or Tonga, where this film allegedly takes place.  This hyper stylizing is most evident in Cable's sexual encounter with Liat, one that is so stylized and predicated by a heavy filtering of the camera, as to make the entire event seem impressionistic.  Yet immediately following the consummation of their relationship the image of islanders working, moves into a bizarre blue green contrast that suggests an uncertainty, something that helps to ground the inherent problems in such an act as colonization.

Key Scene:  When Nellie sings directly into camera it is paired with the noted Technicolor fade framing and it seems as though the very film itself has fixated on a singular voice.  It is truly fascinating.

Unless you are a person fascinated by the historical evolution of color in cinema, South Pacific is a rental type of film.

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