Thursday, October 18, 2007

Themes of Grand Hotel

I often think you can't really get a movie until you watch it twice. I watch pretty much everything twice. The first time, i might be dozing off or not fully paying attention which might be part of the reason, but I pretty much watch everything twice, whether I'm trying to analyze it or just watching it recreationally.

Today I rewatched Grand Hotel, but I've already seen it three times, at least. Grand Hotel is close to my favorite movie of all time. I can't stress how great I think it is. Notice I didn't say "I can't stress how great it is" because it's not really considered to be a great film by everyone. It isn't on either of AFI's lists of 100 top films (although it's on the nominated 400) and it isn't on many other lists either (Film Four, Entertainment Weekly, Premiere Magazine, the LA Times, New York Times, etc.). It did win a best picture Oscar for 1932 so it joins an elite group of about 80 films ever to be named the best picture of its year by the film industry, but as films of the 1930's go, it's still not one of the best remembered (films with a better shelf life from the 1930's include: Swing Time, Top Hat, Trouble in Paradise, Duck Soup, The Blue Angel, It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, Dodsworth, Mutiny on the Bounty, All Quiet on the Western Front, and pretty much every major picture that came out in 1939).

I've also heard criticism that it's not that special of a film, but I really thought it was truly one of the greats, and by clicking on the grand hotel label you can read my review of it.

Some other thoughts after rewatching it this morning on TCM:
-The film being made in the great depression, I started noticing the theme that monetary value permeates everything in life more. For example, Kringeline was upset with his room because it didn't cost enough and not because it wasn't a room of good enough quality. Doesn't that seem a little twisted? He also talks about how his goal was to spend all his money and seemed to have infinite amounts of it. Even if i was going to die soon, I wouldn't want to waste my money frivolously.

Mrs. Phlegm also was noticeably unable to live without money, not only in the symbolic but in the literal sense. She was, at first, unable to accept a date from the Baron because she didn't eat more than one meal a day. That's gotta be tough.

In this light, the Kringeline-Phlegm pairing has a complimentary nature to it: Someone with an urge to gives away his money vs someone with the most noblest of needs to have money (needing to eat). In other words, it's surely as much of an economic transaction as it is one of loneliness/friendship/romance (I'm honestly not sure what category that relationship falls in) and I think as unromantic as the ending seemed to a modern-day audience, it might have seemed more realistic to audiences in the Depression.

In an extremely sharp contrast, the Baron does not live with constant concern over whether he has money. He is mostly concerned with appearing that he has it, and it's only when he's exposed as "not a baron" that he breaks down into humiliation.

I also wonder if the story might be some allegory about Heaven or the Tower of Babel (and not the part of the story about different languages but about how man tried to build a tower tall enough to reach Heaven). Five reasons why:
1) The shots at the top of the characters on the balcony outside their hotel rooms portray this extreme, otherworldly height. It's like their an uncountable number of floors over the lobby.
2) It's called "Grand Hotel" and not a specific hotel. Just a clue that it's supposed to be metaphorical
3) I remember hearing in history class about how missionaries taught the natives of indigenous cultures in Africa about the bible so they could enforce subjugation. The idea was that you worked hard and endured subjugation by the Europeans and you'd be rewarded in the after life for it. That sounds similar to Kringeline's story arc. He toiled to his death in Prising's factory and got to meet him in status in the afterlife. If the film is based around class, Kringeline got to talk with "The baron" and be in a higher class.
4) Another reason that the Hotel symbolizes Heaven is that Prising is eventually exiled from it. When Prising who originally considers himself a "solid family man" makes an immoral business decision, it's his fall from grace. Of course, murdering could also do that too.
5) Greta Garbo's character was like an Angel. She physically was dressed like one and she had this aura of mystery surrounding her. She was rarely present in her room and when she appeared, her beauty suddenly converted the Baron from evil to good like an angelic vision.