Friday, 8 October 2021

An education... The Public Prosecutor and the Teacher (1948)/Phil for Short (1919), Le Giornate 40th Edition Streaming, Day Five and Six

Evelyn Greeley has some questions...

If people chose to see wrong and evil in aesthetic beauty then there’s something wrong with them!


Catching up on the last two days of online Giornate, there’s a common thread of judge not let you too be judged or at least read the book not just the cover. Whether it’s Korea in 1945 or the USA in 1919, people are all too willing to think the worst of others based on appearances and it’s only those who look deeper who make themselves and others happier.


Day Five: The Public Prosecutor and the Teacher (1948)

After liberation from Japanese colonial control in August1945, filmmakers in Korea still made silent films with a shortage of equipment meaning that half the films of this period were effectively silent or, in the case of The Public Prosecutor and the Teacher (1948), interpreted by a byeonsa – a more improvisational version of the Japanese benshi, here Sin Chul described by Jay Weissberg, artistic director of Giornate del Cinema Muto, as the last of the great practitioners working up to the 1980s.

Lee Yeong-ae also wants to know the answers

The story feels a little similar to other Korean films I’ve seen from this time but is none-the-less still affecting and well constructed. It’s not a classic but it is not only representative of the cinema of the newly liberated country but also shows the performance ability of the actors. The MVP here is Lee Yeong-ae who plays the titular teacher, Choi Yang-chun, and rightly gets the most screentime. As the school is kind hearted and morally brave, offering help to one of her poor students, Min Jang-son who lives in poverty with his ailing grandmother.

As well as feeding the young man and encouraging his studies, she takes an interest in his home life, helping to keep his greedy landlord at bay as well as feeding his gran. No doubt without her assistance he would be lost and when she suddenly has to leave the school he is distraught until she gives him a savings book and the money to carry on his studies. She leaves without knowing that his grandmother has just died but she has given him a lifeline…

The teacher and the murderer

A decade later she lives with her husband in another part of Seoul and bumps into Su-dong, an acquaintance of Min who is a baker. He tells her that, last he knew, Min had continued his studies and had qualified as a lawyer but that he hadn’t seen him for years. Then Choi meets a young girl who is crying as she has lost her father and once again she looks after the child.

Then a murderer escapes prison and finds his way to Choi’s house when  her husband is away, again she calms herself and tries to help him on the promise he gives himself up after seeing his daughter – the same girl she found in the streets.

After the man is arrested the locals gossip and somehow manage to blame Choi and he returning husband feels shamed and threatens her with a knife only to trip and kill himself. She’s charged with murder and, finally, reunites with Min (Kim Dong-min) this time in his role as a prosecutor….

Kim Dong-min

Such melodramas were very popular in Korea and developed very stylistically to suit local tastes – as everywhere. The story arc is satisfying and Lee Yeong-ae is excellent as the kind of teacher we all need and there’s a constant focus on schoolyards full of the next generation. Education and second chances would be vital over the coming years.

Day Six: Phil for Short (1919) with José Marìa Serralde Ruiz

Oh, my husband’s all right – but he’s not vital.

Talking of education… there’s teachers, schools and disagreeable neighbours in this thoroughly daft but enjoyable film which, despite being censored for being too nice according to Nasty Women curators Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak, also managed to offend Variety who’s reviewer condemned it as a “a sissy play, too nice for our boys; we want them to be manly,” after a local screening attended by a Boy Scout troop in Wilmette, Illinois. What would our Robert Baden-Powell have said? I do hope he saw the film.

Evelyn Greeley and Hugh Thompson

Directed by Oscar Apfel it features a scenario from Clara Beranger – another American woman silent film writer - and Forrest Halsey and is a delightful comedy about old fashioned responses to the ancient ideas of Greek freedoms of movement, thought and free will (gosh). The moral majority base their highground on the old days but they’re completely at a loss in explaining away the really old ways…

But as Maggie and Laura say, it’s not boys but girls who dress up as boys who disrupt the sexual norms in this film, this chiefly being Damophilia Illington – call me Phil for short* – played by the wonderfully energetic Evelyn Greeley.

* Wouldn’t you rather be called Phil than Damn?

Phil’s so-called after a poem by the much misunderstood Sappho (yes, she was…) who as Hennefeld and Horak point out was oft sourced for silent films as part of a general attraction  to Greek literature with the precise hidden depths that the Old Fogey’s object to here. As with “Greek Deployments” by the likes of DeMille, there’s an excuse for under-the-counter meaning and shorter frocks justified in the name of higher art.

This film plays with so many angles and Greeley is wonderfully peppy, hardly pausing for breath justifying her love of Greek movement and expression or deciding on cross-dressing as her own “twin” to escape from her overbearing – would be husband – her late father’s doctor and a man old enough to be her censor.

She meets a classics teacher “woman-hater” John Alden (Hugh Thompson) who is just female phobic, as a boy and then cross-dresses again as his twin Phil… to assist him in connecting with his female students and in the hope of connecting more intimately with him…

It’s not as frankly sexual as say Ossi Oswalda in Lubitsch’s I Don’t Want to be a Man (1918) but it is a surprisingly forward American film and very entertaining too. I’d loved to have been in the audience for a screening in the bible belt circa 1920 0r even 2020…

As with Ossi, Greeley is in control throughout, or at least driving her own agenda in a world full of closed and confused male minds. That’s not “naughty”, it’s liberating!!

They don't stand a chance!!

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