On a Saturday afternoon, in late November or December, 1968, my father took me to Edmonton’s Varscona theater on the corner of 109th Street and Whyte Avenue to watch a newly created film version of a Dickens’ novel he knew well; my father took me to watch Oliver! In the film, I encountered a boy a little older than me, Oliver Twist, as he moved forward into the world without parents, moving from workhouse to funeral home and on into more (or less) corrupt hands (depending on your point of view), navigating by strength of character and goodwill through mishaps, misdeeds, abuse and neglect. Innocence and seeing the world with first eyes are key aspects in this narrative’s presentation, a child acclimating to what the world is about – good and bad.
Safety and what is right are elements of Life that Oliver perceives purely on the basis of tone. Highlighted in the novel is affectation of tone, tone used to achieve an end. Here, Oliver responds to the warmth and apparent sincerity in the charm and charisma proffered by Fagin (sly, cunning con artist) and Master Charlie Bates a.k.a. the Artful Dodger (Fagin protégé, pickpocket and derisively referred to as Master Bates). Their tone and apparent sincerity lead only so far before innocent and perhaps earnest discussion of what’s at play (picking pockets) draws both accountability and deflection of impropriety into/from the situation.
Key among things recalled from watching Oliver! at age seven is how light is used to convey tone and mood. Street scenes in the film occur when light is mistrusted as its intensity diminishes and as color and tone deepen and broaden, enhancing mood. Evening light, the cusp of sunlight declining into sunset, drawing day into night, is much of what the street scenes in Oliver are about. Perhaps director, Carol Reed, draws out broad visual metaphor, here, light’s transition into dark – wholesome Life moving to an arena of growing corruption, of that which is underhanded and unable to be truly ‘seen’. What stays with me after these forty-three odd years is the role that light’s intensity plays in establishing mood; the movie Oliver has had me attending to the tone, colour and atmosphere of winter street scenes as shadows lengthen, sunlight diminishes and we move through that range of colour taking us from day into night. Most often I’ll recognize this same tone driving west on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue, close to Christmas as the sun draws toward the horizon … the mood is the same. The colours, light, tone and mood found in this December photograph of Edmonton’s High Level bridge are those you’ll find in Oliver!
Listening to Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain from her 21 album; other songs of the day include U2’s Bad from The Unforgettable Fire and Coldplay’s God Put a Smile Upon Your Face from their album A Rush of Blood to the Head. In the past few days Jack White and The White Stripes have featured in my listening – 300 M.P.H Torrential Outpour Blues (Live) from Under Great White Northern Lights (Live Canadian Tour). The Verve’s Lucky Man from the Urban Hymns album and U2’s Love and Peace or Else from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb have also been there.
Quote to Inspire – “People think that all cameramen do is point the camera at things, but it’s a heck of a lot more complicated than that!” – Larry in Groundhog Day