Plotlines #4: Rags to Riches

We’ve got a double bill of rags-to-riches films this month! Showing two wonderful films, “Midnight Cowboy” and “All About Eve.”

We’ll be saying more about this theme in the next couple of weeks but here are some preliminary musings…

The rags to riches story is one of the classics of cinema, taking various different forms – from the unexpected (“Shallow Grave”, “Slumdog Millionaire”) to the long-awaited and planned (“Kind Hearts and Coronets”, “Rocky”, “My Fair Lady”). Sometimes the protagonist really is in rags (see Charlie Chaplin’s early films, often featuring his Tramp persona) and sometimes the scenario is more subtle (“All About Eve”, ) – but whatever the case, the story typically tracks their progress from failure, lack of acknowledgement or downright poverty to ultimate success and realisation of their dream. Sometimes the riches are more to do with recognition and following one’s dream than actual wealth. It’s a theme most of us can relate to, especially as the story is often told from the point of view of an underdog, someone whose situation touches us – though not always.

Probably the two most brilliant recent examples of the genre are Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There will be Blood” and Jaques Audiard’s “A Prophet”, and although we are led to sympathise with the heroes at first, gradually their actions become more and more extreme or repellent until it is almost impossible to identify with them in the same way.

There’s a really interesting strand of anti hero in the rags to riches genre – often a male hustler or unscrupulous go-getter. Sometimes the bad guy gets all the breaks. Think of the Alan Alda character in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanours” who goes on to a bright future after killing his mistress and not getting his expected come-uppance. Or the Kirk Douglas character in “The Bad and the Beautiful”, serially sabotaging his closest relationships in order to make his movies. And of course, Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in “The Godfather”, possibly the most perfectly illustrated rake’s progress of them all.

We’ll be considering the female angle later with “All About Eve”, but in the meantime, our next screening will be “Midnight Cowboy” which follows two hustlers on their quest for stardom and success via the bright lights of New York City. Not strictly bad guys, but not immediately sympathetic either, and yet we come to feel huge empathy for their situation and their quest. Do they find what they’re looking for? Do rags become riches? Come and see both films for yourself and as always, we welcome your thoughts on the subject…




2 Comments Add yours

  1. MikeS says:

    Well writ , sorry too far away to attend , a double feature…Mike

  2. Maybe we could Skype a film night over to New Zealand????

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