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Come Back Shane!




Some positive critical reviews of old (ancient, I should say) movies make you want to see them again just to find out who was really great, we the viewers or they, the movie makers? But such are good movies and also, more often than not, you get obsessed about origins for great art other than its very essence.
Searching for resources to write a review about this oldtimer movie called Shane had taken me longer than I thought because I was really baffled by how some critics exaggerated in describing this movie as either the best or one of the best cowboy or western movies. It was ranked third in the best ten western movies ever.
I must admit that I liked none of the actors in this movie. In simple terms Alan Ladd and Jack Palance were notcredibly notable as actors. But wait! These were my views when I was the age of Brandon de Wilde and when I watched him, I immediately got uncomfortable that this lad was going to be a glorious star! 
The reason for me to want to write about this movie is that it inspired one memorable Sudanese short story writer to develop his brief but fully-packed thematic (read heroic) depiction of some moments of the early fifties or late colonial African reality. 
Ali Elmak*, a westernized intellectual who was genuinely fond of indigenous aesthetics, could actually relate to the mysterious and almost mythical world of perceived values and cultural interpretations derived from the workings of cinema as a popular medium and also relate to how it affected African tastes and preferences. Cinema was able to link, in a somewhat positive way, the visions of the vastly illiterate African movie-goers with broader, better-voiced world views. The Slogan-ism of the fifties and sixties in Africa was not entirely bad, particularly for artists and literary writers. Elmak derived his literary prowess not from unthought of plots or esoteric and self-aggrandizing fabrications, but from the current; the here and now of everyday living. I must add that Elmak was not employing the medium of cinema but rather he and cinema were actually allies in the emancipatory endeavors by the culturally apt. 
Ensconced behind this vision, I persevered until I received Elmak's narrative text entitled Thursday Evening which was one of a collection of short stories bearing a smart and intriguing name inefficiently translated into Climbing to the Bottom of Town which I had read decades ago. 
I received the text of Thursday Evening from a younger friend with a warmer heart who was silently following my preparation for the subject. This text by Elmak is an awesome one. It belongs to the city of Omdurman in a prime way as it truly describes the pulse of the city on a thursday evening, the beginning of the weekend; of that celebration on which the exploiting classes urbanly fool the exploited ones for a minute fraction of the surplus value! In his email, the friend who sent me the text, insisted on drawing my attention to the huge package the title of the story would have if we added the word 'fever' to it as this would make it more laden with signifiers; more lending of a reading which summons another cinematic text I have thought was exclusive to my generation, but has proven to be transgenerational. Saturday Night Fever!


******

Thursday Evening blows up the loaded catchphrase 'Come back Shane', where Shane is a noun, through a short narrative about a young man who wanted to spend his thursday evening watching this movie Shane but his favorite white pants got dirtied, forcing him to sadly return home. But did he miss the chance to watch that lad in the movie who admired the film hero Shane? Well, clearly it was not going to be his first watching! That lad in the movie shouted when he saw Shane withdrawing from his life at the end of the movie, "Shane! Come back!" 








Shane, who initially came from the mountains into the scary expanse of land, faded away just like our unknown prophets or like Mustafa Saeed in Tayeb Saleh's Season of Migration to the North.
The truth was, we all uttered that lad's catchphrase for weeks or months following our/everybody's repeated viewings of the movie without this arousing any critical stance or question as to the value of the catchphrase or to what extent it contained references or anything. It just seemed right. It was only clear that the global nature of the creative act was the reason why we, in the postcolonial world had taste for the same data that audiences in North America had taste for. The correlation was seated on that lad's cry which was strong and honest "Shane! Come back". He even told Shane that, "I am sure my mom loves you!". Of course, among the cinema audience in Sudan were those whose eyes flooded with tears watching this part while they thanked God the screening of the movie was done in the dark which relieved them from being bashed and ridiculed for crying in public.
The widespread resonance of that quotation proved that we were not much different from the cinema audience in the US as that catchphrase 'come back Shane' was reported among the hundred most mentioned cinematic quotations in the West!
In the case of Elmak's employment of the phrase, it would not be fair to interpret the phrase as a cry from Elmak for the return of colonial rulers to Sudan. The more accurate analysis would be to link this literary device he used with aspirations for heroes from Sudan's recent past; with a nostalgia for the heroes within. 
So stand up to your taste, Sudanese, and go release it from the hands of the oppressors!




It is Interesting to mention that, speaking about the universality of the creative act, I stumbled on an Iranian cinema web site called Come Back Shane. I repeat, that site called for Shane to come back, not Khomeini or Musa al-Sadr! 

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Jack Palance
The text by Ali Elmak revealed his original relationship with the creative act and what it needed to be accomplished. In the repressive atmosphere of the fifties, Elmak knew a great deal about cinema. He knew who directed which movie and who played what role in it. He new the intricate algorithm of hero, sidekick, villain, the coward and snitch and those who contributed to the making of movies. Despite all this, I thought Elmak made one unexplained omission of how people reacted favorably to the villain in the movie. Villains sometimes were turned into heroes in their own way. Rather than hate Jack Palance, the audience actually loved him and were sorry to see him gunned down. This was a theme to be explored i.e why people loved bad guys in movies. Ali Elmak, definitely knew why! 


George Stevens

I recommend watching this film for another reason. Director George Stevens was a wonderful person who studied nothing, not even acting which he learned from his parents who were professional actors. Early on in his life he acted and then loved photography. He gradually moved into making movies. He was known for his perfectionist way of slowly and repeatedly taking and editing his shots. He took forever every time he made a movie but then he took the Oscar twice as Best director: A Place in the Sun 1951 and Giant 1955. He was nominated for Diary of Ann Frank and this one: Shane.


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* Ali Elmak was a Sudanese professor and short story writer. He died in New Mexico in 1992.

Arabic Readers Please Find Ali Elmak's Original Text here

Post First published 2:55 PM Mar 01/2014


Comments

  1. Salam Mustafa
    "The reason for me to want to write about this " the correct sentence , i think , should be, " the reason behind my writing about this movie"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Salam Ameer. There is nothing wrong with my sentence. Yours is another way of saying it.

    ReplyDelete

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