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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Learning Tree (1969)
















Starring:
  • Kyle Johnson
  • Alex Clarke
  • Estelle Evans
IMDB.com
The Learning Tree is one of those milestone films that one wishes were much better than it is. Parks' genius for the image comes through time and again, particularly in the opening sequence of the tornado and the horseback riders silhouetted by the sun. The milieu--rural Kansas in the 1920s--is unusual for a film focusing on racial conflict in the U.S., and that alone makes for an interesting film concept. But Parks' lack of film directorial and writing experience mars what could have been a major production. The dialogue in particular is often stilted and forced; too often the characters read their lines as though they're afraid they'll forget something. As a result, there's little real warmth or connection between characters. The other big problem here seems to be flow; each brief episode seems encapsulated, with new characters popping up left and right and then disappearing and reappearing without much development. Case in point: the series of episodes after the arrest. Who exactly are all of these new characters? What is the relationship between the white and black families, and between individuals in both groups? They come, they go, they reappear, but we're lucky to have caught their names. All in all, a much stronger film would have resulted from a collaboration of different screenwriter, director, and cinematographer, rather than having Parks run the whole show. If any film deserves a remake, it's The Learning Tree.

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