Splendor in the Grass

Splendor in the GrassI saw "Splendor in the Grass" for the first time about 16 years ago late on a hot summer night alone on my 14" TV in my room. I remember feeling an overwhelming, powerful and an almost painful emotion engulf me. Elia Kazan's  tale, from 1961, of sexual repression in and of a confused state of youth just before the the great depression seemed brilliant in every possible sense.

I saw it recently, again alone but on a hot summer afternoon. After all these years I am not sure the film still has the kind of power it once had over me. Where I once saw only passion, beauty and implicit pain of youth I was now able to see too many unduly long  scenes, poor dialogue and melodrama that seems dated and contrived. Above all, it seemed hard why the characters were doing what they were doing. Their deliverance seemed relatively easy, their struggle fundamentally flawed.

However, it is still very interesting to see Warren Beatty in his very first film starring against a young and very thin Natalie Wood. Who knew there were thin actresses at the time? It is still fun to watch how the youth has always been wasted on the young and how nothing really has changed so much. Deanie (Wood) and Bud Stamper (Beatty) are young lovers who are encouraged by their respective parents to control their passions but for every different reasons. However, this kills their relationship and tears them apart.

The film has two great scenes -- one in the middle where Natalie Wood's character, Deanie, is asked by her teacher to explain the words of a Wordsworth poem, from which incidentally the film's title is taken, and she chokes up and breaks down realizing how those words wrung true to her. Then in the film's last scene when Deanie revisits the same words and fully realizes their meaning.

We of course see no such literal portrayal in films these days. The filmmaker would probably get laughed at by the critics. The director would put this interpretation on the film's website, or facebook page, and expect the audience to have done their homework.

The film's title is an excerpt from a Wordsworth poem "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" that is a celebration of childhood and nature but also an overwhelming lament on lost time and lost opportunities, immortality even, in youth and an urge to make the best of what is left after it has all passed and what is left is mostly just regret.

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind...
Also, check out Pink Martini's splendid  'Splendor in the Grass' from their last album of the same name. Their song is an oversimplification of the Wordsworth poem and tends more toward the classic Gulzar song 'Dil Dhoondta Hai' from another excellent film 'Mausam'.