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Cinema Exotica: Green Mansions (1959)

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, May 18, 2012 12:23am | Post a Comment

From here we embark upon a new adventure in film.

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I've spent countless, happy hours fantasizing the paradisiacal ideal while imbibing perilous quantities of rum disguised as exotic cocktails courtesy of my favorite local tiki temple --- an activity that always serves to spur my desire to explore the visions of other folks who, like me, possess a natural inclination for romanticizing the genre Exotica in all it's mythic and delightfully bogus configurations. Specifically, a designated fantasy realm as glamorized almost as much as it is spoofed by the so-called civilized world, or tropical ersatz: the non-native, pseudo experience of Oceania and other enticing ports of call.

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Until now I've kept these mental meanderings mostly to myself, only occasionally sharing my ruminations with whomever occupies a bar stool nearby and all the while becalmed beneath the warming fog of grog. From this day forward, however, I seek to nourish my untiring preoccupation with genre by delving into a more conceptual, considerate means of satisfying these vivid tropical itches I keep having. The time has come to put some sober thought into this journey beyond the music in favor of a more lively, animated intoxication I like to call Cinema Exotica (not to be confused with that mid-nineties Canadian film about a Toronto strip club).

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But where do we begin? Perhaps with a question: if Exotica, the musical genre, provides the adventure-seeking listener an array of quasi-tropical aural impressions with which to induce a mini mental holiday, then how would these cerebral spells manifest if they could be fully realized? That is to say scripted, financed, and committed to film for the ages. Mulling this query has inspired a sort of personal silver-screen safari: my quest to find films that I feel qualify for classification into a logical Cinema Exotica film genre -- a genre that doesn't really exist as far as I can surmise. I mean, research suggests that the words have more to do with adult entertainment than anything else (google it any way you can and see what I mean).

No matter, this is the first of what I hope will be many forays into the exciting world of theatrically produced Exotica and seeing as this maiden voyage was inspired by none other than the verdant, au natural allure of the album art for Stanley Wilson's Pagan Love and others (see above), the first and thus far only genre compliance guideline is that films which bear no resemblance whatsoever to images related to the Exotica musical genre are to be considered categorically inadmissible. Meaning I have a rather broad net to cast, so let's get to fishing for this exploratory series with the inaugural Cinema Exotica post celebrating the 1959 romantic adventure (rom-venture?) film and critical box office failure Green Mansions.


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Let me first begin by saying it amazes me that this film ever got made, but then time has not at all been kind to it. I knew from the start that most of the movies that approach Cinema Exotica levels of qualification would, in theory, pack a heady punch of stunning visuals but toe the line taste-wise and Green Mansions is no exception. It is at times visually pleasing but taken together with the stilted, emotionless acting and the deliriously bogus, soft-focus forested Hollywood set where the bulk of the "action" takes place, not to mention the racist, "ooga-booga" portrayal of the enemy jungle natives, the picture plays like a decayed dwelling --- a mouldering green mansion if you will --- creaking with age. Not even Audrey Hepburn's intrinsic charm as the mysterious jungle "bird woman" Rima could save it from being panned as an early-career disaster, though in my opinion any film that pairs Hepburn's doe-like demeanor with the actual animal-actor potential of a real live deer has to be regarded as something of a casting triumph, the proof is in these off-set candids:

audrey hepburn green mansions pet deer pygmy cute animal friend
audrey  hepburn pet deer green mansions movie cinema exotia animal cute friendaucrey hepburn pet deer green manisons movie cute animal friend cinema exotica
audrey hepburn pet deer green mansions cinema exotica cute animal friend
While Hepburn serves born-this-way aesthetic realness as nymph-like denizen of the woods, the casting of an obviously Japanese man as the chief of an Indian tribe living deep within the South American jungle is only a sample of the distractions which further confuse the already wildly incoherent plot. The story of Green Mansions, based off of the 1904 novel, Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest written by William Henry Hudson, revolves around a traveler Abel (played by Anthony Perkins of Psycho fame), who, after escaping from the political strife of Venezuela, travels deep into the jungle exploring for gold, only to discover a strange girl of the forest, Rima (Hepburn) and the two fall in love. One of the many convoluted plot-wrenches stems from the jungle tribes desire to kill Rima, but there is no apparent explanation of why this must be so. Also, there is a whole mess of further disorienting story details like Rima's hang up about her mother being killed and/or finding out her true identity via the old hermit she lives (shacks up) with but none of these are ever fully explained. But, dang does it look every bit the Cinema Exotica head trip, starring Audrey Audrey Audrey...

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All in all, it is really too bad this film was such a flop. I imagine that the themes and ideas inherent to the novel are chock full of poetic beauty potential and, given the right creative reigning, could've been rendered into a classic cinematic precursor to Fern Gully (sorry Mel Ferrar). Unless you unconditionally love Hepburn this film is just plain painful to watch what with the continuous plot holes and the errant miscasting and if Green Mansions isn't an altogether long forgotten blunder it is surely one of her lesser known films. Still, I have to rate this one at...well, how about a rating scale? I hadn't counted on figuring that part of this exercise out yet. What shall it be? A recommended cocktail remedy to dull the blow of, or, enhance the viewing experience? That's easy!

for Green Mansions: pour thee a Painkiller, times three.
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If you'd like to experience the magic for yourself by all means call your friendly Amoeba Music outlet and request a Green Mansions stock check, the good folks down at the Warner Archive have brought this gem back in print. We can even ship it to you if you like!

Also please enjoy these oddball photos Audrey Hepburn, doing something, on the Green Mansions set:

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you're welcome

Relevant Tags

Movie (5), Film (81), Exotica (9), Cinema Exotica (1), Green Mansions (1), Audrey Hepburn (3), Review (16), Anthony Perkins (2), Mel Ferrar (1)