By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –
Elia Kazan was one of the greatest film directors of all time. He worked on some of the screen’s most memorable films, including the Best Picture winner On the Waterfront (1954) and the Best Picture nominee A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Because of such talent, logic dictates that he would go on to direct some of the greatest performances in cinematic history even after winning two Oscars for directing. Splendor in the Grass (1961) is much more than a high school drama film because it takes a single poetic line and makes it relevant to American society just before the onset of the Great Depression.
Ten years after Vivien Leigh won the Oscar for A Streetcar Named Desire, Kazan was able to direct another Oscar-worthy performance from Natalie Wood in the brilliantly original Splendor in the Grass (1961). In fact, this film actually received the Academy Award for “Best Original Screenplay” because it deals with issues that teenagers face without making them cliché. Natalie Wood probably delivers the best performance of her career in this film as Wilma, and it might even surpass her role as Maria in West Side Story (1961). Warren Beatty also offers a strong debut in his first film as Bud, the high school jock who becomes romantically involved with Wilma. Interestingly, this was the first film for many performers, including Sandy Dennis and Eugene Roche. Indeed, one of the greatest elements about this film is the nature of the performances.
The title of this film comes from the phrase “splendor in the grass,” a line originally from William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” The English teacher in this film actually teaches her class the following lines: “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.” The main theme of that poem is that time passes incessantly, and that growing up is essential since it is impossible to relive the carefree days of childhood during which children oftentimes play “in the grass.” Time might keep on ticking, but audiences do not need to forget their pasts, especially since this film captures the essence of adolescence near the beginning of the twentieth century. Instead, this film teaches audiences to treasure the precious moments that made them who they are presently, but to use the knowledge they have acquired to build a better future. Such powerful messages are probably why Splendor in the Grass won the Oscar for its screenplay, and this film will remain one of the most original films ever made.
Splendor in the Grass (1961) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time there is a kissing scene
Take a Drink: whenever Natalie Wood exhibits erratic and unusual behavior (such as screaming and laughing hysterically)
Drink a Shot: whenever there is a scene in the high school English classroom (and have another shot when the teacher and students discuss Wordsworth’s famous poetic line, “splendor in the grass”)