The Pleasantville Code of Conduct …

I have seen Pleasantville again.

This makes at least 20 viewings of this film since it was released in the Nineties. The film has surfaces and layers that only reveal themselves in subsequent viewings. Its plot twists and turns through each of the layers until it draws them all together in the final frames.

I never get tired of seeing what Gary Ross did here (he wrote the script, directed and produced the film).

Each viewing of Pleasantville brings new insights and a new focus on some aspect of the film that I only paid cursory attention to in an earlier viewing. This, to me, is the mark of a good film … it must stand up to multiple viewing. If you know where each frame is going and you don’t care too much about how it gets there, there’s not much to engage you in a subsequent viewing.

This time, for some reason, the mural that David (Tobey Maguire) and Bill (Jeff Daniels) paint on the brick wall jumped out at me. I wanted to know more about it, but there is virtually nothing on the web to satisfy this particular curiosity.

The mural grows out of the Code of Conduct, a seemingly innoccuous list of behavioral suggestions designed to maintain the harmony of life in the town.  The elements of the code, however, are a veiled attempt to prevent the growth of the “colored” population in the town.

The mural contains burning books rising from the fire. It contains intimate kissing between consenting adults. It contains sky with clouds (in a town where it never rains). I read somewhere that the mural is a response to the Martin Luther King “I have a dream” speech, but I cannot find a copy of the mural good enough to convey this content.

I love a couple of scenes in this film. Both are scenes that cannot exist in any other film. Like much of this film, these two scenes are fresh, insightful and funny.

In one scene, William H. Macy comes home from work to a dark house … His wife, played by Joan Allen, has become aware of other dimensions to her life. First, he announces “Honey, I’m home” but there is no response. Pathetically, he wanders all over the darkened house saying: “Honey, I’m home.” Finally, in desperation, he says: “Where is my dinner?”

In the second scene, David sees a tree burst into flames. He rushes to the fire hall shouting “Fire! Fire!” but nothing happens. The firemen don’t even look up from their card game. The firemen have never had to deal with fire. They are clueless about what he is saying. He realizes that to motivate them he has to change his shout to something they are familiar with. He shouts “Cat!” and the firefighters jump to their feet and rush outside.

Pleasantville also contains the second to last performance by J.T. Walsh, one of the great character actors of his era.

It contains one of the early fine performances by Reese Witherspoon.

It was filmed with great difficulty and great effect.

If you haven’t seen this film in a while, watch for it …

JOHN SHINNICK

THE PLEASANTVILLE CODE OF CONDUCT

1. All public disruption and acts of vandalism are to cease immediately.

2. All citizens of Pleasantville are to treat one another in a courteous and “pleasant” manner …

3. The area commonly known as Lover’s Lane as well as the Pleasantville Public Library shall be closed until further notice.

4. The only permissible recorded music shall be the following: Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Jack Jones, marches of John Phillips Souza or the Star Spangled Banner. In no event shall any music be tolerated that is not of a temperate or “pleasant” nature.

5. There shall be no public sale of umbrellas or preparation for inclement weather of any kind.

6. No bedframe or mattress may be sold measuring more than 38 inches wide.

7. The only permissible exterior paint colors shall be BLACK, WHITE or GRAY, despite the recent availability of certain alternatives.

8. All elementary and high school curriculums shall teach the “non-changist” view of history–emphasizing “continuity” over “alteration.”

JOHN SHINNICK

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