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'Little Women': The Halberstadter Excuse
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
02:27PM / Thursday, January 09, 2020
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The seventh film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," exquisitely chiseled to fully expected, classic standards by director-writer Greta Gerwig, jogged my memory. I specifically remember the exact day in Dr. Halberstadter's class at Olde Ivy Film Criticism College when the good professor warned us that upon occasion even the best of us would have our objectivity challenged. 
 
Wearing the Mr. Chips-like tweed suit I was certain I'd one day emulate should I follow his path into academia, the doc wrote "In Cold Blood" on the blackboard and launched into his diatribe: "I hate this recently released movie based on Truman Capote's book about the murder of a rural family by two despicable drifters. It gives me, how do you say it, the willies? It was all that I could do to keep from walking out of the theater. But I persisted due to two factors: A) When my best friend Sven back at university walked out on a film and went directly to his sweetheart's house, it wound up that they produced a child and have ever since been fairly miserable in their albeit idyllic cottage in the Swiss mountains, along with the six children that followed Heidi, the 7-pound, 6-ounce rationale for their marriage. 
 
"B) Disturbing as writer-director Richard Brooks' adaptation of Capote's book was, it was expertly filmed. Others will want to know this. Plus, how would it look if someone saw the illustrious Dr. Halberstadter leave a movie prior to the closing credits? No sir … sometimes, when faced with a decently filmed movie that plainly bores you, or that you might actually abhor, you just have to grab the seat rest for all your worth and pray, pray, pray for time to pass. It builds character. And, to quote another college buddy, we should be reminded that, 'This is the work that we have chosen.'"
 
Later that afternoon in the cafeteria, over a very healthy portion of rice pudding, Dr. Halberstadter treated me to, the lecture unofficially continued, along with a little segue of how my favorite professor's two sons, Bismarck and Phil, hadn't chosen to follow in dad's movie-reviewing footsteps, the former opting to work at NASA following his graduation from MIT, the latter becoming a missionary in Africa after his studies at Harvard Med. "But that's OK, that's OK" repeated Halberstadter in a quiet cadence, and asked if I wanted another helping of Chef Mike's famous rice pudding. I felt so bad.
 
But soon we were laughing as we talked about the idea of greatness. Who was more important to our society? Orson Welles for making "Citizen Kane" (1941), or Chef Mike for his rice pudding?
 
The doc summed it up: "So now take the movie that, quite frankly, simply doesn't speak to you. It's all about liberté, égilité and fraternité. Doesn't it deserve a fair hearing? In short, you must invoke the Halberstadter Rice Pudding Fair & Equal Principle."
 
"Did you develop that when you were in school here?" I asked.
 
"Actually, no. I've adapted it from my mentor, Dr. Steinmetz's theorem, which used the then Chef Otto's famous chopped liver ... oh, what chopped liver … as the Aristotelian example of perfection. But you know how it is. Times change. That stuff will clog up your arteries. Better off with rice pudding."
 
Such went my mulling as I agonized to invoke the Halberstadter Rice Pudding Fair & Equal Principle in my evaluation of this latest "Little Women," ever so aware that what I had to say about the franchise was beside the point. The story has its own, long-nourished, dedicated following, its reading a rite of passage for many a little woman. What could this Philistine of a male know about the trials and tribulations of the intrepid March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — and about sisterhood, feminism, devotion to family and the desire to have an identifying career in a stultifying society that believed a woman's place was in the home? In short, while I know, my genes dictate that I don't really know.
 
Granted, it might be humming the scenery to note that technical advances now more than ever make for era-exemplifying interiors and lush landscapes. But would it be obsequious, or worse yet, patronizing, to suggest in apology that my boredom was in itself proof of Gerwig's ability to lead a committed pilgrimage through the original source material while adding a glossy note of 21st-century sensibility? In any case, placing myself across the altar of cinema critiquing sacrifice, I hope to be better prepared when the eighth interpretation of "Little Women" is released.
 
"Little Women," rated PG, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Greta Gerwig and stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen. Running time: 135 minutes
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