#45. A Throw of Dice (1929)

A Throw of Dice felt from the beginning like it was more removed from my own culture than anything else I’ve watched from the List so far and, in that respect, was exciting; but, for all its beauty and skill and scale, I didn’t enjoy it, will probably never watch it again, and I think, in truth, that the reason I didn’t like it is because it was so foreign to everything else on the List so far. Visually, at least. The story itself, of two dudes fighting over a woman, is as old as storytelling and perfectly familiar and easy to follow. So it must be something else that pushed me away.

Part of the goal here with the Thousand Movie Project is to watch and appreciate stuff that would otherwise never cross my path, and so it feels like a sort of copout to feel here (as I guess was also the case with October) that the movie just isn’t for me, will never be for me, and to not even try a second viewing in hopes of finding some value.

There’s also definitely a racial/cultural component that I’m wary of confronting. An argument could be made that I’m not only puzzled by the different cultural aspects here but, in a deep-down way that I’ve never articulated, actually turned off by the differences. Not for what those differences actually are — just that I don’t like change. Like foreignness = badness. Could this be true? What came to mind, in asking myself if race was a big factor here, is that I didn’t find it disheartening or distracting with Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920), a silent movie starring an all-black cast that I found engaging (although slow at times) — but Within Our Gates was also an American film. Its characters spoke the same language I do. The landscape and narrative were both familiar. Maybe there’s some insidious impulse steering me away from A Throw of Dice that’s more xenophobic than racist? Can I say with certainty that I wouldn’t have cared any more or less for this movie if its cast were comprised of white American’s doing the same thing? I’d of course love to say that I’m unfailingly progressive and unbiased when it comes to race and culture and that I treat everybody with respect and all that, but I think one of the edgier benefits of the Project is the opportunity to see how I (or you, anybody who wants to try this) relate to the stories of other cultures when I’m sitting alone with those stories, how I take to their voices, which are both marginalized over here in my western bubble.

A Throw of Dice is about two princes vying for the right to marry a beautiful woman, Sunita (Seeta Davi). It has the feeling of an ancient story where, from a distance, the princes take jabs at one another, assassination attempts and the like, before settling on a game of craps. As with Les Vampires (1915), however, I had to read various plot synopses to follow what was going on. Even the intertitles, which are so clear as to explicitly introduce us to the wedding and to spell out several other plot points that might be obvious to a native audience, I still needed some help.

Totally possible that this just isn’t my kind of movie, and that it’s natural for a viewer to be so puzzled with a very-old story from a very-different culture, but there’s a stressful hall-of-mirrors aspect in trying to see if there’s some phobia or -ism governing my attitude toward it. Probably nothing I’ll end up being flattered by, but worth being mindful of as the Project goes forward.

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