A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)

With its brightly irreverent tone toward subject matter that typically brought out pious patriotism in Americans, The Right Stuff feels more like a film of the 1970s than of the Reagan '80s, which may be why it was a box-office disappointment. It remains true that some of the parts of the film -- the caricatures of the German scientists, the publicists, the press, and politicians like Lyndon Johnson (Donald Moffat) -- don't fit snugly with the genuine heroism shown by the astronauts and test pilot. But that's because writer-director Philip Kaufman dared to assume a point of view on the material that was fresh and unconventional -- a rarity in American film of the '80s. Some of the tone of the film can be found in its source, Tom Wolfe's book, which was designed as a corrective to the "official story" of the Mercury 7 that was provided by Life magazine. Instead of squeaky clean superbeings devoted to wife and family, the astronauts were just human beings, frequently raunchy, irreverent, and more than a little inclined to step out of marital bounds. The film's great glory is its all-star cast (though few of the actors in it were stars before it was made), with particularly good work coming from Sam Shepard, who received a supporting actor Oscar nomination as Chuck Yeager, the test pilot that the astronauts wanted to be, even as NASA and the scientists wanted them just to be glorified lab rats, plus Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard, Ed Harris as John Glenn, Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, and Fred Ward as Gus Grissom. There is similar strength in the female cast, particularly Barbara Hershey as Glennis Yeager, Veronica Cartwright as Betty Grissom, Pamela Reed as Trudy Cooper, and Mary Jo Deschanel as the publicity-shy Annie Glenn, whose embarrassment at her stammer leads to a wonderfully satisfying standoff against an increasingly irate LBJ -- a man whose whims were seldom ignored. Deschanel's husband, Caleb, is the film's cinematographer. (Yes, they are the parents of Zooey Deschanel.) The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four: for sound, film editing, sound effects editing, and Bill Conti's score.

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