Movies postsThursday July 04, 2013
My American Movie
It should come as no surprise to long-time readers that the question I posed yesterday on Facebook and today on this site, “What's the great All-American movie?” is answered, by me, with “Breaking Away.”
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minn. rather than Bloomington, Ind., with a middle class rather than working class background, but that movie, from Mike's cutoffs to Moocher's hair to the aimless “What do we do now?” ethic, feels like the America I grew up in. My identification has only gotten stronger the further we've gotten from that time and the more cutters our global economy has created.
As I said when I wrote my review a few years ago, the tone of the film is light but serious issues lie beneath it: issues of identity and class, both of which, here, feel specifically American. It's not just a bike-racing movie. Among its themes:
- This country was built by people who are not welcome here.
- The epithet we're called is the job we can't get.
Not to mention:
- Owning your epithet is the best revenge.
But there's also this:
When screenwriter Steve Tesich arrived in this country in the late 1950s, he learned English through television, through sitcoms, and you can argue the film has a sitcom quality to it—particularly its ending. On campus Dave meets a pretty French girl and soon he’s using Frenchisms as he once used Italianisms. When he sees his father, he shouts out, “Bon jour, papa!” and the father looks back, startled, horrified, and the camera freezes. At that point, we begin to hear the Indiana University fight song, and the freeze-frame fades into a shot of the Monroe County Court House, and a graphic informs us: FILMED ENTIRELY IN BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA. No shit. The film is steeped in the place. But nothing says “Indiana” like this ending, which refuses to take itself too seriously. There’s something very Midwestern, very American, about that.
The quarry is where working-class jobs were. The A&P is where working-class jobs have gone. But it’s a shit job and that’s why these guys are aimless.
What's the Great All-American Movie?
I asked that question yesterday on Facebook and got more than 50 responses. These were the movies with more than three votes.
|The Grapes of Wrath||5|
|The Best Years of Our Lives||4|
|The Right Stuff||4|
I kept categorizing all the different suggestions in my mind:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses:
- The Godfather
- Scarface (1982)
We're better than our PR:
- The Right Stuff
- Singin' in the Rain
Truth, justice and the American way
- Rocky V
Something is disappearing (Tony Soprano's lament):
- American Graffiti
- Breaking Away
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- High Noon
Something's wrong here, not sure what it is:
- The Best Years of Our Lives
- Being There
- Five Easy Pieces
- The Grapes of Wrath
- The Parallax View
- Poltergeist (“It's all in the subtext”)
- Rebel without a Cause
We venture out to go home:
- Apocalypse Now
- Apollo 13
- Citizen Kane
- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
- Sullivan's Travels
- The Wizard of Oz
I also got many complaints that it was an impossible question. “You have to be more specific,” one said. “There's no such thing as an All-American movie,” another said.
But that's the point, isn't it? Since America isn't more specific.
But this was my favorite response, via Twitter:
@ErikLundegaard Nothing says “America” like Apocalypse Now.— Jason Lamb (@KarlShowJason) July 3, 2013
We watched TV.
If Ever a Character Could Put You Off Women for Life...
Interesting back-and-forth (at least as interesting as Twitter allows) between James Marsh and Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells on Monica Vitti's character in “L'Avventura.” Marsh began it this way:
If ever a character could put you off women for life it's Monica Vitti in L'AVVENTURA: needy, insecure, tedious & paranoid right from day 1.— James Marsh (@Marshy00) May 11, 2013
Wells still finds her alluring, which is partly why he's watched the movie six or seven times. I'm with Wells here, despite having watched it only once.
But Marsh raises an interesting question. If ever a character in a movie could put you off women for life, which would it be?
For a long time, my answer was Norma Desmond in “Sunset Blvd.” I got major creeps after watching that movie. I don't think I wanted to be with a woman for a week after that. Or a night anyway. (I was young.)
Then about 10 years ago I saw “The Blue Angel,” with Lola Lola ruining the distinguished life of Prof. Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings); reducing him to a clown, an ass, a rooster. I know it's Dietrich, and Dietrich is so sexy, but that makes it worse. You understand why the good professor winds up on the path he winds up on. The road to losing all dignity and self-worth. The road to cock-a-doodle-doo.
Yours? Feel free to shift the question as to gender and gender preference.
The good professor, before the cock-a-doodle-doo.
Fargo: The Word Cloud
The Film Stage posted the following “Fargo in a Word Cloud” on Twitter the other day:
Glad I made the cut. (Center, about sixth row from top.)
And don't forget where the Jerry Lundegaard name came from.
Gregory Peck in Second Grade
Once you see something it's easy to see it, and it's tough to forget how hard it was to see it in the first place.
I thought my “Find the Future Movie Star” post was easy, for example, because, once I knew, my eyes always went right to this kid, and he looked a lot like his future movie-star self.
But I linked to the post via Facebook and immediately got the following guesses:
- Jack Nicholson, bottom row
- Jimmy Stewart, middle?
- James Cagney, first row, third from left
- Marilyn Monroe, somewhere
- Clint Eastwood, front row, third from left
- Jack Nicholson, second row, far right
- Clark Gable, back row, first on left
- Spencer Tracy, third row middle
- John Wayne? Up towards the top? Blondie?
- Got it. Paul Newman.
- Gary Cooper, top left for the block
Eventually Sasha Stone of Awards Daily got it. It's Gregory Peck. (Click on pic for bigger version.)
Sasha guessed wrong several times, too, but once she saw it she really saw it. “He looks the same!!” she wrote. My friend Colleen added, “Lots of little boys scowling, but not Peck!” Peck's good boy, I guess.
It is startling. Everyone around him looks like one of the dead-end kids, and there he is in the back row, about the handsomest second-grader ever.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard