Sometimes, novels that are American classics have been transformed into motion pictures that are American classics. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, and FIELD OF DREAMS (based on Ray Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe) are a few that come to mind. Some-- ALL THE KING’S MEN, for example-- have been the source for films that deserve all the acclaim they earn and remakes that are, in a word, execrable.
Once upon a time, back in the 1950s, there was a TV series titled I Led Three Lives. The “I” of the title was Herbert Philbrick, a Boston advertising executive who also worked undercover for the FBI and infiltrated the American Communist Party. This show came to mind while watching THE ICEMAN, a tough, fact-based new film that works both as a character study and a crime drama.
If you are of a certain generation-- Robert Redford’s generation, or a bit younger-- you will be well-aware that, back in the 1960s and 70s, there were political activists who did not just march on Washington or on their college campuses to oppose the war in Vietnam, say, or protest the everyday greed or racism that was so imbedded in American life. Instead, they tossed bombs or robbed banks or burned draft cards. And then, to avoid arrest and long jail sentences, they went into hiding, changed their names and identities, and blended in with the masses.
Films like AMOUR, QUARTET, and THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, all released last year, examine the lives and dilemmas of senior citizens. All were high-profile, but they are not the only current films whose characters are coping with old age.
This week, I was planning to discuss in detail THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. This was my agenda for two reasons. First, and simply put, this film is well-worth seeing and reviewing for a range of reasons. Second, it was shot on location here in upstate New York.
Of all the actors who came to the fore after the end of the Second World War, perhaps the best-recalled are Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Montgomery Clift, Robert Mitchum, William Holden... But they are not the lone stars of the era. Glenn Ford may not have appeared in as many timeless titles as the Lancasters and Pecks, but he was a prolific performer whose star glowed from the postwar years into the 1960s.
42 is a new biopic about the life of Jackie Robinson, the legendary baseball player who was the first African-American to play in the major leagues during the 20th-century. But this new Jackie Robinson film is not the first Jackie Robinson film. THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY came to movie theaters in 1950: 63 years ago, three short years after Jackie debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
A SEPARATION was one of the top films of 2011. In fact, it deservedly earned the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. I mention it now because its country of origin is Iran and, over a year ago, prior to the Oscar ceremony, I put forth a question: Should the current, seemingly endless hullaballoo surrounding Iran in any way impact on one’s view of this film-- or, if you are an Oscar voter, impact on your decision to vote or not vote for A SEPARATION?
Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, a host of films-- which now are acknowledged classics-- literally changed the tenor of American filmmaking. And in retrospect, they serve as mirrors of their time. Films like THE GRADUATE and FIVE EASY PIECES, which helped establish Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson as major stars and which are as fresh and invigorating today as when first released, spotlight characters who are alone, confused, and alienated, and are drifting aimlessly through life.