Here’s this week’s Hidden Treasures. Enjoy!
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is an early film from director Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker responsible for creating, in my humble opinion, some of the greatest motion pictures ever made. The recently widowed Alice (Ellen Burstyn, in an Oscar-winning performance) lives in New Mexico with her son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter III). Seeking a fresh start, Alice and Tommy set out for Monterey, California, the town where Alice grew up, in the hopes that it will offer them a chance at a better life. On the trip westward, however, Alice gets sidetracked in Arizona, where she must take a job as a waitress to make ends meet. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has a good deal going for it, including a fine performance from Ellen Burstyn in the title role. The real star, however, is Scorsese, who demonstrates, even at this early stage of his career, why he’s considered one of the most talented filmmakers ever to grace the silver screen. Scorsese’s love of movies is evident in the film’s very first scene, where a young Alice (played by Mia Bendixson) is walking against a backdrop that looks like it could have been lifted right off the set of Gone with the Wind. Then, suddenly and without warning, we jump 27 years into the future, and the soundtrack explodes with the energy of Mott the Hoople. In one long shot, the camera descends from the sky, flies towards a small house, glides through an open window and settles in front of an adult Alice, who is hard at work at her sewing machine. Not five minutes has passed, and Scorsese, with his usual flair, has already given us plenty to get excited about. With Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Scorsese may have found himself far removed from his native New York, yet even in foreign territory, he doesn’t miss a beat.
Even though director Jack Hill never achieved the same level of notoriety as some of his counterparts, he did make one significant contribution to the cinematic world for which he should always be remembered: he gave Pam Grier her first big break. Grier would go on to star in a number of films throughout the 1970’s, becoming one of that decade’s sexiest, most charismatic actresses. Coffy (Grier), who works as a night nurse, has an eleven-year-old sister who’s addicted to heroin. When contaminated drugs cause her sister to suffer irreparable brain damage, Coffy takes to the streets for revenge, declaring war on every dope pusher in the city. But Coffy knows that taking on pimps and pushers is small time: if she really wants to stop the drug traffic, she’ll have to bring down the syndicate’s top men, which is an entirely different war altogether. In fact, she realizes it’s a war she may not have the power to win. Coffy was Pam Grier’s first starring role, and her work here proved that she had the talent to carry an entire film on her shoulders. Grier plays Coffy as both tough and sexy, often switching from one to the other within the same scene. In order to trap a dealer named Sugarman (Morris Buchanan), Coffy pretends to be a strung-out junkie who’ll do anything for a fix. Sugarman, who can’t resist Coffy’s intense sexual energy, is only too happy to take her up on her offer. When she’s finally lured Sugarman into the bedroom, Coffy pulls out a shotgun and blows his head clean off. Coffy is a harsh, dramatic film, and director Jack Hill certainly had a great deal to do with its success. But a large portion of the credit must also go to the dynamic Pam Grier. Because of her, Coffy became much more than your typical exploitation genre piece. It reverberated with her charisma, her power, and her charms, and, as a result, became something much more substantial.
George Washington (2000)
The opening sequence of David Gordon Green’s George Washington sets a harmonious tone. It begins with a slow-motion montage of children frolicking on a summer day. As a piano plays softly in the background, the narrator of the story, a young girl named Nasia (Candace Evanofski), introduces us to the world we’re about to explore. Through this introduction, Green establishes a soft, sentimental tone that will continue throughout the film, transforming George Washington from your run-of-the-mill adolescent drama into a truly unique cinematic experience. One of the local kids, a boy named George (Donald Holden), is considered dim-witted by most of the people who reside in this peaceful southern town. Yet despite his supposed mental deficiencies, George believes he’s better than the town in which he lives, and is convinced he’s destined for greatness. It’s this attitude that first impresses Nasia, who’s just broken off a romance with George’s friend, Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), in order to pursue a relationship with George. Unfortunately for Nasia, George is far too busy to take any interest in girls. George Washington is unlike any drama you’re likely to have seen. One day, as George, Buddy, and their two friends, Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee) and Sonya (Rachael Handy), are roughhousing in the bathroom of an abandoned building, a tragedy occurs. In a typically constructed film, a tragedy such as this would influence every action and reaction that follows it. In short, it would become the focal point of the picture. However, as I’ve already established, George Washington is not your typical film. In fact, as time marches on, even something as awful as what occurred in that bathroom becomes little more than a side story. For director Green, no situation is more important than the individuals who inhabit them, and he never once takes the focus off of his characters in order to follow narrative plotlines.