Blindspotting: In The Heat Of The Night and Absence Of Malice

BlindSpotInTheHeatOfTheNight2

.
As “issues” movies go, In The Heat Of The Night ranks as one of the big ones. It may not have been the first of its kind, but it solidifies its place in film history by crafting moments of subtlety and nuance while also wearing its central issue proudly on its sleeve and never resorting to being maudlin. Every movie since its release that waves a flag for a cause or makes a political point has a direct line to it as an influence – even if many of them fall victim to excessive beating of their drums. So why had I not yet seen this classic? Aside from the fact that I can’t see everything (dammit), it fell into that category of “well, I pretty much know the story…”. Of course, that’s rarely the case isn’t it? Even if the plot points match up to what you expected, there’s always all the bits in between to savour. A fine reason to keep doing these blind spots…

BlindSpotInTheHeatOfTheNight1
BlindSpotAbsenceOfMalice1

To narrow the field of potential pairings with In The Heat Of The Night, I looked for another issue film that could be considered as revolving around a central powerhouse performance. It’s hard to compete with Heat’s tandem headliners – Sidney Poitier as the Philadelphia detective stuck in a racist Southern town and Rod Steiger giving an Oscar-winning turn as the town’s sheriff – but you could do far worse than calling on Mr. Paul Newman…His Oscar-nominated role in Absence Of Malice was one I had wanted to see for awhile, so it seemed a good double bill once you combine that with the film’s focus on the power and responsibility of the press and legal system. Another trait both movies share is the way they jump quickly out of the gate. We’re not even 15 minutes into Absence Of Malice and we know: that a union boss has gone missing and is presumed dead (the film was made only 5-6 years after Jimmy Hoffa disappeared – he wasn’t even legally declared dead yet); the justice department has some suspects but is getting nowhere; they decide to focus their investigation on Michael Gallagher (Newman) since he is the son of a former criminal with ties to the suspects (and they hope to lean on him for information); a snoopy reporter named Megan (Sally Field) has discovered the investigation; the justice department lead on the case purposely leaked the investigation so that Gallagher would see it in the press; Michael is likely totally innocent and the story run in the newspaper will have assumptions and accusations leading to unjust consequences; etc. It’s a pretty packed opening and the film expects you to keep up as it drops names right and left. It does essentially follow through with where you assume the plot will go – Gallagher does indeed suffer due to the leaked story as his union shuts him down, he loses customers and his closest friend Teresa (the also nominated Melinda Dillon) is pulled into the story – but manages to keep you guessing a bit regarding Gallagher’s actual connections and Teresa’s guilt over a secret they share. Field also keeps you guessing by oddly playing the reporter at different times as confident, flighty, defiant, meek, mouthy and sexy. It’s not completely the actress’ fault (though her performance just doesn’t seem to fit at times) as the character’s behaviour is a grab bag of possibilities. It certainly keeps you a bit off balance (particularly during the scenes between the two leads), but there’s little likelihood that it was intentional. Newman for his part is remarkably consistent throughout as he plays Gallagher as stoic and very focused. Though he is initially upset at the paper and Megan for the fact-free reporting about him, he tries to settle into a moral compass for her. “You say someone is guilty, everyone believes you. You say they’re innocent and no one cares.” Her response shows he has some work ahead of him: “That’s not the paper’s fault, that’s people.”

Would you like to know more…?

Friday One Sheet: Newman!

It’s already that time of year again to be thinking forward to the most prestigious celebration of cinema (and often, celebrity, wealth and glamour) on the planet, The Cannes Film Festival. The festival has a history of putting out classy, minimal one-sheets which highlight a major film star or director. This year, they have chosen the husband-wife duo of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward whose marriage defies the cliche logic of showbiz, even as the two actors worked together on films spanning their breadth of their union. The source image is from Melville Shavelson’s 1963 comedy, A New Kind Of Love and the couple also starred together in 1990s Merchant/Ivory award winner Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.

A Martin Scorsese Marathon

Basically, you make another movie, and another, and hopefully you feel good about every picture you make. And you say, ‘My name is on that. I did that. It’s OK’. But don’t get me wrong, I still get excited by it all. That, I hope, will never disappear.” – Martin Scorsese

For the better part of the last three decades, I have been a fan of Martin Scorsese. My admiration first took bloom in the summer of 1985, and happened to coincide with what I consider to be the discovery of my young adult life; set off the main drag of the town I grew up in, I found a small video store. Now, this in itself was no great revelation; in the years before Blockbuster came barreling into my area, forcing all the smaller video chains out of business, there were at least half a dozen such stores within a 3-mile radius. But the moment I walked into this particular video palace, I knew it was special. Where most were lining their shelves with numerous copies of the ‘hot new releases’, this one had titles like Midnight Cowboy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, films that the others simply didn’t offer. For me, this store was a treasure trove, and I returned there often, sometimes 3-4 times a week, uncovering classic after classic, films that, to this day, I consider some of the finest ever made.

And it was here that I first found Mean Streets.

Tough and unflinching, Mean Streets was like a punch to the head for a 15-year-old from the suburbs; a marriage of images and rock music, violence and pain the likes of which I had never seen before, offering a glimpse into a lifestyle that I found all too real, and a little bit frightening. I must have rented it at least six times that summer, and as a result, Mean Streets fast became my favorite movie. More than this, it was my jumping-off point into the career of Martin Scorsese. After Mean Streets, I moved on to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, two more shots to the head. Through these three films, I realized just how deep, just how down-and-dirty, and just how moving the cinema could be. They marked a turning point in my development as a film fan. Movies were no longer limited to the land of make believe; they would also be a window overlooking the real world.

Now, almost 24 years after I first walked into that video store, I’ve decided to take my admiration to the next, perhaps the ultimate, level. Over the course of the last several weeks, I sat down with everything that home video has to offer of Martin Scorsese’s work behind the camera, 26 films in all, and what I uncovered on this love-fest of mine proved to be just as enlightening as that first viewing of Mean Streets all those years ago.

As I sat watching one Scorsese movie after the other, I found myself asking, “What exactly is it that constitutes a Martin Scorsese film”? It was a question I had to pose, because I quickly realized that most of my initial beliefs, the pre-conceptions I had built up about the man and his career, only told part of the story.

For one, there was my presumption that the recurring trait in every Scorsese film was a down-to-earth quality, where the genuine, the realistic, would be favored above all else. Well, this is certainly true in some of Scorsese’s finest films, especially those where actual events served as a foundation (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, The Aviator). However, it was wrong of me to discount the role that fantasy played in Scorsese’s work. The opening scene of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore looks as if it was lifted right out of Gone With the Wind, and the musical numbers of New York, New York were obvious nods to the Hollywood big-budget spectaculars of the 40’s and 50’s. There is the dreamy romance of The Age of Innocence, and the hilarious bad luck of Paul Hackett in After Hours; in short, films that have little or no basis in reality whatsoever, proving that the fantastic plays just as important a role in the great director’s work as reality does.
Would you like to know more…?

Fantastic Vanity Fair Paul Newman Article

With rumors running rampant that Paul Newman is battling cancer and may only have weeks to live, there have been plenty of television, magazine, and internet tributes being made for the greatest American actor the past few weeks. I stumbled across this one article on Vanity Fair, from renowned journalist and biographer Patricia Bosworth, that goes in-depth and chronicles Newman’s life from his roots all the way until the present. While I knew a lot of what she already wrote, it’s still a fantastically written article with a touch of personal encounters that really portrays Newman as the man that he really is.

You can check out the article right here.

Top 10 Movies Set in Chicago

Sitting on a stoop in downtown Chicago the other day just shooting the breeze with my friend (while we waited for the women to get ready as always), he suddenly looked at me and blurted out, “I want a hard-target search of every warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and shithouse in the area.” Then with his best Tommy Lee Jones impersonation… “your fugitive’s name is Doctor Richard Kimble.” So he might’ve gotten the quote not quite right, but it was funny at the time and got me thinking what are some of the best movies set in Chicago. Sitting on the stoop we came up with several titles off the top of our heads.

Then of course, being the nut that I am, I spent a lot of Saturday at Lollapalooza thinking about Chicago movies and which of those would go on a top ten list. So yes, while Broken Social Scene was kicking some ass on stage, I was constantly reminded of my favorite Chicago movies. Check out the list I stuck under the seats…

My view most of the weekend. Inspiration:
Babysitter building over Wilco

Would you like to know more…?