Saturday, April 10, 2010

Night One: A Bullet In The Heart

Night one finds us low on posting activity, in part due to our easier-to-update Twitter account and hashtag (#hackmanfest) and in part due to the riveting schedule so far. While I Never Sang For My Father was, at best, an agreeable drawing-room drama, all other contenders tonight were heavy-hitters, each with its own unique slant on the '70s form.

Doctor's Wives was a scream, a ribald romp through the New Mores and their repercussions. Starting with Dyan Cannon's immortal opening line, "I've been so horny lately!" and coming to an abrupt close 20 minutes later with her death, the tight-knit medical fraternity (doctors and their wives) is rocked by this 'death in the family.' Most interesting were the tone changes throughout the film -- campy declarations of sexual freedom or repression are interspersed with true, actual medical footage of open-heart surgery (far beyond the stylized gore of M*A*S*H) to terse drama to zany sex romp and back again -- several times. I'm not sure we quite had the plot figured out, but the moments that made up the journey were plenty memorable.

Speaking of tone changes, The Hunting Party fairly swept the preceding movie off the table with its opening scene, a brutal juxtaposition between the butchering of a horse carcass in the desert with Candice Bergen's forced C-section by Hackman's relentless husband/lord of the manor. Severeal horrible rapes ensue, causing one festival attendee to note that, "this is like all of Peckinpah's rapes all at once, but with none of the subtlety." Bergen's character is kidnapped by a group of thugs, ostensibly so she can teach the leader to read. Over time her admiration grows (or is it all a big fat case of Stockholm Syndrome?), and as Hackman's posse (his Brant Ruger practically seeping vengeance out of his pores) approaches, Bergen righly begins to fear for her life. When the hunting party stops hunting just to get her back, and eventually just for the sake of the hunt, the subtlety eventually creeps in. It wasn't an easy film by any estimation, but well worth all the shots of people who were shot in the face and left to die in the desert.

The French Connection. Yes, of course, it's amazing. Friedkin does everything right, from the seedy Brooklyn landscape, the lingo, the story structure (it never gets lost in the chases) and the similarly overheated ending (in both this and The Hunting Party, Hackman's character loses control of his mission and just turns into someone driven by nerves and instinct). There was something so obviously brilliant about it, it fell short somehow of being the hit of the evening. If you know it's going to be great coming in, and it is great, it's somehow less great than a great movie that you came into with no expectations at all.

Cisco Pike deserves all of the (cult) praise it gets. It's a script that, on paper, could have been easily turned into a complete stereotype, a lot of 'hippies' going 'hey man,' and 'sell me a key, man' wearing beads and headbands and flashing the peace sign. Kris Kristofferson completely sells what could have been a plastic statue and imbues his creation with an exhausted resignation and a droopy charm as he meets every type of 'street person' on the books for 1971. It's a cavalcade of great character actors on hand, too....Harry Dean Stanton, Antonio Fargas, Karen Black, Allan Arbus, the list goes on for days. Hackman's not in this much more than he's in Doctor's Wives (that was an ensemble piece, this is more a Kristofferson vehicle -- his film debut, not counting a turn in Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie), though his crooked cop (who engages in frenzied blasts of running in place to stabilize his heart palpitations) is probably the most quirky creation we've seen so far.

Tomorrow starts big with Prime Cut at 10 a.m. Hope you can make it!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Stiff-Legged Film Festival Society welcomes you to GENE HACKMAN IN THE '70S

Post by: Chris

Hello all!

Welcome to the first post of this year's event: "Gene Hackman In the '70s." Anyone who attends the fest is welcome to drop some thoughts and impressions here, as they happen.

Right now, we're watching "I Never Sang For My Father," the 1970 film based on a play. It's pretty good so far -- very "GE Playhouse Presents" in style, lots of monologues. Because of pre-fest prep work, we missed the first 30 minutes, but the emotions are pretty self-evident, and we're learning as we go.

Gotta run....they're picking out caskets now.