Saturday, September 22, 2007

A working class hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich

My wife and I can't usually agree on where to eat lunch or which one of us is going to be in a good mood for the week, but we almost always agree on books, movies, and music. We disagree a lot, and we're okay with that, but when we disagree about a book or a movie or a band, somehow my feelings are hurt and I get upset, then slink away like a wounded puppy. If we disagreed more often about the merits of artistic works, I would probably be less of an easily offended baby, but I still don't quite understand why I take it so personally. One part of it may be that I don't wash dishes to music, or go to movies for escape, or read books at the beach. I really care about this stuff, and I feel like it helps me live and understand life a little better and feel better about my own mortality and empathize with other people more and not feel so provincial even though I've never left the continent or even been to much of the Northeast and get through bad times better and be a little happier once in a while and blah blah blah and yank yank yank. (I also like Maniac Cop, so I don't know. Whatever the fuck, life is contradictory, cheeseburgers, etc.) We disagreed about Affliction tonight. Her problems with it make perfect sense, but I'm irrational about this stuff. This movie has a lot of personal significance for me. The voice-over is revoltingly bad, and should have been cut from the film, but Paul Schrader is a writer, first and foremost, and he was a little too in love with Russell Banks' prose. It's good writing, but it doesn't belong in a movie. The actors and images tell the story well enough, the words aren't necessary. Different mediums. Don't put mustard on the cupcakes. A couple of egregious mistakes elsewhere. Many things wrong with the movie. Why does Affliction have significance for me? It gets small-town life just right. Small towns aren't about backwoods hickery or naive optimism or good-hearted bootstrappery or quaintness or pies on windowsills. They're just places with people who know each other, and these people are either content or despairing. It's set in New Hampshire, but three of the five leads are from Nebraska (Nick Nolte, Mary Beth Hurt, James Coburn), one from Texas (Sissy Spacek), one from Wisconsin (Willem Dafoe). It gets alcoholism right. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics, as well as many other members of my family, and my mother said when she watched this movie she had to stop it several times because James Coburn reminded her too much of her dad. When I saw it the first time, as much as I love Coburn, I thought he was a little over the top. It shocked me when my mother told me her reaction. When I watch it now, it scares me a lot. That good-natured fat guy falling asleep watching John Wayne movies on the couch used to be this monster? There's not enough snow in the movies. It's so photogenic. Class is a conscious but not overbearing issue in the movie. American movies and TV shows are afraid of class. Everyone is upper middle class. I have an irrational yet somewhat justified hatred of the upper middle class. It was fostered by my parents, who otherwise have nothing in common. There are a couple of moments in the film so good they make me flinch. Both with body language. One is when things are going badly, and Sissy Spacek's eyes give about 18 pages of information in three seconds. The other is when Nick Nolte's physically imposing character takes two steps back when his father, played by Coburn, enters the room. Those two steps tell the story of every bad drunk's kids better than anything. No voice-over necessary. I gotta pee.

1 comment:

Spacebeer said...

I liked Maniac Cop too!

Also, all your reasons for liking this movie are right on, and I totally agree with them. Sissy Spacek is amazing. The film looked great. The small town stuff was wonderful.

As you know, my big problem is with Nick Nolte. I know he was good in this and that he is a good actor, but I just can't get into him. I never can. Something about his acting is very off-putting to me, and I can't put a word on it. I think this is my problem, and not Nick Nolte's.

And I love Willem Dafoe, but I had some major problems with the writing of his character in this movie.

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