I’ve made much of Jack Nicholson’s performances on this list. I stand by them. I know his performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is quite often touted as one of his best. And he’s good in it. But it’s not my favorite. First, I must declare my baggage. I read the Ken Kesey novel upon which this film is based in high school. It may well be my favorite novel. I enjoyed the poetic imagery, the skewed perspective of the unreliable narrator, and the inspirational anti-authoritarian message. I saw a screening of the film a few years after I read the book. I wasn’t impressed. It seemed to lose a great deal of the dream like quality. The interpretation seemed to be very literal. In the intervening years I learned that Kesey was similarly disenchanted. Apparently, he had been involved with the screenplay to a point. Frustrated with the process, he threw up his hands, walked away, and decided to let the chips fall where they may. Still, the premiere was held in his hometown in Oregon. He was invited to attend. According to an interview I saw once, he said, “It’s like saying, ‘We’re raping your daughter in the parking lot. Wanna come watch?’” All that said, I was curious to revisit it. I wanted to believe that it was its own animal. That it could stand on its own. Perhaps as a film, if I could distance myself enough from the source material, I could appreciate it. I tried. But I still found it to be a shadow in comparison. Nicholson has his moments, but I don’t totally buy him as a tough working class guy. He managed it in The Last Detail and, years later in Prizzi’s Honor, but I didn’t see it here. Director Milos Forman was determined to portray a realistic depiction of a mental institution. The supplemental materials on the disc are rife with method acting stories and it sounds like quite a noble experiment. If he had truly divorced himself from the novel and made it his own, it might have been quite remarkable. But there are just enough vestigial traces of the impressionist style of the book that the end result is a bit of a mishmash. I still enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help wondering what a more experimental director like Terry Gilliam or David Lynch might do with it.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
The four remaining films of 1975 are Dog Day Afternoon, Three Days of the Condor, Smile, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I saw them a little out of order. Dog Day Afternoon was in late February at the Film Forum, part of a Pacino in the 70’s series. Three Days of the Condor was on March 11 via Netflix. Both were solo projects. Smile, due to its lack of availability, was actually screened with Lynne, my record holding screening partner with 24 titles, nearly one quarter of the total, in early April. It was actually the final title due to the difficulty of obtaining it. And One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was screened on March 13 with Lynne and Daniel. The first was yet another brilliant Sidney Lumet title and I was delighted to get a chance to see it on the big screen. Lots of great acting. Very believeable presentation of a somewhat unbelieveable scenario. I had seen it before and it only improved on repeat viewing. Condor was probably the best of all the Sydney Pollack directed Robert Redford films on this list. I know I’ve occasionally been hard on them. But this one was truly an unexpected delight. Honestly, its been awhile and I can’t properly articulate what really did it for me, but I look forward to seeing it again. All criticisms of the Pollack Redford pairings aside, I really enjoyed this one. Smile was good. It didn’t stand out. But as a trilogy, all directed by Michael Ritchie, this one, The Candidate, and The Bad News Bears make a fascinating study of competition in America. This one’s about a beauty pageant. Probably the least compelling of the three. But still quite watchable.
Posted by Dr. Richard Cockrell at 7:06 PM