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Monday, 21 February 2011

Unsung Masterpieces: Entry 1

It occurred to me I should use this blog as an opportunity to raise awareness of things that I personally feel never received the attention they deserved.  This does not necessarily have to apply to movies, although as this is the nature of my blog you can expect it to be the focus the majority of the time.  The idea is that with these "Unsung Masterpieces" entries, I take two or three films, artists, albums, books, etc. and talk a bit about them.  It is nice to think I'm doing my part to bring to light works that were, or are overlooked, and perhaps introduce people to works they would be otherwise unfamiliar with.

Let's begin with the 1996 Barry Levinson movie "SLEEPERS".  I recall the controversy this movie caused when I was at school, the most common adjective used by my male classmates at the time (who were all too young to have seen it, I should point out), I believe, was "disgusting".  This reaction really only illustrates all the more why they should not have been seeing such a film.  "Sleepers" is a well-adapted, epic, and supposedly true story of four boys' incarceration at the Wilkinson Home For Boys, for a childish prank gone wrong, how their innocence was brutally snatched away during their time there, and the subsequent revenge that took place so many years later.

Perfectly paced, it is a long film whose length is never an issue; exciting courtroom drama, realistic sense of time and place, gritty yet stylishly shot, and convincing performances from a cast that is actually to die for: Jason Patrick, Billy Crudup ("Big Fish") Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver and Brad Pitt in the same movie; it is a rare line-up of stars, none of whom are afraid to go to horrible places as performers for the sake of the story.  Kevin Bacon, in particular, shows once again a bravery that is uninhibited by his place as an A-List actor; something he would continue to do in films such as "Mystic River", "The Woodsman" and "Frost/Nixon".  This is not to mention the young leads, who are completely convincing in heavyweight roles.

Leading the pack was Brad Renfro, whose passing in the same month as Heath Ledger was sadly less marked, and is still a shock, for some, to learn of!  If one is to go back and watch not only this film, but "The Client", "Apt Pupil" and the indie hit "Ghost World", one can see another River Phoenix, another talent that was perhaps not as widely recognised as that of Ledger, but just as unfairly snubbed short, and just as worthy of our recognition.

Barry Levinson puts together a film here that could easily be mistaken for a Scorsese work, and that may be the only criticism, if it is even that!  Well drawn characters, electrifying, often emotional drama, the story never in a rush but never feeling laborious, this is an overlooked work of perfection.

I would also like to bring attention to one of my favourite films of all time, second only to David Lynch's "The Elephant Man".  It is a Peter Weir film from 1993 called "FEARLESS".  I recently became aware of the fact that Peter Weir may be one of my favourite film makers; a strange situation of loving a lot of his movies, but not immediately recognising the fact they are all his, so unassuming is he as a man, and so absent is any real signature from his work.  This sounds like it is a bad thing, but all I mean by this is that he famously, and successfully, puts the importance of any story he is telling before any stylistic choice, the result being that you cannot spot a Peter Weir film at first glance.

"Fearless" is A CRIMINALLY unknown film, which not only stars Jeff Bridges in what I believe to be one of his finest roles, but also boasts star turns from John Turturro, Isabella Rossalini, and Rosie Perez, the latter of whom received an Oscar nomination.  Everybody is on top form in this perfectly executed, beautiful meditation on what it is to be a human being.

To explain all the subtext of "Fearless", all the symbolism, the various layers of allegory, would be an essay in itself; safe to say this is a film that sends you away reeling, thinking and talking about life for a long time.  It sounds melodramatic, but when you see it, it makes perfect, serious sense.  I understand "Fearless" received standing ovations when it premiered, and rightly so!  Many have said in the past, and I will say it as well, that the final ten minutes of this film is pretty much the most powerful cinema I have seen to date; Jeff Bridges nails it, and I find myself inexplicably in tears each time.  Trying to explain the reason for such reaction is tough; it speaks to something fundamental in you, and is truly life-affirming, if you choose to listen.  A film that proves that on occasion, when image, performance, music and meaning are meshed perfectly, cinema is able to convey what nothing else can.

Sadly, the movie is a very tough find in the UK (I am lucky enough to have tracked down a copy), and not even a movie that is referenced much in conversations with the director, but if you can find some way of catching it, please do; it is a film that must be seen!


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