I didn’t realize until doing this review that 1976 and 1977, atypically for the era, offered back-to-back years where the original side was heavy with best picture contenders while adaptation was largely populated by off-center entries. Sometimes this split opens the way for the writers to go far afield and make interesting choices; such, unhappily, was not the case with adaptations here, Though I can’t fault the writers too harshly, since I can’t come up with blazing alternatives myself. Carrie, sure – though I think of that as largely a directorial triumph. I was also quite fond of the light but charming twilight-of-the-Negro-Leagues film, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings.
Instead of either, we got Voyage of the Damned, toward which some people here are inordinately generous. I think the film is in the running for worst movie ever to get a writers’ branch nomination. It was boring, endless, and at times incoherent (there was one moment the continuity seemed so out of whack I wondered if reels were being shown out of order). The only possible explanation for such a bad film getting nominations is the old “you can’t go wrong with the Holocaust” theory – but even that shouldn’t have been enough to fool the writers.
Like Magilla, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen all of Casanova, though I’ve definitely seen significant portions on television. I tried to track it down for a full rewatch, but Netflix doesn’t have it listed, and the versions on YouTube have no English subtitles. You can judge for yourself whether I’m fully in the spirit of the rules when I opt to vote anyway. I do so because my recollection of what I did see is pretty unfavorable – it seemed to me Fellini was largely disgusted by Casanova, and a more-than-full-length film about a character whose director holds him in contempt is hard to watch. Fellini was of course just coming off the glorious Amarcord, but this seemed a step backward, in the direction of Satyricon.
The Seven Percent Solution was a very likable best seller that I thought sure-fire movie material…but I hadn’t taken into account Herb Ross’ astonishing ability to drain the life out of projects. He got a good cast (Alan Arkin is a pretty terrific Freud), and the story was essentially replicated on-screen. But everything that had seemed high adventure on the page fell flat in execution. I guess you can’t fully blame the screenplay for that – and I begrudge this film’s nomination far less than the preceding two. But it’s nothing I can heartily endorse, either, and I pass it by without any regret.
Bound for Glory is an intelligent film that clearly wants to be true to the spirit of Woody Guthrie, and to a decent extent succeeds. It has a wonderful central performance by David Carradine, spectacular cinematography, and it’s generally absorbing while it’s going on. But I found the story – Guthrie’s life, when you get right down to it – too episodic, lacking in much narrative propulsion. I recognize there are people here who rate the film, and presumably the script, much higher than I. But I can’t offer it my support.
For me, All the President’s Men is an easy vote, clearly the strongest script on offer. This is a bit of historic irony, since, during the production period, the film had almost as much rumored script trouble as Tootsie did. Whoever’s responsible for pulling things together (Pakula may deserve as much credit as Goldman), what finally emerged on-screen was a very exciting, taut true-life story that, without ever artificially jacking up suspense, played as excitingly as a-thriller. Given that it centered on the particulars of a very complicated, not especially sexy political scandal, this was something of a miracle (simply making it consistently interesting would seem challenge enough). The film also captured the mundane day-to-day life of a newspaper office (in which sense, it’s almost a time capsule), and the hunger that ambitious low-level employees feel for the big time. This is altogether a major film, and one that deserves especial praise for its writing.
On the original side, the contenders are all at least decent. My big miss would be Small Change, a completely charming Truffaut effort that views children charitably but not sentimentally. I presumed a lot of people here would advocate Taxi Driver, and I don’t exactly argue. But I do think it was Scorsese (and DeNiro) who made the material play as well as it did – Schrader’s purple prose with a different director might have come off ridiculous.
Rocky is, yes, the throwback film that beat a bunch of far more bracing, contemporary films, and, Sylvester Stallone, double yes, turned out to be a dreary bore. But, if you can block out all the dreck that followed from the film’s success (not least, Rocky II –III-however high it finally went), it’s worth recalling that this first film, while clearly far from the year’s best picture, was a decent enough fable that gave audiences (and most critics) simple pleasure without ever going over the top (they didn’t even let Rocky win his fight, a decision that seems to belong to another industry). It’s not getting my vote, of course, but it doesn’t rate my scorn, either.
I loved Pauline Kael’s comment about Cousin Cousine – that, while 10-20 years earlier audiences had gone to French films for the reality they couldn’t find in American work, with this film they were doing the reverse: passing up harsh American films for light Gallic froth. I don’t remember much beyond the bare outlines of the plot, and how determinedly droll the whole thing was. Nothing worth complaining about, but way too lightweight for consideration.
The Front is one of a number of movies that have tried to mine great art from the subject of the 50s blacklist. Like the same era’s beat generation, it seems to offer material that should someday yield a major work, so people keep trying…but to date no one has pulled either off. The Front is actually more clever than most attempts – its central conceit, that Woody’s character is no writer at all but still develops vanity about his work, is pretty comically inspired. And the subplot involving Zero Mostel’s character is moving, in a crude way (especially at that unseemly moment when federal agents snap photos of attendees at (OMITTED SO AS NOT TO BE A SPOILER)). But the Congressional hearing climax feels like something out of a Capra film – it’s way too cheerfully staged, which trivializes the issues that have led up to it. With all that, I enjoyed the film, and I don’t object to its nomination – though I was quite surprised by it: the film was not a commercial success, nor any big deal with critics. I’m guessing the fact of Bernstein having himself been a blacklist victim won some voters to his cause.
I’m working purely from memory about Seven Beauties, as I haven’t seen it since January of 1976. But my feeling then was it was a major piece of work – daringly juxtaposing comic sequences in Naples with the grimmest of Holocaust imagery, and knitting it all around a central character whose moral compass was set to “Survive” with no other qualifications. This was, to put it mildly, daring cinema, and full of memorable moments. I have no particular argument with those of you who’ve voted for it; it’s a fully defensible choice.
Back in 1976, Network was my first/last/only pick for original screenplay -- for best picture, in fact. I was totally wowed by the film, not least because it caught me totally by surprise. To me, Paddy Chayefsky was a guy who wrote dreary black-and-white “little people” stories; I went in expecting a 50s-style boardroom drama…and, while there was some of that, in the Holden/Dunaway storyline (which, I confess, I liked at the time, largely because of Holden), what dominated the film was a frequently hilarious, jolting lampoon of the TV news business – a lampoon so wildly imaginative it easily surpassed anything Chayefsky had written previous, and seemed to me (and the NY Critics, and the Academy) the year’s outstanding screenplay.
Time has passed, of course, and I finally gave Network a second look a few years back. This time, the Holden/Dunaway (throw in Straight as well) scenes didn’t hold up – they felt smugly over-written: an old-timer lecturing the younger generation, without any consideration he might be wrong on an issue or two himself. These scenes did much to tarnish my enthusiasm. But…the rest of the film – the lacerating satire – not only held up, it made me wonder if it was insufficiently appreciated in its day. For, while the film was universally thought, in 1976, to be funny, it was also considered absurdly over-the-top in its portrayal of the news business. Today? It feels like, if anything, it wasn’t pessimistic enough; there’s nothing on the Howard Beale Hour that doesn’t have a rough parallel on one or another of the cable news stations. (As Michael Gebert memorably put it: See All the President’s Men to find out why so many people enrolled in journalism school, and see Network to find out what they ended up doing) This prescience is an achievement that really ought to be noted. So: despite my misgivings about parts of the film, and my great respect for Seven Beauties, I vote to keep this Oscar in Chayefsky’s hands.
Last edited by Mister Tee
on Mon May 04, 2015 12:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.