Thursday, July 12, 2018

Olde Review: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese, 1974)
is Scorsese's most sedate film as far as camera movement. It lacks the restless aimlessness of Mean Streets, or the paranoid powerfulness of Taxi Driver's tracking shots--but that does not keep it from being dynamic. The power of Scorsese's camera is very much in evidence whether tracking confidently accelerating circles around Ellen Burstyn as she auditions in a bar, or as it takes on a home-movie-ish, jittery energy in a family squabble, the jitteriness due not to a home-movie-maker's inexperience, but seemingly shaken by the ferocious energies thrown out by the domestic combatants.

Scorsese is a director you should watch in the next few years, for, sooner than you think, Scorsese will direct a superb film (his next film, if you can believe this, is a post WWII musical called New York, New York--the main Scorsese stamping ground--which stars Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro?). It's sure to be the first musical in a long time that has an energy to itself, instead of the re-heated left-overs we've been getting from Broadway lately. Scorsese will give it that energy--a bizarre, scary energy that is an essence of the man himself. For the cameo appearances he assigns himself to--the punk-assassin who firs the last life/hope-shattering shot in Mean Streets, and that particular taxi-rider who directs Travis Bickle to a house and to a female silhouette in the window and asks him what he thinks a .38 will do to her head, are bizarre self-roles to be sure.
But enough of Scorsese. There is another creator to Alice..., its star, Ellen Burstyn, who had the tenacity to get what the producers scornfully refer to as a "women's picture" into production. And when she was in Seattle last year, she made it painfully clear that, without her, the film would have gone woefully wrong-headed in its intentions. The original ending had newly-widowed Alice Hyatt settling down to another life of house-wifely drudgery, instead of letting her continue with an uncertain, but certainly more adventurous future. Thank Ellen Burstyn for that, and thank her for the humanity she imbued in this film, not glossing it over, and bringing out very real performances from the vast majority of the cast. Her humanity, and Scorsese's power combined to make Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore a film that not only excites, but also leads to the lesser shocks of every-day recognition.
Yeah, yeah, one of these days that Scorsese kid's gonna make a superb film (that would be, at least, Raging Bull (1980)...and another (New York, New York) wasn't bad, it was an interesting Scorsese experiment in studio film-making...and another (After Hours, his low-budget experiment) and another (The King of Comedy)...and then Taxi Driver's going to start looking like the classic that it is, and the guy won't be awarded the Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences until he does a star-heavy re-make of a Chinese film that was inspired by one of his own films--that being The Departed—not that great a Scorsese film, but a better than average thriller.
There was no prescience here, Scorsese was—and always is—an exciting film-maker, and bull-headed enough to stick to his aggressive kind of movie-making and not compromise even during the lean times. Scorsese films never "direct themselves." You're always aware of his hand on your shoulder directing your field of view, not unlike Hitchcock. And the man keeps re-writing the film language which keeps everybody—critics and audiences alike—on their toes, and keeps the art fresh and new. If he isn't our Great Director right now, he's One of the Two,* and both men eye each other's work, influencing each other's creations, like Ford and Hawks, or The Beatles and The Byrds.

Now, if Scorsese could just lose that DeCaprio kid...
Update: With Hugo and Silence, it looked like the Scorsese/DeCaprio partnership might be over...and in his next film, The Irishman, Robert DeNiro is back. But, then the next two projects in pre-production are both DeCaprio vehicles.


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