Sunday, December 7, 2014

Film Pairings — Two From Texas, Young And Old Sam Shepard

Brooke Adams And A Young Sam Shepard

What these two films have in common — Texas and Shepard — is more contrast than comparison.   In one we see a wide-screen beautifully photographed drama lazily unfolding with a young Sam Shepard. In the other, we see an almost claustrophobic film, moving quickly and eventually explosively with an aging scruff of a Shepard.

Not well received when it was first released in 1978, Days of Heaven is, in my mind, a modern classic.  It is rare to see such a small story fill such a vast space.  But therein lies its beauty.  Sit back, relax.  Every slow moment is worthwhile.  Richard Gere plays a grifter on the run. He and his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) leave their shady big city-lives to become migrant workers. They find work in Shepard’s vast farm estate. The two also work Shepard’s character only to discover the cruel new con eventually conflicts with the heart. Shepard, who plays a genuinely decent human being, can say more without dialogue than most can with page after page of it. The film was written and directed by Terence Malick.

Michael C. Hall And An Older Sam Shepard
When I sat down to watch Cold in July (2014), I was immediately seduced. A father shoots an intruder in the middle of the night. The moment the homeowner, played by Michael C. Hall, fires the fatal shot is excruciatingly real.   It is also, as people say a righteous killing. The police agree.  It is dark.  Wife and child are in serious danger. The ordeal appears to be over.  But soon a strange and frightening older man appears to be stalking Hall and his family. We feel the terror. This clearly a hardened criminal, one upon whom neither emotional nor logical appeals can appease the deadness of his soul. The scruffy old man wants payback for his son’s death — perhaps the son of the man who killed him. Then, the artful twist. I didn’t see it coming.  (No spoiler here) Nor did I realize until the credits ran that this superbly ominous character was played by Sam Shepard 36 years after Days of Heaven.  The twist is worthy or perhaps better than those of Alfred Hitchcock or Patricia Highsmith and it immediately made me curious about the author of the book on which the movie was based — Joe Lansdale.  On this matter, I am inexcusably behind the times.  However — and it is a however — the first third of the movie made brought out envy. I want to have written those early scenes.  A nightmare had happened to an ordinary family. They did nothing to bring it on. It could have happened to any of us.  As I said, we have a kind of Hitchcock moment here.  The second third we meet the bigger-than life Don Johnson and some nasty but funny, off-the-wall, Elmore Leonard kind of characters show up. We’ve somehow slipped into a different movie.  During the final third, we enter still another film this time with a Sam Peckinpah influence, effective but with improbable heroics.  The film was directed Jim Mickle.

Despite a few dings on Cold in July, both films are well worthwhile.  Michael C. Hall (Dexter) shows that he is an actor with range.  Don Johnson is a lot of fun. For me though, the reason to pair these films for an evening of quality filmmaking is Sam Shepard.  For spirits to consume to accompany this doubleheader, let me suggest whatever it is they drink in East Texas.  Any suggestions?

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