Sunday, March 27, 2022


Seeing ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980) at ACMI last Friday night reminded me of what an emotionally brutal cinematic gut-punch the movie delivers. It also reiterated just how important and essential the big screen experience can be for all genres of film, not just action and effects-laden blockbusters. The sense of spatial vastness which ORDINARY PEOPLE achieves at times, with just one of two of the main characters dwarfed by normal, everyday all-American backdrops, really emphasizes the crushing isolation and helplessness which they feel, and this becomes even more impactful and palpable when watching the movie in a cinema, where the viewers themselves also become overwhelmed by some of its vast emptiness.

But at its core, it is a movie about characters, and you would be hard pressed to find one that has such a perfect, and incredibly potent, cast of actors who are all at the absolute top of their game. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that the calibre of acting is top-notch, with the film being directed by seventies cinematic superstar Robert Redford, but the fact that it was Redford’s directorial debut makes the achievement even more remarkable. Alvin Sargent also deserves a decent share of the credit, for adapting a terrific and tight screenplay from Judith Guest’s 1976 novel of the same name.
So many powerful moments, few get to me more though than the scene where Timothy Hutton and Mary Tyler Moore are talking out in the yard, and Hutton’s character Connie mentions to his mom that a pigeon who once made itself a home in their garage was the closest thing the family ever came to having a pet. It really just shatters any illusion that this family was ever any kind of happy or connected unit, even before the tragedy struck them. The fact that the scene is played, and played so perfectly, buy such a devoted and well-known animal lover and rights activist in Moore, makes it even more amazing.
Excellent intro to the film by Lee Gambin, who discussed several of the themes inherent in the movie, and how they gelled with other cinema from the same era, as well as the representation of the “better brother syndrome” in previous movies (i.e. – movies where young males feel they are living in the shadows of a more-accomplished, or seemingly more-loved, sibling). Some great clips to accompany the examples as well, and was great to hear Lee give some much-needed love to ODE TO BILLY JOE (1976), a film in desperate need of a good Blu-ray release.
As a special surprise, the screening was preceded by a short video intro from Dinah Manhoff, who has a brief but very important part in the film. Was nice to see her sharing some thoughts and memories of the film, she seems like a real sweetheart. Next up for Cinemaniacs is something completely different, and it isn’t Monty Python, but Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which will be introduced by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on Friday, April 15th.