Thursday, March 19, 2015

Falling from Grace

What is it about Richard Burton's voice that we find so compelling?  The tonality?  The elocution?  That it comes from the face, full of fury and passion, weather-beaten yet with a knowing intelligence?  Or is it that it was trained to do Shakespeare, Alas poor Yorick! Yet it seems more at home speaking lines from Tennessee Williams, lines which belong to a depraved soul struggling to hold onto some piece of his humanity.  

I am referring to The Night of the Iguana, which I watched yesterday.  It had aired on TCM a few days earlier. It seems to me this was the perfect role for Burton and it really is a great movie to watch him perform, though if you are looking for human uplift you won't find it here, at least not till the very end.  One of the interesting things is that Burton sweats a lot - they are in Mexico near the ocean and the temperature is over 100 degrees.  But the other characters, mainly women, are not sweating nearly so visibly.  Burton, it seems, is perpetually working off a hangover and this is how he does it.  The alcohol, doesn't affect his speech, the one way the film is perhaps less realistic, but a sacrifice necessary so that Burton can display his talents.  Otherwise the story is very convincing.

With the drunkenness you expect debauchery as well, but there isn't any, only a pretense of some as the nymph, played by Sue Lyon, puts Burton in seemingly compromising positions.  This is how she entertains herself because she chafes at the over protection of her chaperone and in Burton she finds a kindred spirit.  He is sympathetic to her circumstance, but he is not attracted to her in a romantic way.  She is too immature.  Burton needs someone who understands the ways of the world.

The cast is excellent.   All in all, this is a movie definitely worth viewing.   I now want to use that observation to pose the following questions.

1.  The movie is not available at Netflix.  It is available for streaming at Amazon Prime, but there is an incremental charge.  Why?  Who comes up with sort of pricing.

2. My guess is that movies like this appeal to an older audience, one with memories of Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, for example.  Would younger viewers find this as appealing as I do?  (Here I mean somebody in their late 20s or early 30s.)   In other words, does knowing the actors as personalities matter in enjoying the film?  Would Burton seem as such a powerful actor to people who saw him for this first time in this movie?  If the answer to this is yes, doesn't it seem odd not to encourage showing his better work more?

3.  My sense is that my kids never watch TCM.  I don't know if TCM has an exclusive license to the movies it shows or not.  They are still too young, in my view, to appreciate this picture.  (The older one is 22; the younger one will be 21 in 11 days.)  I forced them both to read The Grapes of Wrath but otherwise have ignored their cultural education.  It would be good if they discovered some of these older gems on their own.  What might be done to encourage that discovery? 

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