Saturday, January 28, 2006

In Memoriam: A Face in the Crowd


Dir: Elia Kazan (A Tree Grows in Brookyln; Gentleman's Agreement; A Streetcar Names Desire; On the Waterfront; East of Eden)

May I just make a humble observation to the loyal readers of I Just Saw? A Face in the Crowd is the BME. No debating. BME.

Where has this movie been all my life? Why is it not dominating the critical and popular debate about the essential and brilliant works of creativity that this country has ever produced? How can I have even considered the idea that I myself was cinema literate without having seen it?

The film examines the rise of a media mogul, a country bumpkin who rides his charm and homespun wisdom to the heights of fame, only to have it all come crashing down around him. Andy Griffith gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen as "Lonesome Rhoades," the drifter who is discovered by the heartbreaking Patricia Neal. Griffith's undeniable charm, his unabahsed full-on American resistance to being controlled, is slowly worn away by the trappings of fame. The message is dynamic, subversive, and as contemporary as any movie from this long ago could possible be.

The allegory is a mix between "Network" and "Bob Roberts." The myth making potential of the mass media is explored brilliantly, with Rhoades early on resisting the image makers and later using that power to sinister ends. The impact of demagogeury through television is still cutting. I was absolutely exhilirated while watching the story unfold. Kazan has always explored social issues brilliantly; and this examination is to my mind his most chilling.

This political message is coupled with some genuinely touching interpersonal narratives as well. No one, the audience included, can help but admire and love the early Rhoades. When he hurts those around him, we are hurt as well. The characterization is complex and rewarding, complementing the politics of the movie very well.

This review is in memory of Anthony Franciosa, who passed last week. I had never seen him in a film. After Keith Olberman praised this movie, I queued it up (thank you Netflix, BCE). His sleazy agent is very well played, if a minor part of the film. Griffith steals every scene, but I can see the talent of Franciosa, and look forward to seeing more of him. Walter Mathau is as good as I have ever seen him as the writer who sees through the pretense of celebrity.

Play close attention to a montage scene after Rhoades becomes the spokesperson for a vitamin. It's flashy editing is forty years ahead of its time, the sort of thing done now to appeal to an Indy crowd. I can't remember seeing something like that this early in cinema, and it is wickedly effective.

I mean it; this movie is both brilliant and vital. It has taken a permanent place on my list of the greatest movies ever made. This isn't just afterglow. I loved this movie deeply. I cannot recommend it more enthusiastically.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 1/28/2006 10:05:00 PM that...

I have many failings as a self-proclaimed cinephile; not having seen this film is one of them (along with any Shelley Winters films-sticking with the memorium theme).

Netflix, BCE. Before Common Era? (yes, I know what you mean)