WHITE BREAD EXCUSES
Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter doesn’t quite survive the test of time, but, in case we’ve forgotten, it wasn’t deemed a lasting or legit moral account when first released back in 1978. It was protested against and argued over vigorously, with Jane Fonda (before T.T.) more succinct than anyone else—“It’s amazing that good people can see the movie and not even consider the racism.” There are basically two reasons for the picture’s controversy and they remain as powerfully half-witted today as they were back then: the metaphoric Russian roulette sequences and the ending, with the surviving Clairton, Pennsylvania gang singing “God Bless America.” (Many of us still want to throw eggs at the screen when we hear it.) Cimino has made a White Bread tract that only temporarily gave hawks the excuse to feel smug about and superior to a tiny country that, short of nuking, we attempted to bomb into oblivion and in the process helped kill roughly two million of its citizens and injured another three million. His egregious roulette propaganda has an immoral purpose—to protect us from our own crimes. (Didn’t last long—Platoon became the epiphany of choice for Vietnam vets.) What does endure time is Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography, perhaps the quintessential 70s example of a photographer moving beyond his director’s immaturity. Encompassing is the word I’d use—images speaking to us more clearly than the performances; we really don’t know the specifics of the central characters, but we know where they come from, we sense a community that establishes probable mindset. The second star is the sound work, including the sound effects of James Klinger: those trains moving through the town have a reality surpassing anything else in the movie. About Christopher Walken: when you blow your own brains out, what reward other than Oscar will do? Robert De Niro’s seldom-observed handsomeness and Meryl Streep’s loveliness help some. Junkmeister Allan Carr’s promotional campaign is credited for saving the movie from Universal execs who were skittish about how to release it: “I knew it would be the cocktail-party movie at Christmastime.” Some theatres treated the movie, running at 183 minutes, as a special engagement, including intermission. With John Cazale, John Savage, George Dzundza and Shirley Stoler. Filmed in Bangkok, in Clairton and other Pennsylvania towns, Washington state, West Virginia, and at the Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio for the wedding. In Panavision, with 70mm blowup.
Oscars for best film, director, supporting actor, film editing (Peter Zinner) and photography.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.