Tim Robbins' sprawling, ambitious film about 1930s America, the
Depression and the Federal Theater Project is often fascinating,
succeeds brilliantly with casting, and alas, also fails
miserably with casting.
seeks out Rivera. İTouchstone
alternates between various related plotlines. The central plot
focuses on the Federal Theater's production of Mark Blitzstein's
Brechtian union/strike themed musical, Cradle Will Rock. Welles
directs, Houseman produces, hungry actors perform from a variety
of motivations. In the meantime, Nelson Rockefeller seeks out
and hires great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to paint the
central mural for Rockefeller Center, while head of the Federal
Theater Project, Hallie Flannagan must contend with the odious
Dies Congressional Committee investigating un-American
activities in the arts. Behind the scenes at the Federal Theater
Project, clerk Hazel Huffman busily snipes at the communist
elements within the program and pathetic vaudeville
ventriloquist Tommy Crickshaw woos Huffman while vainly trying
to train a pair of actors in his wooden art. Steel Magnate Gray
Mathers is buying up precious Italian art for himself and friend
William Randolph Hearst and waif Olive Stanton is relishing her
big acting break and clinging to a relationship with union
representative John Adair.
Turturro soars as a proud Italian/American actor, who defies
economic survival for what he believes in. Susan Sarandon is
wonderfully worldly as Italian emissary Margherita Sarfatti,
selling art under the table for Mussolini and interceding for
Nelson Rockefeller with artist Diego Rivera. Ruben Blades does
solid work as muralist Rivera, battling for his vision, and John
Cusack, always energetic, is convincing as young Nelson
Rockefeller, though a trifle too plebian. Vanessa Redgrave
brings a startling ebullience to Countess LaGrange, the wife of
steel magnate Gray Mathers, ably portrayed by Phillip Baker
Hall. The chief casting failure is Angus MacFayden as Orson
Welles. What was Robbins thinking. MacFayden lacks any semblance
of the onscreen power emitted by Welles, and in one of the
pivotal roles in Cradle Will Rock, the miscasting clearly rocks
the foundations of the movie. Welles producing partner John
Houseman as interpreted by Cary Elwes is more fey than effete
and the Welles/Houseman relationship is more a battle of
bitchiness than the intellectual sparring one would imagine.
Bill Murray brings a wooden strangeness to Tommy Crickshaw. Much
of it is marvelous ensemble acting. Hank Azaria plays Mark
Blitzstein with a hunger and a hollowness that capture a sense
of the depression and exhilaration of the period.
Part of the
problem with Cradle Will Rock is that it tries to touch on so
many characters, they are mere cardboard mock-ups for the sake
of the film canvas. Glimpses into the lives, intrigues, loves
and passions are so fleeting as to only whet the appetite for
more. Robbins cutting between the various elements is at times
too aggressive, robbing any element of the flow it needs to
build strength. The photography is outstanding and Robbins gets
so many good performances from the actors. This one really could
have been terrific with a few casting changes and a more
The broad Robbins landscape of Cradle
Will Rock is exquisitely realized on DVD. Colors are
brilliantly saturated and perfectly controlled with no bleeding
or smearing. Flesh-tones are offered up with natural subtleties
in tact. Details are illuminated to consistent perfection.
Shadow detail is never less than perfect. The Dolby Digital 5:O
Surround Sound is clean, upbeat and matches well with the imagery.
A short making of feature is included.
Movie Poster Archive include extensive poster images from the
films of stars like Susan Hayward, Kirk Douglas, Katharine
Hepburn and many more. This month's featured star is
Selections from the feature archive
include articles on
Akira Kurosawa, Frank
Street Gangs, or Vietnam:
The Hollywood Pariah, and many more....
Film noir: The phrase hangs awkwardly on the tongue, shadowy
images peek out from behind half-closed doors. Click on the Noir
and Noir Again symbol for a look into the dark spaces of
Hollywood's revisiting of film noir.
Morris's insightful publication Bright Lights Film Journal
turns the celluloid in films from a unique perspective. Click on the image above for more pure movie views.
and Sound Magazine is the venerable voice of The British Film
Institute. The site includes articles and film reviews. A great
resource in print and on the Internet.
love of movies drives this small DVD production company, Synapse
Films. Currently specializing in horror and cult films.
Watch for new DVD releases of film festival independents as Synapse
is a resource of all content-rich
materials on the web relating to Central
and East European cinema. The ultimate
aim of the Kinoeye Archive is to provide
a near-as-damn-it definitive index of
intelligent and thoughtful
English-language analysis of Central and
Eastern European cinema on the web.