Happy Birthday, Robert Benton. He has given us some sterling work on the big screen. Mr. Benton has directed Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Sally Field in Oscar-winning performances. Hoffman and Streep were Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs Kramer which also took the Oscar for Best Picture of 1979. Benton won for Best Director. Sally Field won her now-famous "You like me" second Best Actress Oscar for Places in the Heart. Not only a director, Benton won Oscars for his Kramer vs Kramer and Places in the Heart screenwriting. He was nominated for his influential Bonnie and Clyde screenplay of 1967 and his often overlooked gem of a comedy/murder mystery screenplay, The Late Show. That fun movie, starring Art Carney and Lily Tomlin, is one of the best films of 1977 with its jazzy pairing of two actors from different generations totally clicking as an unlikely couple solving a Hollywood murder. He's a retired private eye. She's a kooky struggling actress who hires him to find her cat.
The teacher tells the writer about his youth and how race affected him as a young man. Wentworth Miller plays Anthony Hopkins' character in his early years.
I've seen her do a one-woman show on stage in New York City. I've stood next to her on a crowded subway train in New York City. I saw her two years ago on stage at San Francisco's Berkeley Rep in her one-woman show, Let Me Down Easy.
The whole cast is good. Kidman gives an intensely passionate performance as this tough and weary working class woman in love with and emotionally soothed by an older man.
For classic film fans, it is obvious that director Robert Benton and his cinematographer closely watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat (1935). Coleman (Anthony Hopkins) is another film character whose spirit was impressed with, lit up by the sight of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing. He was a Fred Astaire fan -- like Ted Danson's character in Body Heat, Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man, Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo and Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile.
In a spontaneous burst of joy, the teacher coaxes the writer to dance -- to dance like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the iconic "Cheek to Cheek" number in Top Hat.
The beauty of this sequence is that Benton copies angles from the actual dance number in Top Hat, a 1935 classic original Hollywood musical comedy.
It's a lovely and inspired visual reference in The Human Stain.
Today, I wish Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Robert Benton a most groovy 81st birthday. If you haven't seen any of those movies of his that I mentioned, treat yourself.
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