Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Killer DVD Double Feature

I have another DVD double feature movie tip for you.  Like the other double feature tips I've posted, this pair of classics also has something in common.  The first one is an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece that altered certain formats in Hollywood filmmaking, scared the bejesus out of a nation of moviegoers, influenced a future generation of horror/slasher film directors and was detailed in cinema studies textbooks for its editing and cinematography.  Director Francois Truffaut considered it a work of art.  The movie is, of course, PSYCHO starring Anthony Perkins as twisted Norman Bates, manager of the Bates Motel, and Janet Leigh as doomed bank secretary Marion Crane.
In the story of PSYCHO, we learn about a boy who was raised by his widowed mother after his father's death.  We learn that the main character killed his mother and her lover.  There's a house and in that house is a physically abusive monster of an unmarried man.  The man character gets psychiatric attention.  These same elements exist in another film, another film that also has excellent screenplay.  Only, in this movie, we come to care about the killer who gets psychiatric attention. We come to know the warm, heartbroken, human side of this imbalanced character.  We see his ability to love, protect, teach and to have tolerance for others.  The movie is 1996's SLING BLADE.  Billy Bob Thornton played mentally disabled Karl Childers.  Thornton also directed the film and wrote the screenplay.
Lucas Black played Frank, the sweet and forlorn boy.  He's now in the cast of NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, a popular TV series on CBS.

Billy Bob Thornton won an Oscar for his screenplay and was an Oscar nominee for Best Actor.  For 1960's PSYCHO, screenwriter Joseph Stefano wrote one of the best, most memorable screenplays of the 1960s -- or any other decade -- but did not get an Oscar nomination.  Mr. Stefano should have been an Oscar nominee.  His script is challenging.  It broke a Hollywood mold in killing off the leading lady in the first hour.  As for his dialogue, it is at once revealing, unsettling and witty.  For example, when Norman Bates says, "I don't hate my mother.  I hate what she's become," that is one of the most brilliant lines of self-loathing ever written for a Hollywood film.  I get a chill when he says "My hobby is stuffing things."  And I always giggle when Norman casually remarks, "I hate the smell of dampness, don't you?  It's such a -- I don't know -- creepy smell" before he changes the linen in the motel rooms.
People don't seem to remember and talk about SLING BLADE as much as they do Hitchcock's PSYCHO.  Billy Bob Thornton's independent film was quite popular when it opened.  The late Elizabeth Taylor loved it and helped get the word out about it via syndicated entertainment news columns in newspapers.  To be honest, that's why I went to see it when it opened.  SLING BLADE touched me.  I consider it a classic.  When I was young Frank's age, I was so in need of a father figure too.  Frank confided feelings to Karl that I had in my heart but never told anyone.  I didn't know who I could tell when I was his age.  SLING BLADE put tears from that ancient heartache in my eyes.  What a moving screenplay.

Today, moviegoers remember Billy Bob Thornton from MONSTER'S BALL, the comedy BAD SANTA and the TV series version of FARGO.  I wish his SLING BLADE would be re-appreciated.  As an actor, he disappeared into that role, playing a unique Southern character who gave you a hint of Boo Radley from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
Another thing about SLING BLADE.  The late John Ritter was a beloved TV sitcom actor who found fame on the THREE'S COMPANY series.  In SLING BLADE, we see his dramatic acting depth.  The gentle, paternal and gay schoolteacher he played in SLING BLADE is a beautiful performance and one of the dearest gay male characters ever written for an American film.

Enjoy the DVD double feature.

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