Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Group

Probably some of you were lucky enough to catch in TCM this movie that was recently broadcasted as part of TCM’s tribute to Sidney Lumet; if you did you probably had a hard time watching this very “chatty” movie that makes us remember how much women talk and if you didn’t have this remark in top of your mind, you definitively put it at the top after watching the film. Gosh, I really do not much enjoy talky, chatty movies!!!

I imagine that, according to what I read, this 1966 movie created controversy when first released as in those days not many talk freely about free love, contraception, abortion, lesbianism, socialism, communism, child education, classic psychoanalysis, and mental illness; topics that describe what this movie is all about. But more interesting is to think that in the 30’s the depression could motivate “wealthy and WASPy” women to work, start to change their conservative views, live alone, and -in general- increase their participation in society beyond the traditional social duties. The last was one of the things I liked about the movie, but obviously I know that this side of the story has to be more developed in Mary McCarthy novel of the same name.

The films tells the story of eight Vassar-like graduates that are the Class of 33, a depression era class that from this film you can hardly tell that hit their families; but if you read the novel, only three have a lot of money Lakey, Helena and Pokey, the rest come from wealthy families and depression reduces their affluence. In the film you will follow their lives up to 1940 and since is an ensemble cast it is expected that not all characters will be well-developed and exactly that happens with some characters that you wish had a lot less information (like Libby) and others (like Lakey) to have a lot more information as (today) these characters are more interesting.

But to be fair, there are some dialogues that simply amazed me. All the psychoanalysis and mental illness made me recall Freud’s good old times; the child education plus breastfeeding against the bottle references were unbelievable shocking (but these issues seems to move in cycles through time, isn’t) and I definitively was surprised by the communist characters as well as all the theme references made as is something that you do not see often in an American movie.

Then the cast is outstanding! I know most of the actresses and actors in this film and I was quite surprised to find that this was the first or second film for many as their previous work was on TV or the stage. Already knew about Candice Bergen –the only female with no previous acting credits- but I have been lost in the net reading the very colorful articles about her participation in this movie playing Lakey, the lesbian. Unfortunately her screen time is so short that if you’re interested in watching this movie for only the lesbian character you will be disappointed. But Bergen’s screen presence is unique and when she’s in the screen your eyes are fixed on her.

You also have Joanna Pettet (Kay) that probably is the one with the most screen time that does a good performance but today, 50 years after the film and 80+ years after the novel, the character story is one that has been explored in cinema too many times in all the possible ways, so I know that is hard to see Pettet’s performance without thinking not positively about her character. Almost the same happens with Jessica Walter’s (Libby) non-likeable character, but her good acting abilities makes us to highly dislike her character. Shirley Knight (Polly) performance –also has large screen time- is great with a sedative character that transforms perhaps in the most successful and happiest-ending character of all the eight. Larry Hagman (Harald) character is hideous and he does it quite well. Hal Holbrook (Gus) debut is good with a not well-developed character, but then this movie is all about women characters.

I believe that Elizabeth Hartman (Priss) character and story shown in the movie does not allow her to perform at her best. Even if she has not enough (for me) screen time, Joan Hackett (Dottie) character and performance was (besides Bergen’s) the one that most caught my attention.

The film earned Lumet a Golden Bear nomination at the 1966 Berlinale, Joan Hackett got a 1967 BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Actress and seems that the film was Sidney Lument first commercial success (his previous films were critically acclaimed but didn’t make money) that paradoxically barely made the two million plus budget which was “the most expensive movie made to date in New York”.

The film is mostly a satire of women attitudes to life that I believe many still apply today. I wish I watched the movie not when released (too young), but at least a decade or two later as probably I could have enjoy it more. Still I watched until the very end, even when most of the chatty parts where really tiresome.

I was lucky enough to go to a mix school, but if I attended an all girl school probably would have enjoyed a lot more the film. So if you still have great relationships with your school female classmates, I’m sure you will enjoy this film just because the so diverse things that happen to each character where you will identify someone you know or even yourself.

I liked the movie as an early work by Sidney Lumet; but definitively his later works like 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Network, Equus, and many more up to his latest, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, show us better his filmmaker abilities.

I really thank a special friend for letting me know about the film -which made me create the Old Lesbian category- and mostly for letting me know about watching the film that has become the first in the category that I'm able to watch. Many Thanks!


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