Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - BREAKING AWAY and THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, January 24, 2015


BREAKING AWAY (1979; Peter Yates) 
As I've gotten older, it's become a little easier for me to point certain films and talk about them as some of my favorites of all-time. With certain movies, I've gotten to the point where I've sat with them for a long time and watched them throughout various stages of my life. Some have improved and some have lost their shimmer. BREAKING AWAY has held strong for me though as one of the great coming of age stories ever. It has a huge amount to do with the cast and the locale. The actors who play the main four guys (Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley) make such a remarkable ensemble. They truly give a perfect sense of just "hanging out" together. It's marvelous and funny and bittersweet all at once. Steve Tesich's Academy Award winning script really posits some empathetic and grounded characters throughout. Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie play two of my favorite parents in all of movies. While Dooley's character clashes with his son and his son's way of thinking ("Refund?!"), his arc is a beautiful thing to watch unfold. On the heels of something like BOYHOOD getting lots of praise and being showered with nominations, it's clear that moviegoers are still interested in stories about people.  It's really nice to see that. I so hope it means that films like BREAKING AWAY will be relevant for a long time. 
My wife and I had the good fortune of seeing BREAKING AWAY some years ago at a revival screening (with Paul Dooley in person). Even with revival house crowds it's sometimes tricky to guess how a film will play. Sure, they're primed to watch an older movie and but maybe it just doesn't connect with the crowd in the best way. There nothing worse than the feeling that a movie you love isn't going over well with the audience you're watching it with. Conversely, when a crowd and a movie line up just right, there's almost nothing better. Well that night we saw BREAKING AWAY was one of those amazing experiences. Especially towards the end, you could absolutely feel everyone in the theater so palpably emotionally engaged by the movie. It was fantastic and truly one of the best screenings I've ever been to. The movie took all those people and made them realize the power of great cinema. The remarkable way a good underdog story can affect you, no matter how old it is. Great cinema transcends time. I think that we as film fans need a reminder every so often that you can make an outstanding piece of work that will stand the test of time and only be about a handful of characters and that's it. No special effects, no robots fighting, just people living their lives and deciding what to do with them. Gloriously simple, yet as compelling and engaging as anything I've ever seen. 
Special Features:
This is one of those movies for which a commentary is a dream come true for me. Because it's a favorite of mine, I obviously want to hear as much information and stories about it as possible. And Dennis Christopher delivers right out of the gate with a really neat tale of how his character in the film was originally conceived and how he and Steve Tesich and Peter Yates worked out the amazing character that ended up in the movie. He and Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman have a wonderful discussion of the film on this track and bring out lots of charming stories from behind the scenes. Having lived with and loved this movie for as long as I have, this commentary just knocked me out and was everything I hoped it could be. This disc will absolutely be among my favorite releases of 2015. I can tell already. A must own.

Bonus: A few interview snippets I found online:

THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985; Woody Allen)
I always forget about the melancholy nature of this movie until I sit down to rewatch it again. There's a good deal of absurdist comedy too of course, but Mia Farrow's character has a pretty sad life outside of her obsessive movie watching. First off, she lives in the depression era, has a douchebag husband (Danny Aiello) and on top of that is stuck working a crappy waitressing job. Things are bleak for her until Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) steps out of the movie screen and sweeps her off her feet. It's as if Woody Allen decided to make a feature-length Twilight Zone episode in his own voice. Allen has often enjoyed throwing bits of fantasy into his films, but PURPLE ROSE may be his most fantastic outing. It's a case of movies reflecting life reflecting movies and the disconnect between happy endings and "real life". As you might expect from a Woody Allen fairy tale, it's not all champagne and catching shows at the Copacabana. No Woody is doing something a bit more meditative here. He is both examining the power that motion pictures have to bring us joy whilst at the same time warping our senses of "reality". It's really remarkable to think for a moment about how films and their tropes have absolutely infected our outlooks on a lot of things. Despite daily evidence to the contrary, we still really want to believe in happy endings in life. I'm not saying they don't exist, but that is one of the cruelest jokes the movies ever played on us. When do we actually have true endings in our lives (besides death). There's very little in the way of finality. We are haunted by our mistakes and scarred by the thoughtlessness of others, feelings of affection and loss linger with us indefinitely and we are never given those final credits and a delicate fade out to exit by. We long to escape into that magical flickering world of cinema only to have it push us psychologically further from the relationships and situations we encounter in our every day lives. I think Woody realizes all of this and it's lurking underneath the surface of PURPLE ROSE. We know that movies can sometimes be bad for us and yet we keep coming back. We keep looking for that horizon line where the fantasy and our reality might possibly touch each other, if only for just a moment. We cinephiles are all junkies for this stuff. Hopeless addicts. I must say I wouldn't have it any other way though. 

Bonus: This film reminds me just how fantastic Jeff Daniels is an actor. He was coming off of his breakthrough in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT when he made PURPLE ROSE. It's hard to believe that the movie is thirty years old now. Jeff Daniels hasn't lost a step in all that time. He's still one of my favorites. Here he is speaking about his role in the film:

Both BREAKING AWAY and THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO can be ordered online from Screen

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