Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Only a 'Paper Moon' !!

Monday Movie  .... & the News that Ireland is Bankrupt.  It's Official!  The IMF (International Monetary Fund) have moved in to 'take over' the levers of the economy of my native land.   And, over this weekend I wondered just how safe are the really insubstantial funds I still have in my Irish bank account.  Visions of Weimar & the currency run on the Deutsch Mark in the 1930's abound.  So too does the 1929 Wall Street Crash ~ although America is nowhere near the dire financial straits of Europe,  where the collapse of the entire currency seems possible.  I got to wondering what if this happened & I retrieved my money from 'under my pillow' .... just how worthless the piles of paper would become.  Mental images of the Bank Collapse in 'Mary Poppins' popped into my head.  And Steinbeck.  And the American Depression Era.   And I watched the 1973 Movie 'Paper Moon'.  To say I was impressed is the understatement of the decade.  I'm still humming the theme tune this morning.

Peter Bogdanovich's 'Paper Moon' is a work by a director preoccupied with Hollywood's classic film genres. This film was inspired by Little Miss Marker (1934), a Shirley Temple vehicle in which the child star won out over an opportunist. Tatum O’Neal was nine years old and had never acted in her life when she played one of the lead roles opposite her father, then superstar Ryan O’Neal, and became the (still) youngest person to ever win an Oscar. Watching Paper Moon, it’s impossible to deny the power and subtlety of her performance, and how it avoids all the traps and pitfalls into which so many child actors fall (she’s been well described as an anti-Shirley Temple). She and Ryan O’Neal develop a brilliant, absolutely convincing rapport throughout the film, whether they’re arguing heatedly about the merits of Franklin Roosevelt or stealing quick glances at each other that suggest there is much more emotional connection between them than either one would ever admit out loud. The acting is quite superb!

Paper Moon is set in the dusty, chalky backroads of rural Kansas circa 1935. It’s a funny-sweet story about hard times and desperate people, and it has a genuine heart that makes even some of its most clichéd moments ring true. Bogdanovich was at the top of his game when he made the film, having just scored with 1971’s bittersweet 'The Last Picture Show' ~ which may even make my list here of Movies I like!  And,  Like The Last Picture Show, this film was at once an evocation of a specific time and place and a commentary on it. And also like that film, Paper Moon was also shot in black-and white, an homage to 'The Grapes of Wrath' maybe,  another classic 'depression' era movie.

Ryan O’Neal stars as Moses Pray, an itinerant con man roaming through Depression-era America trying to make a few bucks off recent widows by selling them Bibles he claims their recently departed husbands ordered for them. He meets his match in Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), a headstrong nine-year-old orphan who may or may not be his daughter (“We got the same jaw,” she declares, and they do). Although Moses is only supposed to drive Addie to the next state and drop her off with her aunt, he learns that she is a quick study and a devious little con artist herself, and, despite their initial friction, they team up into an unlikely maybe-father/daughter grifter team (the fact that it is never revealed for sure if he is her father is one of the movie’s great charms). 
Moses’ original mission is to deliver Addie to her aunt, back east in Missouri. But ever the opportunist, he uses her to bait a factory owner in a simple con for $200. Moments later, after Moses has already spent the money, Addie demands it all from him. She threatens to turn him in to the nearest Lawman if he doesn’t give it to her.  A total anathema to a Grifter .... which she has 'cottoned on to' pretty quickly for a pretty little girl.   The Dialogue Rocks!

“But I don’t have it!” Moses says.    “Then get it!” Addie fires back.   

The most controversial aspect of  Paper Moon is the character of Addie Loggins,  a far cry from the roles played by Shirley Temple and other Hollywood child-stars.   Addie is a precocious nine-year old girl who manipulates Moses in the best way possible. Tough in attitude and behaviour, she swears, & worse.  In her leisure, Addie stays in bed, lights herself a cigarette, and listens to the radio. Completely adaptable to changing conditions, Addie saves Moses several times. Moses sells the bible to bereaved widows, whose names he takes from obituaries. Highly intuitive, it's Addie who sets the price for the sale; when she senses it's a rich man's house, the price goes up. Addie has no moral scruples and is not above cheating. She embarrasses a cashier in a department store, implying that she had given him a twenty (actually five) dollar bill.   Paper Moon could have easily become a “cutesy” movie ~ but it isn’t. Addie’s performance could have gone into precocious Dakota Fanning or Haley Joel Osment territory, but it doesn’t.  In long-take scene after long-take scene, Tatum O’Neal remarkably holds her own with her father.   Addie is in nearly every scene of the film.  It’s her point of view that dominates the story. 

The story is composed largely of a series of loosely connected comical adventures that slowly develop the relationship between Moses and Addie. At one point, Moses picks up a big-breasted floozie (Irish Word??) named Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn at her ditzy-sad best), and Addie feels so threatened that she has to devise an elaborate scheme to break them up. The last third of the movie involves a protracted grift in which Moses sells a bootlegger $650 of his own booze and incurs the wrath of the bootlegger’s corrupt policeman brother (both characters are played by John Hillerman).

The eponymous Trixie Delight!
 All of this is set against the backdrop of America at its economic worst.   It Looks like a true 1930's Depression era issue.   Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs did an outstanding job of utilizing high-contrast black-and-white photography and deep focus to make the flat landscape and arching sky feel as gritty and real as true life (the fact that he was not even nominated for an Oscar was a grave oversight).  As it did in The Last Picture Show, the use of black and white also brings us closer into the era, both narratively and stylistically, as Paper Moon looks like it could easily be a John Ford road comedy from 1940. The period details in this film are quite impressive ~ the old cars, the old popular radio programmes featuring Jack Benny, Fibber McGeee, and others. Bogdanovich was a film scholar and historian before he was a director, and he knew exactly how to capture the essence of a bygone cinematic era and still make it relevant to a modern audience. This is a road movie with a twist, that almost makes the depression seem desirable,  even fun!!

Paper Moon works on many different levels. It’s an entertaining movie that can be equally enjoyed for its aesthetic value.   Any little girl, almost as precocious as Addie would just adores this movie.  It truly would be difficult to find more wholesome family entertainment & yet a cinematic venture which retains it's artistic edge.   This movie deserved every accolade it collected!

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