By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
APPETIZER: Review of Chappaquiddick
For those who imagine that Chappaquiddick is where Ethel and Norman Thayer’s Golden Pond flows into Hiawatha’s Gitche Gumee, a bit of modern history. On July 18, 1969, driving from a night party at a site on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard, U.S. Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-Mass.) made a wrong turn and went onto a rickety bridge without a railing. His car tipped over and fell into water. He escaped but Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, one of the “boiler room girls” at the party who had been idealistic workers for the 1968 campaign of Ted’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, died (she probably suffocated after exhausting an air bubble). Ted, athletic but alcoholic, had been drinking.
Chappaquiddick, huffing along like a tabloid news bulletin arriving half a century late, crams proven, likely and suspect facts and factoids into a lurid cartoon of criminal negligence and character collapse. It indicts Ted Kennedy as a callow, shallow man-boy of 37, dazed more by his legacy and three dead brothers than by his shock from the tragic accident. That he suffered shock, panicked, failed to report the accident for hours, and fell into the rough arms of a Kennedy rescue team for protection and media massage, is certain. But the factuals get very spongey in this film, which has the aroma of a calculated smear. At the end, I almost expected this credit: historical research by Bill O’Reilly and Steve Bannon.
Ted (modest look-alike Jason Clarke, working hard) is shifty-eyed and unhappy even before the accident, disturbed by talk of his inevitable Presidency. The creeping implication is that, feeling inadequate, he had a death wish for his “destiny,” and poor Kopechne was collateral damage. Ted’s choices on the grim night remain sticky and murky. In this hard-breathing rumor rummage of speculation, he ignores advice, fumbles alibis, fondles a football, straps on a neck brace, even flies a kite. He almost seems like a Kennedy pretender, imitating Nixon’s flop-sweat disaster in the first 1960 debate against JFK.
The family’s elite rescue squad (Robert McNamara, Ted Sorensen, etc.) swoops in as a cynical Irish Mafia, like a pirate crew recruited from every anti-Kennedy fantasy of the toxic right. The senator turns to his dad Joseph who, though half-dead from a stroke, slaps him and snarls. Mother Rose is never seen, and Ted’s wife Joan has one line, the eloquent “Go fuck yourself, Teddy.” Loyal cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) serves as the prod of Ted’s squishy conscience, and for his pains is humiliated: made to hold the cue cards for Kennedy’s TV speech.
The most memorable Kennedy is the patriarch, death gargoyle Joe. The eyes of veteran pro Bruce Dern, 81, haven’t blazed quite like this since he shot John Wayne in The Cowboys (Ted even gets snarked for attempting “John Wayne shit”). Director John Curran could handle a cholera epidemic in The Painted Veil, but this leering slum-along makes him look like a hack. Private, two-person conversations are re-imagined, and most of the suspense tactics are like vintage agit-prop, defamation drones launched by witers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. Their film is a crude gift for all the never-forgivers who don’t care to know that Ted Kennedy, despite alcoholism, became a great senator, father of major legislation like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. He lived until 2009 under a triple shadow: JFK, RFK and MJK (Mary Jo Kopechne). Dubious and mean-spirited, Chappaquiddick is a sniper on a knoll made of old National Enquirers.
SALAD (A List)
Twelve Strong Movies Set in New England:
Captains Courageous (director Victor Fleming, 1937),
The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle, 1941), The Stranger (Orson Welles, 1946), All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955), The Trouble With Harry (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955), The Last Hurrah (John Ford, 1958), The Devil’s Disciple (Guy Hamilton, 1959), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Sidney Lumet, 1962), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973), The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982), Ethan Frome (John Madden, 1993), The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006) and Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015). Photo above; Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman and deer in All That Heaven Allows.
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Though a friend of sorts with Charlie Chaplin, in the great Chaplin vs. Keaton debate Orson Welles was in Buster’s camp: “You’ve got to separate jokes from beauty. Chaplin had too much beauty, drenched his pictures with it. That’s why Keaton is finally giving him the bath and will, historically, forever. Oh yes, he’s so much greater … more versatile, more finally original. Some of the things that Keaton thought up to do are incredible,” (The debate will never end. Quote from My Lunches With Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles.)
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
Playing the sybaritic seeker Marcello in La Dolce Vita changed Marcello Mastroianni’s image, career and even view of himself. He was grateful, except for the new Latin Lover image, upset that “producers wished him to play men who were ‘somehow always slithering across the rug toward some beautiful woman.’ Fighting back, he became impotent in Il Bel Antonio, a cuckold in Divorce Italian Style, a myopic radical in The Organizer, a comically deluded monarch in Henry IV.” From the Mastroianni/La Dolce Vita chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)
DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
Suave, Sicilian Cefalu (Marcello Mastroianni) is not thrilled by his slightly moustached wife Rosalia (Daniella Rocca) in Divorce Italian Style (Janus Films, 1962; director Pietro Germi, cinematographers Leonida Barboni, Carlo Di Palma).
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