VCR Alert: The Sundance Channel screens James Bridges' "September 30, 1955" (1978) on July 10 and 11.
Bridges left only a handful of films that he directed when he died at age 57 in 1993 and, in a matter of full disclosure, I like them all - even the imperfect "Perfect."
Following the success of his breakthrough movie, "The Paper Chase" (his second), Bridges did what most shrewd and resourceful filmmakers do. He used his newly-found clout to make the kind of intensely personal movie that he might not get a chance to do later in his career.
The film was "September 30, 1955 - originally titled 9/30/55 - an evocative autobiographical exercise in which Bridges nakedly exposed what movies and movie stars can mean to people, particularly those stranded in middle American. Particuarly to one Jimmy Bridges.
The film is a heartfelt reminder of how we are sustained through life by movies and their icons. Richard Thomas, as Bridges' on-screen surrogate, named Jimmy J, plays an artless, impressionable young man driven to distraction when he hears of the death of his movie idol, James Dean. Thomas, who turns in a truly daring performance here, often bordering on the deranged, is supported by an ace cast - Tom Hulce, Dennis Quaid, Lisa Blount, Dennis Christopher and the appealing Deborah Benson.
Universal, not knowing what to do with what was clearly an art film, basically dumped "September 30, 1955, with scant advertising.
For the record, Bridges' other directorial efforts include two of my favorites, "Urban Cowboy" and the truncated "Mike's Murder"; "The Baby Maker," his first film, and "Bright Lights, Big City," his last.
Note in Passing: Leonard Rosenmann, who scored the Dean films, "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause," composed the music here for Bridges. A nice circuity to that.
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Richard Thomas in James Bridges' " September 30, 1955")