Sunday, May 16, 2010
cinema obscura: Joseph Anthony's "Tomorrow" (1972)
The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival (22 April to 6 May) just concluded its run and this year's Peter J. Owens Award went to a most deserving Robert Duvall.
The festival's program notes included an astute essay on Duvall, "An Acting Apostle," by Pam Grady, but the accompanying "selected filmmography" was noteworthy not for all the terrific Duvall films and performances that we now take for granted, but for what was missing - namely, Joseph Anthony's "Tomorrow" (1972) which, arguably, contains the actor's finest ... film ... work ... ever. Period.
Based on the affecting Horton Foote play, by way of one of William Faulkner's short stories, "Tomorrow" was brought to the screen intact by Anthony, a vastly underrated and now-forgotten director, with its original off-Broadway stars, Duvall and Olga Bellin, encoring.
The piece actually orginated as a TV play in 1960 for "Playhouse 90," where it was performed by Richard Boone and Kim Stanley, under the direction of Robert Mulligan. The Faulkner story originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on 23 November, 1940 and is included in his anthology of short stories, "Knight's Gambit."
Duvall plays the monosyllabic, illiterate, remote dirt farmer Jackson Fentry who befriends the pregnant, homeless Bellin's Sarah Eubanks and ends up raising her son after she dies. In the work's most piercing scene, Sarah's brutish kin come to claim the child, almost literally swooping down and scooping him up, returning Jackson to his sadly solitary life. The twist in this story is truly original, heart-breaking and cathartic.
If you ever wondered where Billy Bob Thornton got his idea for "Sling Blade's" Karl Childers, look no further. He was obviously inspired by Jackson Fentry. And, curiously, Duvall did a cameo in Thornton's film as Childer's father. From what I've seen of its trailer, Duvall's role in his latest film, Aaron Schneider's "Get Low," owes a great deal to Jackson Fentry as well. And guess what. Lucas Black from "Sling Blade" is in it.
Finally, you could also say that Foote himself appropriated a good portion of "Tomorrow" for his orginal screenplay for "Tender Mercies," which, of course, also starred Duvall and won him an Oscar.
But he deserved it more for his work in "Tomorrow."
And he's matched every step of the way in this sad, heart-breaking love story by Bellin, who made no other films and died young.
Sorry, SF, but you goofed. And in a big way.
Overlooking "Tomorrow" is unforgivable.
Posted by joe baltake at 1:58 PM