Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Big Brass Ring

The Big Brass Ring has been getting lots of bad reviews in IMDb, and I can easily understand them, since they are right about many things: the story is convoluted, the character development is hazy, the scenes are dark and the actors don't do much.

But that's because the film-makers wanted it that way. At least that's how I saw the movie. It's made from the last script Orson Welles did, with his companion Oja Kodar, and the director is George Hickenlooper, an interesting film-maker in his own right. (Oh, he died last year! I hadn't realized!) The story is about two indie candidates running for guvernor in a Southern state. William Hurt is the good guy of the two, but he seems to have a secret. It's unraveled slowly, through flashbacks that are not in chronological order.

There are real problems in the film (I don't think a convoluted story or dark scenes are real problems), and that's the fact you can't really empathize with these people. They are pretty much too slight, too far away, too distant, and that's something that I don't think the film-makers (nor Welles in his script) wanted to do. It's just a flaw in the film. Some of the actors don't have much to do, like Irene Jacob, whose journalist character is a bit stiff. One of the problems is also that there's a feeling of undecidedness. In the beginning the film feels like it's taking place sometime in the 1960's, before the civil rights movement and all that, but still it takes place in the present time. This is confusing, since the story itself and the central characters could be better suited to the sixties, as some of them are almost straight out of such films as A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Chase (Arthur Penn's seminal small town film).

As for Hickenlooper, I've also seen his Persons Unknown, an interesting crime film with Joe Mantegna, Naomi Watts and Kelly Lynch.

The Big Brass Ring is also interesting, but probably meant for Orson Welles completists only. At IMDb there's an interesting comment from the script writer, F.X. Feeney. Welles's script seems to have been published as a book.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

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