Monday, March 2, 2015

COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN 1982

“Life is never quite interesting enough, somehow. You people who come to the movies know that.”                                                            Dolly Gallagher Levi - The Matchmaker

Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is a (melo)dramatization of what can happen to lives when the consoling balm of idol worship (movie or otherwise) becomes a crutch for self-delusion, avoidance, and the denial of truth.

As anyone knows who has spent more than five minutes at an autograph convention; attended a pro sporting event; visited Comic-Con; stood among the glassy-eyed throngs outside a movie premiere; or navigated the choppy waters of an internet fansite chat room (a drama-queen war zone littered with trolling land mines): fame-culture idol worship and devout religious fanaticism are merely different sides of the same coin.

Life presents us with challenges and can sometimes feel like a cruel, dispiriting, achingly lonely place. In those moments when we feel its sting most keenly, it’s natural to seek solace (and sometimes escape) in the arts: that spiritual oasis of inspiration and beauty that has the power to restore hope to the human soul the way rainfall can restore life to the scorched, arid plains of a drought-plagued Texas town.
But all too often the need to salve the pain of life and fill the void of loneliness through external means (as opposed to, say, self-reflection and action) leads to the quick-fix distraction of fame culture. Fame culture being the existential bait-and-switch that says our personal lives can somehow be enriched through the over-idealization of someone else’s. Particularly the lives of those perfect demigods and goddesses of the silver screen.
Fame culture doesn’t speak to the individual who works to fulfill his/her potential through the inspirational example of the genius and talent of others. Fame culture merely requires one to surrender the concerns of one's own existence to the enthralled pursuit of information about, and preoccupation with, the comings and goings of the rich and famous. Such passive fealty is rewarded with the blessed gift of never having to think for a second about one's own life, one's own concerns, or anything remotely connected to what is real and germane to one's life. As questionable a tradeoff as this seems, it represents the absolute cornerstone of what we jokingly refer to as pop culture.
Believing is so funny isn’t it? When what you believe in doesn’t even know you exist.”

Entire networks and charitably 85% of the internet are devoted to feeding us ‘round-the-clock updates on what celebrities are up to. Celebrities whose careers and personal lives are staunchly and vigilantly defended against slander and attack by legions of devoted fans. Fandom of the sort that leads to cyber-bullying, broken friendships, and in extreme cases, death threats.
All rather sad when faced with the reality that celebrities by and large go about the business of living their lives grateful for, yet blithely unaware of, said fans’ existence. (Outside of the hefty dollars fan devotion brings to their bank accounts. Enabling them -irony of ironies - to build stronger fortresses, hire more bodyguards, and enforce stricter security…all the better to keep fans at arm's length.)

 “‘Cause growing up is awfuller than all the awful things that ever were."    - Peter Pan  

The desire to lose oneself/find oneself in the idealized illusion of salvation presented by the arts and fame culture is something most keenly felt in adolescence. Adolescence being the time when, in the immortal words of The Facts of Life theme song: “The world never seems to be living up to your dreams” -  the kind of escapism that can be found in movies is often the only recourse left for bullied and isolated teenagers longing to feel a little less like outsiders and misfits. At its best, the idol worship of celebrities and movie stars can be a catalyst for change and growth, providing a hopeful vision of a world not defined by the limitations of ignorance, bigotry, and small minds. At its worst, fame idolatry can be such an effective pain reliever that it encourages avoidance, inhibits emotional growth, and promotes living in the past.
September 30, 1955
Members of the McCarthy, Texas James Dean Fan Club, The Disciples of James Dean,
react to news of the actor's death 

“Think what you can keep ignoring…”  Stephen Sondheim  -  Company 

Sandy Dennis as Mona
Cher as Sissy
Karen Black as Joanne
The year is 1975, and on the 20th anniversary of the death of James Dean, the last remaining members of The Disciples of James Dean (make that the last remaining  interested members) - a fan club which held its weekly meetings afterhours in the local Woolworth’s 5 & Dime - return to the drought-ridden, near-deserted, West Texas town of McCarthy for a reunion.
Still residing in McCarthy in various states of arrested development are: moralistic bible-thumper, Juanita (Sudie Bond), who inherited the 5 & Dime after her husband died; goodtime girl, Sissy (Cher), “The best roller-skater in all of West Texas” and over-proud owner of the biggest boobs in town; and Mona (Dennis),James Dean fan club leader and lifetime Woolworth employee whose preeminent moment in life was being chosen as an extra in the film Giant (although no one has ever been able to find her in the film), and who lays claim to being the mother of James Dean’s only son.
Kathy Bates as Stella Mae
The only out-of-town attendees are boisterous Stella Mae (Kathy Bates), now the wife of a Dallas oil millionaire, and mousy Edna Louise (Marta Heflin), pregnant with her 7th child and still, as she was in high-school, ever on the receiving end of Stella Mae’s relentless verbal abuse.
Into this airless environment of stasis comes Joanne (a wonderfully reined-in Karen Black), a chaos device in a tailored suit, a woman-mysterious in a yellow Porsche (Dean died in a Porsche). In true Southern Gothic tradition, her presence incites the unearthing of secrets and the head-on confrontation of several dark and painful truths.
And as for the two Jimmy Deans of the title, they are less a titular redundancy than a reference to the two unseen Jimmy Deans of the tale. One is the Hollywood actor whose untimely death at age twenty-four assured him a place of cultish immortality; the other is Mona's twenty-year-old son Jimmy Dean Jr, a rebel with considerable cause. Both are the unseen male presence - "ghosts" if you will - which figure so prominently in Mona's delusions. They make her feel special and give her life importance.
Marta Heflin as Edna Louise
As titles go, I was never too crazy about Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean which always reminded me too much of the unpleasant, similarly phrase-titled 1976 film, When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? …which as it so happens, also had a diner setting. But I suppose it might be a nod to Inge's Come Back Little Sheba and that play's similar theme of longing for an idealized past. But who cares about a title when you have Altman alumnae Sandy Dennis (That Cold Day in the Park) and Karen Black (Nashville) joined by pop-star, tabloid queen, Cher, returning to the big screen for the first time since her somnambulistic title-role performance in 1969s Chastity?

I saw Jimmy Dean when it was released in Los Angeles in the fall of 1982. The buzz at the time was that, on the heels of the flop trifecta of Quintet, A Perfect Couple, and HealtH (the latter I don’t recall even opening in LA), plus the off-beat oddity that was Popeye; Jimmy Dean was to be a return to 3 Women form for Altman. Filmed on a shoestring budget, shot on Super16mm and blown up to 35mm, in a year of bloated megafilms (ET, Annie, Tron) Jimmy Dean was small, personal, and idiosyncratically appealing (and oh so 70s) in its determination to be an anti-blockbuster.
Featuring the same cast as the film, Robert Altman mounted a much-ballyhooed Broadway production of Ed Graczyk's play early in 1982. The critics were not kind. The show closed after 52 performances. A week later the film version was underway and completed in 19 days.

Long before Carol Burnett’s hilarious “Eunice” character came along and forever altered my ability to take the genre completely seriously, I have been in love with Southern Gothic films. Adapted from the works of authors like Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and William Inge, these extravagantly melodramatic films had their heyday in the sexually repressed climate of the 50s. Their crisis-filled plots – all sex, secrets, lies, and hypocrisy – stylistically dramatizing the submerged conflicts and contradictions of an era obsessed with sex, yet rooted in conservative Christian dogma and the sustained illusion of conformity at all costs.
Though initially drawn to the genre for its female-driven narratives and the camp potential of the traditionally overheated performances; I eventually came to appreciate the subtle queer-coding concealed in so many of the stories related to isolated individuals struggling to find love and self-acceptance in environments unsympathetic to anyone not fitting in with the mainstream.
Making his film debut as Joseph Qualley, a teen bullied for dressing up in women's clothes,
openly gay actor Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2) was a real-life victim of bullying
growing up in his hometown of Riverside, Mo.
Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean may not be true Southern Gothic per se, but it has all the trimmings. It’s got ponderous themes (Is the entire world just a deserted dustbowl full of pitiful souls trying to give their lives meaning by worshiping gods that don’t know we exist?); weighty symbolism (Reata, the palatial mansion in Giant, is, like so many of the characters at the 5 & Dime, only a false façade); religious allegory (Mona's assertion that she was "chosen" to bring Dean's only son into the world); and a steady stream of tearful disclosures and shocking revelations done to a fare-thee-well by a cast to die for.
"Miracle Whip is poetry, mayonnaise isn't."
Robert Altman defending one of the improvised changes he imposed upon Graczyk's screenplay.
Sudie Bond as Juanita 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
In his book, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, late film critic Robin Wood makes an interesting point about how often the best of Robert Altman’s films are those expressing the female (if not necessarily feminist) perspective. I’d have to agree. Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, makes a superb companion piece to 3 Women: the former being a study in reality imposing itself upon the guarded illusions of women with nothing to cling to but the dreams of the past; the latter a kind of magic-realist exercise in which fantasy and wish-fulfillment come to erode the personalities of three dissimilar women.
While I've always had a little problem with the actual screenplay of Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (five major epiphanies in one afternoon must be some kind of record), I have nothing but praise for the stellar performances, the film's themes, and Altman's sensitive and thoughtful direction. This movie is a MAJOR favorite.


PERFORMANCES
It took the formulaic, “high-concept” Hollywood of the 1980s to unite my favorite iconoclast director with two of the most famously idiosyncratic actresses of the 70s. Much has been written about the mannered acting styles of Sandy Dennis and Karen Black, but in Jimmy Dean, the stark originality of these actresses rescues the film from the kind of Steel Magnolias down-home, southern-fried clichés Graczyk’s screenplay flirts so recklessly with.
As with so many Altman films, the performances here represent the best example of ensemble work, each character fleshed out in ways that make even the most theatrical contrivances of the plot feel genuine and emanating from a place of authenticity.

Deservedly so, Cher was singled out for a great deal of critical acclaim for her performance. After having become something of a tabloid punchline for the public soap-opera that was her personal life, she amazed audiences by more than holding her own with several formidable seasoned professionals. Her relaxed, natural performance nicely offsets the more eccentric contributions of her costars (although Sudie Bond comes across as perhaps the most real of Graczyk's characters) and she is a delight to watch. Mike Nichols, after seeing her in the Broadway production, cast her opposite Meryl Streep in 1983s Silkwood

THE STUFF OF FANTASY 
One of my favorite quotes is Bergen Evans’ “We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us. 
In Jimmy Dean the past of 1955 and the present of 1975 play out simultaneously on opposite sides of mirrors situated behind the Woolworth’s soda fountain counter; each side serving to illuminate and provide insight and counterpoint to the actions and motivations of the characters.
I’ve never seen a theatrical production of this film, but on the DVD commentary, the playwright says it was Altman’s idea (one he didn’t agree with) to have the same actors play their adult and 16-year-old selves. Maybe the decision isn’t true to Graczyk’s vision, but Altman’s idea makes for a marvelous visual commentary on how these characters never change. Watching the youthful 1955 sequences played by the same mature actresses in the 1975 scenes reinforced for me the feeling that the seeds of what these characters would become has already taken root. It’s a creative choice which I think imbues Graczyk's sometimes overstressed plot points with real poignancy and poetry.
Maybe people don't change. Perhaps we just never saw who they really were. 

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Robert Altman has often expressed a dislike of idol worship and fame culture, feeling it distracts people from looking at their own problems and, like religion, encourages them not to think for themselves. It's  certainly a theme he’s addressed before in his films (Nashville, Buffalo Bill & the Indians, HealtH, and The Player).
In a 1982 interview for New York Magazine, Robert Atman stated that one of the main reasons he was drawn to making Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was to counterbalance his 1957 documentary, The James Dean Story. A sparse, nonsensationalistic look at the brief life of the actor he felt was misunderstood and subverted into a work of hagiography by James Dean cultists.
Thanks to the internet, I at last got to see that for-years-rumored-about nude photo of James Dean that figures in the narrative and Stella Mae paid over $50 dollars for (Edna Louise: "Is that a tree branch in his hand, or what?"). I don't think it looks much like him, but I do love a good myth.

Altman’s adaptation of Graczyk’s play, which depicts the most devout of Dean’s worshippers as an intensely unbalanced woman coping with the emptiness of her existence by shrouding herself in an elaborate delusion, does indeed stand in stark contrast to the harmless, romanticized view of fandom promoted by the media and so-called entertainment news. A point of view all the more rarefied when applied to otherwise unassailable pop-cultural icons like James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe.

But what I found most provocative and what gave me the most food for thought in Jimmy Dean is how ingeniously it dramatized the two-way mirror effect of idol worship.
One side of the mirror is idealized fantasy, the other is reality. The idealized side is the side we project ourselves into when we escape into movies or obsess over the lives of celebrities. There, time is frozen. We don’t have to grow up, and the only risk is that it can become a time-stealing distraction.
The reality side of the mirror offers nothing but the naked lightbulb of having to look clearly at ourselves and our lives. Tragedy is when the world of dreams feels so compelling to us, reality pales in comparison. Salvation comes through the realization that it is only on the reality side of the mirror where genuine happiness and fulfillment is possible.
Altman may have disliked celebrity culture, but idol-worship (in the form of the standing-room-only
throngs crammed into the Martin Beck Theater to see Cher's legit stage debut)
played a huge role in the play lasting even 52 performances
Like a great many gay men of my generation who grew up feeling isolated and misunderstood, movies were my solace, escape, salvation, and inspiration. I grew up loving movies and movie stars, and, as the title of this blog asserts, they were the stuff to inspire dreams. I was one of the lucky ones in that I didn’t lose myself in my love of movies (well, not completely) and that my own pop cultural obsession (Xanadu…yes, THAT Xanadu) altered the course of my life and led me to a profession which has been more fulfilling to me than I ever could have imagined.

Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is a reminder that the arts are here to help us better cope with life, not retreat from it.

BONUS MATERIAL
Sandy Dennis' character in this film claims that her child is the son of James Dean. In the 2007 documentary Confessions of a Superhero, Christopher Dennis, a wannabe actor who dresses as Superman for tips in front of Grauman's Chinese theater, claims to be the secret son of Sandy Dennis.

Somewhat hooty 1982 TV commercial for the brief Broadway run of Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

Robert Altman's documentary: The James Dean Story (1957) on YouTube.

Cher actually made her feature film debut playing herself opposite Sonny Bono in the musical comedy spoof, Good Times - 1967 (it's also director William Friedkin's first film, and is in its own way, every bit as terrifying as The Exorcist). In 1969 with a script by Bono, Cher made her dramatic acting debut in ChastityA film in which she plays a hippie drifter with one facial expression. Both are available on YouTube and are prime examples of late-60s cinema.

The DVD of Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean has as its only extra feature, a great, many-axes-to-grind interview with playwright Ed Graczyk, who. while respectful, clearly did not relish working with Robert Altman. Like listening to an embittered Paul Morrissey griping about how Andy Warhol got all the credit for the films he directed, Graczyk seems loathe to extend any gratitude to Altman for his part in making Jimmy Dean the playwright's most well-known play. Instead he devotes considerable time detailing (in admittedly  enjoyable behind-the-scenes- anecdotes) the many ways in which Altman deviated from his original concept.

The Disciples of James Dean - 1955
James Dean is the perfect pop culture icon. A figure of idolatry who didn't live long enough to
disappoint, disillusion, or age (in other words, seem human), Like all gods, he remains forever unchanged in a state of youthful perfection, 
Copyright © Ken Anderson

21 comments:

  1. Ken, What a great post, not just about "Jimmy Dean," but the public and pop culture.

    I too, was a gay teen who discovered old movies on TV. During the '70s, I watched Cher every week on TV, and read about Liz Taylor's travails in the tabloids like a research scientist. But as I headed into my 20s, I realized that pop culture had its place, but I needed to live a real life. And that meant coming out. But obviously, I still love movies and movie stars, or I wouldn't be visiting here for my fix ; )

    Your post on "The Last of Sheila" inspired me to renew my Netflix account after 6 years and guess what's the next movie on my list: "Jimmy Dean"! Great minds think alike!

    Did you know Altman originally offered Cher the Karen Black role? But she asked to play Sissy? A smart move on Cher's part, because it is a more down-to-earth role, without the stunt-like surprise of Joanne's character.

    It took Cher nearly a decade to get into movies, because her image was so strong, and apparently negative to studios. I always thought that attitude was crazy, because her skills on TV went from a stone faced mannequin to an ingratiating, funny, glamorous but down-to-earth broad in the manner of old stars like Ann Sheridan, Linda Darnell or Carole Lombard.

    What's ironic is that after the play ended, Altman approached Cher about doing the film viersion of "Jimmy Dean." Cher didn't really want to as she was signed for "Silkwood" and on her way to a movie career. But when Altman told her he couldn't get the financing without her name, she immediately said yes. So celebrity has its uses and Cher finally was proved as a viable name in movies. I always wished she would have continued in this direction, but the lucrative business of being "Cher" trumped her movie career.

    I look forward to hearing the playwright's commentary, but he really should thank his lucky stars that Altman chose to bring his work to the stage and film.

    Oh, and don't you love the scene where Cher's Sissy mocks Sandy Dennis' facial tics? Dennis used to drive my Mom crazy with her mannerisms and she laughed out loud when she saw Cher skewer them!

    I look forward to seeing "Jimmy Dean," finally out on DVD...what took so long?

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    1. Hi Rick
      Why thank you very much! I'm glad you liked the post. My partner and I were talking at length about the many things "Jimmie Dean" is about, but what always resonated most strongly for me was what it had to say about the necessity of choosing real life over fantasy.

      I suppose it has a lot to do with my being gay and having been raised Catholic. I grew up around false idols!

      While researching this post I read that Cher had been read for the for the Joanne role (and I learned Sally Kellerman was an early Joanne choice, as well as Shelley Duvall for Edna Louise), but I had no idea of her reluctance to do the movie.
      Athough I was a big fan of Cher too, I remember being rather astonished at how good she was. I liked her, but she was practically a Charo figure to me. she had been impersonated and parodied so long i was never sure I'd be able to take her seriously in a role. She knocked my socks off in this.
      Around the time she made "Suspect" I felt the promise of her screen career was fading, but she was totally enchanting in "Moonstruck."

      And thanks for mentioning the Sandy Dennis impersonation scene! It got the biggest laugh when i saw it in the theater. I have to believe it was one of those improvisations that drove the playwright so crazy, but for anyone who thought Sandy Dennis had it coming, Cher totally nailed it. I can see it in my minds eye now. Such a hoot!
      Congrats on re-upping with Netflix, and I'm pleased the films we've discussed here are also the ones you're most interested in revisiting!
      Good to hear from you, Rico! Thanks for coming back for your "fix"!

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  2. Hi Ken,

    Wonderful as usual, like Rico I enjoyed your look at celebrity culture and its pervasiveness.

    It has been many,many years since I've watched this. I saw it upon initial release in theatres, a little arthouse theatre in the city with a friend and about 30 others in the place so my memory of it isn't terribly strong. I remember the three leads, the major inducement for my buddy and I to go-he being a big Karen Black fan and me because I had seen a shot of the three of them in a row publicizing the play and thought what a trippy line up. But I have no memory of Kathy Bates even being in it, it would be worth watching again just to see her then.

    We both liked it but I also recall telling various friends and family that I had seen it and getting a blank stare. Once I mentioned the cast there were flickers of recognition but it seemed very few even knew about the film. My recollection is hazy but I do recall thinking that the quirky cast fit the material and that Altman was the right director for the material.

    I thought Cher came across best but then my liking of both Sandy Dennis and Karen Black is on the cooler side. They can be fine if they keep their individual flutterings and stutterings in check, a little of that goes a long way. For instance Sandy won the Oscar for Virginia Woolf and I can't bear her in it, but in Up the Down Staircase where she's under control for me she's much better. Black at times was even more nerve wracking, she could bounce back and forth between restraint and excess in the same film but when she modulated her work she could be very good.

    You're really on a tear bringing us one fantastic piece after another lately and I thank you. Look forward to whatever you turn your eyes to next but I'm always hopeful that someday you'll get around to the train wreck that is Where Love Has Gone or one of my personal favorites the lush corporate soaper Woman's World with Betty Bacall, Arlene Dahl and June Allyson.

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    1. Hi Joel
      Before my partner gifted me with a DVD of this film for Christmas, more than 25 years had passed since I saw it.
      I love seeing films I enjoyed in my youth and discovering to what extent my advanced age and maturity (or lack of it) changes how I perceive it.
      It holds up remarkably well, and I think you'll enjoy Karen Black in subdued mode. Although I think Dennis is fantastic here, based on what you wrote, I sense she'll drive you up a wall! (Your appraisal of these actresses is hilarious...I adore Karen black, But who couldn't help but smile at a description of some of her performances as being "nerve wracking?"

      i really like seeing Cher's old face (I've always liked it more than the revamped version) and I think the plot feels less contrived to me now than it once did.
      I think you're on the right track in noting that Altman was a a good choice for the material and the quirky cast is rather perfect for the quirky plot. With a more "normal" cast, I think it would come off like "Steel Magnolias,"
      i still have yet to see "Women's World" but on your recommendation i caught "Where Love as Gone" as soon as I could.
      I'm always flattered that you return to read these posts and always contribute to the always interesting dialog in the comments section.
      Thanks so much, Joel! If you ever give this another look, let us know what you think.

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  3. Ken, thanks for highlighting one of my all-time-favorite "forgotten" films. I have always loved Robert Altman because he takes risks and chances, and this is just about his quirkiest movie. It's obviously quickie and low-budget, and I never saw it play any movie theater near me...I first saw it on HBO where it was scheduled at like 3 a.m. on a Tuesday. Thank God for Beta-Max!

    BUT we are lucky to have this filmed record of the play, which unfortunately flopped...poor Ed Graczyk never did anything else of note; his play was already a little old-fashioned for its time. (Although Steel Magnolias did indeed bring the genre back to life, as you note, a few years later.)

    All I can say is, what a cast! I am a huge fan of Karen Black and Sandy Dennis, and Cher is just marvelous. Also fun to see Kathy Bates pre-Misery...I would definitely put Jimmy Dean on each of these actors' "Best Films Of" list, despite its original failure.

    Cher's next film, Silkwood, also has Sudie Bond (Juanita) as a fellow nuclear plant worker who gets "fried" by radiation...I guess Mike Nichols remembered her from this film as well...

    Ken, I wonder what version of the DVD you have which has the Ed Graczyk interview? The DVD I have is a homemade VHS transfer I bought from a fellow film fanatic, but if there is a better print with that extra footage, I'd love to have it. Let me know.

    Again, thanks for covering this little-known GEM of a film!! Thanks to you, I now own Night Watch and Dinah East and count them among my all-time favorite films. This blog is so stimulating for all us movie freaks!! You are awesome!
    -Chris

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    1. Hey Chris
      I'm not surprised that this is one of your favorites. It was released on Blu-Ray and DVD last November. The copy looks the best I've ever seen it (as good as a 16 mm blow up can, I guess).
      i remember when it aired on cable tv, and I really think that is the last time I saw it. I never had it on VHS.

      And yes, it does have quite a remarkable cast! I forgot about Sudie Bond in "Silkwood", I can see her now getting scrubbed down like a dray horse.
      And you mentioned about Graczyk never doing another show of note- I took a look at a couple of YouTube clips of semi-professional /amateur productions of "Jimmy Dean," and I really wonder if I would have liked the story at all except under Altman's care and with this cast. What I saw really make the this show look like an unseen "Eunice" episode.
      Lastly, I had no idea I had a small hand in your owning "Night Watch" and "Dinah East"! Some of your friends might consider me and my blog a bad influence. :-)
      Thanks Chris, for always being so encouraging to me, and I hope you get your hands on a copy of the "Jimmy Dean" DVD!

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  4. Love, love, love this movie. I saw it in an NYC cinema when it was released and it didn't look good then. If you told me it was shot on Super 8 film, I could believe you. The short shooting schedule could only have exacerbated the limitations inherent in the 16mm format. That this quirky little film exists at all is a miracle and a testament to Cher. One must read Frank Rich's scathing NY Times review of the Broadway production to appreciate the miracle of Cher and her fund raising abilities. It's not just a bad review, it's a very bad bad review. Eek.

    The play is dreadful, but Altman is Altman and he conjures up things that only he can conjure. And here he gets to conjure with richly drawn characters and good actors portraying them. Sadly, the script makes about as much sense as The Sound of Music. But just as SOM is salvaged by the winning performance of Julie Andrews, the performances in Come Back to the Five and Dime are wonderful and save the day.

    That's the only reason to watch this lovely little weirdo of a movie. The performances. Sudie Bond is unforgettable. Everyone is. I am so happy that it has been preserved on Blu-ray.

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    1. Hi George
      Oh, I did indeed read that NY Times review (way back when the show opened, but more recently in researching this post) and it is pretty scathing. I'm not a theater person, but I think the kind of celebrity stunt-casting so common on Broadway now wasn't so prevalent then, and Cher hitting the boards was enough to make the show a nightly sell out.
      Even the playwright says that the film is better than the stage production, but that neither one is really "his". I think he should be grateful for that.
      I don't have the same problem with the play as you, but I agree that the film is salvaged and made watchable exclusively on the strength, charisma and skill of the cast. They spin straw into gold.
      I'm glad it finally came out on DVD as well.
      Funny to have first seen this when I was so young, and again now that I'm older than the characters. Memory plays like this seem to improve with age.
      Glad to know you're a a fan of this film too!

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  5. "Funny to have first seen this when I was so young, and again now that I'm older than the characters."

    Oh, my yes. Seeing CABARET as an adolescent, I thought Liza Minnelli really was a glamorous adult leading a glamorous life. Revisiting it decades (upon decades!) later, I was stunned by how young she was, practically a baby, and playing with fire. It was at a BC/EFA fund raising screening a few years ago and Liza was there... on crutches. Yes, things change with time. Indeed, they do.

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  6. Just watched "Jimmy Dean" the other day...I was not disappointed.

    But what a drag that the only extra on the DVD was the interview with the playwright, Ed Graczyk. The history of his play is fascinating and Ed is certainly entitled to his take on Altman's take on his play. But it felt like a very controlled rant about his play being ruined. And at the very end, he comments that the play is done dozens of times a year and someday he will see the version that he sees in his mind...I doubt he ever will!

    If it wasn't for Altman and Cher going ahead with the film version of "Jimmy Dean," the play would probably be a dim memory...far less performed, and far less royalties for Graczyk.

    At least he had nice things to say about Sandy Dennis!

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    1. Glad you checked it out!
      Yes, it's too bad there weren't more extras on the DVD. Especially too bad Altman wasn't around for the DVD commentary. His commentary tracks for his films are like taking a film course.
      i agree with you that the interview with the playwright is like a controlled rant. One I think he has been resentfully holding onto in the shadow of all the attention accorded Altman, and all the brickbats hurled at his play.
      I was amused by the "score to settle" tone of Graczyk's interview. I think I can understand his artistic frustration at having someone take over you work, but his ego seems to blind him to the failings of his play and how (whether he liked it or not) in many ways Altman was the best thing to happen to him.
      Every artist fights for their vision, but I'm not too sure where Graczyks confidence in his vision comes from. Just as he did for the rather pulpish novel "That Cold Day in the Park", I think Altman found the art amidst Graczyk's artifice.
      So appreciate your returning here with the update, Rick! Thanks!

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  7. Another great one, thanks Ken. I am watching Xanadu (yes, THAT Xanadu) now and thanking you for making me want to revisit it.

    Although I love this movie, and wow - that solo still of Cher above is just stunning - I long for you to give your treatment to Altman's "Three Women." A favorite of mine (is it wrong that I watched it as a child?), and one you use for a nice compare/contrast above.

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    1. Hi Tanyadiva!
      Thank you very much for the compliment! I absolutely adore that you're watching "Xanadu" (of all things!) Every time someone watches "Xanadu" an angel gets its leg-warmers.

      As much as I love "Jimmy Dean" any favorite list of Altman for me starts with "3 Women" as well. I'm impressed that you saw it as a child! Makes me wonder what a young mind did with those images.
      I wrote about "3 Women" way back when I started my blog, but it's one of the few films I want to revisit on this site.

      http://lecinemadreams.blogspot.com/2009/11/3-women-1977.html

      Back then I was more concerned with keeping a film diary...these days I like to go into what a film means to me and perhaps look at what a film like this expresses (5 years later) compared to what "3 Women" had to say in the 70s.
      Thanks for asking about it and jogging my memory!

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  8. Thanks, Ken. I hadn't seen it in the archives (I have read your site pretty extensively, as you know!) but I will recheck with the link.

    Last night, an angel did indeed get their leg warmers...

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  9. Another great analysis. I'm impressed with both your thoughtfulness and research. This is another film I haven't seen in ages but you've perky my interest to see again.

    Cher was terrific in the film. Sandy Dennis's character were like over wound coils. You could feel the tension beneath the surface. When seeing her in films, I always had the conflicting emotions wanting to hug her and tell her everything is going to babe all right and wanting to run away as far as I could go.

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    1. Not sure how I missed this post, but better late than never:
      Thanks for commenting and I hope by now you have seen the film again. Sort of amazing how it holds up.

      By the way, that's the most perfect description of Sandy Dennis' conflicting appeal I've ever read!

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    2. Great observations, Gregory.
      I'm reading a book about Altman now, and I like your impression of how his films all seem to exist simultaneously in one creative universe.
      Like you, I tend to find there to be something valuable in all Altman's films (alas, MASH is lost to me, it's his one movie I cant abide), and I think I need to revisit some of the ones I saw so long ago and had mixed feelings about (Cookie's Fortune).

      The comparison of Altman's work to Noh theater is very thoughtful and well-considered. It seems with each successive film you "revisit" by way of this blog, you grant yourself the opportunity to explore your experience of a film through a past/present prism.
      Your deep response to movies is a perfect fit for this blog and is right in step with so many of the readers who so graciously share their comments here. Thanks, Gregory. Always a pleasure!

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  11. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record (Do people still use that cliche?), but this is yet another excellent and thoughtful post. You never disappoint, Ken!

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    1. I still use that cliche! And when in the service of such a lovely compliment, there's nothing cliche about it, in my book. Thank you very much, Thom. Really.

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