Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... THE MIRACLE WORKER

Only now does it occur to me...  that the nearly nine-minute knock-down drag-out brawl between Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller (as the former attempts to pierce the abyss and teach the latter table manners) is probably the most brutal, drawn-out skirmish between stubborn personalities... until the spectacular six-minute fistfight from THEY LIVE.



The scenes are both so brilliantly blocked, staged, and acted (in THE MIRACLE WORKER, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke directed by Arthur Penn; in THEY LIVE, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Keith David directed by John Carpenter) that they really stick out in one's mind as special, a beautiful fusion of stage and screen sensibilities.


The actors are permitted to reach into a deeply primal well as the scene is simplified and streamlined into two visceral, battling motivations:  "Eat with a utensil" & "I refuse!", and "Put on the glasses!" & "No!," respectively.


In each case, words take a back seat to action, and the result is raw, powerful, and riveting.  The scenes' length plays a role, too: as the characters clash beyond the point of reason and into pure obstinance/force of will, a dark humor emerges that somehow only intensifies the scene.  I think any director or actor should find a lot to learn here.

6 comments:

Mike B. said...

Indeed! And, what are the chances that Carpenter chose Piper for the role in "They Live" strictly because he knew he was staging an epic wrestling match in the middle of the movie? And yet it bears repeating how fantastic he is in it; I mean, it's Roddy freakin' Piper and he completely disappears into the role in a way that it's hard to imagine other acting/wrestling figures of the time pulling off (think Jesse Ventura or, gulp, Hulk Hogan). In fact, I'm having a hard time picturing ANYONE making that role work like Piper does, although Carpy's pal Kurt Russell could've been fun.

Sean Gill said...

Mike,

God love Roddy Piper. It definitely seems like a role for Kurt, and I am certain Kurt could have pulled it off with flying colors, but there IS something inherently fantastic with Roddy here, his genuine dopeyness striking the perfect "everyman stumbles upon vast conspiracy" tone.

John Guedes said...

*gasp* I have never seen THE MIRACLE WORKER, but paired with THEY LIVE it seems like a beer chugging good time!

I'm trying to think of a more modern version of this but the only thing coming to mind is Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix beating the crap out of each other in THE YARDS.

Sean Gill said...

John,

Indeed! Though I've not seen THE YARDS. I've heard good things, but do you recommend?

John Guedes said...

I'd recommend it, not sure if you are familiar with director James Gray's work (LITTLE ODESSA, WE OWN THE NIGHT, TWO LOVERS) but he's kind of like the Caucasian answer to Spike Lee. Russian immigrants, gritty Brooklyn locations, heavy emotional drama, family dynamics, etc. He always manages to get great stuff out of Joaquin Phoenix.

Sean Gill said...

John,

Nice. I saw and liked TWO LOVERS, but most have steered me toward the earlier, more crime-centric material. I'll have to check it out.