July 20, 2009

Summer Nights with Newman - as Brick, Hud, Luke, & Fast Eddie

Considering the record cold temperatures hovering through the summer months in Minnesota, you almost have to think twice about what to wear outside. A jacket in July? Ridiculous. Hopefully, this spell is almost over since the Walker Art Center's Summer Music & Movies series, "Newman Rocks", is kicking off tonight. For the next four Mondays, enjoy free live music by indie rock bands (it's the Walker & The Current, what's new) followed by a free film screening in Loring Park (North end of the Whitney Bridge spanning Hennepin/Lyndale Avenues, across from the Sculpture Garden).

This summer's lineup will celebrate the work of one of Hollywood's most legendary stars, the late Paul Newman, who passed away last September at the age of 83. Newman earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performances in each of the following films:

Monday, July 20th

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1959); Nominated for 6 Oscars
Musical act: Halloween, Alaska

"Plagued by secrets and financial ambitions, a wealthy Mississippi family wrestles with truth and desire in this lush Tennessee Williams adaptation that oozes old money and Southern charm. Newman, in his first of 10 Academy Award–nominated performances, plays ex-football star Brick—a sardonic, alcoholic, and impotent husband to the ambitious and conniving Maggie, “the cat” (Elizabeth Taylor at her sultry best)".
Directed by Richard Brooks. 1959, 16mm, 108 minutes.

Having seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the first time recently, I have to admit - I'd almost rather see it as a play. Like other film adaptations of stage productions (recently Doubt and Frost/Nixon), it just doesn't seem like much is added to this; almost the entire movie takes place in a few rooms of the house. Newman, Taylor, and especially Burl Ives ham it up pretty heavily, and I'm sure its themes were as controversial as advertised in 1959. But of the four shown in this series it's not Newman's most impressive performance, even if it was a significant marker in his career.

Monday, July 27th

Hud (1963); Nominated for 7 Oscars (won 3)
Musical act: Roma di Luna

"Newman demolishes the cowboy myth as Hud Bannon, an unprincipled, ruthless lothario in Texas’ windswept cattle country: “tremendous—a potent, voracious man, restless with all his crude ambitions, arrogant with his contempt, and churned up inside with all the meanness and misgivings of himself” (New York Times). And when disease threatens to wipe out the family’s herd, things definitely come to a head. Based on a book by Larry McMurtry, the film received seven Oscar nominations, including a nod to Newman and an award to Patricia Neal as Alma, their tough-talking housekeeper."
Directed by Martin Ritt. 1963, 16mm, 112 minutes.

I couldn't be much less of an expert on Westerns, but watching Newman in Hud I can't help think that he influenced the attitude and style of "modern" cowboys for years to come, both on screen and in real life. He's an absolutely magnetic presence here; the kind of bad boy that makes you start to understand why women like bad boys so much. Another interesting note about Hud is that it's based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, who would win an Oscar more than 40 years later for another story about atypical cowboys: Brokeback Mountain.

Monday, August 3rd

Cool Hand Luke (1967); Nominated for 4 Oscars (won 1)
Musical act: Gospel Gossip

"Newman’s spirited portrayal of an unruly Florida prison camp inmate created a quintessential anti-hero of the rebellious late ’60s. With memorable lines such as “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” and the classic scene that sparked egg-eating contests among young Americans everywhere, Cool Hand Luke remains Newman’s most unforgettable characterization of youthful defiance that even now packs a gut-wrenching punch."
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. 1967, 16mm, 126 minutes.

Featuring what's undoubtedly one of Newman's most iconic performances, Cool Hand Luke also introduced him as the heartthrob of a generation. Here again, he plays the guy that every girl wants to be with and every guy wants to be like (except me since I think hard boiled eggs are disgusting). Although Cool Hand Luke only won a single Oscar for supporting actor George Kennedy, in 2005 it became yet another Newman film (The Hustler was another) to be added to the National Film History, verifying it as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Monday, August 10th

The Hustler (1961); Nominated for 9 Oscars (won 2)
Musical act: Times New Viking

"Newman’s 'Fast Eddie' Felson, an up-and-coming pool shark, meets his match in the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in a battle of skill and character. Awash in drink, the humbled Felson takes up with pretty alcoholic Sarah (Piper Laurie) and falls under the thumb of a crooked gambler (George C. Scott). With riveting pool scenes and hazy black-and-white cinemascope photography, “the characters one meets in the succession of sunless and smoky billiard halls... in the course of this tough film are the sort to make your flesh creep and whatever blood you may have run cold” (New York Times)."
Directed by Robert Rossen. 1961, 16mm, 134 minutes.

I think the poster I chose for The Hustler is completely misleading (bringing to mind Gone With the Wind or some other sappy romance), but director Robert Rossen reportedly wanted to frame the film around the Eddie-Sarah relationship as much as the Eddie-Fats rivalry. He was rewarded with critical acclaim and saw The Hustler, also a commercial smash hit, earn nine Oscar nominations. Newman (who shows off some amazing pool skills) earned his second nod for Best Actor but did not win...until he reprised his role as Eddie Felson in The Color of Money (1986). The Hustler is also known for making pool cool in the U.S., and for inspiring real-life pool shark Rudolf Wanderone to begin using the name "Minnesota Fats".

As a reminder, each of these four movies is free. The concerts will begin at 7 PM and the film screenings at dusk, or about 8:45 PM. Series sponsor Lunds will be selling "picnic fare" and, in the case of rain, the movies will be shown in the Walker Cinema instead.

These outdoor screenings actually take a lot of work to put on - the "Screen on the Green" series I highlighted in DC last year was even canceled this year before being saved at the last minute by new sponsors.
We shouldn't take it for granted here (thanks to the Walker and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board), so bring a blanket, some friends, some bug spray, and take in four classics starring the legendary Paul Newman.

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