From the Chicago Reader (July 8, 1994). Also reprinted in my collection Movies as Politics. — J.R.
** FORREST GUMP (Worth seeing)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Eric Roth
With Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field, Michael Humphreys, and Hanna Hall.
In the opening shot of Forrest Gump — a movie that might be described as Robert Zemeckis’s flag-waving Oscar bid — the camera meticulously follows the drifting, wayward trajectory of a white feather all the way from the heavens to the ground, just beside the muddy tennis shoes of the title hero (Tom Hanks). Forrest Gump, a slow-witted, sweet-tempered, straight-shooting fellow from Alabama with an IQ of 75, is waiting for a bus in a small park in Savannah, Georgia. Picking up the feather and placing it inside a book, he proceeds to recount his life story to various passing strangers; in the film’s final shot, over two hours later, we see a breeze carry the same white feather up and away.
These framing shots — a poetic statement about the vicissitudes of chance, how histories are made, unmade, and remade — are meant to say something about a half-century of American life, from the 40s to the present; and the tragicomic life of Forrest Gump, a saintly fool, is meant to embody those years. Read more
From the Autumn 1984 Film Quarterly. I reviewed this book at Biskind’s request, and my position was hampered by the fact that he was the main editor of American Film at the time, where his commissions were essential to my livelihood. Our relationship became even more strained after I was all set to review the book and he then informed me that he wished I weren’t reviewing it. — J.R.
SEEING IS BELIEVING: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties By Peter Biskind. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. $22.95 cloth, $10.95 paper.
The first thing to be said about Peter Biskind’s ambitious and long-awaited study of ideology in Hollywood movies of the fifties is that it can’t be dipped into at random with out a considerable amount of confusion setting in. Without the benefit of Biskind’s careful construction and preparation, the unwary reader who plunges in midstream is bound to be bewildered or dismayed by many of the political labels, whereby Thieves Highway, for instance, is designated as a “right-wing film,” or High Noon and The Blob as “radical films.” Even in the Introduction, which tends to be more cautious than the rest of the book, several eyebrows are likely to be raised by the followingsentence: “The films of Robert Aldrich can usually be counted on to be somewhere on the left, just as the films of Elia Kazan are frequently in the middle, while those of John Ford are to the right of his and those of Alfred Hitchcock are to the right of his.“
While nothing in Seeing is Believing quite succeeds in eliminating all the booby-traps contained in the above declaration, the book is a lot more reasoned and reasonable than any sort of scattershot spot-checking might suggest. Examining the Read more