“Scarecrow” (’73) at Film Forum, May 17-23

Gene Hackman and Al Pacino in "Scarecrow."

Gene Hackman and Al Pacino in “Scarecrow.”

“Scarecrow,” the 1973 road movie directed by Jerry Schatzberg, will be having a run at Film Forum from May 17 – 23.  The film stars Al Pacino (fresh off “The Godfather”) and Gene Hackman, both in their primes.

“Scarecrow” will be shown in a clean, beautiful, anamorphic (really wide screen) print which, for me, was a revelation.  I first saw “Scarecrow” many years ago when I taped it off of channel 5 at 2:00 am using the EP (lowest picture quality, but more time on a VHS tape) setting on my VCR.   The film’s original wide screen dimensions were blown up to fill the space of square shaped TVs.  In other words I was losing 50% of the picture.  Now that home video users are used to the concept of letterboxing this problem has become less and less frequent. Commercial breaks were thrown in for good measure but, despite all of this, I liked the film.  Now, seeing “Scarecrow” in its correct, widescreen aspect ratio, I can properly appreciate Schatzberg’s use of long takes as the characters amble about aimlessly toward objectives that they are probably not going to achieve, dwarfed by the wide open spaces through which they travel.

Hackman and Pacino play two drifters wondering across the country from the west to east who form a friendship on the road.  Hackman’s character wants to get to Pittsburgh where, he claims, he has banked enough money to open a car wash, an idea which seems naïve at best.  Pacino’s character wants to get to Detroit to see his kid.  He does not know if it is a boy or girl so he is bringing the child a lamp, a gift, he reasons, that is appropriate for either gender.

While in Denver friends of Hackman’s character ask him why he doesn’t just open his car wash right there.  After all, they tell him, Denver has cars and dirt, same as Pittsburgh.  The fact that Hackman is determined to go to Pittsburgh, despite his friends’ reasoning, is, I think is the point of the film.  His car wash is a “pie in the sky” idea and, on some level, he knows this.  As a result he needs the idea of going to Pittsburgh to avoid facing himself.

A similar thing happens in Martin Scorsese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974) made just one year later.  Ellen Burstyn’s character, Alice, frequently talks of needing to get to Monterey.  Since she has a car there is really nothing stopping her.  Finally the Chris Kristofferson character, fed up with hearing Alice talk about Monterey, offers to drive her there.  As in the case with Hackman’s character in “Scarecrow” Alice just needs an excuse to keep from getting on with her life and not having to face herself.  I could not help but reflect how often modern day people make excuses like this, something which, for me, makes “Scarecrow” a 40-year-old movie, quite contemporary and relevant.

Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street (west of 6th Avenue).

seth@townvillage.net

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on May 8, 2013, in Classics, Film Forum, Off the Beaten Path and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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