You can’t beat a good film, book, song or play about being an outsider. It is the running theme from the 20th century from Camus to Arthur Miller to even, in its way, PG Wodehouse. It is the meat and potatoes of modern writing
This Friday, you have heaps of movies on your flatscreen depicting this theme – from quality dramas to crime to a classic man v nature bravura performance to black, black comedy.
Let’s kick it off:
Firstly, most of this batch bursts from the station Sky Movies Select. Yes, Murdoch, evil so and so that he is, does come up with the goods on this channel, I have to admit.
Barton Fink (6.00) is an early Coen Brothers story about a writer with a creative block holed up in a Hollywood hotel. He has to deal with crazed movie moguls, completely bonkers hotel neighbours and the usual noir femme fatale out to twist his quill. John Turturro’s character is never sure why he is in Los Angeles or what he is writing. He is outside the box, a loner who doesn’t understand anything. It is black, bleak and very funny. But nasty too.
Great support in this 1991 film from John Goodman, Judy Davis, John Mahoney (better known as the father in Frazer) and that most noirish of character actors, Steve Buscemi.
Then there is Five Easy Pieces (08.05). Jack Nicholson plays… well, Jack Nicholson. He is a voluntary outcast from his well-heeled family, who works on oil rigs. His life is squalid, his mind an open, angry sewer and he hates himself for turning his back both on a potential career as a classical pianist and his disabled father. It is a bleak, dark film and hardly bettered in the 1970’s even with directors such as Scorcese, Pakula and Coppola on the horizon.
It is also one of Karen Black’s first films (made in 1970) and really pasted Nichoilson on the board after another ‘easy’ movie – Easy Rider.
Staying with Sky Movies Select, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway rip it up in Bonnie and Clyde (09.55). The duo have nothing to lose driving around the depression-hit Midwest robbing banks, not so much living outside the law as totally ignoring it. At first they refute violence. But things get bloody and they ultimately realise being an outsider in crime will always end badly. You have to at least acknowledge The Law though you may not like it.
Director Arthur Penn was one of the first in this 1966 movie to graphically portray bloody violence. The film made headlines in itself for the shoot out scenes, especially the grim killing of Beatty and Dunaway (sorry, Bonnie and Clyde). Great back up from a young Gene Hackman (was he ever young?), Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard and a baby-faced Gene Wilder.
This is followed by James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. (14.05). Need I say more? Mid-fifties America and Dean, sullen, angry and cynical, can’t live with the soft assurances of his comfortable California household.
He wants to be an outsider and can’t figure out why, according to cult director Nicholas Ray. Dean, of course, only made four films before dying behind the wheel of his Porsche and it is hard to distinguish the actor from his screen character. The film is dated, faded, showing its sixty year old age. But Dean jumps off the stage set. Actor Jim Backus is great as a confused father who can’t figure out why his young son needs to rebel about anything. Food is on the table, the house is warm and the war years are over. But Dean doesn’t want it. And doesn’t know why.
Next, in this Outsider’s Friday, let’s reef the sails, head into a close haul and set a course for All Is Lost (20.00)
Pensioner Robert Redford is seen in the opening scene of this ocean disaster movie alone in his yacht.The audience is not told why he is a solo sailor nor where he is going. It is only hinted at. But he has left harbour, it is felt, in more ways than one.
Then catastrophe after catastrophe hit him and his failing boat. He is alone. A lone figure railing against the night (and storms). This film is almost wordless, storyboarded for visual impact. And even if you only know a smidgeon about sailing and tacking and gunwales and bowlines, you will live with this lone mariner as he combats the world at sea, alone.
Finally for you Outsider’s Night fans, for something completely different. Withnail and I (Ch4, 12.20 AM) is a completely off the wall Brit black comedy set in the late sixties.
Richard E Grant and Paul McGann are a pair of out of work actors who don’t have a penny to rub together. They head for an uncle’s freezing damp house in the Lake District to leave behind their desolute life in London of drugs, drink and sordidness. They don’t fit it anywhere and you know they will ultimately starve to death looking for work and peace of mind or make it big because both of them are so off the wall. Grant especially, as the languid caustic Withnail, sums up how to live outside the accepted norms and existing (and probably dying) according to his own rules.
If anything his character is The Man Outside award winner for this remarkable evening of movies about people who just don’t fit in. Or won’t.