“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” Film Review

The Eyes of Tammy Faye will penetrate to your soul. You may think you know Tammy Faye’s story, but go beyond the tabloids in Michael Showalter’s (The Big Sick) heartfelt, hilarious, honest film that paints a humanizing portrait of the ridiculed and often parodied Tammy Faye Bakker. You will undoubtedly be blown away by Jessica Chastain’s jaw-dropping performance as the “Queen of Eyelashes” in this powerful rise, fall, and redemption story. Tammy’s eyelashes may be fake, but there is nothing fake about this candid portrait of the late television icon. Playing the mastermind of the PTL Network scandal is Andrew Garfield in a showcase performance that will have you despising Jim, but praising the uncanny portrayal. The film highlights Tammy Faye’s genuine love for God and her love for people–everyone! Even in the 1980s, when the LGBT community had little to no voice, especially amongst fundamental evangelicals, she was a loving voice for them. While it would have been so easy for the film to have been devoid of genuine levity, audiences will find there are some hilarious scenes that work as fantastic humanizing elements, especially early on when Jim and Tammy Faye engage their lustful adolescent interests as hormonally charged young adults and newlyweds. Showalter, Chastain, and Garfield deliver a fresh perspective on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker that depicts human beings, not one-dimensional caricatures of televangelism.

In the 1970s, Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband, Jim, rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. Tammy Faye becomes legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

I already want to see it again! And it’s definitely becoming an addition to my physical media collection. This narrative film is based on the award-winning documentary by the same name, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, and I suggest watching it as a companion piece. In many respects, the storytelling structure of The Eyes of Tammy Faye parallels the approach Craig Gillespie took in I, Tonya. In addition to the awards-talk around the performances, I would look to see this film in other conversations such as makeup, screenplay, and perhaps directing and picture. Showalter’s film explores the world of Tammy Faye, as seen through her unmistakable eyes; furthermore, he treats the character (the person) of Tammy Faye with respect as a flawed but loving woman rather than the heavy-makeup-wearing satirical and parodied caricature that many remember from the tabloids. Perhaps the thousands of times she said “God loves you” may have came across as insincere; but the truth is, she wanted the world to know that God and Tammy both love them.

Showalter’s candid picture gives Tammy Faye and Jim the full treatment as he takes audiences on a journey through their story, including the scandal that rocked a nation, whilst treating them with dignity and respect as they are–as we all are–flawed humans. This biographic drama seeks to understand (mostly Tammy Faye, but a little of Jim too) the Bakkers, not mock them or their work. Tammy Faye is a breath of fresh air in an environment polluted by stale, lifeless, and downright rotten individuals. From the beginning of the film, you learn that her faith in God and love of Jesus was not going to be defined by her circumstances or what people thought of her. If you told her she couldn’t, she would prove to you that she could. That is a trait that she could continue through her entire life, even after her scandalous fall from grace. You also learn that while she lived an opulent lifestyle, she was never defined by her material possessions. Oh don’t get me wrong, she loved her signature clothing style and trademark makeup and hair, but those things did not define her or her faith. Well, except for her eyes. She said “if you remove my [fake] eyelashes, I wouldn’t be me.”

While her husband was pulling the strings, she was doing everything she could to reach people for Christ; however, it was also clear that she loved the performance, the camera, and the microphone. If she hadn’t gone into televangelism, she very well could have been a Broadway star with her larger than life showmanship and personality. We also learn that Tammy Faye was likely unaware of the dishonest and illegal dealings of her husband, even though she at times suspected he wasn’t being honest. Chalk it up to extreme naivety. Despite no reports of Jim being physically abusive to Tammy Faye or their two kids, he was shown to be psychologically and emotionally abusive to Tammy Faye. Even to the extent that he used Tammy’s minor indiscretion with a Nashville music producer against her, to humiliate her on international television in an effort to raise more money because of her testimony. Tammy’s flirtation with the an elicit affair goes to show that we are all flawed individuals that toy with or fall victim to the same temptations, in whatever form they take. But we understand how and why Tammy Faye was tempted to search for love elsewhere; she was not appreciated as a person by Jim, but only as a tool to get more money out of PTL’s “partners.” Even when the reality of Jim would peak through, she never let that detour her from spreading the love of God to everyone in her signature style.

While we ostensibly watch the events of the rise and fall of the Bakkers through Tammy Faye’s eyes, in a similar fashion we did in I, Tonya, we also get glimpses of the story through Jim’s perspective when it serves to advance the emotional journey of the characters, especially when it comes to his complicated relationship with the then and now unlikable Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. For example, I did not know that it was Jim and Tammy Faye that started the 700 Club. But when the innovative Christian talk show became a popular program on the fledgling CBN Network, Pat Robertson placed them on a maternity/paternity sabbatical, but was actually steeling their show in a jealous power-grab. The Bakkers then started what would become the TBN Network, but were ran off from there too. Finally, they began the PTL Club (later massive, worldwide PTL Satellite Network), and the success of that venture would eventually spawn a 24-hour network, neighborhoods, and a theme park that would become the third most visited in the country after Disneyland and Disney World.

While PTL was growing by leaps and bounds, Robertson and Falwell were seething with jealously at the success of Jim and Tammy Faye, a motive that comes into play when they discover the payment of PTL funds for the hush-money regarding Jim’s affair. Little did Tammy Faye know that Jim surrounded himself with a conniving mafia-like group of “Christians” that sought to take down the power couple after they departed from the Robertson-Falwell fundamentalist agenda. This mafia-like mentality is most apparent when Tammy Faye televises the emotional interview with a gay AIDS patient, also a Christian pastor, on her show. She ends the interview with reminding the viewers that Christians are called to love as Jesus loved. It was shortly after that, that Robertson and Falwell actively looked for ways to dethrone the king and queen of televangelism. Of all the examples of Christians in the film, amongst the lead and supporting characters, Tammy Faye is the best example of how a Christian should love and act.

Chastain has instantly shot to the front of the Best Actress in a Leading Role category, and Garfield may find himself in the Best Actor conversations as well. Chastain disappears behind the trademark Tammy Faye makeup and delivers a larger than life performance! And since Tammy Faye, herself, was the definition of camp and larger than life, it’s an incredibly authentic, sincere performance. It’s easy to see how the LBGTQ community was drawn to the person of Tammy Faye then and now, because the LGBTQ community often greatly admires women who remain strong in the face of adversity. But Chastain’s performance of the person of Tammy Faye will undoubtedly inspire and win the admiration of all kinds of people from all walks of life. While Chastain is brilliantly portraying the character of Tammy Faye, we learn in the film (and in the documentary, the interviews, and PLT flips that many will undoubtedly pour through after leaving the film) that Tammy Faye wasn’t a character at all but one of the most genuine, sincere loving people that ever walked the planet. Chastain captures every nuance of Tammy Faye with uncanny precision.

Even the indelible Cherry Jones as Tammy Faye’s love-to-hate mother that was so often Tammy Faye’s harshest critic may be in the supporting actress conversations. She’s a scene steeler herself, much like Allison Janney was as LaVona Harding in I, Tonya. All the lead and supporting performances are perfectly executed, and the hair/makeup on everyone leaves an uncanny resemblance between the actors and the real-life people that are being portrayed. If Tammy Faye was still alive, I feel strongly that she would appreciate the film. Her son Jay appears to like the film from what I’ve read of his comments.

I’d be remiss not to mention, what is perhaps the most telling scene of who Tammy Faye was. Months or perhaps years after the collapse of the PTL Empire and all her fine things were sold (and house actually burned to the ground), and she’s driving a crappy Honda Accord and living in a rundown apartment, she pulls into her parking spot one day. And she gets out, she hears a few of the neighborhood punk teens making fun or her. She walks over to them, and graciously says, “if you’re going to talk about me, since I am your neighbor, you should at least shake my hand and meet me first; hi, I’m Tammy Faye” (or something to this effect).

What we have here is a brilliantly produced biographical drama that works as trifecta comprised of a cautionary tale, a redemption story, and film that provides social commentary on topics such as politics, religion, and patriotism as our country is becoming increasingly polarized on these subjects.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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Top 10 Most Memorable Movie Moms for Mothers Day

With Mothers Day this weekend, I thought I would count down my Top 10 picks for most memorable movie mothers! Some moms are endearing, some are overbearing, and others are terrifying. But they all have one thing in common: how well we remember them. Some have become such a part of the zeitgeist; so much so, that people who haven’t even seen the movies, know precisely who these mothers are. Whether they are winning our hearts through their steadfast love or through their incredibly close, protective relationship with their kid, there is something to be loved about each and every one.

10. Helen Parr (The Incredibles): Helen Parr is one of the most memorable mothers from movies because she both figuratively and quite literally holds her family together. I admire her for the endless support she shows Bob and the kids. Whilst maintaining her role as a mother, she also saves the world. Holly Hunter’s voice work is outstanding, such a charismatic performance. Like any good mother, she takes the time to listen to her kids’ needs and wants. And while she is empathetic and flexible, she is willing to stretch in order to provide the best possible care and guidance for her kids and husband.

9. Molly Weasley (Harry Potter): “Not my daughter, you bitch!” What a delivery by Julie Walters! Molly is a woman of considerable talent and skill to run a large household and remain one of the most powerful witches in the Harry Potter universe! She has the superpowers of a marvelous mother and a brilliant witch. Yet, she never flaunts her talents or accomplishments in front of anyone. While many skillful, powerful people would seek to impress and control others with their abilities, she remains a humble caregiver. However, if you threaten her kids, then she will turn into a mother tiger and pounce on you.

8. Aurora Greenway (Terms of Endearment): Played by Shirley MacLaine, Aurora puts her beloved, and at times estranged, daughter Emma before anyone else. She would do anything for her daughter, even though her methods may come across as abrasive and ridged. She is a feisty widow and mother whom won’t bat an eye before she tells you what she thinks. Her comebacks are witty, brutally honest, and fast. Even though she may get lost in her own anxiety over things that she cannot ultimately control, she will remain by her daughter through thick or thin. Her level of loyalty and love runs runs deep as the ocean.

7. M’Lynn Eatenton (Steel Magnolias): That graveside funeral scene is one of my favorites in all of cinema! The emotionally charged conflict with her own grieving and her friends is electrifying! I love how M’Lynn takes audiences through the entire stages of grief in just a few minutes. M’Lynn is completely devoted to her family, especially her daughter Shelby and her battle with Type-1 diabetes. M’Lynn is the very definition of a steel magnolia because she is as complex and beautiful as a delicate flower, yet she is incredibly strong, withstanding all the pressures of being a mother and friend. She is the very glue that holds her family together. While she is strong, even she is not immune to the tragedies of the world. But she demonstrates resilience in order to remain an anchor for all those around her.

6. Peg Boggs (Edward Scissorhands): There is perhaps no more prolific movie mom than the incomparable Diane Wiest! I was able to visit the home of Peg last summer when I decided to locate the neighborhood from the movie since it was shot near Tampa, where I live. And there it was! THE house and neighborhood. She is a mom whom is generous with time, resources, and the love she demonstrates. More than a caregiver, she sought to truly understand Edward and provide the motherly love and attention that he lacked. Talk about magnanimous. She opened her home and heart to a neighbor in need, even though he looked different than her and certainly stood out in that perfect little slice of suburbia. Peg believes that everyone deserves a fair shot at pursuing their dreams!

5. Morticia Addams (The Addams Family): While there have been many iterations of Morticia Addams, my favorite is Angelica Huston! Morticia Addams is one of the most proud mothers ever. Not proud as in haughty, proud as is her unyielding belief in her family and all their quirks. I love her perfect balance of elegance and homespunness. She consistently encourages her family to pursue their dreams, whether altruistic or morbid. While some moms may forget that they can still be sexy, sensual, and romantic, Morticia keeps the romance alive with her and Gomez. Whenever one of her kids has a problem, she never lets them feel defeated. Instead, she picks them back up and gives them encouraging words, in a very Addams fashion of course, to get right back up and try again. A constant source of morbid positivity, Morticia is never afraid to state her opinion, but when she does, you can be assured that she will state it with utter politeness.

4. Ellen Ripley (Aliens): “Get away from her, you bitch!” Sigourney Weaver’s career defining role of Ellen Ripley demonstrates that you don’t have to be a biological mother to provide the protection and care for a child! While she may not technically be a mother, she is every bit a mother as the best of them! We first meet Ripley in the original practically perfect motion picture and horror classic Alien, but it’s not that portrayal that lands her on this list, it’s her role as Ripley in the sequel that sets her apart as one of the most memorable mothers in all of cinema. Even though Newt isn’t the biological daughter of Ripley, she adopts her as her own and protects her with everything she’s got! Whether Ripley is protecting her from schoolyard bullies or nightmarish aliens, Newt is safe under the protection of a final girl who’s also a complete badass that won’t ever back down. And c’mon, the was she commands that transformers like suit, is timeless.

3. Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest): “No wire hangers–ever!” “Tina, bring me the axe.” Faye Dunaway’s tour de force performance as one of Hollywood’s Golden Era greats has been met with constant criticism from the day she took on the iconic role of Joan Crawford. Fortunately, it’s not the performance that anyone questions but the vicious content and accusations the movie makes of Joan and her daughter. The reason that Joan Crawford breaks the Top 3 on this list is because there is perhaps no greater or more widely known over-the-top, campy performance by a mother than in the cult classic Mommie Dearest. I mean, it’s in the very title of the film! This movie is a truly terrifying exploration of the warped psyche of a once great star that is fading into obscurity as she struggles to provide the love that Tina needs. $300 dresses and elaborate birthday parties aren’t what Tina wants–she simply wants to be loved by the movie star. Joan Crawford was obsessed with her career and with the idea of being a mother. But those are two things that she cannot ultimately control. And it’s that lack of picture perfect control that drives her to absolutely terrorize Tina.

2. Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th): “You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday” “kill her mommy, kill her.” Betsy Palmer’s Pamela Voorhees remains one of the most original and fascinating villains in slasher movie history! Spoiler alert: she is the killer in the original Friday the 13th, not Jason. Of course, if you’ve seen SCREAM, then you know that already. Mrs. Voorhees is completely devoted to her son Jason. She was his protector. When fellow campers teased him, she was there to defend him and dry his years. He was her entire world. Mrs. Voorhees would do anything for Jason in life or death. She proves that nothing, absolutely nothing is stronger than a mother’s love. Borrowing from a line from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, “revenge is better than Christmas.” Mrs. Voorhees is driven by revenge. She will make sure than all horny camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake will pay for the sins of their predecessors because they were making love while her “sweet Jason” drown. The connection between Mrs. Voorhees and Jason is so incredibly strong that not even death can break it. That’s the power of this mother.

Twitter mentions: I put this topic out on Twitter, and I heard from Gidgit VonLaRue of the RetroCinema Podcast, and she simply stated “Diane Weist. Any movie. Any role.” Simple yet highly effective, as Diane is the most prolific mother to ever hit the screen.

1. Norma Bates (Psycho): “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” The most memorable of all movie mothers is Norma Bates! Even though she isn’t in a single scene (except for her corpse), she maintains an oppressive, overbearing presence in every frame. She controlled Norman when she was alive, and she continues to pull the strings in her death. Much in the same way Mrs. Voorhees inspires Jason to kill, Norma forces Norman to kill whenever she feels that her relationship with her son is threatened by an outside force. Mother Bates also maintains a watchful eye over everything that happens at her house and motel. Always watching for potential threats to her poltergeist-like existence. Norma loves Norman, but perhaps she should have loved just a little less. The love Norma had for Norman possesses an almost supernatural element to it. Of course, all of this is in Norman’s head, but that doesn’t take away from the very real presence Mother has throughout the entire motion picture. Mother is Norman and Norman is Mother, they are one in the same. Matricide is perhaps the saddest, most disturbing crime there is, and when Norman killed his mother and her boyfriend, he could’ve live with himself. So he brought her back to life! And even though she isn’t breathing, she is incredibly real. The single greatest scene in all of cinema features the most memorable mother in all of movie history!

I’d also like to take a moment to give a shoutout to my mom! While she may not be a mom from a movie that you can see in the cinema, she is the mom in the movie of my life. Ever since I can remember, she has always been a constant cheerleader for me and my dreams. Never once has she discouraged me; however, she will offer up her wisdom or opinion on decisions I make or directions I choose to go. Even when I’ve screwed up, she was right there to help me through it and make sure I learned my lesson. She’s always put her family before anyone else, even herself. When I was very young, and my dad was still in graduate school, I remember my mom doing without on birthdays and Christmasses so she could give her kids the very best. It’s not the things that I remember as much as it is the waves of generosity, support, and love. Even though I live nearly 500 miles from my mom, she is always right there when I need her. I absolutely love and look forward to our trips to our favorite restaurants when I am in town, watching movies together, and helping her with video production to support her music class at the school where she’s been teaching for more than twenty years. My prayer is that I never take one moment with my mom for granted, and cherish every last minute. From trips to theme parks to simply going to the supermarket, she is the best mom I could have ever asked for.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Brahms: The Assistant 2 mini movie reviews

While the ending of Brahms: the Boy II may ruin the rest of the movie for you, at least you can make it to the end, because The Assistant will put you to sleep faster than Ambien. Much like with the first The Boy, this one also has a fantastic setup, but the outlandish, from-out-of-left-field, bizarre showdown will undo any and everything done well in the first two acts. The scariest part of the movie is the very beginning when the catalyst for the entire story occurs. Even though horror sequels do not tend to be as strong or as appealing as the original–and that’s assuming the original IS good, which The Boy is not–there are surprises such as Ouija: Origin of Evil and Annabelle: Creation, both of which were far superior to the original. The aforementioned are excellent horror films! This is important to know because that is why I was cautiously optimistic for Brahms: the Boy II. Even though the first one was bad, there was hope that the sequel would be good, especially after the trailer wasn’t half bad. Needless to say, I was completely wrong. The same problems that plagued the first one, plague this one too. The writer certainly knows how to setup a story, even deliver some tension-filled conflict, but then drops the ball and get lazy in the third act. I don’t think anyone truly went into this movie wanting a compelling story, thoughtful social commentary, or anything along those lines, but it billed itself as a fun movie. And it was not. If your movie isn’t going to be “good,” then it at least needs to be entertaining all the way through. Although, this movie was far more entertaining and engaging than The Assistant. And that’s not saying much.

The Assistant is one of those intimate dramas that undoubtedly began with the intention to explore the sexist nature of office culture, the film industry, and why whistle blowers are afraid to come forward. There is a thoughtful, relevant, timely topic in this film that needs to be dramatized more, but instead this one seeks to put you to sleep instead because the screenplay gives these characters nothing to do, no goals, or any meaning behind the action plot. Not much of a plot to begin with. With such an opportunity to craft a thought-provoking film WITH a compelling plot, I wonder why it wound up just feeling like a “day in the life of” and that’s pretty well it. As I tell my student, “a day int he life of” is not a plot in and of itself. Interestingly, the trailer made this one look like Office Killer, but it’s definitely not horror nor even horror-adjacent, in the conventional sense. This same story would have worked so much better had it gone the horror route to comment on office culture like the neo cult classic Office Killer. Thankfully, I watched The Lodge before these two movies the week they all released, and that film helps to make up for the time spent with these two.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Sinister Summer: “The Silence of the Lambs” retrospective

“Good evening, Clarice.” How many of you have never thought of fava beans and chianti in the same way since then? Quite literally inventing a new genre that combines elements of horror, suspense, and crime to create the crime thriller, The Silence of the Lambs remains the motion picture that typifies the genre. More than 27 years later, Silence still holds up and continues to terrify audiences today. Whereas this iconic film may not be considered horror, by today’s understanding and expectation by many, it was certainly widely considered horror when it was released in 1991. A sleepy success, I might add. Essentially, Silence is an indie film that flew in under the radar but soon grew to be immensely popular and critically acclaimed. Silence is also one of only three films to win “the big five” Academy Awards (picture, director, lead actor, lead actress, and screenplay). This, in and of itself, serves as demonstrable evidence that The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most influential and profound films of all time–across all genres. Furthermore, there is not one single moment that I would change because it is cinematically perfect just the way it is. It is arguably a dark crime-thriller, but it is also very much a horror film. When asked which category I put it in, I respond with horror. Why? Because there is certainly intent to horrify audiences during particular scenes in the film; whereas, a crime-thriller tends to not overly concern itself with the intent to horrify. The intent to horrify is what defines it as a horror film first and crime-thriller as a very close second.

A senator’s daughter is kidnapped, and it is believed to be the work of a serial killer. After serial killer “Buffalo Bill” (Levine) leaves a trail of mutilated bodies of female victims behind, FBI forensic psychology director Jack Crawford recruits Clarice Starling (Foster), a sharp cadette, to interview famed psychiatrist, cannibal, and psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). Crawford hopes that Lecter can provide insight into the case in order to apprehend Buffalo Bill. While tracking down Buffalo Bill with assistance from Lecter, Starling must confront her own internal fears in order to overcome all obstacles to catching Buffalo Bill before he kills again.

Most notable in Silence of the Lambs are the performances of Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and don’t forget Ted Levine. While Hopkins and Foster get most of the attention, Levine delivers a command performance as Buffalo Bill. Delivering a spine-chilling and exhilarating performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter is Sir Anthony Hopkins. The performance was so intensely perfect that he won his Oscar for male actor in a leading role with fewer than 15mins on screen. Hopkins gave us an uncompromising performance that caused audiences to be frightened and yet love him at the same time. Furthermore, this performance ushered him into the company of the likes of Jason, Freddy, and other icons of horror. Foster’s Academy Award winning role as Clarice Starling was gripping, engaging and pivotal. Her phenomenal performance gave a much-needed voice to feminism–a voice that was sorely missing at the time–and is still needed today. She was strong, feminine, smart, vulnerable, and clever all at the same time. Not nearly receiving the accolades he should, Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill is masterfully delivered. His terrifying portrayal of this character was dark, twisted, and mesmerizing. In fact, his oft quoted line “it rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again” appears in memes, parodies, and other media. His character was even used in an episode of Family Guy. Levin’s Buffalo Bill, much like Lecter and Starling, was instantly iconic. What is the common element found in each of these performances? Uncompromising devotion to the character that brings about a believability that few actors have been able to encroach upon.

What a screenplay! One of the foundational parts of visual storytelling that I feel is largely missing from many modern horror films is a solid screenplay. Adapted from the novel written by Thomas Harris, Ted Tally’s Oscar-winning screenplay for Silence is incredible. Although there are some differences between the screenplay and the novel, the screenplay is widely seen as an excellent adaptation and even praised for its more unnerving ending compared to the novel. While some negatively criticize the screenplay for portraying transgendered (or more broadly queer) individuals as being predisposed to abnormal or violent behaviors, Tally’s screenplay comes to the defense by including dialogue that transgendered individuals are prone to pacificity plus no scientific correlation between, what we would now call the LGBTQ community, and violence. Starling is never objectified by Lecter; and any other character objectifying or patronizing her, she quickly diverts attention back to the case. She isn’t modeled as a sex symbol; funnily enough, Lecter refers to her clothes as frumpy, cheap, and her entire persona is barely beyond her background as “poor white trash” from West Virginia. The screenplay contains a healthy, progressive message for feminism–more specifically–women working in a man’s world. Foster’s Starling gave a voice to those women who are working diligently to prove that they are just as capable (and in some cases maybe even moreso) as any man in a given profession. Some film scholars and critics have referred to Silence of the Lambs as one of the most feminist films of all time. Prior to Silence, there were few horror, crime, or film noir motion pictures with strong female protagonists (Ridley Scott’s Alien being another example).

Executing his impeccable vision for this iconic film, the late director Jonathan Demme guided this film from screenplay to screen, blazing new trails for a genre not typically known for high caliber, excellent motion pictures. Moreover, the film was so successful that junior executives at studios would pitch other screenplays as “the next Silence of the Lambs.” Most remarkably about the direction of the film is the success at overcoming prejudices held against visually and psychologically disturbing stories that involve graphic language, cannibalism, nightmarish serial killers, nudity, self-mutilation, and (although mostly off-screen) violence. There are Hitchcockian tones in the suspense and violence that can be seen in the off-screen violence, framing, lighting, and angles. That which is in the mind is more frightening than what the naked eye can see. Demme’s Silence is arguably seen as a model for other horror and thriller filmmakers, and is often imitated but never has been replicated. The power of subtlety. Demme communicated so much emotion through subtle movements and strategic dialogue rich with subtext. One element that is common amongst Best Picture winners is the ability to take what was then “present day” and make it timeless. The plot, characters, and setting feel ageless. Genuine fear can be felt throughout the film because Demme channeled that which terrifies him in real life. It’s authenticity is uncanny. Much like Psycho was groundbreaking for modern horror films featuring psychopaths and twist endings, Silence of the Lambs was groundbreaking in that it relied upon the everyday world rather than supernatural forces to shock with unbelievable credibility and realism.

While the director, screenwriter, and actors are the principle forces behind the success and timelessness of Silence, the film would not have won best picture without amazing editing, music, cinematography, and other technical elements. The best editing and cinematography occurs when you don’t see the seams or think about camera placement or angle. Superior editing and cinematography enable the characters and plot to maintain center stage. The world Demme desires to portray in the motion picture was to be as real as possible. Hence why you won’t find lengthy shadows, set decoration that stands out from the world that it inhabits, and music that enhances but never overpowers a scene. Demme and his director of photography Tak Fujimoto worked together to strategically include a motif of birds that are literal and metaphoric. This is evident in not only Clarice “Starling” but in the crows at the beginning, stuffed owl in the Your Self Storage unit, and even in the line at the crucial turning point, “it’ll be terns for us too.” Birds are an important element in films, not limited to horror films. Specifically terns was used in place of turns because terms are a protected bird species, much like the mind of Dr. Lecter. Birds are a common motif or symbol in films, and can be used to represent different concepts or ideals.

Thematically, Silence is incredibly rich. These themes are brought out through the strange relationship shared by Lecter and Starling. There is a high level of respect mutually expressed by both characters, albeit unconventional. This strained relationship is observed in the similarities between Lecter and Starling. Examples of the parallels between Starling and Lecter include the feeling, they both experience, of being ostracized by the world in which they respectively live and work. Lecter from the human race, for his psychopathy and cannibalism; and Starling by the law enforcement profession because she is a women in a time that women were not commonly pursuing careers in law enforcement. They both occupy a prison. Whereas Lecter’s prison is a literal one, Clarice’s is a metaphoric one because of the men that literally and figuratively tower over her, establishing her boundaries. Clarice may not have a doctorate but she can easily match wits with Lecter in the shared power they both have to manipulate and persuade with cunning. Less obvious is the shared past they both have as victims of abnormal upbringings. Lecter was a victim of child abuse, and this ca be inferred in his dialogue with Clarice (note: Demme should have underscored this a little more) with Clarice being left an unloved orphan to be raised by distant relatives. Shared childhood trauma. These similarities are what forge the bond between these two strong characters. Demme and Fujimoto reinforced these themes and relationships with visual storytelling elements in order to personify and manifest in dynamic ways that hook and mind and eye.

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs remains one of the most iconic films in cinema history and will continue to have an evergreen shelf-life. It’s a multidimensional motion picture that frightens and intrigues. It is an arthouse film that achieved commercial success. Perhaps Red Dragon and Hannibal do not live up to the quality of experience of Silence but they by no means infringe on the ability for Silence to terrify us today. From the buildup to the introduction of Dr. Lecter to the trademark moth cocoon in the throat of the original victim. Furthermore, Demme continues to drive up the suspense and tension that create frightening thoughts and imagery through the use of interiors and exteriors of houses and buildings that represent the minds of characters (i.e. Buffalo Bill’s house and lair). We continue to seek this film out for its ability to manipulate our minds and eyes through strategic and artistic use of story and image. And you know what? We love these characters. We like and can identify with Clarice, have an unconventional respect and even like Dr. Lecter, and are completely intrigued and disgusted by Buffalo Bill.

 

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Disney’s “Christopher Robin” full movie review

Silly ol’ movie. Disney’s latest live-action re-imagination of a classic property is Christopher Robin, directed by Marc Forster with a story and screenplay by several writers. And that is likely where the fault lies with a movie that should have been heartwarming and magical. Although the movie has a whimsical fancy about it, and there are moments that will tug at your heartstrings, those moments are very few. It is as if each contributor to the story/screenplay had his or her own idea of how to handle a middle-aged Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred Acre Wood; but instead of selecting one story, one plot, we have bits and pieces of the different takes on how to write a story dealing with a rediscovery of the inner child and realizing that friends and family are more important than work. Plots such as the aforementioned are commonplace, almost cliche. So, it needed a fresh take on it. Needless to say, the movie plays it safe and paints by number. Not to say the film is not without its accolades. The quality of the CGI for Pooh and his fellow Hundred Acre Wood residents is outstanding. There are moments that you forget that they are not actually real. However, I am confused as to why Owl and Rabbit are based on real animals whereas the others are based on stuffed animals–that decision is a little odd. Suffice it to say, the best scenes in the movie are the ones with Pooh, because McGregor’s Christopher Robin ultimately fails to genuinely connect with the audience. Although the past iterations of Winnie-the-Pooh (animated and live action) have more heart than this film, you can still enjoy waxing nostalgic as the film takes you back to the Hundred Acre Wood and displays a little heart despite the cumbersome story.

Faced with having to find 20% in cuts at the Winslow Luggage Company or be forced to lay off a significant number of employees, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is forcibly asked to work the weekend to prepare for a big presentation Monday morning. Unfortunately, that means he has to send his family away to his boyhood countryside home without him. When his childhood best friend Winnie-the-Pooh pays him a surprise visit in London, Pooh asks that Christopher return to the Hundred Acre Wood in order to help find Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, and Roo. Resistant at first, Christopher Robin returns to the wood where he spent most of his early childhood. It is in these whimsical woods that he is reminded of the child he once was. But after finding Pooh’s friends, Christopher Robin must return to London for his big meeting. Returning all the help and friendship Christopher Robin showed the Hundred Acre Wood all throughout his childhood, Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet embark on an xpadition to London in order to help Christopher Robin to rediscover the joy of life.

At its core, Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne would likely approve of the story Forster attempted to tell. Unfortunately, Milne would likely be unhappy with the final product. “Too many hands in the pot will spoil the sauce.” When a film or movie has multiple writers contributing to the story and screenplay (in this case 7), the plot typically suffers from too many ideas and too little direction. Clearly the movie is trying to be a cross between Finding Neverland and Hook. Two excellent models to follow for rediscovering childhood magic, Christopher Robin would have benefited from relying upon one or two writers to extract the best elements of the aforementioned and use them as supporting structure upon which to build the present Winnie-the-Pooh concept. For those of us who are familiar with Winnie-the-Pooh through the years from the books, TV shows, and theme park attractions, the story includes many nods to past stories and contains several Easter eggs. And these will be some of the fondest moments from the film. There is one pounding question left from the film. And that is whether or not Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends are toys that have come to life or actual living creatures that Christopher Robin abandoned, which complicates what it means for Christopher to leave them behind for more than three decades. It also doesn’t help matters any that Christopher comes across as a jerk, and not older equivalent of Toy Story‘s Andy who brought tears to our eyes.

A far riskier plot, but one that allows for more introspect, is the one used in 2017’s Goodbye Christopher Robin. In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin takes audiences on a journey that explores the literary success of author A.A. Milne and the estranged relationship with his son who came to resent the character of Pooh. Emotional depth is missing from Christopher Robin. Much of the mild emotional connection between the audience and the characters feels forced. So, yes there is a bit of a relationship between the audience and the characters but not enough of one that takes you on the journey that this film could have been. Some of this lack of a connection can be explained by spending way too much time in the factory to the point it feels tedious. Imagine if you will, spending most of Mary Poppins at the bank? That is precisely what you have here. Another aspect to the film that takes away from its ability to successfully connect with the audience is the lazy plot device used to get Christopher Robin back to the Hundred Acre Wood. His own daughter and wife couldn’t get him to spend even a day in the countryside, but he quickly decides to return once he encounters Winnie-the-Pooh on a park bench. The story would have been so much more compelling and the childlike wonder could have been increased if Robin’s daughter stumbled across the Hundred Acre Wood to discover her father’s drawings were of real creatures. And together with Pooh’s friends, Robin’s daughter could have been more instrumental in helping her father rediscover the joys of life.

The overall message of this film is to “do nothing.” Although it is explained what that means, it is not terribly constructive. There was such potential here to comment on friendship and family, but the movie barely moves beyond the surface level. Moreover, Christopher Robin struggles to connect the audience to the characters and make Robin a relatable character with whom you can sufficiently empathize. You will definitely enjoy the moments in the movie that feature Robin and Pooh together and nods to the past Pooh stories. And Tigger even sings his song! Whereas I never felt on the verge of tears, I enjoyed the moments that made me smile and giggle. I just wish there were more of those.