'The Right Stuff' Movie + David Lean Tackles Sexual Repression & Colonialism

by Andre Soares

The Right Stuff by Philip KaufmanScreenwriter-director Philip Kaufman's 1983 Best Picture Oscar nominee, The Right Stuff, will be the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series. The screening will take place on Monday, June 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Cast members Kathy Baker, Veronica Cartwright, and Mary Jo Deschanel, producer Irwin Winkler, editors Glenn Farr and Lisa Fruchtman, sound technicians Mark Berger and David MacMillan, sound effects editor Jay Boekelheide, and art director W. Stewart Campbell will take part in a panel discussion.

Though not quite a great film, as far as I'm concerned the technically flawless The Right Stuff is far superior to all the other best picture nominees of 1983. (The winner that year was Terms of Endearment; the other nominees were The Big Chill, The Dresser, and Tender Mercies.) Based on Tom Wolfe's account of NASA's first attempt to develop a space program, Kaufman's film suffers from an over-reliance on iconic symbolisms – the screenwriter-director mythologizes the American astronauts the way previous Hollywood filmmakers had mythologized the American Man of the West. (William Goldman wrote an initial draft of the screenplay, but quit the project after disagreements with Kaufman.) On the other hand, Kaufman doesn't shy away from some sharp sociopolitical commentary, and although his space saga clocks in at more than three hours it is never dull.

Of the ensemble cast, only Sam Shepard received an Oscar nod for his laconic, Clint Eastwood-like portrayal of aviator Chuck Yeager – he of the Good Old Days when men were men (i.e., loners, silent, fearless, un-lustful) and flyers never left the Earth's atmosphere. In my view, however, The Right Stuff belongs to Ed Harris (as astronaut-turned-politician John Glenn), Mary Jo Deschanel (Glenn's wife on screen; cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's wife in life), and to what should have been a star-making turn by the charismatic Dennis Quaid. It's unfortunate that the career of this likable, highly capable actor failed to get the boost it deserved from this effort – which turned out to be a major box office disappointment.

Others in the cast are Barbara Hershey, Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, Pamela Reed, and stage star Kim Stanley in one of her rare screen appearances. Additionally, Yeager himself has a small role in the film.

The Right Stuff won Oscars for Film Editing (Farr, Fruchtman, Stephen A. Rotter, Douglas Stewart, Tom Rolf); Music - Original Score (Bill Conti); Sound (Berger, Tom Scott, Randy Thom, MacMillan) and Sound Effects Editing (Boekelheide). The film also received nominations for Best Picture (Winkler and Robert Chartoff, producers); Actor in a Supporting Role (Shepard); Art Direction (Geoffrey Kirkland, Richard J. Lawrence, Campbell, Peter Romero; Set Decoration: Pat Pending, George R. Nelson); and Cinematography (Deschanel).

Jon Bloom's Oscar-nominated live action short Overnight Sensation will be screened prior to the feature. A modern-day adaptation of Somerset Maugham's short story “The Colonel's Lady,” Overnight Sensation chronicles a couple's marital problems following the unexpected success of the wife's first novel. The short film stars Louise Fletcher, Robert Loggia, and Shari Belafonte. (As per the Oscar Site, Bloom is currently a Governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and chair of its Short Films and Feature Animation Branch.)

Passes for the remaining screenings in part four of “Great To Be Nominated” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. A $5 discount is available for those who wish to renew their passes from parts one, two or three of the series. Individual tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Passes and tickets may be purchased by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets may also now be purchased online at www.oscars.org/events. There are no minimum order requirements and no transaction or processing fees. Tickets may be purchased online until noon PST on the day of the event.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

David Lean 'A Passage to India' Screening

A Passage to India, David Lean's final film as a director and a 1984 Best Picture nominee, is the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series. The sweeping drama will screen on Monday, June 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

I'm not a big fan of David Lean's epics (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago) – I much prefer the director's smaller, more intimate dramas (Brief Encounter, Hobson's Choice, The Passionate Friends). A Passage to India falls somewhere between the two Leans: It's an epic full of little, intimate moments.

Based on E.M. Forster's novel, the story concerns several British tourists and colonialists in 1920s India, one of whom (Judy Davis) accuses an Indian doctor (Victor Banerjee) of sexually molesting her in a cave. Others in the cast are Nigel Havers, James Fox, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey, and Alec Guinness, donning “tan” make-up in his sixth collaboration with director Lean.

My problem with A Passage to India, which I saw eons ago, was that I found it too cold and detached – just like the British in India. My opinion of the film could well change next time I watch it.

But even if it doesn't, I know that I will appreciate at least one element in the film: Veteran stage actress Peggy Ashcroft. Her final moment – when India takes full possession of her – is pure screen magic. And of course, the movie does look stunning.

A Passage to India earned a total of 11 Academy Award nominations. (Amadeus dominated the awards that year.) It won the Oscars for Actress in a Supporting Role (Ashcroft) and Music - Original Score (Maurice Jarre). The film also received nominations for Best Picture (John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, producers), Actress in a Leading Role (Judy Davis), Art Direction (John Box, Leslie Tomkins, Set Decoration: Hugh Scaife), Cinematography (Ernest Day), Costume Design (Judy Moorcroft), Directing (David Lean), Film Editing (Lean), Sound (Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Carter, John Mitchell), and Writing - Screenplay based on material from another medium (Lean).

Prior to the feature, Jon Bloom's 1983 Oscar-nominated live-action short Overnight Sensation will be screened. Bloom will be on hand to participate in a panel discussion.

Passes for the remaining screenings in part four of “Great To Be Nominated” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. A $5 discount is available for those who wish to renew their passes from parts one, two or three of the series. Individual tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Passes and tickets may be purchased by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets also may be purchased online at www.oscars.org/events. There are no minimum order requirements and no transaction or processing fees. Tickets may be purchased online until noon PST on the day of the event.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

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