Thursday, 14 March 2013

A Face in the Crowd (1957)

A Face in the Crowd is a rough depiction of not only one person, but a kind of person. The main character, Lonesome Rhodes was based off the television personality, Arthur Godfrey, but the film manages to say much more about people than just one man. However, there was also another inspiration for the character of Lonesome. The children's radio broadcaster, "Uncle" Don Carney reportedly once said at the end of a show "that 'otta hold the little bastard", not knowing he was still on air. Something like that does appear in A Face in the Crowd.

A Face in the Crowd is an important film because it brought two big names that we all know to fame. Andy Griffith's film debut was A Face in the Crowd. He went on to become a large success in the film industry, but even more of a success on television. He is very popular for "The Andy Griffith Show", and it is hard to believe that it all started here. Another debut from A Face in the Crowd is that of Lee Remick. She would later go on to star in The Omen, Anatomy of a Murder, Days of Wine and Roses and, another film directed by Elia Kazan, Wild River.

In the 1990s, somehow A Face in the Crowd managed to create a popular phrase used for a certain group of people who resembles Lonesome Rhodes. The name itself, was Lonesome Rhodes. For example, Fox News anchor, Glenn Beck has been called Lonesome Rhodes in the past.

Where does A Face in the Crowd stand today? It is certainly held in high esteem. That is the reason I was saving it for one of my last Elia Kazan films. A Face in the Crowd was not originally held too high by critics, you could say that it received mixed reviews. However, as time has passed it has been surprisingly accurate in depicting the manner in which humanity would progress. A Face in the Crowd currently holds an 8.1 on IMDb, making it Kazan third highest film and a 91% on Rotten Tomates, making it among his best.

A young woman named Marcia enters a penitentiary in the mild of nowhere. She comes to interview the drunken men from the jail for a radio program of hers called "A Face in the Crowd". Nobody is keen on being interviewed. The warden of the jail tells one of the drunken men asleep on the floor that if he sings a song he can be a free man in the morning. Well, the drunken man agree. Marcia asks him what his name is. He says "Rhodes". She asks for his first name, he tells her it doesn't matter. She flicks on her radio and introduces "Lonesome Rhodes". Lonesome does more than just sing a song, he talks with power and energy, he shouts, he has delight of freedom in his voice.

Marcia takes the recording back and shows it to her uncle. He tells her that they simply must get their hands on Lonesome for a radio broadcast program. And so, Marcia and her uncle manage to track Lonesome down. They beg him to do the show, and he agrees. At that very moment Lonesome begins to head down the road from homeless man to world famous star.

The next day Lonesome begins the radio show. He immediately connects with his audience. Women worship him for his understanding of their daily toil. Men respect him for his brutally honesty about the world. Lonesome soon learns he has an influence on these people listening. Lonesome his receiving nothing but success when he receives an offer to do a television program in Memphis.

Lonesome arrives in Memphis and begins the program. Audiences love him. However, his sponsors seem to have a separate opinion on him. A sponsor of Lonesome's is frustrated when Lonesome constantly mocks the products. However, the sponsor soon learns that his sales have increased by 55%. It's a win win situation for everyone, the audiences are entertained, the sponsor's sales experience a heavy increase, and Lonesome receives power, fame and money. But Lonesome does not peak yet. His real fame as nowhere near commenced. He is invited to do a television series in New York, and so he does.

In New York, Lonesome reaches maximum power. The question is, how long can he go on until he peaks and slowly fades away? Will people forget him? Will he become... just another face in the crowd?

For a film like A Face in the Crowd that is so character driven, it is important to have great actors to pull it all off. Guess what? A Face in the Crowd  certainly manages to pull it off. Andy Griffith gives the obvious performance in A Face in the Crowd. By obvious I mean that it is the one that clearly demonstrates quality acting, that nobody will miss. However, I felt that the ultimate performance of A Face in the Crowd belongs to Patricia Neal, who would later go on to star in a supporting role in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Her character suffers from the sickest forum of mental abuse from Lonesome, and yet she puts up. She puts up, and yet you want to her to walk out and be strong, but she is weak. A Face in the Crowd is without a doubt another Elia Kazan film where all the acting is practically flawless.

A Face in the Crowd shows in great detail how Lonesome progresses to a big name. Since it is so detail and realistic, it seems to be quite believable. It is very important for a film like this to be very believable, because since it is not about plot, it requires you to believe in it so you can focus on the characters. Although A Face in the Crowd remains generally realistic, that does mean it does not go dry. At one point, around the middle of the second third, it seems for a short amount of time that Lonesome is not the main character. In switching for a short while to Marcia as the main character, Kazan really loses us. She is a flat character who only matters to us, when Lonesome is around. Luckily, we soon go back to Lonesome's perspective as he begins to breakdown.

One of the more minor aspects of A Face in the Crowd that I consider worth mentioning is the great original music. Lonesome is a country-folk musician, so the film would truly benefit from original music. The score was original and seemed to be better than a lot of professional country music I have heard. The music is a clever manner of contradicting against the very dark themes and manners of the film.

A Face in the Crowd has a lot of meaning within it's cinematography. Kazan uses shadow in the background, and lighting in the faces. He illuminates the faces of the characters to emphasize well... the face. Because in the film, the face is what matters. The characters are what make this film so fabulous.  Therefore, we need to see what we want to see - their face.

At last, I can say why I really love A Face in the Crowd. Everything I have mentioned above is generally mild in comparison to what A Face in the Crowd says, and how it says it. Although it is a message film, and a very unsubtle message movie, it really got under my skin. I'm not quite sure how, but it did. It is very rare to be disturbed by a film from the 1950s, but A Face in the Crowd nails it. The idea from A Face in the Crowd (if you haven't understood already) is that all people start off a face in the crowd, and they will die a face in the crowd. Lonesome Rhodes is an accurate representation of people, and what people are.

A Face in the Crowd,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal and Lee Remick
8.5/10 (A)

1. On The Waterfront
2. Baby Doll
3. Panic in the Streets
4. A Face in the Crowd
5. Splendor in the Grass
6. East of Eden
7. A Streetcar Named Desire
8. The Last Tycoon
9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
10. Viva Zapata!
11. Boomerang!
12. Pinky
13. Gentlemen's Agreement
14. Wild River
15. America, America
16. The Sea of Grass
17. Man on a Tightrope
18. The Arrangement

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