Thursday, February 26, 2009

Forget not all His benefits

At the beginning of Lent John Nolte suggests five films "about lost souls who one way or another found their way home." His first recommendation is one that I enthusiastically endorse. It is a nearly perfect film:
Tender Mercies (1983) - Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge, an alcoholic has-been country and western star who wakes up hung-over in a rundown motel run by a widow and her young son. The great Horton Foote’s exquisite, Oscar-winning script understands faith like few others. Sledge doesn’t come back to life through rediscovering music; he rediscovers music after coming back to life. And what brings him to life is the love of a kind and simple woman, her young son, a difficult reconciliation with the past, and in the film’s most touching scene, a gentle dunk in baptismal waters.
Tender Mercies seems to be about a very troubled and messed-up life. It is really about God's grace. I saw the film in a theater on its first run and I've watched it on videotape and DVD many times since. It isn't a "message" film. It isn't propaganda for the faith. It simply shows how, even when we focus on the drama in our lives—on the terrible and stressful things—we are still surrounded by blessing.

Tolerance for country music is necessary if the film is to be enjoyed and, in my opinion, the film was more powerful without the sappy song over the end credits. If you haven't seen it, it is worth at least renting [there doesn't appear to be a current DVD for sale so a purchase might come at a premium]. If you haven't seen it for a while, this may be the appropriate time of year to give it another look.

Duvall was given "Best Actor" and Horton Foote "Best Original Screenplay" for the film—back when that still meant something. Foote was also responsible for the screen adaptation of Duvall's first film, To Kill a Mockingbird [for which Foote also received an an Academy Award]. Duvall famously objects to delivering lines which no real person would utter. Foote doesn't write any dialogue like that.

From Psalm 103:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities;
Who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction;
Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;
So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(Psalm 103:2-5, KJV)

Update 3/4: Horton Foote is dead. From Entertainment Weekly:
.... Foote, who died March 4 in Hartford, Conn., at age 92, was a remarkable storyteller whose work, like William Faulkner's, was rooted in the ordinary struggles of ordinary people in the American South. After abandoning acting, he got his start as a writer during the golden age of television and adapted many of his stories for different media. The Trip to Bountiful — about an old woman yearning to visit her hometown of Bountiful, Tex., one last time before her death — began as an NBC teleplay in 1953 starring Lillian Gish, then became a stage play in 1962, and was later adapted into a 1985 movie that earned Geraldine Page an Academy Award for Best Actress (and another nomination for Foote himself).

There was something charmingly old-fashioned about Foote's prodigious body of work. He wasn't overtly political or experimental in form. He wasn't a flashy stylist. His works typically have a beginning, middle, and an end — though often many diversions along the way to that end. And he took a Chekhovian approach to his characters, hardscrabble souls with deep family histories and endless depths of backstory. ....
Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Top 5: Ash Wednesday, Remembering Horton Foote | PopWatch Blog |

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