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September 15, 1979 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-09-15

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The Michigan Daily-Saturday, September 15, 1979-Page 5
'BR EA AKING A WA Y':

On going light and shifting gears*

By OWEN GLEIBERMAN
«When it comes to social status,
mericans tend to be absolutists. We
ear the words "class system," and
Miink of czars putting the squeeze, on
starving peasants, or stuffy noblemen
dazing down their long, English noses
at slobbering debtors.
The truth is often a whole lot blurrier
I or instance, take the myth of social
r iobility. According to U.S. of A.
I end, if your neighbor brings home a
ligger piece of the pie. than you, it's
ypur God-given right to equalize the
kes; it's an anti-class ethic built
I
rght into our economic fabric, and
w4en that ethic doesn't work, we can
write off its failure to invincible outside
forces: racism, sexisn| or imperious
bisiness tycoons sitting atop their
thrones. Somehow, you and I are never
tdblame.
;BREAKING AWAY gently turns that
notion on its ear. The film is a fresh,
sonny comedy about four working-class
youths in Bloomington, Indiana, but for
ab American movie, it's as different as
tley come. The class rivalries don't
enmesh the characters' lives; nor are
they treated with harmless satire, like
the rival fraternities in Animal House.
Instead, Dave (Dennis Christopher)
and his three cohorts experience class
rivalry as a dull, nagging ache.
,Their fathers were workers in the
Bloomington limestone quarries, where
they cut the stone for the Indiana
University campus. But the snobbish
college kids 'have only contempt for
their townie rivals, who they call "cut-,
tors," a label as indelible as a lower-
class Englishman's cockney twang.
The college, bursting with people smart
or lucky or just plain rich enpugh to
spend four years in academic summer
camp, is a spectre of opportunity, a
relentless reminder of that one, elusive
piece of the American Dream some
may never get hold of (and what, after
all, is the American Dream if you know
in your heart you can never have it,
all?).
By all rights, this should have been a
dark, disturbing probe into the under-
side of Middle America, but Breaking
Away is all lazy summer afternoons
and romantic whimsey. The movie
whiaks by with such breathtaking ease
t t a friend of mine branded it "pure
fantasy." My friend was born with a
huge Devil's Advocate streak, but he
has a point. Zany generation gaps,
sports events climaxing with Rocky-
style histrionics and kids who feign ab-
surd Italian accents are a barrel of fun,
but what are they doing in a movie
about the American class system? An-
swer: Smoothing off the rough edges,
pRlishing the package till it shines with
alayer of unearned sweetness.
Breaking Away breaks new ground
without once getting its hands dirty. By
the end, even the vilest villain - an ob-
noxious frat rat - gets a warm,pat on
the back. Yet there's passion, in-
tglligence and, yes, integrity at its
heart - if not a great deal of guts.
(Unlike in The Seduction of Joe Tynan,
where the whqle texture of the drama is
thin and phoney - a sham.) Despite
pulling a few punches, Breaking Away
'ig almost always splendidly fresh.
That's apparent in the opening sequen-
ce, as our four cutter friends amble
through hilly terrain to their quarry-
hole swimming pool. The four share a

past as well as a present, and the
swimming scenes have an almost
ritualistic feeling of communal iden-
tity. Later, when some ritzy Indiana U
kids invade the premises, they're like
another species - none of them under-
stands what it's like to have grown up
taking summer dips in cutter quarries.
The time is the sumter following
high school graduation, when all face
the question of what the hell to do with
their lives. In Breaking - Away, the
problem is compounded by dire finan-
cial straits and wavery ambition. Mike
(Dennis Quaid), a star quarterback in
high school, lives out a classic (and
tragic) post-graduation quagmire,
cannibalizing the memory of his glory
days. Cyril (Daniel Stern), the group's
eeyore-the-Mule, is a canny and
engaging kid, but too insecure to admit
he has a head on his shoulders. Moocher
(Jackie Earu Haley), spunky and suf-
fering from terminal short-person's
complex, can't seem to find enough
room in life for his gang and his girl,
who he wants to marry.
Only Dave has focused his energies -
into cycling. His dedication to the sport
goes beynd hours of daily practice.
Driven to mad emulation of his heroes,
an Italian cycling team, he Incomes an
Italian, adopting Italian accent and
gestures, renaming his cat Fellini, and
generally behaving like some
Neapolitan nut. All of this goes on to the
dire dismay of his father (Paul Dooley)
- or "Papa," as he's affectionately
dubbed by Italian Dave - an irate,
stuffy sort with no patience for his son's
newly-found "Itie" ways. Dave's dad
came up the hard way, graduating from
his quarry job into the wonderful world
of used-car salesmanship. He uses his
bewilderment at his son's wacky
metamorphosis as an excuse to avoid
giving him the affection he can't ex-
press.
THERE ARE scenes in Breaking
Away that should give any regular
readers of this newspaper a jolt. When
the cutters ride through the serene
Bloomington campus, fixing their eyes
on the students with an even mixture of
envy and contempt, the scene rings so
stingingly true that it hurts. Director
Peter Yates (Bullitt, The Deep) isn't
exactly known for his sensitivity, but
portrays all the campus types without a
trace of condescension; we're seeing
ourselves, only the point-of-view is so
strikingly uncollegiate that you're
thrown off base. You start looking for
cheap shots, and it's rather dismaying
to realize there aren't any.
Not all the college scenes, are equally
eloquent. When the cutters enter a
campus cafeteria, all the preppie heads
SWivel coldly likecsomnething out of an
E. F. Hutton commercial. The cutters
don't dress or act differently than the
college students, but the scene makes
them seem ludicrously out-of-place;
they might as well have ambled into the
Russian Tea Bloom wearing clown
suits.
This willingness to trade dull reality
for dramatic effect is the film's most
persistent flaw. As Dave's father, Paul
Dooley trots out the same set of loutish,
Middle-American mannerisms he used
in Robert Altman's A Wedding. Huffing
and puffing like one of Archie Bunker's
lodge brothers, he's amusing, and
that's about all. And Breaking Away is
obviously reaching for something
beyond amusing: a father-son embrace
right out of East of Eden is played
deadly serious, and a scene with Dooley
visiting his old quarry buddies is gen-
tly, soothingly moving.
The shallower scenes only illuminate
the wonderfully naturalistic interplay
of the four leads. These talented
unknown actors project remarkably
vivid and realistic personalities. Their
sunny chit-chat is the heart of the
movie, their small friendship an oasis
of camaraderie amidst their lowly
status in Bloomington.

SINCE THE movie transmits this
warm, communal feeling, it's discon-
certing when it does an about-face and
endorses the gung-ho, get-ahead ethic
at the core of the American class
system. The title is cycling terminology
for the moment a team member makes
his move to leave the other racers
behind. It's a bid for victory, and a
risky one.
Above all, "breaking away" has in-
dividualism written all over it. The
movie's final setpiece is a bike race pit-
ting the preppies against the oppressed
- all in grand symbolic fashion.
Cinematically, it's an exhilarating
sports spectacle. Dave is clearly the top
cyclist on the track, but cutters who
want to cut the mustard must battle
steeper odds, symbolized by Dave's
second-rate bicycle, injured leg and
rag-tag teammates. Like a good
American, though, he leads his team to
victory. And as he holds up that
gleaming trophy, his former adver-
saries cheering as loudly as his
working-class chums, Breaking Away

neatly sweeps every one of its conflicts
under the rug. Even on the movie's own
terms, these guys haven't beaten the
rat race; they've just been co-opted.
Sure enough, in the last scene, there's
Dave, tromping around the serene U of
I campus, his worries behind him, a
college boy at last! Even a cutter can
make the grade! (Never mind about
Mike, Cyril and Moocher; Dar' won the
race, and as Vince Lombardi was so
fond of saying "Winning - isn't
everything - it's the only thing.")
Im probably being too hard on
Breaking Away. It's still one of the
most enjoyable, invigorating movies of
this past summer, and I don't think
director Yates consciously com-
promised himself with his happily-ever-
after finale.
Unfortunately, I can't look at the
movie's failures without stacking them
up next to its immense promises. There
was a great American movie buried in
here somewhere. For what it's worth,
Breaking Away is a damn good one.

w*
,Ginme a D
Gimme an A'
Gimme an... L ...Y
Give the MICHIGAN DAILY
that old college try.. *
CALL 764-0558 to order your subscription

Francois Truffaut
SMALLCHANGE

1977

A precocious 3-year-old pushes the family cat out the window; a teenager
is infatuated with his friend's mother; a grounded policeman's daughter
uses her father's bullhorn to get even-a few of the delightful stories told
in this humorous but eloquent appeal for the rights of children by France's
favorite director.
Sun: A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

CINEMA GUILD

TONIGHT AT
7:00&9:05

OLD ARCH AUD.
$1.50

Hey! Pssssssssst!
Wanawrite for us*?
After all the notes have been played, all the dancers have
lifted their legs for the last step of the evening, and the
whrrrr-cklcklcklcklcklckl of the film projector becomes a
purring sssssscclihhh and g then a h..., what happens? When
the biggies are done creating, to where do they turn for the
aesthetic box scores? They look where you are looking-they
check out the Daily Arts page.
Now, it's not all Peaches and Herb with the Arts staff. We
get nasty letters, people stop us '.in the hallways to call us
louts and miscreants, and dogs frequently defecate on our
lawns. But still, it's worth it. To join the Arts staff means to
have the readership of the paper of record in Ann Arbor see
your byline and read your words; you have the potential to
earn a salary, and, of course, the respect of your editors. So if
you're interested at all in writing reviews, features, or
profiles, howsabout dropping by 420 Maynard, just behind the
Barbour and Newberry dorms, for our first organizational
meeting? We'll be waiting for you Monday night at 8:00 p.m.
Please bring some representative sample of your reviewing
or feature writing abilities. Oh, and tell all your friends.

_A

1

4

, $-N CINEMA 11II
PRESENTS
HEAVEN CAN WAIT . 4
(WARREN BEA TTY, BUCK HENRY, 1978)
The romantic fantasy of the 70's. WARREN BEATTY stars as Joe Pendleton,
a Los Angeles Rams quarterback who is accidentally summoned to heaven
by an overly zealous celestial escort, and is returned to earth in the body
of another man-a titan in the world of Big Business. While trying to get in
shape for the Super Bowl, he escapes attempts on his new life by an unfaithful
'ife and treacherous male secretary (DYAN CANNON and CHARLES GRODIN)
and pursues Julie Christie. Only Warren could do it all. With JACK WARDEN,
JAMES MASON. (101 m:)
ANGELL HALL, 7:00&49:00 - $1.50

.. .. -
r
i
?..

L

Tomorrow: BANDWAGON & IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER

i

-.rommoo.a

- "Ilmop

I

I m UIAvenue Ii LIER I I-YI -
Formey Filth Forum Theater7
ti
FINAL DAYS!
Laura Antonelli
Marcello Mastroianni '
Sat &8Sun 2:10, 4:05, 6:10, 8:05, 10:00

Mon & Tues 6:10, 8:05, 10:00
AqluIts $1.50 til 2:30 (or capacity)

The Ann Arbor Film Ceoperstive Presents at MLB $1.50
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
BANANAS
(Woody Allen, 1971) 7 & 10:20-MLB 3
This time Woody is Fielding Melish, an inept tester of bizarre gadgets. After
losing Louise Lasser, a strike-oriented New York radical with an irresistable
overbite, Woody heads for South America, revolution, and a fake Fidel Castro
beard only to earn the enmity of the C.I.A.-F.B.I. Can this schlep survive?
"An indecently funny comedy"-Vincent Canby. With HOWARD "the man you
love to hate" COSELL.
WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY?
(Senkichi Tanizuchi and Woody Allen, 1966) 8:40 only-MLB 3
A Japanese agent named Phil Moscowitz (!) searches for a stolen formula to
the perfect egg salad sandwich. What happens from then on is anybody's
guess, as Woody Allen gives the gold finger to the James Bond epic with this
hilarious jumble (a real Japanese thriller which Allen rewrote and redubbed).
Allen's most anarchic film, with some of his best one-liners. WOODY ALLEN,
FRANK BUXTON, MIE HAMA, AKIKI WAKABEYSHI, TIGER LILY.
Next Tuesday: IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES at
Aud:A. Rated X.
Membership applications are being accepted, forms
available at all Ann Arbor film cooperative showings.

ARE YOU LETTING
CLASSES GET TO
You?
00
RELAX
Take a itl break
... you deserve it!

e -_ .

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