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September 11, 1977 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1977-09-11

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The Michigan Daily-Wednesday, September 14, 1977--Page 5

Quinlan can't save

mad potboiler

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
The small-budget film has never managed to carve out
what one could define as an honored niche for itself in the ar-
chives of American cinema. Whereas the Europeans have
been pulling off this feat of financial arid' artistic conden-
sation for years, and masters likesunuel and Bergman have
often raised it to the level of high art, our domestic producers
and audiences have traditionally regarded the concept of
smallness with a measured distrust, as something vaguely
distasteful, impractical, even unpatriotic.
Thus are we beset by the successful-means-huge doctrine
of movies, a totally inevitable byproduct of the biggest-and-
best syndrome which has been and remains an obsession of
the American mind throughout this century. Thus have the
brightest talents and most of the coffers of our film industry
been largely sacrificed on the alter of inflated expense ac-
counts, bigger-than-life got nothing to do with real life, we
gotta send folks home happy, don't we?"
And so we find the much-scorned, immaculately-avoided
land of the low budget primarily occupied by the representa-
tives of Garbage Cinema - the sex flick, the cheap sci-fi
flick, the horror flick and more recently, God help us, the CB
flick. While every now and then a small film of care and craf-
tsmanship achieves a level of prominence (The Pawnbroker
or Mean Streets), more often than not such pictures suddenly
find themselves buried in such a din of pre and post-release
-publicity hoopla (as witness Rocky or, two decades earlier,
-Marty) that their quality of independent innocence gets suf-
focated in all the roar.
Given this bloated state of American cinema past, present
and most probably future, I sometimes feel almost duty-
bound to root hard for any new domestic film of modest
means and aspirations. Alas, the sad truth is that smallness
in and of itself is no guarantee of integrity; the ostensibly
.quiet closet drama can prove every bit as phony as Ch9rlton
Heston in a chariot or Julie Andrews on a mountaintop; wit-
ness the current appearance of I Never Promised You a Rose
-Garden and You Light Up My Life, both films minute of scale
and both largely unbearable.
Rose Garden is, of course, derived from Hannah Green's
_novel of a teen-aged girl's hospital-encased struggle toward
the real world and away from an often-sadistic fantasy king-
dom concealed in the inner sanctums of her mind. The
-original book achieved notable cult status during the 60's, a
fact which doesn't guarantee good writing any more than it
does good filmmaking. While Green's efforts to depict a jour-
:ney out Qf madness seemed earnest enough, her prose
stylistics were so unrelentingly turgid that I found myself
unable to persevere beyond the first forty or so pages.. Some-
times a bad novel can improve when transposed to screen,
but the filmed Rose Garden flunks the test; it retains all the
book's crudeness yet manages to eschew virtually all of its
genuine, however plodding, sincerity.

This in spite o one overwhelming asset: an absolutely as-
tonishing performance by a young actress named Kathleen
Quinlan. As the teen-age Deborah, Quinlan nimbly resists
every temptation to over-emote in a part which would have
seduced a hundred lesser talents into hysterical garnishness.
Exuding a wisdom of restraint certainly beyond her years,
she creates a character that fluctuates between such linbear-
'able anguish and such manic joy that one finds oneself exalt-
ing in her simple and singular triumph over her own mate-
rial.
The 'most damning commentary on Rose Garden is that
Quinlan's performance, revelatory as it is, is still not enough
to save the film, which relentlessly counters her honesty with
a step-by-step campaign of neutralizing falseness. Every
cliche and stereotype of a dozen previous asylum films is
dutifully trotted out and frenetically paraded for us: the un-
comprehending, misguided parents, the saintly, all-wise psy-
chiatrist, the sensitive, dedicated staff of attendants coun-
terbalanced by the one sadistically brutal attendant, etc.
Holding center stage, of course, is the obligatory troupe of
mad-eyed impatient gargoyles hamming their way through
the standard screaming, grunting grotesqueries which have
inundated every film of the loonybin genre from The Snake
Pit to Cuckoo's Nest. Such venerable cellulois battle-axes as
Signe Hasso and Sylvia Sidney each get their standard allot-
ment of chances to perform their assigned psycho shticks,

each straining pantingly, orgasmicany to out caricature the
other. No matter that most mental patients carry their de-
lustions in introverted, silent agony - such non-exhibition-
ism wouldn't make a good show.
Hackneyed though they are, the inmates are given a good
run for insipidness honors by the-characters of Deborah's
fantasy universe. They could have come across effectively as
pseudo-dream or even invisible creatures, but are portrayed
instead in almost clownishly literal fashion. A dull, drum-
beating cross somewhere between Tartars and American In-,
dians, they lurk blatantly around each corner of the hospital,
grinning satanically at our heroine, inducing her into terrible
acts. The effect is so unsettingly ludicros that each time a
demon appeared my inclination was to burst out laughing
rather than gasp in horror.
One detects in all this the sweaty hand of producer Roger
Corman, the longtime king and chief tastemaker of'Garbage
Cinema. While Rose Garden could be viewed as his belated
attempt to go respectable, it is apparent Corman's heart is
still in the land of Bloody Mamma and Pyromania, his left
eye still on the cash register. The only way to dredge up any
real satisfaction from this cheat of a film is to watch it the
way one watched Bette Davis emerge artistically unscatched
from that myriad of woebegone potboilers of the thirties and
early forties. Miss Quinlan will surely prove a comparable
survivor.
See SMALL, Page 10

-AP Photo
Leopold Stokowski, world-famous conductor
died yesterday at his home in Hampshire, Eng.
land. The cause was given as a heart attack;
was 95.

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Arkin's 'Fire Sale' not
hot, not even lukewarm

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By MICHAEL BROIDY"
Physical comedy is perhaps the most
difficult comedic technique to master,
particularly in the cinema. The Marx
Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and more
recently Mel Brooks and Wpody Allen,
quickly come to mind as comedians
who have mastered the art of physical
comedy and escaped its various prat-
falls. The dividing line between the
beautifully orchestrated antics of the
Marx Brothers and the sometime point-
less barbarics of the Three Stooges is a
thin one indeed, and it takes an innate
understanding of the medium 'by both
director and stars to make sure that the
finished product ends up on the right
side of this line.
Which, alas, the new film Fire Sale
fails to accomplish. Ostensibly it is the
story of the Fikus family, an incredibly
obtuse clan. The patriarch of this dim-
witted bunch (Vincent Gardenia) plans
to burn his failing department store to
the ground in order to redeem his fire
insurance policy. Son Russel (Rob
Reinder); unknowing of his father's
'plans, has previously cashed the policy
in order to re-stock the store with new
merchandise. Another son, Ezra (Alan
Arkin), is about to be run out of town by
irate students of the local high school
because of their basketball team's
rather lackluster record under Ezra's
"guidance." In desperation, Ezra
"adopts" a black 16-year-old giant who
promises to be the next Kareem Abdul-
"Jabbar.
Sounds hilarious, right? Wrong. Fire
Sale, while chock-full of lunatic char-
acters, is burdened with a sleazy type of
humor: Russell's asthma, is poked fun
at continually and relentlessly, and the
stereotypes portrayed in the film are
too numerous to mention. Images and
dialogue of questionable taste are often
a staple of cinematic comedy, but the
good filmmakers know when to stop.
Adapter Robert Klane obviously
doesn't; his lack of finesse cheapens the
film's enjoyment and destroys any
comedic credibility which the perform-
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ers so desperately try to obtain.
Only Sid Caesar as the wonderfully
wacky Uncle Sherman, a World War II
veteran who still thinks the war is going
on (and who is enlisted by his brother to
blow up the store), can overcome the
script's -limitations. Caesar's isreally
the only character that is fully realized,
The rubbery-faced Caesar is simply
amazing. His face at one point takes on
at least four or five contortions in the
space of ten seconds. The image of the
comedian racing down a highway in a

stolen electric wheelchair leaves one in
stitches and is not likely to be forgotten.
-Fire Sale is full of huge amounts of
energy, but it is all unbalanced. This is
chiefly the fault of director Alan Arkin
whose static (or at best sluggish)
cameratork along with his boring com.
position ieave the performers totally on
their own. Inlight of such recent break-
through films as Annie Hall and Silent
Movie, Arkin's somnambulistic direc-
tion is all the more regrettable.

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VIEWPOINT LECTURES
presents:
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(independent Washington Journalist)
Thursday, September 15
8:00 PM in Hill Auditorium
TICKETS: $1 students
$1.50 general admission

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