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June 09, 1983 - Image 11

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1983-06-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

The Michigan Daily -
No comeback for Dean

By Malcolm Robinson
A T THE center of Robert Altman's
Come Back to the Five and Dime,
Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and quite
likely the film's entire reason for being,
is a large, long, many panelled mirror.
This mirror dominates the movie and
its single set and, at the same time,
sometimes effortlessly, helps to move
the plot from the present to the past and
vice versa.
Of course, there's little startling
about this sort of device in film; it's
nothing more than an albeit stylized
Come Back to the Five and Dime,
)immy Dean, Jimmy Dean
Starring Sandy Dennis, Cher and Karen
Black/Directed by Robert Altman.
Closing tonight at the Ann Arbor 1 & 2
recurring flashback mechanism. Yet
on the stage, the place where Jimmy
Dean, Jimmy Dean first began its
thankfully brief life, the flashback is
not the often hackneyed device it is on
the screen. Perhaps this is what struck
Altman - who has left, for the most
part, his original Broadway cast and
staging intact for this filmed version -
about the project and led him to believe
that the many flaws of the script could
be guilefully hidden from the world.
The word from Broadway, never-
theless, had been that the play was a
disaster, that the staging was a mess
and the performances mediocre. After
viewing the film, it's easy to see and
understand the overreaction to the
piece; for what can come easily to film
must have seemed forced and alien to

the stage, ironically not hiding but
highlighting the flaws of Ed Graczyk's
first script. His Jimmy Dean, Jimmy
Dean takes place in a small store in a
dying or already dead, drought-ridden
town in Texas. The date is September
30, 1975 and 20 years before, on that
very date, James Dean had died in an
automobile crash. To commemorate this
day, a small club of fans agreed to meet
20 years in the future. So the Five and
Dime is being decorated and prepared
for their arrival. And arrive they do.
What Altman and Graczyk have
decided to set in motion here is one of
the most predictable and schematic of
theatrical forms: they bring a small
group together within the confines of a
small space and present them (in this
instance six women), as decent and
happy and content, at first, and then,
slowly tear down their facades to reveal
what they, and by association we,
really are. Each of these women, more
stick figures than characters, actually,
is given a secret and a hidden self
whose anguish the film finally demon-
strates but never motivates, depicts but
fails to earn. Herein lies the film's
failure; oh yes, two of these secrets, in
the manner of a '50s problem play, deal
with some form of sexual mutilation
which the film tritely equates with a
damaged sense of self and the spiritual
aridity of a life lived for surfaces.
In some respects, then, Jimmy Dean,
Jimmy Dean reminds me of another,
more beautiful Altman film also set in
the wasteland, the mysterious 1977
release, 3 Women. It may be true that
one is set in Texas and the other in
California. It is also the case that where
3 Women is touching and allusive, the
latest film is banal and prosaic; but
both subject their characters to the
same brutal sun, both are filled with
portents of glimpsed horror and both
begin well only to fall apart when the
payoff of their plot is delivered. But

most importantly, what remains con-
stant is the compassion with which
director Altman treats these not im-
mediately likeable grotesques.
It is this compassion, along with an
unerring sense of where to place his
camera, which marks the best of
Alt man's work. Here, for all their
flaws and foibles, he treats his women
with respect, granting them a dignity
the script fails to offer them. The per-
formances of his leads (Sandy Dennis,
Cher, Karen Black), for instance, could
easily have fallen into caricature. That
these unidimensional characters prove
somewhat sympathetic rather than
targets of ridicule is the true if not
exactly large triumph here.

..from Broadway to the silver screen

Do you get
aitt f.

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