Last week I left off discussing the profound effect this movie had on cinema, it’s spectacular use of music and its gutsy subject matter. It’s one of 10 films I’ve seen that changed my life. The film shaped who I am as a person (social activism) and influenced my directorial debut (‘Empty Streets’, also written and produced by Kauai native Kendyce Manguchei). I based this film on my friend. I watched ‘Coming Home’ in 2000 and then….
Flash forward five to seven years, and I see that my best friend comes back from overseas and is exactly like Bruce Dern’s Cpl. Hyde, the character Dern portrays in “Coming Home” and for which he nabbed an Oscar nomination. Dern is mostly known for 1970s motorcycle movies or for his wonderful performance alongside Jack Nicholson (“Easy Rider”) in “The King of Marvin Gardens” (directed by Bob Rafaelson).
“Coming Home” was made right before the 1980s greed decade took over cinema, and is one of only a few films in cinema history to win the best actor (Voight) and best actress (Jane Fonda) awards; other classics to hold this record include “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Silence of the Lambs.” It shows you how much cinema has changed. This film is in the company of “On the Waterfront” with eight Oscar nominations, and in a completely different way this movie is as influential to young directors as “Waterfront” was to actors (Brando’s best).
I had a tough time re-watching “Coming Home,” simply because almost every scene — there are no war scenes — I’ve lived through. I’ve seen War tear a marriage apart, watched a friend go crazy and have felt like asking, “what’s going on in this war?” — not just Iraq. It was as if nothing had changed. I’m 32 and the film came out a year before I was bor,n and it seems like except our phones, computers and TV sizes, what’s new? In terms of Vietnam vets coming back messed up and guys like my friend, not much. The hospitals in the film resemble a hospital in Honolulu. The dialogue of Bruce Dern was my friend five years ago, and Jon Voight’s wonderful speech to close the film is how my friend talks today about his experience.
There are few films I wouldn’t change a frame. The camera is always where it should be, our emotions pour out of us — they’re not manipulated — and “Coming Home” truly captures the times. It’s a film that we Kaua‘i artists wanted to be like, to capture what’s going in our society with the “new” war. “Coming Home” asks the question: whether you voted Democrat, Republican or just believe in yourself, why should vets not be taken care of? Simple, but there was not an answer at the time and there isn’t one now. In three weeks Kaua‘i Times will review Empty Streets; it’s screened all over the country and boasts a soundtrack with many wonderful musicians, including Willie Nelson and a few other Grammy winners. www.emptystreetsmovie.blogspot.com
(part 2 from last week’s review)
Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: Bruce Dern, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight
Oscars: 5 nominations, 3 wins
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