Sunday, December 23, 2018


Ragtime poster with an Evelyn Nesbit angle.

Ragtime poster with a black awareness angle.

Ragtime – toivon ja vihan aika / Ragtime – hoppets och hatets tid.
    US © 1981 Sunley Holdings, Ltd. PC (AFI Catalog): Ragtime Productions Ltd. / Sunley Productions. PC (IMDb): Dino De Laurentiis Company (A Milos Forman Film) (presents) / Sunley Productions Ltd. P: Dino De Laurentiis. US theatrical distributor: Paramount Pictures.
    D: Milos Forman. SC: Michael Weller – based on the novel (1975) by E. L. Doctorow – translated into Finnish by Kalevi Nyytäjä / Tammi: Keltainen kirjasto (1976). DP: Miroslav Ondrícek – Todd-AO 35 – Technicolor – 2,35:1. PD: John Graysmark. AD: Patrizia von Brandenstein, Tony Reading. SFX: Edward Drohan, George Gibbs. VFX: Charles Staffell. Cost: Anna Hill Johnstone. M: Randy Newman. ”One More Hour” (Randy Newman) perf. Jennifer Warnes. Choreography: Twyla Tharp. ED: Anne V. Coates, Anthony Gibbs, Stanley Warnow. S: Christopher Newman – mono. Casting: Mary Goldberg.
    C: James Cagney (Rheinlander Waldo, New York Police Commissioner), Brad Dourif (Younger Brother), Moses Gunn (Booker T. Washington), Elizabeth McGovern (Evelyn Nesbit), Kenneth McMillan (Willie Conklin), Pat O’Brien (Delphin), Donald O’Connor (Evelyn's Dance Instructor), James Olson (Father), Mandy Patinkin (Tateh), Howard E. Rollins Jr. (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.), Mary Steenburgen (Mother), Debbie Allen (Sarah), Jeffrey DeMunn (Houdini), Robert Joy (Henry K. Thaw), Norman Mailer (Stanford White), Bruce Boa (Jerome), Norman Chancer (Gent No. 1 – Agent), Erwin Cooper (Grandfather), Jeff Daniels (P. C. O’Donnell), Fran Drescher (Mameh), Frankie Faison (Gang Member No. 1), Hal Galili (Police Captain No. 1), Alan Gifford (judge), Samuel L. Jackson (gang member no. 2), Bessie Love (old lady – T.O.C.).
    US premiere (general release): 25 Dec 1981.
    Helsinki premiere: 12 March 1982, Gloria – distributor: Magna-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Satu Laaksonen / Maya Vanni – vhs: Nordic Video – dvd: Scanbox – telecast: 10 May 1997, 10 July 1998, 23 Sep 2005 Yle TV2 – VET 89943 – K16 – 4275 m / 156 min
    Vintage 35 mm print screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (in memoriam Milos Forman 1932–2018), 23 Dec 2018

The name Coalhouse Walker is an acknowledgement to Michael Kohlhaas, the novella (1810) by Heinrich von Kleist.

Milos Forman's director's cut of Ragtime was almost three hours, but the producer Dino De Laurentiis ordered it cut by some 20 minutes. Off went the entire character of Emma Goldman. In Warren Beatty's Reds (1981), made simultaneously, Goldman is played by Maureen Stapleton. According to Forman the shorter version feels longer because scenes were lost that made the film more engrossing.

I saw Ragtime for the first time, and since I have not read E. L. Doctorow's novel, either, I experienced it as a perfect innocent.

The first impression: a brilliant, lavish spectacle, perfect for Christmas holidays. (Its original release date 37 years ago was, in fact, on Christmas Day). The Technicolor cinematography by Miroslav Ondricek is gorgeous. There has been no cutting of corners in the period detail. All aspects of the physical production are perfect, including the production design by John Graysmark and costume design by Anna Hill Johnstone. Randy Newman's score is wonderful and versatile.

The cast is excellent including Howard E. Rolling, Jr. as Coalhouse Walker and Mary Steenburgen as Mother. In early stages of their careers we meet Elizabeth McGovern as Evelyn Nesbit and Mandy Patinkin as Tateh.

Deeply moving for cinephiles is the appearance in the last roles of their careers of James Cagney as Rheinlander Waldo and Pat O'Brien as Delmas. Since 1934 Cagney often co-starred with O'Brien, "his dearest friend" in movies such as Ceiling Zero and Angels with Dirty Faces. "I've been with him in every uniform", stated O'Brien. Here they are a police chief and a defense lawyer.

Brad Dourif, familiar from One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, is back with Forman as the demented inventor brother of Mary Steenburgen's character. In the cast is also Bessie Love, a living legend from the actual period of the story: she appeared in D. W. Griffith's Intolerance, co-starred with Douglas Fairbanks in films like The Good Bad Man and was immortalized in her natural beauty by the photographer Edwin Bower Hesser.

Ragtime is a film about the period known in Europe as Belle Époque. In the finale of the movie World War I is announced: viewed this year, Ragtime is yet another centenary story.

This is a period of the breakthrough of mechanical reproduction in culture: key phenomena are the T-Model Ford (in Coalhouse's story) and the cinema (in Tateh's story). Popular entertainments include also vaudeville (in Evelyn's story) and of course ragtime (Coalhouse is a successful pianist).

Doctorow composed his narrative as a multi-character study with four storylines, and his strategy was to mingle actual historical characters with fictional ones. Robert Altman was the cinematic master of such strategies. He was, indeed, the original choice to direct, but he was fired by De Laurentiis who found his plans too ambitious.

The beginning of the film is based on the true story of the murder of the architect Stanford White (Norman Mailer) by the millionaire Harry K. Thaw (Robert Joy), jealous for his wife Evelyn Nesbit, a former model and chorus girl. In Richard Fleischer's The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing the cast included Joan Collins as Evelyn Nesbit, Ray Milland as White and Farley Granger as Thaw.

I do not know whether Evelyn Nesbit is such a household name in America that she needs no introduction, but in Europe it is perhaps not generally known that she was a pioneering celebrity in advertising, her face ubiquitous in the mass media, in great demand in fashion photography, and one of the earliest popular pin-up girls, perhaps the first pin-up girl known by name. She was a calendar girl, a cover girl, a popular advertising model (including for Coca-Cola), a Gibson Girl, and a successful mignon postcard model. Interestingly, the first choice to play The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing was Marilyn Monroe, but she declined, probably because she fought to distance herself from the very status that Evelyn Nesbit epitomized.

Towards the finale the focus shifts to Coalhouse's story. He is deeply humiliated by a volunteer fire department (they vandalize his new car), and when his fiancée Sarah seeks justice she is beaten to death. Their projected wedding turns into a funeral. Coalhouse with his friends turn into masked avengers who start to kill firemen and terrorize fire stations. Even the intervention of Booker T. Washington (Moses Gunn), the great champion of civil rights, cannot help Coalhouse change his mind.

Tateh's story from a street artist creating silhouettes and flipbooks to a successful film producer remains undeveloped in this film version. But the central New Rochelle family story remains original and intriguing. The uptight Father (James Olson) has to keep adjusting to realities. A black baby discovered in the family garden leads to a chain of events in which the Father, after the failure of Booker T. Washington, gets to negotiate with Coalhouse. He both succeeds (in stopping the terrorist rampage) and fails (in saving Coalhouse). From his viewpoint the whole thing is a tragedy since he loses his wife to Tateh.

There is a tension in the project between making a work of real complexity and creating a huge entertainment blockbuster. There are temptations to the flippant, the superficial and the ingratiating, familiar from One Flew from the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus.

There are also centers of gravity. Coalhouse's story remains complex and powerful. The story of the emancipation of Mother (Mary Steenburgen) is engaging.

Fredric Jameson famously highlighted Ragtime (the novel) as a prime example of the "weakening of historicity" in his magnum opus on postmodernism. He called Doctorow "the epic poet of the disappearance of the American radical past", and Ragtime was for him "the most peculiar and stunning monument to the aesthetic situation engendered by the disappearance of the historical referent. This historical novel can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only 'represent' our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby at once becomes 'pop history')." We "are condemned to seek History by way of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach."

I agree with Jameson's key insight about the weakening of historicity but suspect that he is too merciless and inordinate towards Ragtime. Even the film adaptation, which has been adapted with a strong sense of the entertainment value, manages to dramatize important historical issues and make them valid for the contemporary audience. Pop history maybe, but also more than that.

As a film historian I have to comment that the newsreel sequences are not presented in an authentic fashion. The pre-1915 newsreel clips, real and simulated, are always in high contrast, screened in overspeed and cropped to fill the scope frame. That was not the way they were seen at the time. But it is a nice to observe that the cinema pianist (Coalhouse Walker) plays well on a well-tuned piano.

I think it is a splendid idea in a period film to sample newsreels. One can convey a lot of context and atmosphere in this way. In the latest film adaptation of Unknown Soldier (2017) this Ragtime idea (innovation?) was used, and I was happy to observe that the visual quality was great.

It was a pleasure to enjoy a juicy vintage print full of vibrant detail and with its beautiful colour intact. No matter that there are some scratches in the heads and tails of reels.


E. L. Doctorowin Ragtime kuuluu varmasti modernin romaanikirjallisuuden mahdottomimpiin filmattaviin. Se ei kerro yhteen eikä edes muutamaan henkilöön keskittyvää tasaisesti etenevää kertomusta, vaan on pikemminkin valtavan seinävaatteen kaltainen joka suuntaan risteilevä kudelma. Vaikka se on tavallaan historiallinen romaani vuosisadan alun Yhdysvalloista, se ei tapahdu niinkään ajassa kuin tilassa limittäen historiallisia ja kuvitteellisia henkilöitä ja tapahtumia. Periaatteessa sen simultaanisuuskerronta voisi olla läheistäkin sukua elokuvan ristiinleikkaukselle, mutta sen aineisto on niin massiivinen, että sen on vaikea kuvitella edes mahtuvan tavallisen elokuvan puitteisiin.

Niinpä ei olekaan yllättävää lukea Milos Formanin kuvausta Doctorowin itsensä valmistamasta käsikirjoituksesta: Doctorow ”kirjoitti koko Ragtime-romaaninsa uudelleen, vain eri muotoon. Rönsyilevä käsikirjoitus oli täynnä henkilöitä. Tunnelma oli yhtä tasapaksua tunteiden virtaa, josta mikään ei noussut esiin, koska Doctorow ei ollut karsinut ankarasti aineistoa hyvän elokuvakäsikirjoituksen vaatimalla tavalla. Tuloksena oli valtava, noin kolmesataasivuinen libretto, kauniisti kynäilty paksu paperipino, jonka edessä olin avuton.”

Forman lähtikin työstämään käsikirjoitusta aivan uudelta pohjalta, kumppaninaan näytelmäkirjailija Michael Weller, jonka kanssa hän oli työskennellyt jo Hairin parissa. Tärkein tehtävä oli karsinta. Forman ja Weller pyrkivät säilyttämään rönsyilevän freskomaisuuden mutta valitsemaan silti rajatumman keskipisteen. Tarinalinjojen määrää siis rajoitettiin, ja elokuvan edetessä keskeiseen asemaan nousee erityisesti yksi tapahtumasarja, mustan pianistin Coalhouse Walker, Jr.:n epätoivoinen yritys saada oikeutta, kun etelän valkoiset palomiehet ovat tärvelleet hänen uuden autonsa. Monet kriitikot pitivät näkökulmaa jo liiankin rajattuna. Syy löytyy varsin tyypillisestä tuottajakiistasta. Kun Forman oli saanut valmiiksi lähes kolmen tunnin version, tuottaja Dino De Laurentiis vaati siihen poistoja. Forman ehdotti kirjailija Doctorowin ottamista tuomariksi, mutta hänen yllätyksekseen kirjailijalla ei ollut mitään poistoja vastaan. Niinpä lopullinen versio on noin 20 minuuttia Formanin ehdottamaa lyhyempi. Ainakin ohjaajan itsensä mielestä se on kuitenkin psykologisesti pitempi: Forman oli jo Yksi lensi yli käenpesän -elokuvaa leikatessaan oppinut, että paradoksaalisesti lyhentäminen voi joskus pidentää. Jos elokuvasta poistetaan kaikki kohtaukset, jotka eivät suoranaisesti vie tarinaa eteenpäin, voi samalla poistaa juuri ne kohtaukset, jotka vetoavat tunteisiin ja auttavat eläytymään elokuvaan maailmaan.

Tällaisenakin Ragtime on kuitenkin kunnianhimoinen yritys tehdä tavallisuudesta poikkeavaa historiallista spektaakkelia. Sen vyöryvää runsautta ei ole aivan vaivaton sulattaa, mutta elokuvassa on monia elementtejä, jotka helpottavat asiaa. Sellaisia ovat esimerkiksi Randy Newmanin aikakaudelle uskollinen musiikki sekä poikkeukselliset näyttelijävalinnat. Mukana ovat esimerkiksi kirjailija Norman Mailer sekä näyttelijäveteraanit Donald O’Connor ja Pat O’Brien, sekä ennen kaikkea 20 vuoden tauon jälkeen valkokankaalle palannut, poliisipäällikköä esittävä James Cagney.

- Milos Formanin (Otetaan hatkat, 1994/1996) mukaan Kimmo Laine 15.6.1999


The film begins with a newsreel montage, depicting celebrities of the turn of the 20th century such as Harry Houdini, Theodore Roosevelt and the architect Stanford White (Norman Mailer), as well as life in New York City. The newsreel is accompanied by ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.). The millionaire industrialist Harry Kendall Thaw (Robert Joy), makes a scene when White's latest creation, a nude statue on the roof of Madison Square Garden, is unveiled. The model for the statue is Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern), a former chorus girl who is now Thaw's wife. Thaw becomes convinced White has corrupted Evelyn and humiliated him, and publicly shoots White, killing him.

Meanwhile, an unnamed upper-class family resides in a comfortable suburban home in New Rochelle. The family's Father (James Olson) owns a factory, where his wife's Younger Brother (Brad Dourif) is employed as a fireworks maker. Their passive, sheltered existence is disturbed when an abandoned African American baby is found in their garden. The child's mother, an unmarried washerwoman named Sarah (Debbie Allen), is discovered and brought to their home. When she learns that the police intend to charge Sarah with child abandonment and attempted murder, Mother (Mary Steenburgen) intervenes and takes Sarah and her child into the home, despite Father's objections. Some time later, Coalhouse Walker arrives at the house in search of Sarah, driving a new model T Ford and acting in a brash manner unlike the subservient attitude expected of the African American community at the time. Realizing that he is the baby's father, he announces to a skeptical Father that he intends to marry Sarah.

Younger Brother witnesses White's murder and becomes obsessed with Evelyn, leaving home for long periods of time to follow her throughout the city. Thaw's lawyer, Delphin (Pat O'Brien), bribes Evelyn with a million-dollar divorce settlement (which she accepts) to keep silent about Thaw's mental instability at his trial and to testify that White had abused her. Passing through the tenements of the Lower East Side, Evelyn encounters a street artist known as Tateh (Mandy Patinkin) and sees him throw his wife (Fran Drescher) out of their home after learning of her infidelity. He takes their daughter and leaves New York, taking with him the flip book he has created, which he begins to sell successfully. Evelyn, who has become fond of the little girl, is troubled by their disappearance, but distracted when Younger Brother declares his love to her. She begins an affair with him as she begins to plan her return to the stage. He assumes that they will eventually marry and plans to introduce her to his family. However, after Thaw is found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, his lawyers interrupt one of Evelyn's trysts with Younger Brother and inform her that Thaw will be suing her for divorce on the grounds of infidelity, offering her a much smaller divorce settlement, which she takes. The affair ends shortly thereafter, leaving Younger Brother alone and adrift.

In New Rochelle Coalhouse is targeted by a crew of bigoted volunteer firemen, led by fire chief Willie Conklin (Kenneth McMillan), who refuse to allow his automobile to pass by their firehouse. He leaves to find a policeman (Jeff Daniels), and returns to find his car's front seat soiled with horse manure. His protests end with the racist policeman placing him under arrest for parking his car illegally. Conklin is not arrested. After Father arranges for Coalhouse's release, they discover his car has been vandalized further. Coalhouse pursues legal action, but can find no lawyer willing to represent him. Father, who believes Coalhouse has no legal recourse open to him due to his race, and Younger Brother, who supports Coalhouse, have a confrontation in front of Sarah, who is informed by an infuriated Father that it is up to her to get Coalhouse to see sense. She sneaks out of the house to attend a presidential rally, where she attempts to tell President Roosevelt about Coalhouse's case but is pushed back and beaten by guards. She is severely injured, and soon after dies from her wounds.

After Sarah's funeral, Coalhouse and a group of supporters ambush the volunteer firemen, killing several of them. He sends a letter to the police and newspapers threatening to attack other firehouses, demanding that his car be restored and that Conklin be turned over to him for justice. Father is disgusted at Coalhouse's violence, but Younger Brother tracks him down and joins his gang, bringing with him his knowledge of explosives.

Ostracized by their own white community and hounded by reporters for their involvement in a black man's issues, Father and Mother leave New Rochelle for Atlantic City, where they encounter Tateh, who is now a film director working on a photoplay with Evelyn Nesbitt. Mother is attracted to him, and she and Father quarrel. Meanwhile, Coalhouse and his gang force their way into the Pierpont Morgan Library, holding the priceless collection hostage in exchange for Conklin and the car. The building is soon surrounded by police and National Guard units. Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo (James Cagney) arrives to take command of the siege. He sends men to retrieve Walker's child to use a bargaining chip, but Mother refuses to give him up. This angers Father, who demands she turn the child over, and he returns to New York alone to assist Waldo. In his absence Mother checks out of their hotel.

Noted black educator Booker T. Washington (Moses Gunn) is called in as a mediator but fails to persuade Walker to surrender, as does Father in a meeting at the library. Conklin, who has fled, is captured by the police, and forced to phone Coalhouse and apologize. Commissioner Waldo is disgusted by Conklin and his racist attitude, who he calls "a piece of slime," yet cannot submit to terrorist demands and has him arrested instead. Coalhouse ultimately agrees to surrender if Waldo will permit his supporters to safely depart in his restored car. Waldo agrees after Father volunteers to stay inside the library as a hostage. Coalhouse's supporters escape in the car, and he drives Father out the library. He prays, seeming ready to blow himself up, but instead surrenders to the police. As he steps out of the building with his hands raised, Waldo orders a sniper to shoot him. Coalhouse stumbles a short distance and falls dead.

The film ends with another newsreel montage: Evelyn dances in vaudeville, and Harry Thaw is released from an asylum. Harry Houdini escapes from a straight jacket while dangling several stories above the ground, while below him, the newspapers announce that war has been declared (presumably the start of World War I). Younger Brother returns to his job as a fireworks maker. In the final shot, Father watches from the house in New Rochelle as Mother departs with Tateh and Coalhouse's son.


Pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. plays ragtime tunes to a silent newsreel that announces the installation of a nude statue by architect Stanford White on the roof of Madison Square Tower in New York City. Former chorus girl and White’s girlfriend, Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, denies in the press that she is the model for the statue. At a lavish party hosted by White, Harry K. Thaw, Evelyn’s husband, barges in and demands the statue’s removal but he backs down and leaves when Stanford introduces him to a guest, New York Police Commissioner Rheinlander Waldo. Meanwhile, a Victorian house in New Rochelle, NY, owned by Father and Mother, a turn-of-the-century middle class couple, is the scene of a sudden mystery. Brigit, the couple’s maid, discovers an orphaned black infant left in the garden. Soon after, the police find Sarah, a young black woman, who is the mother. In the Thaws’ plush living room, Harry tells his lawyers that the statue is a humiliation to him and his wife and the couple wants the statue removed. When the lawyers say there is no legal recourse, Harry is adamant that they find a way. At a live musical performance at Madison Square Garden, Harry shoots Stanford in the head when the architect ignores him, promptly turns over the gun to the police and is arrested. Newsreels show Harry’s mother returning to America for her son’s trial. The Thaw lawyers interview Evelyn to build a defense for her husband. They cut a deal with Evelyn: if she lies on the stand, protects her husband’s reputation and agrees to a divorce, the family will pay her $1 million. Evelyn agrees to the terms. Mother’s sibling, Younger Brother, a bachelor who lives with her and works for her husband’s fireworks company, attends the trial. He becomes obsessed with Evelyn and follows her after the trial’s end. He observes her sitting for a portrait by Tateh, a silhouette street artist on the Lower East Side, when a dead horse in the street blocks her car. Evelyn and Younger Brother watch as a fight breaks out in the street between the artist and his wife. In a music club, Coalhouse finds steady work as a piano player in a traveling band, the Clef Club Band. Evelyn returns to the Lower East Side apartment to give Tateh’s daughter a beautiful doll but the street artist and his daughter have left town to start a new life. Younger Brother, who has followed her there, awkwardly asks her for a date that leads to a three-day adventure. At home, Father, his brother-in-law, wonders why he doesn’t call or show up to work. As Father and Mother sit down to dinner, a well-dressed Coalhouse comes calling and asks to speak with Sarah, the baby’s mother, who is temporarily living with the couple. Sarah refuses to speak with him and when Father gives Coalhouse the message, Coalhouse reveals that he is the father. He leaves without speaking to Sarah but says he will return. In a courtroom, the jury finds Harry not guilty of murder but declares him insane, and he is sentenced to an asylum for the criminally insane. A team of show business managers court Evelyn with plans to rekindle her career. Younger Brother questions her return to show business as she strips naked and tackles him on her living room sofa. The Thaw family lawyers appear out of nowhere with a legal document for her to sign, saying the family will pay her $25,000, not the $1 million she was promised, because Thaw’s mother is suing her on grounds of adultery. Younger Brother offers his company lawyers to help her, but Evelyn signs the document to completely sever her ties to Harry. Younger Brother asks Evelyn to come to dinner to meet Father, but she doesn’t show up. When Coalhouse returns to ask Sarah for her forgiveness, Father presses him to explain his intentions. Meanwhile, Younger Brother wants to know what kind of music Coalhouse plays. The musician plays a slow ragtime tune that melts away the family’s fears about him. Before he leaves, he invites the family to be guests at his wedding to Sarah the following Sunday. When Younger Brother interrupts Evelyn’s dance rehearsal to ask where she’s been, he becomes agitated when her managers kick him out. As Coalhouse leaves town in his new Model T, he gets trapped between two pieces of fire equipment in front of the fire station. The firemen tell him he can’t pass until he pays a toll of $25, saying they want a new fire engine as nice as Coalhouse’s car. After leaving his car, Coalhouse returns with a police officer to settle the matter, but the fire equipment is back in the firehouse and his car has been moved down the street where the front seat has been covered in manure. Willie Conklin, the fire chief, says that the musician purposely blocked the firehouse and he has witnesses to prove it. Coalhouse calls him a liar and won’t leave until the firemen clean his car. When his request is denied, he is arrested. Father pays his bail at the station, and when they retrieve Coalhouse’s car, it has more damage. Later, the musician talks to an attorney who tells him it is best to forget what happened. The police tell Coalhouse he can’t sue a volunteer fire department and they send him to the county clerk, who sends him back to the police. When Father fails to persuade Sarah to sway Coalhouse to drop his quest for justice, Father tells her that if Coalhouse marries her as promised, he’ll pay to have the car repaired and cleaned. She laments that Coalhouse will only be satisfied if the fire department repairs his car. When Father tells her the problem is her responsibility, Sarah dresses in her Sunday best to meet the campaign train of Vice President Charles Fairbanks. However, she is beaten to death before she can ask for help, and is buried in her wedding dress. Later, firemen are targeted and killed by several masked men looking for Conklin. At the police station, the chief inspector reads a letter of intent from Coalhouse to Conklin, which says that the violence against the fire department will continue unless Coalhouse’s car is returned in its original state. A police officer guards Father and Mother’s house in case Coalhouse comes for his baby. Younger Brother finds Coalhouse in hiding with a gang and offers materials from his fireworks company to help them make bombs. When a bomb goes off in another fire station, the press descends on Father and Mother’s home. The couple escapes to Atlantic City to avoid questioning. Coalhouse’s next act of violence is to take over the J. P. Morgan library with his gang and use it as a bargaining chip for the return of his car. Police officers surround the library, waiting for orders, and Vernon Elliott, the curator, warns them not to harm the contents of the library. Police Commissioner Waldo grabs a megaphone and wants to negotiate with Coalhouse, but instead a silver goblet is tossed onto the street with a note containing the curator’s office telephone number. Coalhouse makes his demands over the phone, telling Waldo he wants his car returned in its original condition and Fire Chief Willie Conklin turned over to him within forty-eight hours. Waldo summons Booker T. Washington, a black leader, to negotiate with Coalhouse, but he is unsuccessful in getting Coalhouse to drop his demands. Waldo’s men travel to Atlantic City with orders to take Coalhouse’s baby from Mother and Father, but Mother refuses to give up the baby without a proper explanation. Father says he plans to leave with or without the baby, while his wife begs him not to go. In the city, Conklin is taken into custody in his bedclothes when officers break into an apartment and find him hiding under a bed. Within a few minutes, Conklin tells Coalhouse by phone that they should work things out, calls him a “crazy nigger,” and screams that the whole incident was a joke. Coalhouse only wants speak to Waldo and tells him to send Conklin to the library. Conklin gets a reprieve when Father arrives and tells Waldo that he’ll talk to Coalhouse in the library even though the police can’t protect him. In the library, Younger Brother is part of Coalhouse’s gang. The musician tells Father if the commissioner returns his car in pristine condition for his gang’s getaway and he’s sure that they are safe, he’ll surrender. When told of his terms, the commissioner reasons that once the men are safe, Coalhouse can blow up the library. The only freedom he has is the way he dies. Waldo doesn’t believe Coalhouse will be true to his word but Father convinces him that Coalhouse has integrity. Waldo accepts the new terms and Father agrees to stay in the library until Coalhouse surrenders. The Model T pulls up to the library gates. On the darkened street, the men put on their hoods, and prepare to escape; however, they are not prepared to leave Coalhouse behind. Coalhouse tells them they are anonymous, but the police know him and he will be hunted down like a dog everyday of his life. If they escape, they can tell the story of what happened and their actions will mean something. The gang drives away and disappears. When the cops catch sight of the Model T, Younger Brother is in the driver’s seat. The gang calls Coalhouse to say that they are safe. Father wants Coalhouse to leave the library with him, but Coalhouse insists that Father leave alone. When Waldo sees Father leave alone, he’s convinced Coalhouse is going to blow up the library. Instead, the musician prays for a sign from God to tell him what to do. Next, Coalhouse slowly walks out the front door of the library with his hands raised. He is shot by an officer and collapses on the steps. Sometime later, the marriage of Father and Mother ends, and Harry Thaw begins life anew as he leaves the insane asylum in a fancy convertible roadster sipping champagne.


The following note of appreciation appears at the end of the film: “The Producers would like to thank The Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, New York City and the New York City Police Department, Movie-TV Unit for all their kind co-operation during the making of this film.”
       A 6 Dec 1975 LAT news item reported that many people vied for roles in the film including “Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen,” who expressed interest in “the role of [Younger Brother], the budding anarchist,” and “Redd Foxx and Muhammad Ali…added to the list (O.J. Simpson among others) of those interested in playing Coalhouse Walker.”
       According to a 7 May 1980 NYT article, Ragtime began filming five years after De Laurentiis bought the film rights for $250,000 in 1975.
       On 5 Apr 1976, New York magazine reported that frequent Robert Altman collaborator Joan Tewkesbury’s first draft of the screenplay was rejected by Altman, who was attached as director at the time, and novelist E. L. Doctorow. Although Altman and Doctorow had similar ideas about the movie’s structure, Tewkesbury’s concept centered on Mother’s journey. Consequently, Tewkesbury was pulled off the project.
       A 1981 Paramount Pictures production information handbook from AMPAS library files described the film’s twenty-week shooting schedule as split evenly between the U.S. and London, England. The cast and crew spent ten days filming on the Lower East Side in New York City and another few days in uptown Manhattan. Later, seven weeks of filming continued in the following locations: Westchester, NY, Connecticut and along the New Jersey shore. The biggest sets in the film were built at Shepperton Studios in London, including: “A six and a half acre stretch of Madison Avenue circa 1900 on both sides of the 36th Street intersection [that] was meticulously reproduced, complete with tram lines, every detail matched from period blueprints,” and “the formal façade and lush interiors of the J. P. Morgan Library.” A 2 Nov 1980 LAT article stated that St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, NY, was the location for Sarah’s funeral scene.
       As stated in a 18 Nov 1981 LAHExam article, the $32-million budgeted Ragtime was adapted from E. L. Doctorow’s popular source novel of the same name that won the National Book Critics Award and appeared on many “year-end 10-best lists.” Bantam Books paid a record $1.8 million for paperback rights and made its money back once four million copies were sold. The company sold an additional one million copies and printed another half-million copies to coincide with the film’s release.
       A Nov 1981 Vogue article noted that Ragtime was a film “about connection: the connection between private events and public ones.” While the novel was full of asides from history, the convention was not repeated in the movie, though, “newsreels [were] inserted into the film, showing the main characters taking their part in public events.”
       According to the production information handbook, producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the film rights in 1975 and Altman became attached to the project the same year. However, the two men fought over the final edit of Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, see entry), and Altman was subsequently fired from Ragtime .
       A 7 May 1980 NYT article stated that Ragtime began filming four years after De Laurentiis’ firing of Altman. Its long road to the screen was hampered by the difficulty of condensing the complex 270-page novel into a two-hour film. Originally, the film was set up at Columbia Pictures with a $10 million budget only to be dropped from the roster when President David Begelman was fired amid “an enforced leave of absence” in 1977. Altman, whose vision of Ragtime was two three-hour movies, was hired, and later fired. Next, De Laurentiis hired E. L. Doctorow, the writer of the novel, whose lengthy screenplay was rejected for a more streamlined script written by Michael Weller.
       The production information handbook noted that when director Milos Forman replaced Altman, he had to start from scratch when an almost 1,000-page screenplay written by Doctorow was deemed unacceptable. Forman streamlined the story by deleting many famous figures such as Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud.
       A 12 Dec 1981 NYT article noted that stage and television actress Mariclare Costello’s portrayal of radical feminist “Emma Goldman” was cut from the final version of the film. Forman wanted the scenes left intact, but he was overruled. In the novel, her character was the prism through which class structure could be understood and her presence was “absolutely necessary. In the film, we see the class structure with our own eyes,” said Mr. Forman.
       The 18 Nov 1981 LAHExam article stated that Forman was so intent on getting “the right look of the people,” especially for characters with brief screen time, he auditioned 1,500 actors. His preference for casting lesser known actors reflected his desire to convey characters with vitality that were in the prime of their lives.
       A Dec 1981 Saturday Review article mentioned that actor James Cagney was lured back to the screen after a twenty-year retirement that began in 1960 after the completion of One, Two, Three (1961, see entry), and even bouts of sciatica and diabetes didn’t stop the actor from showing interest in Ragtime . Cagney knew Forman socially, and even though Forman gave the eighty-two-year-old Cagney his choice of roles, Cagney let the director have the last word when he cast the actor as “New York Police Commissioner Rheinlander Waldo.”
       As stated in a 28 Jul 1980 NYT article, art director Patrizia Von Brandenstein noted that carpenters and painters transformed East 11th Street between Avenues A and B into the setting for Evelyn’s encounter with the street silhouette artist “Tateh” on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A combination of existing period architecture and moderate commercial activity led the production to choose this location over the more familiar and busier Orchard Street. Storefronts with Hebrew writing replaced existing signage in Spanish that reflected the neighborhood’s demographic at the time. The production agreed to donate “$5,000 to a community-sponsored project” that was to be decided, as well as the usual compensation made to area property owners. Other accommodations included garage parking for contemporary cars that would normally park on the street and a temporary “Ragtime Summer Camp,” located behind Kalish’s Shoestore, for over forty children who could not play on the street as per usual during filming. Location manager Richard Brick noted that one address on the street was returned to its original function as a livery stable to comfortably house the production’s fifteen horses. A representative from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, A.S.P.C.A., inspected the stable.
       A 28 Aug 1980 NYT article reported that Von Brandenstein spent three months converting a fifteen-room Victorian home in Mount Kisco, NY, to be the setting for the film’s archetypical middle-class family. Porches were rebuilt, a driveway was graveled over, an antique kitchen was installed, hand blocked period wallpaper was hung and a gazebo was added to the garden to create the turn-of-the-century ambiance. The production rented the home for a fee of $20,000 for a three-week shoot, installing $40,000 of permanent improvements and removing any that the homeowners did not like.
       A Nov 1981 Vogue article noted that in her research about her character “Evelyn Nesbit,” actress Elizabeth McGovern had heard stories about her from a friend of her mother’s, who knew Nesbit at the end of her life. “She learned very young that her beauty was the way to put food on the table. She was fifteen when she got involved with Stanford White, who was a father figure to her, as well as being the man who made her a woman,” recalled McGovern.
       A 30 Nov 1981 HR article stated that Paramount created a second print advertising campaign to attract black audiences. The poster pictured Howard E. Rollins, Moses Gunn, Debbie Allen and James Cagney with the following copy: “A black man said ‘Respect me or kill me!’ They took away Coalhouse’s wife, child and pride. He made them pay in a way America will never forget. It was a tough time…it was Ragtime.”
       On 8 Dec 1981, the LAHExam reported that the movie earned $594,893 since its release. An earlier 1 Dec 1981 LAHExam article reported that its first weekend, the movie made $151,444. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the film earned $160,884 in four cities – New York, San Francisco, CA, Toronto, Canada and Los Angeles, CA – spread among five theaters.
       A 17 Jan 1982 LAT Calendar article noted that composer Randy Newman’s original score evoked the mood of the film’s time period without using music original to the era. Most original recordings were deemed “too tinny or scratchy” to be useful and extensive research would have been necessary to track down recordings in mint condition so Newman rose to the challenge of recreating popular music from the early 1900s.
       A 6 Aug 1982 Var news item stated that “Ragtime” was one of thirty theatrical features that entered into an interim agreement with the Screen Actors Guild to avoid a production shutdown imposed by a strike.
       The film received the following Academy Award nominations: Howard E. Rollins, Jr. for Actor in a Supporting Role; Elizabeth McGovern for Actress in a Supporting Role; John Graysmark, Patrizia Von Brandenstein, Anthony Reading (art direction), and George de Titta, Sr., George de Titta, Jr., Peter Howitt (set decoration) for Art Direction; Miroslav Ondricek for Cinematography; Michael Weller for Writing (best screenplay adaptation); Music (Original Score) and Music (Original Song).

Evelyn Nesbit. From: Invaluable. The world's premier auctions and galleries. Lot 376: Evelyn Nesbit art nude vintage glass plate camera negative. Profiles in History. September 29, 2015. Calabasas, CA, US. Description: 376. Evelyn Nesbit art nude vintage glass plate camera negative. (ca. 1900s) Extremely rare glass plate 8 x 10 in. camera negative nude portrait of “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing”, Evelyn Nesbit, capturing the sensuality and elegance of the iconic model and stage star. In this image, Nesbit reclines on a bed, her body curved coyly to one side with her arms braced on the lush damask coverlet. In the early 20th century, there were few places you could avoid seeing Nesbitt’s dark unruly locks and bewitching smile. A favorite subject of fine artists and photographers, quintessential Charles Dana Gibson “Gibson Girl”, cover girl for Ladies’ Home Journal, Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan, and spokesmodel for everything from Coca Cola to life insurance, Evelyn Nesbitt had the most famous face in America. Exhibiting emulsion flaking in the upper edge of the image, not affecting the content. In vintage good to very good condition. Special shipping arrangements will apply. $1,000 - $1,500 ------ “Celebrity history fixates on those images of 1900-1903 when Rudolph Eickemeyer and other photographers made chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit the beauty of the age, a figure entirely plausible as the inspiration for a jealousy killing. But that notorious girl became a woman, a wife, a mother. And a decade after the heyday of her notoriety she visited Chicago photographer George Moffett for sittings that reflected the curiously torn self-image she possessed in 1913. Here she is alternately a solitary iconic beauty, next a mother, finally a performer in rather pedestrian publicity shots with a dancing partner.” © David S Shields

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