Friday, January 15, 2021

The Rain People (2019 American Zoetrope restoration in 4K)

Francis Ford Coppola: The Rain People (US 1969). Wyatt Road at Wetherill Road, Garden City, New York.

Francis Ford Coppola: The Rain People (US 1969), with James Caan (Jimmy "Killer" Kilgannon) and Shirley Knight (Natalie Ravenna).

Sadeihmisiä / Älska aldrig en främling.
    US © 1969 Warner Bros.–Seven Arts, Inc. PC: American Zoetrope. Distributor: Warner Bros. / Seven Arts. P: Ronald Colby, Bart Patton. P assoc: George Lucas, Mona Skager.
    D+SC: Francis Ford Coppola. Cin: Bill Butler – 35 mm – colour – 1,85:1. AD: Leon Ericksen. M: Ronald Stein. M assoc: Carmine Coppola. S: Nathan Boxer. S montage: Walter Murch. Mono. ED: Barry Malkin. Ass ED: Marcia Lucas. P ass: John Milius.
    C: Shirley Knight (Natalie Ravenna), James Caan (Jimmy "Killer" Kilgannon), Robert Duvall (Gordon), Marya Zimmet (Rosalie, Gordon's daughter), Tom Aldredge (Mr. Alfred, reptile zoo keeper, justice of peace), Laura Crews (Ellen), Andrew Duncan (Artie), Margaret Fairchild (Marion), Sally Gracie (Beth), Alan Manson (Lou), Robert Modica (Vinny Ravenna), Eleanor Coppola (Gordon's wife, n.c.).
    Loc: Wyatt Road at Wetherill Road, Garden City, New York. – Hofstra University, Hempstead, Long Island, New York. – Lincoln Tunnel, New York City. – Pennsylvania Turnpike. – Harrisonburg, Virginia. – Skyline Drive-In, Clarksburg, West Virginia. – Weston, West Virginia. – Armed Forces Parade in Chattanooga, Tennessee. – Ogallala, Nebraska. – Brule, Nebraska. – Colorado. – 2 April–August 1968.
    2795 m / 101 min
    Festival premiere: 24 June 1969 San Sebastián Film Festival.
    US premiere: 27 Aug 1969.
    Finnish premiere: 16 Jan 1970 – released by Warner Bros.–Seven Arts.
    Restored version premiere: 13 Oct 2019 Grand Lyon Film Festival.
    Vimeo screener of the 2019 restoration viewed on a 4K tv set at home, Lappeenranta, 15 Jan 2021.

In memoriam Shirley Knight (1936–2020).

AA: Revisited The Rain People, Francis Ford Coppola's first completely personal film and the first production of American Zoetrope, an existential road movie of subtle lyricism, character-driven, with strong performances by the central trio Shirley Knight, James Caan and Robert Duvall. The Rain People is structured as a travel journal interspersed with memory flashes.

It's a road movie with a psychological focus. The evocative views captured by the cinematographer Bill Butler during the trip from Long Island to Nebraska are also visions of an inner journey. Such an approach to a meandering quest has affinities with the great Italians Roberto Rossellini (Voyage in Italy) and Michelangelo Antonioni (Il grido).

The Rain People belongs to the lasting achievements of the American New Wave of the 1960s and the 1970s. Easy Rider had just had its premiere during the same summer; the macho road movie has often been compared with The Rain People – as representatives of contrasting approaches to the genre.

Inspired by a childhood memory of Francis Coppola's – when his mother left her family for a while – The Rain People was ahead of its time in its feminism. Natalie (Shirley Knight) leaves home and husband: the dramatic idea evokes the Ur-drama of women's liberation, A Doll's House, but unlike Henrik Ibsen, Coppola puts the wife's departure in the beginning.

Natalie is pregnant, and she wants to make sense of what it means to become a mother, and she also wants to make sense of her marriage. She is alone in her crisis, surrounded by patriarchy. Her husband, her father and the society at large want her to stay in her traditional place. Status quo. But Natalie cannot live like that any longer.

Key 1960s directors saw the ideal reflection of modern consciousness in a woman: Michelangelo Antonioni / Monica Vitti, Ingmar Bergman / Liv Ullmann, Luis Buñuel and Roman Polanski / Catherine Deneuve, François Truffaut / Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Luc Godard / Anna Karina... even Alfred Hitchcock in that cycle of films with a female character whose name starts with the letter M. The Finnish New Wave cinema also focused on female protagonists (1, 2, 3).

In American cinema, a novel approach in feminine perspectives also emerged in collaborations of the husband-wife teams of John Cassavetes / Gena Rowlands and Paul Newman / Joanne Woodward (Rachel, Rachel). There was "a revaluation of values"; the new wave was about seeing things anew. In this context The Rain People belongs. It might also be relevant to remember that Coppola's teacher at the UCLA Film School was Dorothy Arzner, the only major woman director in Hollywood in the 1930s and the 1940s.

During her road adventure Natalie gives a lift to a hitch-hiker, Jimmy "Killer" Kilgannon (James Caan), a football star who has suffered a brain damage in a head injury and become a man-child, a gentle giant who needs a woman like a baby needs a mother. Further up on the road, Natalie meets the highway patrolman Gordon (Robert Duvall), who gives her a speeding ticket and then asks her for a date.

In the character of Kilgannon, Coppola plays with expectations linked to the character of Lennie in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. However, it is not the outcast Kilgannon who proves dangerous, but the policeman Gordon. Disturbingly, before Natalie fully understands Kilgannon's condition, she plays a Domina game with him to the tune of "Simon says".

As manifestations of dysfunctional masculinity, Kilgannon and Gordon are extreme cases, yet also representative of more general phenomena. Men expect women to remain nurturers. Men revert to sexual violence in a spirit of patriarchal authority.

As a feminist road movie, The Rain People was a predecessor to Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and even Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise. The Rain People is also ahead of its time regarding animal rights in startling scenes at a roadside zoo. In Jack (1996), starring Robin Williams, Coppola returned to the concept of the man-child, but in reverse: a ten-year-old boy transforms physically into a middle-aged man.

The 2019 restoration in 4K conveys beautifully the refined warmth of the colours and the lighting effects in landscapes and their reflections. It starts in rainswept visions in early spring. The title stems from a strange remark of Jimmy's: "The rain people are – people made of rain. They only cry. They disappear all together, because, they cry themselves away."

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