Monday, December 22, 2008

ROGUE ROAD MOVIE REVIEW: "Scarecrow" (1973) Jerry Schatzberg

Plot: two modern day hobos (Al Pacino and Gene Hackman) meet while hitchhiking on a remote highway in the Midwest; they soon develop a close friendship and decide to open a business together one day. Tragedy ensues...

How closely tied are the characters to the road? They are always in motion, headed somewhere, but there are some juicy character developing opportunities along the way, including a month in the clink and an alcohol-fueled sex romp in Colorado. Otherwise, it is the familiar roadside locals of America: greasy diners, under lit pubs and motels with neon signs and vibrating beds.

Is the film vehicular or character based? It is almost completely character based. But there is some key vehicle imagery. The characters hop trains in a depression era style, sleeping in cargo cars. Couple the anachronism of their travel style with the dusty cinematography and we get an old school, romantic hobo vibe to run up against the 1970's pessimism.

How painfully hip and articulate are the characters? Not in the least. They speak and act like two people who have been left alone with their own thoughts for a dangerously long time. Hackman's character is a motor mouthed dreamer who spends his waking moments considering the finer details of an imaginary car wash business. Meanwhile, Pacino is fresh off of a five year boat ride with a lamp wrapped up like a Christmas present for his child who he has never met (light fixtures are unisex).

Number of desolate mythological figures (SPOILERS): this was a grim fucking movie. The characters operate completely based on their own fantasies and these fantasies are not exactly promising. There really is no one to guide them because they have such extreme tunnel vision. The only actor I can think of in their journey is a slimy jail mate who attempts to butt fuck Pacino while he is divorced from his partner (they are mad at each other). Said slimy jail mate gets no ass but he does deliver a debilitating beating. This attack triggers a renewed spark wherein Hackman proceeds to beat the shit out of the would be rapist while re-uniting him with his lost friend in a bond of manly love. In spite of my annoyingly snarky synopsis, it is a very affective sequence.

How much embarrassing existential content? None. The characters are so entranced by their own personal troubles and the panacea of the American dream that they have no perspective on their lives. They cling to a "pull yourself up by your boot straps" mentality. So as they walk and walk, they just keep droning on of starting anew. A blind desperation strangles them.

Can the word quirky in anyway be associated with the film? no, but there is an annoying element of self-awareness in the movie: the title is explained and then returned to over and over. Ugh.

Does anyone play the harmonica? no, instead of music we are treated to incessant out load day dreaming while riding in cargo cars and waiting for the last bus out of town. There is too much tension and expectation for a harmonica.

Is it any good? Yes. It has its problems. The ending is a bit shite and sometimes it feels heavy handed, but the emotions we experience with the characters, loneliness, love, desperation, hope, are made so real by these actors that it erases any problems with the script. Their journey is too visceral to be dismissed.

ROGUE ROAD MOVIE REVIEW: Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
ROGUE ROAD MOVIE REVIEW: Vanishing Point (1971)
ROGUE ROAD MOVIE REVIEW: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
IMDB: Scarecrow (1973)

There is no trailer online so I clipped out the opening credit sequence... great photography and intro to the characters:

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