May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
September 21, 2010
Get Low (Aaron Schneider, 2009, Chris Provenzano / C. Gaby Mitchell screenplay) might be considered the third in the Robert Duvall Faith Trilogy, following Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983, Horton Foote screenplay) and The Apostle (Robert Duvall, 1997, Robert Duvall screenplay). It pales somewhat in comparison with its predecessors, but is nevertheless well worth seeing, with fine performances and important things on its mind: last things – taking account of one’s life, consequence and forgiveness, our awkward making of amends, our yearning for release, our stubborn resistance.
In July, Christianity Today published an interview with a delightfully crusty Robert Duvall. Here are a few excerpts;
Some people thought The Apostle was mocking Southern holiness or Pentecostal preachers. .
Who said that?
Oh, some Christians wished it had been a more positive portrayal of a preacher rather than a man with all these. . .
Let me straighten these people out. And you can put it in print. My guy [Rev. “Sonny” Dewey] killed a guy out of anger, right? But he wasn’t one half as bad as King David in the Psalms, who sent a man off to be killed so he could be with his wife. Every time I read the Psalms I think of that. But on the other hand, I heard that Billy Graham liked the movie, and many, many preachers did. Rev. James Robison of Fort Worth said I could use anything from any of his services to put in the film. So I’m not mocking.
If Hollywood had done this, they would have mocked these people. No, I did not mock these people. I didn’t patronize these people. I’ve been in many, many churches, Pentecostal churches. I could have made these people look bad if I wanted to. So you can tell these people I did not mock these people or condescend at all. Had I done it in a Hollywood movie, we would have patronized these people. That’s why I had to do the movie myself.
Why do you think Hollywood has a tendency to mock Christians and preachers?
Well, it’s not just Christians. I mean, I’m a Christian. But they mock the interior of the United States of America, the heartland. They don’t go out of their way to understand what’s really there.
I hear the script reminded you of the great script writer—and your good friend—Horton Foote.
Yes. The writing and the movie is somewhat like Horton, the great playwright. I did several of his films — Tender Mercies, To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) and several others [The Chase (Arthur Penn, 1966), Tomorrow (Joseph Anthony, 1972), and Convicts (Peter Masterson, 1991) in film, and “The Midnight Caller” on stage]. Horton died last year at the age of 93, and still had wonderful plays off Broadway in recent years. He was one of our great playwrights who was great until his final years. I told him I was going do this movie, and I wish he could’ve seen it. But he passed away—and there’s a story there. As I was giving the final speech to the whole crowd [in the film’s penultimate scene], my wife’s cell phone rings off camera—and it’s a message from Horton’s son-in-law that he had just died.
What’s the best thing you learned from Horton Foote?
We had a good working relationship. I always said if I only had done his films, and the films of Francis Ford Coppola, I would have had a wonderful career. But I learned from Horton how to have friendship and still be able to work together, through thick and thin and still stay friends. How many friends do you have after 50 years? Not many.
Any last words about Get Low?
Yeah. Get Low is one of my favorite films in a long time and a wonderful character. “Get low”—I don’t even know what that means. I guess it means to get low for Jesus before it’s time. Keep above the ground before you go below the ground.”
You tell your readers there is no way that I wanted to make fun of the Pentecostal people! If I had wanted to make them look like bad people, I could have, believe me.
Anthony Lane’s response (The New Yorker) is akin to mine – we both felt the film was a bit lush, and went a bit soft – though I liked it better than he. Lane’s dead right about the three central performances;
The task of Get Low is to draw the scowling Felix [Duvall] from his lair. He visits a funeral parlor, run by Frank Quinn. “I’m after a funeral,” Felix says. “Boy, are you in luck,” Quinn replies. We are in the nineteen-thirties, and times are no less hard in the funeral trade than in any other. “One thing about Chicago: people knew how to die,” Quinn says of happier days. When I tell you that Quinn is played by Bill Murray, you will gather—you will instantly hear, in your head—just how much spin, at once glum and energetic, these lines can bear. The great discovery that Murray has donated to cinema is that the drug of deadpan need not be a downer; bewilderingly, it can be an upper, even when you clearly have a heap of things to be down about, plus a face that looks like yesterday’s cinnamon Danish. It’s a treat to see that doughiness set off against Duvall’s severity. Add Sissy Spacek, effortlessly natural as a former flame of Felix’s, now widowed and flickering with regret, and we get a rich spread of dramatic styles. Those three actors have a combined age of almost two hundred. There must be youngbloods in Hollywood who can match them, but none spring to mind.