Deserved Second Act for Paul Newman’s Sometimes a Great Notion – J. Hoberman

“One great thing about Paris: New prints of old movies from the ’70s, ’60s, and even the ’50s get extended runs in large theaters, apropos of nothing. A nice thing about New York: It sometimes happens here, too, as with this week’s revivals of François Truffaut’s 1968 The Bride Wore Black and Paul Newman’s 1971 Sometimes a Great Notion. The latter revival in particular demonstrates that occasionally movies, and even notions, can have second acts. The surprise star of BAM’s 2008 Newman retro, this generally forgotten, self-directed vehicle returns for a week in a near-pristine studio archival print some 40 years after its original, far from successful release. Adapted from a magnum opus, Sometimes a Great Notion vastly simplifies Ken Kesey’s second novel, a mad, LSD-infused synthesis of Faulkner, Kerouac, and Ayn Rand, published in 1964 to severely mixed notices. (One New York Times reviewer declared that the book ‘captures the tenor of post-Korea America as nothing I can remember reading,’ and another scored it as ‘the most insufferably pretentious and the most totally tiresome novel I have had to read in many years.’) Newman, who replaced the movie’s original director a few weeks into production, shot his version at the counterculture’s high noon, but there’s nothing trippy about it. His Sometimes a Great Notion is a New Hollywood movie suffused in Old Hollywood values. Set in the pre-grunge Pacific Northwest, Sometimes a Great Notion is a gloriously scenic, blatantly brawny rollicker—a movie of majestic crane shots and outsized star turns. … Lee’s luxuriant locks are the movie’s main nod to the zeitgeist—although Henry Mancini’s lively score does offer a bit of contempo wah-wah. Actually, Sometimes a Great Notion has aged well precisely because it has so few period affectations—New York Times critic Vincent Canby compared it to the work-celebrating action films of the 1930s, but it’s also a throwback to the Actors Studio family dramas of the 1950s. There are echoes of East of Eden (for which Newman tested, losing the role to James Dean), and the story of how Hank and Viv met actually recapitulates the plot of The Wild One. …”
1960s: Days of Rage – July 2017: Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey (1962)

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