81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Deer Hunter, The

October 9th, 2009 · No Comments · 1978, Christopher Walken, Color, Deer Hunter, Drama, F-Word, John Cazale, Meryl Streep, Original Screenplay, Paul and Storm, Robert De Niro, Universal Pictures, War

The Deer Hunter The Deer Hunter is the biggest waste of film and talent since West Side Story.

Worse, it’s a movie that didn’t need to be made in the first place. It already was, in 1930. Only then it was called All Quiet On the Western Front. A couple of years after that it as called Cavalcade. A few years later, it was Mrs. Miniver. And Bridge On the River Kwai. And Lawrence of Arabia. And even Patton.

Like every Oscar-winning war film that preceded it, The Deer Hunter is a movie that proves, once again, that war is hell.

But whereas, say, Forrest Gump (a decade later) makes that point in an inventive, creative, and imminently watchable way, The Deer Hunter rams the point home with all the subtlety of a flame thrower.

And at a pace that would make an old lady with a walker look like a sprinter.

For example: the first 45 minutes of the movie are eaten up by a wedding scene that’s virtually in real time. I mean, it goes on and on and on and on. Drink after drink. Dance after dance. Brawl after brawl. After the wedding, the group of drunken, foul-mouthed, Neanderthal mouth-breathers with guns go on a hunting trip in the mountains to kill some deer. (Get it? Inhumanity, guns, witlessness, shooting, senseless killing. Yawn.)

Other scenes drag on, too. The Russian-Roulette scene in the Vietnamese prison camp. The strange-American-soldier-loose-in-the-Vietnamese-city scene. The returning-hero scene.

And the music! Woo-boy. Ponderous, Classical-guitar-and-strings pablum that covers poignant scenes with more syrup than a Log Cabin factory.

There’s a scene a little over two hours into the movie with Michael (De Niro) and Linda (Streep) that sums up how I feel about the movie. Linda asks Michael if they can go to bed, just to comfort each other. Michael begs off, saying he has to leave. Just before he exits he says, “I don’t know. I feel a lot of distance. And…I feel far away.”

Distant and far away. That’s how this movie makes me feel. I just can’t seem to think of this movie as anything other than a movie. It seems flat to me. Like I’m watching a picture in a book.

The Deer Hunter was in need of an editor with the guts and the wisdom to trim a minimum of an hour off its bloated carcass. That would have helped sharpen and focus each scene. Even at that, with an hour missing, it would still be two hours long, which – given the guys-always-drunk-and-yelling-and-fighting-and-trying-to-cope-with-life-after-Vietnam theme – would still be too long.

What was the director thinking? With a cast this noteworthy, why was so much film wasted on scenes that lasted 2-3 times longer than necessary?

THE CAST
Robert De Niro (1943- )………………….Michael
John Cazale (1935-1978)………………..Stan
John Savage (1949- )………………………Steven
Christopher Walken (1943- )……………Nick
Meryl Streep (1949- )……………………..Linda
George Dzundza (1945- )……………… John
Chuck Aspegren (?-?)……………………..Axel
Shirley Stoler (1929-1999)………………Steven’s Mother
Rutanya Alda (1942- )…………………….Angela

This is not to say that no scenes had value or weren’t well done. Some were. The Russian Roulette scene in Vietnam was intense. So was the Russian Roulette scene in Saigon with Christopher Walken’s character at movie’s end. And the scene with all of the drunken lunkheads who had returned from hunting, gathered in the bar while John (George Dzundza) plays exceptionally pretty Classical music on a piano. Everyone stops to drink in the beauty of the moment. I did, too.

But then…

CUT TO: the guys are in Vietnam experiencing, of course, the hell of war.

The juxtaposition was so ham-handed that it detracted from the obvious point the movie wanted to make.

THE PLOT
According to IMDB, The Deer Hunter is “an in-depth examination of the way that the Vietnam war affects the lives of people in a small industrial town in the USA.”

Here’s a longer plot summary: Michael, Steven and Nick are young factory workers from Pennsylvania who enlist into the Army to fight in Vietnam. Before they go, Steven marries the pregnant Angela and their wedding-party is also the men’s farewell party. After some time and many horrors the three friends fall in the hands of the Vietcong and are brought to a prison camp in which they are forced to play Russian roulette against each other. Michael makes it possible for them to escape, but they soon get separated again. (Written by Leon Wolters for IMDB)

Yawn.

Do people really need another movie to tell them that war is hell? (Apparently, since Hollywood loves to make such movies.)

The Deer Hunter was nominated for nine Academy Awards (although I have no idea why) and won five (ditto): Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christopher Walken), Best Director (Michael Cimino), Best Film Editing, Best Picture, and Best Sound. Nominated but not winning were Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep.

As usual, the most interesting aspects of this movie occur behind the scenes, or even unrelated to them.

According to his bio on IMDB, John Cazael, who played weak and stupid Fredo in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II was dying at the time of making The Deer Hunter, which turned out to be his last movie:

He became engaged to his co-star, Meryl Streep, whilst filming The Deer Hunter (1978), whom he met when they both appeared in the New York Public Theater’s 1976 production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Controversy occurred during the filming. While the studio was unaware of his condition, the director, Michael Cimino, knew about it. As Cazale was evidently weak, he was forced to film his scenes first. When the studio discovered he was suffering from bone cancer, they wanted him removed from the film. His co-star and fiancé, Meryl Streep, threatened to quit if he was fired. He died shortly after filming was completed.

The musical comedy duo Paul and Storm mentioned Christopher Walken and The Deer Hunter in their hilarious song “Your Love Is (Love Song With Metaphor)”:

My love is a butterfly
Floating sweetly through a summer field
Spreading beauty and love under the midday sun
And your love is an entomologist
Chasing me down, ensnaring me in your net
And taking me home, jabbing a pin through my guts
And mounting me on your wall
A pin
Your love is a pin through my guts

My love is a sailing ship
Seeking out a friendly shore
To cast out my anchor, happily never sail no more
And your love is the ocean that drowns me
Leaving my bones to be picked at by crabs
And bringing settlers to the New World with smallpox and influenza
And wiping out the indigenous population
Smallpox
Your love is smallpox

You are a giant redwood falling on a family of deer
You are a soaring eagle landing in a minefield
You are river rising over the downtown levees
You are Christmas in Iran

My love is a tiny puppy
Knowing only joy and trust
Greeting each new day like a miraculous gift
And your love is an underground dog-fighting ring
Catching me and keeping me in a cage
On the brink of starvation
Torturing me daily until all I that know is hate and rage
And death holds no meaning for me
Just like Christopher Walken in the end of The Deer Hunter
Christopher Walken
Your love is Christopher Walken

So that’ s my take on The Deer Hunter: A Paul and Storm song that pokes fun at one of its stars.

Frankly, the song is far more enjoyable than the movie. And it makes, in about three minutes, the point the movie took three hours to make.

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