Wednesday, June 20, 2007
While she finally received justified acclaim as an actress and comedian, Candice Bergen's early film work was often savaged by critics and several of her films remain virtually unseen by modern audiences. One of the most overlooked is T.R. BASKIN.
I first saw Herbert Ross' 1971 feature T.R. BASKIN in my mid teens the way I saw lots of films, on late night commercial television. Arts and Entertainment used to run this Ross flick quite a bit in the late eighties and it was a film that came to mean a lot to me in that period.
Ross has just come off the strange but effective OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT when he directed Bergen in BASKIN, the first script ever ever filmed of Peter Hyams. Hyams would later go onto to be a director himself and T.R. BASKIN does feel like a film made by two budding, and quite different, filmmakers.
T.R. BASKIN is a typical item from the early seventies centering on a young character attempting to find herself. Bergen, really lovely in this period, plays the just arrived in the big city Baskin who falls into the hazardous company of both James Caan and Peter Boyle.
The film's Chicago locations is one of its biggest assets and for lovers of Chicago it is quite a treat. Going along with the many great location shots is a fabulous score by Jack Elliott. The film's soundtrack album is a great one to track down and if the film is at times falls a bit short, the marvelous lp companion doesn't.
It is great to see Caan and Boyle together here and their scenes provide many of the films best moments. Caan had been around since the early sixties but 1971 was a big year for him, with his performance in BRIAN'S SONG and getting cast as a guy named Sonny in a little seen film called THE GODFATHER.
The always magnificent Boyle had just achieved notoriety in the effective and disturbing JOE and was well on his way to becoming one of the great character actors of the seventies and eighties. While his role in BASKIN starts out a bit slimy, he later shares some of the tenderest scenes of his career with Bergen.
T.R. BASKIN was one of those films for years that had just remained in my memory, as my VHS copy from tv was accidentally erased in the early nineties. I caught up with it again late last year via Amazon's sometimes suspect downloading program. It remains the only time I have ever watched a film on my computer, and not something I am looking forward to doing again, but at this point it is the only way to see the mostly forgotten T.R. BASKIN.
Watching the film in my mid thirties was a very different experience than seeing it in my teens. Honestly, it didn't seem as meaningful to me...much of it felt too staged and contrived but there is still something about it that really affects me. I think most of that is due to Candice Bergen's performance.
Pauline Kael was particularly cruel to Bergen in her early career and I remember her review of T.R. BASKIN being particularly savage. Roger Ebert however, while not liking the film, saw something as well in Bergen's seemingly emotionless and at times uncomfortable performance. It is perhaps the kind of performance that a more experienced director would have re-shot but I find Bergen's off kilter and at times awkward line readings to be perfect for the confused and isolated Baskin. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite performances of the nineties, Patricia Arquette in John Boorman's BEYOND RANGOON. I remember a friend commenting about one of Arquette's early scenes in Boorman's noting on how awkward Arquette seemed in the role but to me it was a case of the actor completely understanding that their character was indeed awkward in their own life. Candice Bergen is fascinating in T.R. BASKIN and, while I am not sure if she understood Baskin as well as say Arquette understood her role, she exudes the same kind of intelligence in this role that had proved so effective in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE.
Perhaps T.R. BASKIN should have remained in my memories as re-watching it took away much its power for me, which isn't to say that I don't recommend it. It's well worth viewing if it ever does find its way to dvd. It is a flawed little film made by a group of really well meaning young artists which gives it a sincerity that is often missing from mainstream American cinema.