Sunday, July 29, 2007

Voices (1979)

I have wanted to see Robert Markowitz's 1979 feature VOICES for many years now. Amy Irving has been among my favorite American actresses since I was a teenager and this film has proved to be the most elusive of all of her early work. Thanks to Inter Library Loan and The San Antonio Public Library I have now finally be able to watch this little seen film so I thought I would share my initial reactions towards it.
VOICES is the only feature film that television director Markowitz has ever made. Working with first time screenwriter John Herzfeld (who would go onto to write and direct the unfortunate John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John film TWO OF A KIND (1983)) and with a score by legendary composer and songwriter Jimmy Webb, VOICES tells the tale of a frustrated and struggling Hoboken singer who meets and falls in love with a young deaf teacher who dreams of being a dancer.
VOICES is essentially a two character study piece, the kind of romantic film that could have only come out of the seventies. It isn't a great film but it is a good one that is blessed with two extraordinary performance with Michael Ontkean's sensitive portrayal as the dreaming and lonely Drew and Amy Irving' incredible near silent work as Rosemarie.
Ontkean has always been an underrated actor and VOICES features on of his best performances. He had just finished up the 1977 hit SLAP SHOT opposite Paul Newman when he began to prepare for the difficult role of the singer Drew. The future TWIN PEAKS Sherriff Truman is very handsome here and brings a real honesty to a role that could have been a simply caricature.
Drew's disfunctional Hoboken family that he lives with features accomplished character actor Alex Rocco as his gambling father Frank and Barry Miller as his younger troubled brother Raymond. The film is filled with many good supporting turns and it is the acting and solid direction by Markowitz that overcomes the slightly cliched script.
Amy Irving is wondrous in the role of Rosemarie. With only a few lines of dialogue she manages to sell every emotion with just her body movements and facial expressions. It is too her credit that she never overplays the role, something that would have most definitely happened in the hands of many lesser actresses. The 24 year old Irving is a model of restraint throughout the entire film and when she finally does let out an anguished scream, it turns out to one of the most jolting and moving points in the whole feature.
VOICES was shot just after Irving's incredible turn in Brian De Palma's THE FURY (1978), one of the great performances in all of American genre cinema, and VOICES continues the great winning streak she was on as one of America's premiere young actresses of the seventies.
VOICES is just a couple of steps away from being a great film. Some scenes simply don't work, including a painful dream sequence where Drew pictures himself on stage in front of a screaming audience and an awkward scene where Rosemarie performs an odd dance recital for her young class. Still, a misstep here and there doesn't hurt VOICES too badly, by the end of the film I very much wanted everything to work out well for these two.

The soundtrack by Jimmy Webb is fine and, while it isn't among his best works, it is a completely respectable addition to his catalogue and deserves a cd release. An early Tom Petty track is also featured on the lp, as well as a painfully out of place Willie Nelson tune. Burton Cummings is also heavily featured on Webb's songs for the film.
VOICES was shot on location in Hoboken and it is a wonderful snapshot of the town, with the haunting presence of the Twin Towers just across the river playing heavily in several key scenes. The shot on location look and Alan Metzger's unshowy photography gives VOICES a real authentic feel that plays heavily to its advantage.
The film was not a hit upon it's release. It earned some solid to mixed reviews but didn't make much of a dent at the box office. It briefly appeared on VHS but has otherwise been unavailable for years and fetches high prices on Ebay so I was lucky to be able to finally see it.
VOICES is a sweet film that doesn't overstay its welcome. A couple of flat scenes and some script problems aside, it is well worth searching out for the fine work by Ontkean and Irving and I hope it finds a home on dvd someday.


Anonymous said...

Pretty good review. I just love this film and I really feel Voices didn't get half the credit it deserved back in the day...but I also believe that most of the romantic movies from the late 70s/early 80s had also suffered that same fate. Just seems it wasn't really a good time for that specific genre. The public had different tastes then.

Just in case you're interested, I wrote a blog entry about Voices, too. I found out that's now available on DVD in time for it's 30th anniversary of its release to theatres. You have to order it through the Warner Brothers site.

Anonymous said...

Was looking for a song on the soundtrack to 'Voices' and came across your blog. Very helpful. Still haven't succeeded in buying the song I wnat from the soundtrack, though

YannícK said...

I wish to have a CD of the soundtrack as well as the movie. The artist, Jimmy Webb, is so talented.

YannícK said...

I hope to have the CD of both soundtrack and the movie, as well. The artist behind the soundtrack, Jimmy Webb, is very talented.