Man in the Chair at the 2007 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Good films should be bold and provocative. Yet no director creates a genre out of whole cloth. There's a basic dichotomy there and it's the challenge of the filmmaker to put a new spin on an old theme.
Man in the Chair is, on the face of it, an intergenerational coming-of-age drama. You know the drill -- young buck meets old codger, ice meets flame, and water flows happily ever after. Some commonality brings each halfway towards the other and there are likely a few laughs as well as tears along the way. But something takes place here that is unexpected. Questions are raised which have not been addressed in contemporary cinema. This is a movie with a message, and in a politically correct world where feature filmmakers feel that it's not their place to rock the boat, Man in the Chair dares to tackle major social issues in a surprisingly entertaining fashion.
The young buck in this case is Cameron Kincaid (Michael Angarano), a high school kid with a passion for classic movies. The old codger is Glenn "Flash" Madden (Christopher Plummer), the last living crew member of Citizen Kane. Cameron is a good kid. He just happens to do bad things. Flash is surly to bed and surly to rise, which makes him, well, surly. The two meet in a darkened theater while both while away the hours to pre-Technicolor gems of days gone by, one lamenting his past and the other dreaming of his future. But the kid has a sense of purpose -- an opportunity to win a scholarship to film school by shooting a 10 minute short. And thus begins the dance. Will the two forge a working relationship? Will it become something else? And what will be the subject of the student film, and what wonders will be discovered along the way? Those are just a few of the questions to be answered. Perhaps more important, though, are the questions raised by Man in the Chair -- are there people who don't matter? If there are wrongs to be made right, can anyone do it? Should we? That's a tall order for a filmmaker and writer/director Michael Schroeder accepts the challenge.
The legendary Christopher Plummer shows how he got to be so. His portrayal of the aging old gaffer, whose only joys in life are Cuban cigars and Wild Turkey, is daring and heartbreaking. How the Motion Picture Academy could have overlooked him all these years is a mystery, but that could change in a "Flash," and should. It's hard to imagine how an actor as young as Michael Angarano could hold the screen with him from start to finish and have it all look so real. The fact that he does so with such ease is testament to the fact he is arguably the most sought after teenage actor in America.
The Motion Picture Retirement Home is the setting for a good portion of the film (the first time a camera crew has ever been allowed to film there), where an ensemble of other Hollywood veterans put their hearts and souls into this, and it shows. M. Emmett Walsh is a standout in this and almost steals the film. I was stunned when he first appeared onscreen. What he did was about the bravest thing any actor can do, particularly at his age, and his performance is breathtaking. In fact, as Schroeder explained in the Q&A, other actors turned it down because it would have broken their hearts to do the role.
Man in the Chair has the look and feel of a cutting edge indie, with a surprisingly rockin' soundtrack that left me wanting more and dazzling visuals. Cinematographer Dana Gonzales used quadruple exposure and hand crank camera to create a look that says "special effects" but is actually all "in-camera." What you see is what was captured on film and not created digitally in a studio. To do otherwise wouldn't be true to the very subject matter, and these techniques are a tip of the hat to the first filmmakers who had nothing but their cameras and lenses to create what we see onscreen. There were more than a few "whoa" moments in the theater. I sat in wonder at the creativity of this team.
It's hard to imagine anyone of any age not being able to relate to this film and be moved by it. Man in the Chair is so groundbreaking that it has the potential to be a modern-day "Grapes of Wrath." The storyline exposes the ills of society without being preachy or heavy-handed. It tugs at the emotions like few films I've seen in recent memory. If you're not surly to bed and surly to rise you'll surely walk out with a tear in your eye. And even if you are, maybe, just maybe, you'll have a change of heart.
I attended the World Premiere of
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- Author: Larry Richman
- Posted: January 29, 2007