Thursday, November 24, 2011

Barry Levinson's Diner -- letting actors act

By Richard K. Barry

I'm not typically in the habit of recommending movies, but Barry Levinson's Diner, which is a comedy/drama done in 1982, is one of my favourites. I watched it again over the weekend on one of those "On Demand" channels.

If you're not familiar with it, it's set in 1959 Baltimore and revolves around a group of high school friends who have returned home a few years after graduation for the wedding of one of their group.

There's nothing particularly outstanding about the plot, which is structured around a fairly predictable series of vignettes. What makes the movie special is the acting. Levinson encouraged the actors to improvise freely, which makes the dialogue terrifically realistic. Because the actors are riffing, it sounds like the way people actually talk. That shouldn't be a rarity in movies, but it can be.

A friend, familiar with film technique, told me that this would have taken a lot of extra footage to get right, probably at significant cost. Good that they did that. Not to give short schrift to the plot, because it does capture a certain sadness and pathetic inevitability natural to all our lives, but it's the improv that stands out.

The cast includes Micky Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin, and Paul Reisser.

And here's an odd little fact: A Broadway musical version of Diner is set to open in the Fall of 2012. Levinson will write the book and Sheryl Crow the music. I really can't imagine it. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

The is the trailer for the 1982 movie. I have to say, if I saw the trailer first, I'd run screaming from the theatre. Don't know why they insisted on doing it this way, but they did. Great movie, though.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


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