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Monsters and Heroes of WV
According to Amos Perrine, one of our state’s leading experts on cinema,
“The AFI has become the MacDonalds of American cinema.” I would say it
has become the Blockbuster-controlled film institute. Blockbuster,
Pepsi, General Motors and other corporate sponsors paid for the AFI’s
recent 3- hour special on “100 Years 100 Heroes & Villians.” I watched
it like I have watched all of their other previous specials, most
fretfully their first one, 100 GREATEST AMERICAN MOVIES OF ALL TIME.
Several friends of mine were the national voices that cried out against
the total commercialization of American cinema. My new boss at WVLC
asked me why we hadn’t purchased all of those films – if you know so
much about movies??!! Their list excluded documentaries, all indie
films, experimental films, etc, etc. It’s like listing the 100 greatest
American books by excluding all poetry, non-fiction, short stories, etc.
Anyway, it got me very upset.
Here are some of their thoughts on their selection process.Only
feature-length American films released before January 1, 2002 were
considered. They define a feature-length film as a motion picture of
narrative format that is typically over 60 minutes in length. They
define an American film as an English language film with significant
creative and/or financial production elements from the US. There are
400 screen characters on the ballot.
The screen characters range chronologically from "The Vampire," played
by Theda Bara
in 1915's A FOOL THERE WAS to multiple contributions in 2001 that
include Gandalf the Grey (LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE
RING), Detective Alonzo Harris (TRAINING DAY) and Shrek (SHREK). The
most represented male actor on the ballot is John Wayne, who plays 7
different characters-Captain Nathan Brittles (SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON),
"Rooster" Cogburn (TRUE GRIT), Davy Crockett (THE ALAMO), Tom Doniphon
(THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY
VALANCE), Ethan Edwards (THE SEARCHERS), The Ringo Kid (STAGECOACH) and
Sgt.John M. Stryker (THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA). Harrison Ford, Gary Cooper
and Henry Fonda each portray 6 characters. The most represented female
actor on the ballot is Bette Davis, who plays 4 different
characters-Leslie Crosbie (THE LETTER), Regina Giddens (THE LITTLE
FOXES), Jane Hudson (WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?) and Julie Marsden
(JEZEBEL). Faye Dunaway and Sigourney Weaver both play 3 different
characters. Alfred Hitchcock is the director with the most films - 11
.Directors John Ford and Steven Spielberg each directed 7 nominated
John Huston penned the most screenplays featuring nominated characters.
Other scribes with multiple nominated characters are James Cameron-6,
William Goldman-6, Oliver Stone-5, and David Webb Peoples-5. The list
includes 15 character teams. They are Clyde Barrow & Bonnie Parker
(BONNIE & CLYDE), Thelma Dickinson & Louise Sawyer (THELMA & LOUISE),
Nick & Nora Charles (THE THIN MAN), Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson (THE
HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES), Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (BUTCH
CASSIDY AND THE SUNDACE KID), Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein (ALL THE
PRESIDENT'S MEN), Phillip Morgan & Brandon Shaw (ROPE), Kit and Holly
(BADLANDS), Vincent Vega & Jules Winnfield (PULP FICTION), Perry Smith &
Dick Hickock (IN COLD BLOOD), Annie Porter & Jack Traven (SPEED), Wyatt
& Billy (EASY RIDER), "The Wild Bunch," "The Magnificent Seven" and "The
Dirty Dozen." Animals represented on the ballot include a great white
shark (JAWS), a flock of birds (THE BIRDS), two dogs (LASSIE COME HOME,
THE RETURN OF RIN TIN TIN) and a sheep-herding pig (BABE). Two nominated
screen characters never appear on screen. They are Man from Disney's
BAMBI and The Blair Witch.
Here are some WV-related data bytes.
1. First off, the number one worst villain of all, Hannibal Lecter (THE
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), was of course made famous for doing some evil
things including stuffing a moth into a victim’s mouth found on the Elk
River in WV. Clarice Starling (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) was listed at
the number six heroine. The character is from WV and won Jodi Foster an
Oscar. [ I chose this film as the most important film of the decade –
1990s – since it was the first horror film to win the best picture Oscar
and was widely influential on cinema, TV, and all of American culture.]
2. Number 15 heroine, Norma Rae Webster, is based on a real woman who
lives or has lived in WV.
3. Max Cady, the 28th ranked villain played by Robert Mitchum in the
original CAPE FEAR, is a character who grew up outside of Charleston,
WV. [ Thanks to Greg Wood for being the film reviewer who actually read
the book this movie is based upon, and discovered this fact.] Rev. Harry
Powell, the character Mitchum played in Davis Grubb’s THE NIGHT OF THE
HUNTER, is ranked the 29th most evil villain.
4. The great success of the 29th rank hero, Luke Jackson, as played by
Paul Newman in COOL HAND LUKE, let to a spin-off film, FOOL’S PARADE,
where the George Kennedy and Strother Martin roles in LUKE are reversed.
This film was Jimmy Stewart’s last Hollywood film.
5. Frances McDormand, Oscar-winning actress who plays Marge Gunderson
in FARGO, ranked 33 best hero, went to Bethany College, as did her
co-star William Macey.
6. A recent version of LASSIE (1994), the 39th ranked hero, was
partially filmed in WV. It was filmed in Sandstone Falls, Summers
County and Tazewell County, Virginia. Daniel Petrie, the director, has
been directing films and TV since 1948.
7. Tom Joad, the hero played by Henry Fonda in THE GRAPES OF WRATH, was
chosen the 12th best hero. John Steinbeck wrote his Nobel Prize winning
book, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, while working for WV native son Pare Lorentz
whose Great Depression docs, THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS and THE
RIVER inspired him. Latter, James Cain came to WV and wrote his “answer”
to this book in his second most popular novel, THE BUTTERFLY, set in the
Southern coalfields. This book was turned into a film starring Pia
Zadora and Stacey Keatch, reset to Nevada.
400 films were nominated for both best hero and best villain. Here are
some links to the films that did not make the Top 50.
Henry King’s TOL’ABLE DAVID (1921) was world-famous both for its evil
Hatburns from WV and hero David Kinnemon, the nobel young Virginia boy
who proves his worth. King made a film called STELLA DALLAS (1925) that
was re-made in 1937 by King Vidor. The actor who played David, Richard
Barthelmess, was nominated for his role in BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919),
directed by D.W. Griffith. The star, Lillian Gish, was nominated for
heroine. She played her best sound-era role in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.
The character Stella Martin Dallas was nominated for the 1937 version
played by Barbara Stanwyck.
Gray Barker, Clarksburg UFO author, invented Agents J and K , “Men in
Black” that were nominated for their roles in the film MEN IN BLACK.
Chris Columbus, who directed HOME ALONE, began his Hollywood career by
writing RECKLESS, filmed in Weirton, WV and the area.
Michael Cimino won multiple Oscars for his Northern panhandle area film
THE DEER HUNTER that received a nomination for Robert DeNiro.
Pearl Buck’s Nobel Prize winning novel, THE GOOD EARTH, won a nomination
for heroine for the character O-Lan, played by Luise Rainer.
The 29th ranked hero, Patton, from the film PATTON, is related to
relatives in the Kanawha Valley who built the oldest house existing in
the valley – the Keith-Patton House.
Chuck Yeager, as played by Sam Shepard, was nominated for best hero in
the film of THE RIGHT STUFF.
The most obvious deletion of the AFI 400-nominated films is RAGING BULL,
chosen as the “best American film of the Ninties” by film critics. De
Niro definitely deserved to make the list for playing Jake La Motta. I
also would have liked to nominate Marlon Brando for his performance in
my fav film of all time, LAST TANGO IN PARIS. And where is James Dean?
None of his films were nominated. The white-bread country-clubbers of
Hollywood have done it again!
If I were to rank the best heroes and worst villains in American cinema,
I would have to include Michael Moore and Roger Smith from his first
film, ROGER AND ME. Too bad Mickey Mouse wasn’t nominated even though
other Disney characters made it. I may want to include people like
Professor Longhair, star of Les Blank’s doc on Mardi Gras, ALWAYS FOR
PLEASURE. Using the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress as
the basic list of films – all American – I would want to add Nanook from
NANOOK OF THE NORTH and Stan Brakhage for making all of his great
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