Friday, 11 February 2011

Day 138

Have just finished watching John Frankenheimer's 1962 film Birdman of Alcatraz.

Burt Lancaster plays Robert Stroud. Despite being a remorseless and bad-tempered young murderer with a holier-than-thou attitude that never wanes, the characters all seem to be very taken with him.

One of the guards is particularly smitten with handsome Lancaster's brooding character, to the point of throwing a whiny little hissy fit about how he (the guard) is always so nice to Stroud (Lancaster) but Stroud is always so mean to him. At which point Stroud, like a sly olden-daysy husband who wants something from his wife, apologises and promises to be nicer.

Stroud is also loved by his overbearing mother and his chaste wife, neither of whom treats him as anything other than an innocent man, which he pointedly isn't. In an effort to sound more like a young rebel, Lancaster affects slang. The tameness of the language and behaviour extends throughout whole film despite the famously ruthless setting, the height of insult being "hey what kinda nut are you anyway, friend?".

The convict caring for his birds is probably more endearing than ever intended. Although the idea of everyone in life-long solitary confinement being allowed pet birds seems wildly implausible, it's all true.

(Except not really)

More prominent, though, is Stroud's non-reflection on his crimes. The character is liked, admired, respected, and, by some, desperately loved, and he certainly thinks a lot of himself, but why never address the murders? The film is two and a half hours long, and covers every other subject under the sun.

It's done brilliantly, though. Stroud is a bit arrogant, so Lancaster does a lot of the acting behind his eyes. Stuck alone in a cell for decades he's forced to explore the gamut of human social experience through his birds. By the end of it, he's that wise old calm prisoner character that has appeared in every jail film ever since. Especially The Shawshank Redemption, which is arguably even better.

Birdman of Alcatraz has given lots more staples to the film industry too. I had a few moments where I went "oh so that's where we get that from!".

Fantastic film. As long as we don't try and learn too much from it.

"Fly, my avian friends. I give you the illusion of freedom".

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