Come Back to the Five and Dime

Monday, 22 July 2019 09:58

“Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” is considered one of the highlights of a particular chapter of director Robert Altman’s career. Between the box office disappointment of “Popeye” (1980) and the explosive comeback of “The Player” (1992), Altman returned to low-budget independent film-making, often experimenting with how adapting theatre texts could be made to work for cinema and television.

This film also jump-started the acting career of Cher, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Sissy, one of the “Disciples of James Dean,” an all-female fan club devoted to the late icon. They are meeting for a 20-year reunion at a crumbling FW Woolworth’s ‘Five and Dime’ in a small Texas town, noted as September 30, 1975 on the banners put up in the store. Reuniting Altman with his previous stars Sandy Dennis (“That Cold Day in the Park”) and Karen Black (“Nashville”), and providing Kathy Bates with an early feature role, “Come Back…” is a study of nostalgia’s ability to distort the past, and another of the director’s portraits of the friendships between women.

Joined by group leader Mona (Dennis) and the glamorous, initially mysterious Joanne (Black), the women recall their love for Dean, and the club that began twenty years earlier when the actor was in a nearby town filming “Giant”, and the fatal car accident that followed. Soon, as more memories of 1955 are recalled, secrets are revealed and old friendships are put to the test.

It’s also one of Altman’s warmest and most entertaining movies. The Masters of Cinema Series is releasing the movie for the first time ever in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD) edition.

This period of Altman’s canon also includes productions such as “Streamers” (1983), “Secret Honor” (1984), and “Tanner ’88” (1988), but was initiated by “Come Back…”, a touching film of the play by Ed Graczyk (who adapted it for the screen).

The jumps in time between incidents in 1955 and 1975 is made easier to digest once you get the two settings fixed in your mind. Although the diner is common to both, much has changed considerably over the decades, the make-up for the stars helps a little in also distinguishing what was then and what is “now” – as in 1975.

Despite much having changed, particularly for some characters, it says a lot that for some people are still in the same town, in the same jobs, and looking almost the same. However, one character has changed more than the rest, having had a sex change. I am not actually sure that this aspect is convincing to an audience, as the ‘before’ and ‘after’ are not just separated by the 20 years the rest of the club has had between seeing this person. It’s hard to believe that the actor and actress playing the two eras are supposed to be the same individual.

Much is made of seeing the 1950s scenes through the mirror of the ‘Five and Dime’, something commented on in one of the special features, with Film Editor Jason Rosenfield. Jason, along with Production Designer David Gropman, both note that Altman gave them their big breaks with this movie, and whilst this is commendable you can also take this as the Director watching the budget on the production by allowing new folk to hone their skills.

Rosenfield also notes that he saw the theatrical production twice, but from very different seats, commenting that doing so literally gave two different views of the production. This helped with his perspectives when editing the footage.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation from a newly updated version of the 2012 TFF funded restoration
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • New and exclusive feature-length audio commentary by Lee Gambin
  • “Cutting Jimmy Dean” (25 mins) – New and exclusive interview with Film Editor Jason Rosenfield
  • “Designing Jimmy Dean” (11 mins) – New and exclusive interview with Production Designer David Gropman
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • A collector’s booklet featuring new essays by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and Travis Crawford

It’s worth noting that it helps if you look at this film through the eyes of a theatre-goer, as it certainly makes no attempt to throw off the chains of its original format. In other words, this feels very much like you are watching a play, with the only concession being over the end credits - when you see the ‘Five and Dime’ as it would be in the ‘today’ of 1982, the film’s production year.

Those who like their soap operas will enjoy the use of dialogue to draw vivid characterisations. It’s clear to see why most of these ladies have little to do with each other outside of their fan gatherings. Even in such a small group, there are factions, and many of the characters are so ‘Marmite’ – some you’ll love, some you’ll hate. Some you’ll feel a bond with, others you’d cross the street to avoid.

Maybe it’s me, but I didn’t understand why they would all want to gather again to celebrate the former apple of their eye. Fan appreciation is full of people who can tell you exactly why they are ‘in’ to an actor, actress, film, TV series and so on. The teenage adulation which these ladies began with would have quickly wilted without new material to see their favourite star in. With James Dean, it was a very small body of work. The likes of Elvis Presley had decades of stuff to tap into – not only music but his films, too. Aside from habit, I couldn’t actually work out why these ladies would continue with their conventions, and his appeal never seemed to be fully explored.

Perhaps it boils down to the gatherings being for a celebration of their own friendship, with Dean as the third party who was the trigger for them getting together. I hoped to come away with an idea of why James Dean has been so enduring. Unfortunately this was not the case. However, this has aroused my curiosity, so I am now going to research this through other channels.

In that respect, the movie is well worth checking out, as it certainly draws you into the web of what made James Dean such an icon for so many.

“Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” is out now from Eureka! Masters of Cinema in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition. It has a ‘15’ certificate, a run time of 109 mins approx, and a RRP of £19.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Monday, 22 July 2019 10:04

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