Slow Film 5

Slow Film 5
Films you may have missed.

Brief reviews of films that are subtle and thought provoking – in short, food for thought.

All films reviewed are available at the Portsmouth Public Library.

 The Hustler (1961)

Director: Robert Rossen
Cast: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott


“The Hustler” focuses on the struggle between three characters. Fast Eddie Felson (played by Paul Newman) is a man whose only “compass” is a small time pool hustler but his ambition is to be the “best;”  but with absolutely nothing else to ground him he easily subverts himself or manages to find someone to do it for him. He also needs support (good or bad).

Sarah Packard (played by Piper Laurie), herself at sea with no port in sight, is picked up by Eddie at a bus station. And for a man and a woman who both need so much the mix is disastrous.  Briefly they offer some solace to each other, but Eddie’s drive to be the “best” and his meeting with the hard talking, hard driving “realist” Bert (played by George C. Scott), is the push Eddie needs to complete his downward spiral. Burt lives on other people’s lives and subverts what little Sarah and Eddie have, because he needs complete domination over Fast Eddie.

Minnesota Fats (played by Jackie Gleason) is solid, he is no fool and though he speaks little in this film his facial expressions and his actions deliver what words do not. He knows where he came from and accepts all the rules in the world he lives in, including his place in the world. Something Fast Eddie cannot do.

This is a film about Fast Eddie as an underdog, about his misplaced ambition,  his persistent failure, the destruction of a woman he belatedly realizes he cares about, and finally, his acceptance of life, his life.

For those who remember Jackie Gleason in the 1950’s TV comedy series “The Honeymooners” his acting in this film is flawless and his stark portrayal of Minnesota Fats may come as a bit of a surprise.

For other perspectives on “The Hustler” see:
Roger Ebert, Slant Magazine, and James Berardinelli.

 The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

Directed by Karel Reisz
Screenplay by Harold Pinter
Cast: Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep


The film, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” is based on the novel of the same name by John Fowles. The novel mixes discussions regarding the Victorian era in which the story was set with the narrative — comparing Victorian values with contemporary life and values. The director, Karel Reisz, and screenplay writer, Harold Pinter, were admittedly challenged by this meta-fictional technique but succeeded in creating a fascinating film.

Consulting with John Fowles the solution they arrived at was to make a film with “two stories”: one about the actors who are making the film “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, and the second story is the story of the “French Lieutenant’s Woman” set in the Victorian era. We overhear the contemporary actors discuss how they should act their parts and at the same time we see the contemporary actors in their own love affair. The majority of the film is the actual story set in Victorian times, with just enough of contrasting of the contemporary “actors” with Victorian manners and values to be interesting but not disruptive. Also, as with the book, the film offers two endings.

The cinematography is beautiful, and in many scenes the opening shots almost appear to be paintings. In both “stories” the female character’s motives are not clearly brought out until the end of the film. Full of interesting contrasts and struggles the film moves the viewer to wonder what motives are actually in play. Obsession is a driving force for “both” male characters – deeply overturning a life. If you haven’t seen this film since it was first released in the theaters, it’s worth a second look, if you have never seen it, give it a try. This was Meryl Streep’s first leading roll.

See what these reviewers have to say about “The French Lieutenant’s Woman:”
Roger Ebert and Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.

 The Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Screenplay by Kobo Abe
Cast:  Eiji Okada and Kyōko Kishida


There are at least two ways to think of “Woman in the Dunes”: 1) as a straight forward version of a romantic Gothic a la Japanese sensibility, or 2) as a look at life’s challenges. For all its simplicity it is a rich film inviting many interpretations.

The story is simple, an amateur entomologist from Tokyo goes out to a sandy beach to look for rare insects in the hope he will find an as yet unclassified insect. While searching he ruminates on the rolls people in contemporary society are required to play; it is a passing thought as he watches insects scamper through the sand.

He stays too late to catch transportation back to Tokyo where he lives. Local villagers invite him to stay the night with a woman who lives at the bottom of a sand pit in a shack. In the morning he as he gets ready to leave, he discovers that the rope ladder he used to get into the pit has been removed.

Somewhat like the insects he has captured he is trapped. The villagers demand that he help the woman shovel sand into boxes that will ultimately be sold to a cement company.  But it is a poor quality sand that will result in concrete that is defective.

The teacher tries over and over again to escape. How he copes with this situation now that his world has shrunk dramatically to a mere sand pit is the core of the story. The woman who lives in the dunes has to cope with his outbursts and tries to help him understand his situation. She as well as the villagers need him for different reasons.

The interaction between the teacher and the woman are at times combative and at times sensual – it is a long road — finally her loneliness and his frustration entwine. The villagers, the woman, the teacher all interact in a circle of control and need.

Everything in this film, including the photography (which is quite sensual), presents questions about the choices we make and what we accept as a result of those choices. Questions about cultural differences between city and rural life, freedom, and acceptance are to be grappled with after the film is over.

The film was directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara in collaboration with novelist Kobo Abe, adapted from Mr. Abe’s novel of the same name. Mr Abe wrote the screen play for the movie version.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

For more interpretations of this fascinating film see:
The Wall Street Journal, Roger Ebert, and Brandy Dean.


Slow Film is a blog series by Bob Miller, assistant librarian at PPL: lover of film, music, fiction and non-fiction. If you have suggestions for something that should be included in a future blog post, email him at

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