"Is it sexy?"
"Sexy for Phoenix.."
Martin Scorsese’s forth picture and the forth in my Scorsese in Sequence series is Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) is a ex lounge singer turned housewife who lives with her pre teen son Tommy (Alfred Lutter) and her emotionally cold and distant husband Donald (Billy Green Bush). After Donald is killed while driving his truck
Alice takes the opportunity to travel through the South
Western States of America in
search of work as a singer in order to get to where she hopes to settle and
rebuild her singing career. Monterey
This is Scorsese’s first film that is overtly comedic. While each of his three previous films had occasional funny moments,
’ is the first Scorsese film that I’d
describe as a drama-comedy. This doesn’t mean that it’s a laugh a minute
popcorn film though. Like all of his funnier films (The King of Comedy, After Hours) there is still a strong dramatic
thread to it and it can be sad and even distressing in places. Alice
The film opens with an idealised view of
’s childhood in which she is stood
outside a house, clutching a doll. This scene is quite surreal and feels like a
homage to the Wizard of Oz. The set
features obvious fake backdrops and what looks like a flimsy set house and is
filmed with a deep red filter. Unlike Oz where
Dorothy wants to escape Alice Kansas it feels like is looking back on
her childhood wishing she could escape her adult life and return to that
idealised red world. Alice
The main draw of the film now is Ellen Burstyn’s performance for which she won an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Actress. Burstyn creates a character unlike any female character I’ve seen from the 1970s. She manages to be both independent and forthright at the same time as being a dutiful 70s housewife and is quick witted, funny and easy going.
is a wonderfully written character and
Burstyn brings her to life brilliantly. The film is littered with great
performances from loud mouth waitress Flo (Diane Ladd) who was also nominated
for an Oscar and won a BAFTA to rugged rancher David (Kris Kristofferson) who
manages to remain aloof and intriguing in his pursuit of Alice . A couple of great cameos from Harvey
Keitel (his third Scorsese film to date) and Jodie Foster who aged just twelve
showed the director enough to cast her in Taxi
Driver a couple of years later, help to beef up the great cast. The weak
link for me was Alfred Lutter who was quite uneven although at times was
superb. Despite not really liking his character or performance, the best scenes
all feature Tommy and Alice joking around. Alice
Scorsese’s direction was fairly conventional but showed flashes of brilliance. The first establishing shot was a beautiful craned pan that slowly sunk down to head level as the camera moved down the street on which the family lived. He also uses the odd very quick zoom shot and most notably jumpy editing whenever Alice and Tommy are on the road.
I have to be honest and say that despite having seen the film about three or maybe four times I’m still not that keen on it. Despite some cute and funny moments, strong emotional outbursts and a magnificent performance from Burstyn it languishes towards the bottom of Scorsese’s filmography for me along with Boxcar Bertha and The Last Temptation of Christ.