Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 07
Ordinary People September 19, 1980
Ordinary People released

The star of such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, and The Great Waldo Pepper, Redford, with his iconic, particularly American good looks, was actor, matinee idol, and social activist throughout the 1960s and '70s. In 1980, he added "director" to his resume with Ordinary People, a searing drama of familial discontent for which he won Oscars for both Best Picture and Best Director. Based on the novel by Judith Guest, Ordinary People wasn't the usual sort of actor's directing debut. For one, Redford didn't appear in the film. It also wasn't something handed to him by an awed studio executive. Redford optioned the novel and developed the screenplay himself, working with screenwriter Alvin Sargeant. The film tells the story of a husband (Donald Sutherland), wife (Mary Tyler Moore) and son (Timothy Hutton) in the days following the son's failed suicide attempt. The son tries to work through his emotional turmoil -- caused in part by his guilt over a sailing accident that claimed the life of his older brother -- with a sensitive psychiatrist, played by Judd Hirsch. Seen now, 30 years later, it's amazing how influential the film has been. Its traces can be seen in films as diverse as American Beauty, The Ice Storm, and this season's Rabbit Hole. Wrote Roger Ebert of its nuanced look at suburban tragedy, "Director Redford places all these events in a suburban world that is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against suburban lifestyles or affluence or mannerisms: The problems of the people in this movie aren't caused by their milieu, but grow out of themselves. And, like it or not, the participants have to deal with them. That's what sets the film apart from the sophisticated suburban soap opera it could easily have become."


More Flashbacks
December 7, 1960
Village of the Damned released

In the winter of 1960, a new vision of horror came to American cinemas from Britain. The Village of the Damned tells the story of a small English village in which all the women are mysteriously pregnant.

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December 7, 1949
Tom Waits For No Man

Thomas Alan Waits was born in Pomona, California, on this day, 59 years ago. The name Tom Waits is, of course, primarily associated with music: Waits is a distinctive, gravely-voiced singer-songwriter who has made classic albums like Rain Dogs and Blue Valentine and has been a force on the American music scene since the 1970s. Waits, though, with his rasping tones and rough-hewn features is also a casting director’s dream and has been involved in film almost as long as he has in music. Bizarrely, it was Sylvester Stallone who first put him on screen in his directorial debut, Paradise Alley, as a piano player called Mumbles, though Waits subsequently drew attention from somewhat more distinguished helmers. The first of these was Francis Ford Coppola, who cast Waits in four consecutive movies (One From the Heart, The Outsiders, Rumblefish and The Cotton Club) and also had Waits score One From the Heart, for which he received an Oscar nod. His other great relationship has been with director Jim Jarmusch, who also initiated Waits into his exclusive Sons of Lee Marvin club; Jarmusch first utilized Waits in Down by Law in 1986 and has since used his musical or thespian talents in Mystery Train, Night on Earth and Coffee and Cigarettes. Appealing to auteurs with an eye for idiosyncratic, Waits has also appeared twice in Terry Gilliam and Hector Babenco productions and had memorable roles in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (opposite Lily Tomlin) and 2007’s Wristcutters: A Love Story.

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