Friday, May 13, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "THE LOST WEEKEND"

THE LOST WEEKEND (1945)

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson




“Not all us who drink are poets. Some of us drink because we’re not poets.”
                                                            -------Dudley Moore as Arthur Bach in “Arthur”

One of film’s most popular subject matters is drinking and alcoholism. It’s remained this way from the early Chaplin shorts about the high society people who drank for leisure. They’ve also inspired some great acting performances and great films throughout the history of film, from Jack Lemmon in “Days of Wine and Roses,” to Dudley Moore in “Arthur,” to Nicolas Cage’s Oscar-winning work in “Leaving Las Vegas,” to Steve Buscemi in “Trees Lounge,” to Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" just to name a few. The one film I usually think of is probably the first great film on the subject Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning film, “The Lost Weekend.” The movie’s so famous it’s title is now in the American lexicon, slang for, exactly what it sounds like, a period of time where somebody was so blacked out that they've lost that moment of time in their memory and recall, and just like most films about drunks and drinking, it’s  not particularly easy to watch. Billy Wilder got more accolades for this film than any other one he did, except “The Apartment” but it’s now generally considered a lesser work despite It’s four Oscars, including Best Picture. In fact, most times I hear people mention the film, they refer not to it’s Best Picture win but to Ray Milland’s Best Actor Oscar, and that’s probably the more correct assertion with the film; I remember his performance more than I recall the film, despite watching it many times through. Still though, that's a shame; I know it's easy to placate some of Wilder's work as a lesser of his films, mainly 'cause the guy has so many great films that one or two can easy get forgotten in the shuffle and many of them really shouldn't and this is one of them.

 Milland plays a writer, naturally, although I don’t think he’s published anything in a while, and he can’t seem to ever write anything now, partly because of writer’s block, and partly because of his drinking, which seem to go hand-in-hand. The first image in the movie is a bottle hanging outside his window tied to a rope which is one of his hiding places. He has an on-again-off-again girlfriend in Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), a girl she met while at the opera where he was so in need of a drink, he recalled a row of dancing raincoats and identified his, which had a half-full bottle of scotch in it. He ends up leaving the opera trying to retrieve his coat to get his bottle. There’s a subplot about a brother and a family, but it drifts in and out during a few unwelcome moments of soberness. He travels from bar to bar, pawn shop to pawn shop, liquor store to liquor store, or at least he tries to. The film doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than us getting a chance to follow one man through his plight. The word that comes to my mind is anguish. Milland’s performance shows a man who thinks his desire is a need, but he’s a man who’s fallen so low, he can’t even look up anymore. At one point, he ends up in a hospital with a bunch of other fellow drunks on similar lost weekends of their own. He can’t stand it and escapes. There are famous sequences of him searching for where he has hidden one of his bottles, and even some bizarre images of bats and rodents coming out of the wall when he’s in at his deepest. His other idea is to write about his desire to drink, calling the novel, “The Bottle.” He talks about it, his supposed book as his savior, but if he’s anything like John O’Brien (author of the novel, “Leaving Las Vegas,”) it’s probably more of a suicide note. The movie ends on a somewhat happy ending. He’s vowed to get clean no matter what it takes, and supposedly the fact the film and novel were made is proof that he eventually did, but they don’t show that it’s still a fight to not drink. It’s all really just a disease, isn’t it?
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