Monday, November 5, 2007

The Changeling (1980, Peter Medak)

Part of the 80's Project

Since it's been about a month and a half since I actually watched The Changeling, I am going to do something a little different here, instead of forming some kind of cohesive review (not to imply I've ever written a cohesive review) I am just going to go through notes I took during and after the film and just bulletin point my thoughts. Act like it's one of those progress reports your boss makes you waste time drafting, just try to refrain from coming into my blog and shooting the place up like you've been strategically planning the last fifteen years.

SPOILERS AHOY! (*especially the ending!*)

* General plot synopsis portion: George C. Scott plays a classical pianist whose wife and daughter die in a car accident. He moves from New York to a quiet Washington (Pacific Northwest, not District of Columbia) town where he teaches music at a university (and is wildly popular for some reason, like 500 kids crash his first class, I guess Washington is wild for their mourning classical pianists) and moves into an old house with a mysterious history. Creepy stuff starts happening, stuff like for an example an antiquated wheelchair appears out of nowhere and moves by itself and a rubber ball very dramatically falls down the stairs. Ends up this house is haunted by the spirit of a dead boy. Through copious amounts of research and mediation with a spiritual we discover that the boy’s father stood to inherit a significant sum under the one guideline that it would actually go to the boy, but since this kid suffered a fatal disease one night the father drowned his son, secretly buried him and hightailed it to Europe with no one ever the wiser, in Europe he adopts a similar looking kid who he brings back to America a few years later and cha-ching gets the inheritance. In the present day, the adopted son has become a Washington state senator and one cannot help but speculate his first initiative in office was some kind of inheritance reform. George C. Scott decides to stay at the house and help the kid gets some form of vengeance (we'll discuss this a little later), but it kind of comes back to bite him in the ass since after the boy's vengeance is satiated, the house burns down. Hope Scott had insurance! (I did say there would be Spoilers, right?)

* The film begins with a great opening sequence and title card. George C. Scott's wife and daughter are killed in an auto accident in the snow while Scott watches helplessly in a phone booth. Close-up on Scott's grieving face...and...FREEZE FRAME...The Changeling. What I especially like about the film is it‘s non-explotative nature concerning the death of Scott‘s family, evidenced by the fact that his assisting the child offers him no emotional resolution or cathartic reconciliation with the spirit of his deceased loved ones (a la this year's 1408), obviously their death inspires him to help the boy but that’s more a character trait than a plot contrivance.

* The fact that this film continually pops up on various "Scariest Movies of All Time" list is due to the deft direction, sound design and quiet atmosphere director Medak--a journeyman director who resume includes on anarchistic British satire (The Ruling Class), many television credits (ranging from Tales From the Crypt to Seventh Heaven to Magnum P.I.), neo-noir (Romeo is Bleeding) and one of the crappiest films in the history of films (Species 2)--employs. The house is quiet and so is the film, until you know, shit goes down, Medak effectively mines suspense by contrasting the silence and Scott's character classic piano playing with loud disruptive sounds. Today it's a cliche, I know, but it’s always effective when done right. Too often filmmakers hijack their own suspense by wallowing in poor sound design filling what should be quiet moments with lame rock songs that serve only to attempt to sell the soundtrack (this is a Miramax specialty) and avid farts editing style (copyright Vern), Saw and those horrible Michael Bay produced remakes being primary offender.

* The best scene of the film occurs when a psychic comes to the house to communicate with the spirit. The acting and direction remains contained. Nowadays, the woman would be portrayed like a Zelda Rubenstein type kook and the scenes where she communicates with the spirit would be over-edited with flashes of some ghostly images too you know, freak you out. Instead we get a nice drawn out scene which is treated not like a crazy event, but rather a woman nonchalantly just doing her job, sure her job involves being in a trance like state and communicating with the dead, but hey to her, it's just another fucking Tuesday.

* But what I find most interesting about The Changeling is that the ghost of the kid is actually a bit of a jerk. I’ve already mentioned how after George C. Scott helps the kid out by finding his skeleton and confronting the senator/impostor he repays him by burning down the house. “Thanks, bud, that'll be the last time I ever try to assist spirits of murdered children.” But the whole act of vengeance on the senator/impostor is kind of petty. Yeah, it sucks that this guy got your fortune and is now a senator, but hey, money alone didn't ascend him to his position, it's mentioned that he's served several terms, so hey, people liked him enough to re-elect him. Hell, the senator doesn't even know the truth about his past until the film's climactic scenes. So he ends up dying for the sins of his father, only it wasn't really his own father, but his adoptive father. On the flip side he had a fairly long and prosperous life and was able to avoid any Dickensian-like orphange abuse and calling everybody "guv'ner" all the time. All in all, the measure of payback perfectly gels with what the five year old mindset would consider fair.

This wasn't really much shorter than most of my reviews was it? At least I still have the lack of cohesion thing going on.


Anonymous said...

I saw this movie a few months ago and i agree with the review, it was pretty scary with use of noise and mood. I liked it.

Unknown said...

i live in the neighborhood where the external scenes of the house were filmed (57th between Granville and Oak)
if i remember correctly, in the filming of the movie, they actually burnt the house down by accident.
the lot has since been subdivided but the front stairs and landing still remain with a fence where the front door was.
can this be verified or am i thinking of a different movie?

le0pard13 said...

I love this ghost story! It is so well done and builds its tension expertly. That is a very good scene you highlight. I happen believe the scene with that damn ball is so chilling, though. I once re-watched this film alone, late at night in my old flat (before I got married). Scared the crap out of myself, too. Fine review, Colonel. Thanks.

p.s., btw, that is a fine line-up at New Beverly Cinema on the 29th (also 30th) with Trick 'r Treat and Halloween III. I'll be at The Aero for THE CHANGELING and The Egyptian the next night for their 70mm presentation of GHOSTBUSTERS for those nights.

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