A Polish-Jewish family arrives in the U.S. at the beginning of the twentieth century and they and their children try to build themselves a better future in the promised land.Written by
This movie follows along the "little boy who accidentally starts the big fire" trope which began with Little House on the Prairie (1974) and One Day at a Time (1975). See more »
When Baltimore's Bromo-Seltzer clock tower is shown at the movie's opening, that 1914 depiction omits the brightly-lit 51-foot tall blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle that had adorned the top of the tower from 1911 through 1936. Descriptions from the time period report the blue glow could be seen from miles around. The oversight is particularly notable because the film's concurrent narration mentions the city's bright lights. See more »
I came to America in 1914 - by way of Philadelphia. That's where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I didn't know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What a welcome ...
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The credits roll over a photograph of Avalon, which begins as a sharp color photograph, but fades into a worn black-and-white picture at the end. See more »
A very fine drama, good plot and story (Solid 7 of 10)
On paper, writer-director Barry Levinson's semi-autobiographical Avalon, which begins with the arrival of Polish Jew Sam Krichinsky (Armin Mueller- Stahl) in the Avalon area of Baltimore, Md., on July 4, 1914, and ends when he is in his dotage on another July 4 sometime in the sixties, is an intellectually crystalline epic about the demise of the extended family, the erosion of traditional American and European values, the growth of alienated suburban culture (organized around television) and the hegemony of materialism.
That's on paper. On screen, Avalon is unconscionably sloppy (the leaves of deciduous trees in Baltimore at Christmas are green on one block, yellow on another and non-existent on a third), structurally amorphous (the movie could end at any time or go on forever, which it seems to do), and gummily sentimental (grandparents and children are psychologically saintly). The lovely moments and fine performances in the picture can't redeem Levinson's technical carelessness - the editing is without rhythm, momentum, or even logic - nor can they compensate for Avalon's ethnographic toothlessness: imagine Mordecai Richler without the bite.
Levinson would have made Duddy Kravitz a mensch.
Avalon is more irritating than most ambitious failures because Levinson, winner of the best directing Oscar in 1988 for Rain Man, is wildly talented, and his two earlier semi-autobiographical films set in Baltimore, Diner and Tin Men, were twin peaks of Proustian purity. Structured lightly but soundly, in the esthetic version of aluminum, they vaulted over the twin valleys of bathos, sentimentality and nostalgia.
Avalon is a bridge made of lead.
But students of performance will want to see it for a quartet of reasons. The first is Armin Mueller-Stahl, the East German actor who came West in the late seventies and has not been within spitting distance of mediocrity since, whether as the tortured politician in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Lola, the complex farmer in Angry Harvest or Jessica Lange's mysterious father in Music Box. As written, Avalon's Sam Krichinsky is fundamentally a grandchild's adoring projection of a grandfather, but Mueller-Stahl's Prussian blue eyes bespeak more depth than the character is permitted to articulate; when the script does become bluntly pedantic, Mueller-Stahl subtly softens the blows. Sadly, even this great actor is done in at the end when he is plastered with outrageously inept old-age makeup. He looks like nothing less than a blue-eyed, Teutonic E.T. about to sing a geriatric variation of Cabaret's Nazi hymn, Tomorrow Belongs to Me: Yesterday Vas Mine.
The second extraordinary actor is Joan Plowright, the British widow of Laurence Olivier; she plays Eva Krichinsky, Sam's Polish-American wife, with a flawless accent, as if she had not done Shakespeare, Chekhov, John Osborne or Peter Greenaway, all of whom she has, of course, enlivened. But technique aside, she follows Mueller-Stahl in toughening up the soft edges and in softening the rough edges of a character verging on caricature; while certainly Jewish, her meddling mother-cum-grandmother is no stage- bound Jewish mother.
The most fully dramatized conflict in Avalon involves the grandparents and their relationship to their son Jules and his wife Ann (and eventually to the young couple's children), all of whom live together. Aidan Quinn, as the cautious and contemplative Jules, and Elizabeth Perkins, as the fun-loving but responsible Ann, complete the foursome of exceptional performances: he infuses an introvert with exterior life and she captures the spirit of femininity in the fifties with eerie exactitude, as if Life had come to life (it's an asset that she looks like the Judy Garland of that period).
Four fabulous musicians, less than fabulous music for them to play: the resonant sequences (an on-going Thanksgiving argument, for example) are regularly intercut with comic schtick, the most egregious instance being the purchase of a television set - would people interested enough in TV to buy one not know that during the day there were no programs? The purchasers sit in front of the box, watch the test pattern, get disgusted, and leave it to the kids. It's a funny bit, but it's fraudulent, and it corrodes Avalon, which is trying to do something new, with the stuff of deja-vu. There are two lines delivered by Eva that express the irritation Avalon engenders: "How many times do we have to hear this story? We all heard it before." Benjamin MIller, Filmbay Editor
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