New York harmonies, Greenwich Village, Astoria, Madison Avenue, “up Route 9”.

Things fly apart, it comes to a decisive point, killing kids (cf. McLaglen’s Shenandoah).

Variety, “pretty, it’s not. By concentrating on the extremist fringes of the various social elements involved, Norman Wexler’s script makes audience identification well-nigh impossible and at the same time abstracts the questions in a way that gives the pic real importance.Film4, “bleak portrait of America shows a dream turned sour and a country at odds with itself.TV Guide, “it touched a lot of nerves at the time”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “opportunistic melodrama”, citing Penelope Gilliatt, “a bad film”.

D’ya ever get the feeling that—everything you do—your whole life, is one big crock o’ shit?”

“Yeah.” Cf. Dassin’s The Rehearsal.

From Easy Rider (dir. Dennis Hopper) to The Last Detail (dir. Hal Ashby). The model of composition is evidently Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste at some distance, cf. Hecht & MacArthur’s Soak the Rich.



Three short films joined by “Professor Corey on Sex”, each with a different writer and director (Professor Irwin Corey, the great academic, explains everything), the last most beautiful of all.

“Norman and the Polish Doll”

Purchased at F.A.O. Schwarz, life-size, returned as unsatisfactory and with very good reason (Dan Greenburg’s masterful Polish joke).


Bruce Jay Friedman on hacks (the muse is an Italian named Roberto).

“Inaugural Ball”

The President and Don Pasquale, who sleeps with the Chief Justice in drag.

Capra’s State of the Union is called into play, the writer is David Odell.

“What’d I tell ya, we got a lame fuck President!

Signed by Avildsen (following Rosenblum, McCarty and Malmuth).

Janet Maslin saw it at the Thalia only in 1981 (as The President’s Wife) and was incensed, “smutty... languished in deserved obscurity... dopey... misogyny... idiocy” (New York Times).

Primarily a feast of writers, then of actors, also directors.


The Formula

The title refers to the Genesis project in World War II, undertaking the manufacture of synthetic fuels from coal, under the supervision of Goering.

The question is not whether the glass is half-full or half-empty, but whether the frog in the swimming pool is half-dead from chlorine.

Beautiful views of the mountains from Santa Anita and a Los Angeles sunset from Westwood.


The Power of One

It will be probably be seen that the dominant stylistic aspect is the reaction shot, to constantly establish that the film exists in the form of the protagonist’s impressions, from childhood to early manhood. This gives the stylistic unity from first to last needed for compositional development on the minute scale required, and in that sense it serves a constructional purpose. The Power of One, despite the end title proposing a bland union of absolute conviction, is not expansive but interior in its meaning. This is a paradox of art, the details are realistic and rapidly subsumed.

Two sequences early on show the material that is dealt with and Avildsen’s skill. The prelude to these sequences is a most charming gag, after inducing in the boy by fearsome gestures and intense palaver the vision of an African elephant (filmed after the manner of Smight’s The Illustrated Man), the witch doctor in leopard skin and cowrie shells is met by his wife in housedress and headscarf, and the two take the boy by the hands to walk him home, chatting like an old married couple.

The first sequence follows this. Schoolchums surprise the boy with a rooster, which he feeds out of his hand. War is declared, Nazi schoolboys hold a candlelight rally clandestinely. The boy’s rooster is hung by its feet and killed with a slingshot not of the American variety but the Biblical one. The boy protests, is hung by his heels and struck likewise, on the forehead.

The second sequence cranes down on a small Dutch town with brick church and donkey cart, and doesn’t miss the delicacy of the curbstones. The boy is shown nature in Africa, learns to draw it and play music and grow plants. His Dutch or rather German uncle (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is interned for the duration, along with his grand piano and plants, and in the camp the boy learns how to box from a trainer (Morgan Freeman).

There’s something beyond the pictorial aspect in all this, though that is remarkable enough, and beyond the symbolic as well. It’s visionary, at least in the sense that it speaks a surprisingly intimate language with common terms.

It’s not surprising that the director of The Formula should have acquired even more skill over time, but the sheer agility of these two sequences, which are not long (the first is very brief), achieves more than compression. By the nature of the stylistic construction, they fix images in the mind consciously, and beyond this do not call attention to the fact.

One other scene takes place in a big office with a mural of covered wagons and Dutchwomen watching black men being hanged. That particular small portion of the mural (which runs around the room) is set directly over the desk where the great man sits, but behind him on a console is a photograph of his wife in a silver frame, and this tacitly is the intimate level of his daily operations. Avildsen sets the scene with this little symphonic treatment and lets it go without further comment, except for the obligatory reaction shot of the young man’s face.