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Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Bridges of Madison County" in the Internet Age

Robert and Francesca touch for the first time. Whoa.
I can pretty much guarantee that that one touch is more erotic than anything in Fifty Shades of Gray. 
Have never seen an actor so vulnerable in a romantic role 
The buff breasted sandpiper shows his armpit, and his commitment 
I rewatched "Bridges of Madison County" this past week and was totally blown away by it, as I was the first time I watched it.

I'm a huge movie fan and a movie snob as well.

I tend to look down on violent films or films built around gunplay. Schlock. I know Quentin Tarrentino is considered an artist in some parts. Not these parts.

Because of this I was aware of Clint Eastwood only as a star of violent movies built around guns.

I finally saw "In the Line of Fire," a movie starring Clint Eastwood, in 1993, when he had already been a star for decades. I was amazed at how talented I thought he was, and what star power he had. "Oh, ho, ho, what have we here? What have I been missing?"

But I still have not seen any of Eastwood's gun movies. Not "Josie Wales" or "Dirty Harry" or "Unforgiven."

I read the book "Bridges of Madison County" and I thought it was underdeveloped, pop romance candy. Didn't grab me or move me at all. I wanted to read the Mad magazine parody.

But the movie!


I rewatched it every night this week. I generally watch movies twenty minutes at a time. If I like them, as I loved this, I "rewind" to watch key scenes over and over. I do this with books as well. I re-read favorite passages four or five times before moving on.

I just can't get over how deeply moving and charismatic I find Eastwood's performance in "Bridges of Madison County."

The buff breasted sandpiper taught me much about acting.

The buff breasted sandpiper mating display is poignantly pathetic, to anyone who isn't a buff breasted sandpiper. He lifts his buffy wing to display his white armpit. He does this over and over. Once he has accumulated a female audience, he lifts both of his wings, and displays both of his white armpits.

The key – he does this with great conviction.

That's the key to great acting. Conviction.

Clint Eastwood brings so much conviction to his role as Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer who visits Iowa to photograph covered bridges, meets and falls in love with Italian-American war bride Francesca Johnson. Her husband and children are away for four days at the state fair exhibiting a prize steer. It's the early 1960s.

Robert and Francesca meet, fall in love, realize they are soulmates, engage in torrid sex, and part, forever, never to speak to each other again.

Meryl Streep plays Francesca. I find her performance to be a series of ticks meant to communicate Italian passion and speaking with the hands. Very distracting and actor-y.

Eastwood, though, is overwhelming. He is just so present, so charismatic, so genuine, so sincere, so vulnerable, so aching, so unforced. I have never seen another male actor put in such a performance in a romance movie. Tom Hanks brings this much commitment to "Saving Private Ryan" but that's a war / buddy / save-the-world movie. "Bridges of Madison County" is about a man falling in love with an over-forty housewife.

Towards the end, after Robert and Francesca have said goodbye, they cross paths by chance in her Iowa downtown. He is in his pickup truck; she is in her pickup truck. They are waiting at a red light. Robert refuses to move his car. Francesca's husband, totally unaware, wonders why the guy in front of him won't move his car. Francesca's hand reaches for the car door. She white knuckles it. You know she wants to jump out of the truck and run to Robert. You know he is hoping against hope that she will do just that – that's why he keeps his car immobile, even after the light turns to green. Robert places the pendant Francesca had given him over his rearview mirror. She is devastated, struggling with herself, her husband and the father of her children sitting right next to her.

I am floored by this scene. I don't think a scene where a president's finger hovers over the nuclear button could create as much tension and heartache for me.

The movie ends years later, with Robert dead, Francesca dead, and her kids going through her belongings and discovering the affair.

The viewer learns that Robert and Francesca never had contact again.

Is that a good thing?

These two were soulmates. A soulmate is a rare and vital resource. Do you really toss such a gift away?

Why couldn't Francesca love both her husband and Robert? It didn't look like her husband was making use of 100% of Francesca.

Could this story take place in the internet age? Wouldn't Robert and Francesca be emailing back and forth? Francesca could be stirring up ham hocks a la Bolognese for her family with one hand, and texting Robert with the other.

A personal anecdote. Shortly after Save Send Delete was published, I received the single scariest email I have ever received. It was from a stranger, and it was a profound and passionate confession of love. I read the first three sentences, peed my pants in fear (metaphorically), and phoned a male friend. I made the male friend promise he would protect me from whomever had sent this email.

Reassured by my male friend, who was eager to beat someone up for me, I went back and read the entire email. It was from a perfectly sane and nice person, and it *wasn't* addressed to me. Why was it sent to me?

Through a wild quirk of fate, which I can't describe here because it would expose private information, this person stumbled across Save Send Delete, read it, and was reminded of his own Francesca-Robert or Mira-Rand relationship. A star crossed relationship that meant a lot to him, but that ended abruptly and permanently.

Reading Save Send Delete opened his wounds, and he needed to communicate that to someone. Given this secret nature of the relationship, he couldn't tell anyone he knew in real life, so he sent that email to me, pouring out his heart and confessing his love for this woman who had entered, and exited his life forever.

A final note. The soundtrack to Bridges of Madison County is lovely. It features music written by Eastwood, and singing by Johnny Hartman, who really should have been as famous as Nat King Cole or Dean Martin if not Frank Sinatra. He is THAT good. Beautiful voice, superb diction, great intelligence in every song delivery, very romantic. 

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