50 Years of the New York Film Festival

NYFF ‘77 & ‘80: Handle with Care & Melvin and Howard

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NYFF ‘77 & ‘80: Handle with Care & Melvin and Howard
Jonathan Demme,

Discussion between screenings with director Jonathan Demme and actor Paul Le Mat!

Handle with Care a.k.a. Citizen’s Band
Jonathan Demme | 1977 | USA | 98m | 35mm

Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) made his first NYFF appearance with this high-spirited comic panorama focused on a collection of eccentric characters who broadcast their alter-egos over that primitive social network known as citizen’s band radio. American Graffiti alumni Paul Le Mat and Candy Clark respectively star as good samaratin “Spider” (all the characters are known by their CB “handles”) and his ex-fiancee, a cheerleading coach who moonlights as CB seductress “Electra.” Also figuring into the mix are a bigamist trucker known as “Chrome Angel,” a white supremacist who calls himself “The Red Baron,” and Spider’s own father, “Papa Thermodyne.” Scripted by future Risky Business auteur Paul Brickman, Handle with Care finds Demme already in full possession of the humanist screwball touch he would later bring to Something Wild and Married to the Mob. Little wonder that the studio (Paramount) didn’t know what to make of the film and, despite strong reviews, promptly buried it. NOT ON DVD.

“Writer Paul Brickman has created a townful of likable middle-American eccentrics out of Preston Sturges, and director Jonathan Demme has brought them to life with an assured vitality worthy of Frank Capra.”
—NYFF15 program note

“Directed by the young Jonathan Demme, who has graduated from cheaply made exploitation films (Caged Heat, Crazy Mama, Fighting Mad), Handle with Care is a palmy, elegantly deadpan comedy…who would have thought that there could be such a thing as redneck grace?”
—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

PLUS SPECIAL BONUS SCREENING:
Melvin and Howard
Jonathan Demme | 1980 | USA | 95m | 35mm

Demme and Le Mat reunited for this double 1980 Oscar-winner (Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress, Mary Steenburgen) based on the stranger-than-fiction tale of one Melvin Dummar (Le Mat), a Utah gas-station owner who became the subject of a national media feeding frenzy when he was named as a beneficiary in the much-contested “Mormon will” of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. In vintage Demme fashion, however, the movie is much less interested in Hughes (an Oscar-nominated Jason Robards) and his estate than in Dummar, an enduring small-town rube who, no matter how badly he stumbles, never stops reaching for the big, shiny American dream. Opening night of the 1980 New York Film Festival.

“An almost flawless act of sympathetic imagination. This picture suggests what it might have been like if Jean Renoir had directed a Preston Sturges comedy.”
—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

“Robards is a chillingly effective Hughes. But this movie belongs to Paul Le Mat, as Dummar. Le Mat is the actor who played the round-faced hot-rodder in American Graffiti, and Dummar is the kind of guy that character might have grown up to be. He is pleasant, genial, simple of speech but crafty of mind, and always looking for an angle. He angles for Milkman of the Month, he plots to get his wife on a TV game show, he writes songs like ‘Santa's Souped-Up Sleigh,’ he plays the slots at Vegas and goes through his life asking only for a few small scores.”
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Series: 50 Years of the New York Film Festival

Venue: Walter Reade Theater

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