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Nick Mamatas

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August 28th, 2008

Trumbo [Aug. 28th, 2008|09:10 pm]
First, I need to find a gradient map. I had one last time I lived here, but got kershwished again today, as I decided to walk to the Lumiere from walk. Google Maps sent me up Hyde Street, which is steep enough a hill to be a tourist attraction -- it's where they keep one of the old-fashioned trolleys for the rubes to ride to nowhere. I'll be huffing along in many a vacation photo and video tomorrow.

Anyway Trumbo is a documentary about Dalton Trumbo, which features readings of his correspondence, Johnny Got His Gun, and talking heads. Written by and based on the stage play by son Christopher Trumbo, the movie isn't just based on love letters, it is a letter and a posthumous defense. Christopher is a good liberal, so the theme is a simple one -- America is all about freedom, including freedom to be a member of the Communist Party and make a zillion bucks in Hollywood. Little rises above the level of the soundbite, except when Donald Sutherland reads from the novel and Kirk Douglas talks as best he can about Spartacus.

The interesting stuff about Trumbo — his talent, the juxtaposition of his big-ass ranch and CP leanings, his leaving the Stalinist milieu (when? why? how did his politics change?) — all of that gets the short shrift. Bits of his personality shine through in the letters, such as when Trumbo warns a power company stooge that when the revolution comes the greedy merchants will get the rope first and the witty ones second, so the snotty recipient of the letter is in double-trouble, but much of the film is weighed down by son Christopher making his career on papa's bones. So we end up with lots of babble about the First Amendment, and even home movie footage of Trumbo hanging out by a rustling American flag, while Michael Douglas sneers something from a letter in which Trumbo describes bending over and spreading his anus as part of a contraband search. (It's not as funny as it sounds.) Many of Christopher Trumbo's pals the actors who read from the letters are way too earnest — Paul Giamatti even dresses a bit like Trumbo, and Michael Douglas is awful as always — and even the great Sutherland is a bit distracting because of his Ric Flair hairdo.

Children shouldn't make documentaries about their parents.
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