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HMWYBS: "Islands in the Stream"

Best Shot 1977 Party. Chapter 1
Islands in the Stream (1977)
Directed by: Franklin J Schaffner
Cinematography by: Fred J Koenekamp

No, dear readers, quit humming.

Though this post is retro it is not about Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers' classic Grammy-winning 80s duet. Islands in the Stream is also the name of a 1977 movie very loosely adapted from a collection of possibly unfinished Ernest Hemingway stories which were released after his death under this title. I regret to inform that I had not even heard of it, the film or the book. The three sections of Hemingway's posthumous book include his previously published "The Old Man and the Sea," something I had heard of. (I'm not an animal.) 

The poster to your left begins with the tagline:

How long has it been since you've seen a really good movie?

Which was maybe not the best marketing tactic in March of 1977 considering what a sensational film year 1976 was and it had just ended. What ingrates! But that's a topic for another day.

George C Scott and David Hemming watching Scott's boys fishing

The internet doesn't provide much quick info on what people thought of this film back in the day but it does hold the scrappy distinction of being a first quarter release that ended up competing at the Oscars an entire year later (and we know how depressingly difficult that is to pull off).  After the jump, a few thoughts on the movies visuals and a little inappropriate ogling of 80s hunk Hart Bochner in his film debut...

Though contemporary cinema with its use of color correction and excessive post production fixes probably obscures how difficult nature films probably were to film back in the day when you had to work with actual weather and lighting by God, Islands in the Stream surely owes a good deal of its nomination to its postcard-ready imagery. The film revolves around the semi-solitary life of an artist named Thomas Hudson (Oscar winning George C Scott, reuniting with his Patton team) who has only two real friends Joseph (Julius Harris) and Eddy (David Hemming) and is somewhat purposefully estranged from both of his ex-wives and his three sons. Most of the film takes place in the Bahamas and is, thus, prone to beautiful vistas. 

Which is not to discount the skill involved in capturing it. This was Cinematographer Fred J Koenekamp's third nomination (he won for The Towering Inferno) and though the gorgeous scenery and sun-baked actors are well shot the moodier elements of his nighttime work were more impressive, whether that's an early jazzy scene during drunken fireworks, a late in film use of spotlight brights in the miserable darkness of Hudson's home, or this image, my choice for Best Shot, which brings the artist, his friends, and his sons all rushing out of the house slackjawed. 

best shot

Julius: God almighty!
Youngest Son: What is it?
Eddy: It's a freighter that's been torpedoed 
Youngest Son: You mean the Krauts are right out there? 

It's our first real sense of the very real world outside of Hudson's purposeful solitude in his artist's paradise. World War II is raging and Hudson's oldest son Tom (21 year old Hart Bochner in his film debut) will soon be going off to war).  It's also a handy visual tribute to the film's frustrating opaqueness about its obviously stormy but barely visible emotional content. Hemingway was famous for stoic male character and Scott excelled at stoic acting but here's the catch, for me at least: personal aversions to stoicism prevent me from really loving either of their work. I didn't get the 'manly man is manly' gene so the scenes of a father struggling to admit that he actually loves and misses his sons and their subsequent bonding through bloody fishing (or pummelling each other) just isn't my kind of drama... even if Scott is always confidently selling it. Still I learned more about ocean fishing than I will ever have use for in a rather stunningly shot but interminably long sequence involving a giant swordfish. 

As someone who can't relate to fishing or purposefully shutting myself away from loved ones, I was mostly adrift during the disjointed movie (which really shows that it's based on separate stories). About halfway through the film when I realized that Hudson's sons were leaving (the only characters that opened him or the story up at all) and that I'd be stuck with just stoicism and old drunk men and the sea thereafter, I had an embarrassing revelation: the character I most related to was suddenly the old drunk prostitute in town, who stops in her tracks at the sight of Hart Bochner. 

Is this your son? I think he's beautiful."

Why yes, Hart Bochner is beautiful. Thanks for noticing.

Hart looks bemused that she's drinking him in. He probably got that a lot. 

Father realizing his son will soon go to warThe prostitute isn't the only one who wants to eat Hart up. A shark also takes notice.

For younger readers out there who are like "who?" Bochner never became a big star but he was a rising one during the late 70 through the late 80s (with key roles in Die Hard, Breaking Away, and peaking -- at least according to us --  as the homoerotic eyecandy of the thriller Apartment Zero with Colin Firth). After that underseen gem he settled into steadily working character actor mode. His most recent recurring gig on TV was in The Starter Wife and he apparently has a role in Warren Beatty's new film Rules Don't Apply, too.  


Each day we'll link up to any new writings from participants on these nominees. Here's what hit today:

• Christian Bonamusa loves the hats in Julia and the aftermath in The Turning Point
• Film Mix Tape looks at both Islands in the Stream and Close Encounters 
• Rachel's Reviews looks at Close Encounters 

Tomorrow: The Turning Point, Oscar's all time biggest loser (well, tied with The Color Purple for that "honor").

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Reader Comments (7)

Oops! I already posted my picks for Turning Point and Julia.

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy

Peggy - it's no "oops"it's whichever movies each day

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I LOVE George C. Scott, but he's so much better playing his tough men persona for comedy (his work in Anatomy of a Murder and specially in Dr. Strangelove is just spectacular). I wonder why directors never realized he could be charming and funny.

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I remember when this came out, and it was considered a prestige picture. The newspaper ran an artsy full-page ad, which I pasted to my bedroom wall. It didn't last too long at the theaters. Unfortunately, I have never seen the movie. Some of these images are indeed striking.

My fave George C. Scott performance is his Oscar-nominated work in The Hospital, where he uncharacteristically plays a very sympathetic character who is both caring and gentle.

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

And what ever happened to the beautiful Mr Bochner?

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

brookesboy: Yes, he's great in The Hospital, eh?

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Apartment Zero is a weird little movie.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

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