Originally created 12/16/04

Movies shine brightest when their characters truly connect



We are all connected in some way.

A man pulls off the road to buy a gallon of milk, and he affects traffic behind him, the people he interacts with in front of the dairy case and the farmer who spent time with Bessie to give said guy his 2 percent.

The act of writing these words connects me to the people who read it, just as the act of reading will connect them to me.

Now, I understand this is all pretty heavy, tree-falls-in-the-woods stuff, and frankly, it's beginning to make my head spin, so let's get to the point. This interconnectedness, the way small actions can set off a chain of events that influence people we might never meet, makes for compelling cinema. Here are a few examples:

GRAND HOTEL (1932): What better place to gather a group of disparate characters than an Old World European hotel. Among the guests are a disenchanted dancer, a noble grifter, an ambitious stenographer, an expectant father struggling to make ends meet and a terminally ill manager embracing his last days on Earth. Watching the cast, which includes Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and not one, but two, Barrymores chew scenery and take names is worth the search.

SLACKER (1991): Filmmaker Richard Linklater's (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) quirky, comic directorial debut uses long cuts and compelling conversation to connect an oddball cast in this movie, which is without a plot, but has a message of being a part of something greater.

MAGNOLIA (1999): In finding ways to connect the most unlikely of characters - a misogynistic self-help guru, a young game show prodigy and a lonely cop among them - director P.T. Anderson builds a fragile tower of interaction that becomes a metaphor for the power of happenstance. A bold, beautiful, hypnotic film.

GO (1999): It's Christmas Eve, and a handful of characters affect one another's lives without even trying. At the center of the story, a young supermarket checkout girl whose ill-advised foray into drug dealing spirals into a complex web of missed connections and misunderstanding. Remarkably, this seemingly dark subject matter is handled with a light, bright touch that makes the movie far more fun than fearful.

NASHVILLE (1975): Using the capital of country music as a microcosm for America circa 1975, director Robert Altman (The Player, Short Cuts, Gosford Park) trots out dozens of characters, each connected to another in unexpected ways, and uses them as an all-in-this-together illustrative device. Revolutionary as a style of storytelling, Mr. Altman's ensemble technique has been copied times and again, most often by Mr. Altman himself.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.