Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Landlord

Based on the novel by Kristin Hunter, The Landlord is the story about a young rich white man who decides to buy an inner-city tenement where he would befriend the tenants and begins to find meaning in his life. Directed by Hal Ashby and screenplay by Bill Gunn, the film marks an exploration into the life of a naïve young man who finds himself in a new world as it would play into the themes Ashby would explore with the rest of his films in the 1970s. Starring Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, Marki Bey, Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey, and Louis Gossett Jr. The Landlord is a remarkable debut film from Hal Ashby.

Elgar Enders (Beau Bridges) is a 29-year old man from a rich white family who is eager to start his own life as he decides to buy an inner-city tenement in the hopes to get rid of its tenants and create a place all for himself. Upon arriving to Brooklyn at the building he just bought, he realized that he is in a place that is very different from the world he’s been living in as he befriends a middle-aged woman named Marge (Pearl Bailey) and later a woman named Fanny (Diana Sands) who is also a tenant. Elgar decides to become the landlord as he tries to get to know everyone while meeting another young woman named Lanie (Marki Bey) who is a dancer at a club. While Elgar’s family is shocked by Elgar’s sudden news, Elgar decides to defy them in the hopes to start something new for him.

While Elgar’s mother (Lee Grant) reluctantly decides to help him out as she briefly befriends Marge, Elgar’s relationship with Lanie goes well though a party at Fanny’s apartment leads to something as she laments her troubled relationship with her boyfriend Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.). After taking Lanie to a party where Elgar’s whole family is there, things go wrong where Elgar leaves very abruptly as he is later confronted by his mother over his actions. Things get worse when Elgar receives news that would change his life as it also gets him into bigger trouble. In the aftermath of everything he’s been through, Elgar makes a decision that would become a major turning point in his young life.

What happens when a young rich and privileged white man decides to buy an inner-city tenement in Brooklyn in the hopes to create something of his own and later become part of a strange community? That is simply the idea of the film as it is really about a naïve man who tries to interject his own place into a world that is foreign to him only to become part of this new world where he eventually becomes embraced though he still has a lot to learn. Yet, it would baffle his very rich family that lives this very sheltered and privileged life as they have a hard time accepting his new decisions as it would escalate into bigger problems.

Bill Gunn’s screenplay is very engaging for the way it explores the big difference between the world of rich white folks and urban blacks from the perspective of this young and rich white man. In the course of the film, Elgar would not only have a realization about the building he owns but also the people whom he would grow to care for as he would slowly but carefully do whatever it takes to help them. In the women he meets such as the tenant Fanny and the mix-skinned dancer Lanie, Elgar would get not just a unique perspective about women but also the idea that skin-color doesn’t make a difference. Still, Elgar is flawed and he knows that as he is still a child at heart while finding himself more at odds with his parents old ways. When he starts to be more on his own away from his family and more into the inner-city community that he’s begun to embrace, trouble does brew due to his time with Fanny. Notably in an aftermath where Elgar begins to do something in his life that would finally have take a major step into adulthood.

Hal Ashby’s direction is very stylish in the way he portrays the differing worlds of white and black culture. Notably in how very staged and precise Ashby frames the world of white culture from the car show they attend as well as a scene where Elgar is playing croquet with his family as they’re all dressed in white and positioned in some way. For the scenes in Brooklyn, things are much looser and more lively as there’s this great mix of comedy but also some light drama as well as more entrancing compositions in some of the love scenes. Ashby also employs a lot of humorous moments including a scene between Elgar’s mother and Marge that shows the similarities between the two women as well as strange fantasy sequences about a life where things get mixed up. Overall, Ashby creates a very captivating yet witty film about a young man growing up in a new world that is different from everything he had lived before.

Cinematographer Gordon Willis does excellent work with the film‘s very colorful and stylish cinematography from the way many of the interior scenes look as well as the contrast in visual palettes that differentiate the world of white rich places and the ghetto. Editors William A. Sawyer and Edward Warschilka do brilliant work with the editing as it plays to a lot of editing styles from jump-cuts and dazzling montages to play out some of the film‘s humor. Production designer Robert F. Boyle and set decorator John Godfrey do terrific work with the sets from the look of the posh home that Elgar‘s family lives in to the world of Brooklyn that he starts to embrace.

Costume designer Domingo A. Rodriguez does nice work with the costumes from the clothes many of the African-American characters wear to the more posh clothes that Elgar‘s mother wears. Sound editors Marvin I. Kosberg and James Richard do wonderful work with the sound from the chaos in some of the big group scenes to the more intimate moments that occur between characters. The film’s music by Al Kooper features a wonderful mixture of folk, soul, and rock to play up the energy and dramatic elements of the film as the soundtrack itself features music from Lorraine Ellison and the Staple Singers who collaborate with Kooper in the opening song.

The casting by Lynn Stalmaster is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some noteworthy small roles from Susan Anspach as Elgar’s very liberal sister Susan, Will Mackenzie as Elgar’s buttoned-up older brother, Walter Brooke as Elgar’s more conservative father, Douglas Grant as Fanny’s son Walter Gee, Stanley Greene as the Enders family butler Heywood, and Mel Stewart as the Afro-centric Professor Dubois. Louis Gossett Jr. is wonderful as the conflicted activist Copee who thinks he’s also a Native American as he becomes more unhinged. Marki Bey is very good as the light-skinned, mixed-race young dancer Lanie who dates Elgar as she deals with his immaturity. Diana Sands is terrific as Fanny who has a tryst with Elgar while dealing with her own issues in her tumultuous family life.

Pearl Bailey is great as the middle-aged Marge who shows Elgar around the building and almost become a mother of sorts for him as she also meets Elgar’s mother in a superb scene. Lee Grant is amazing as Elgar’s mother Joyce who tries to deal with her son’s new life as well as the world he’s in as it’s a very complex role to a woman who really doesn’t understand the world of the ghetto while trying to make sense of what her son is doing. Finally, there’s Beau Bridges in a marvelous performance as Elgar Enders as a young man eager to start a life of his own as he later deals with his new surroundings while getting a big understanding on what he has to do to become an adult as well as embrace his new life.

The Landlord is an excellent debut film from Hal Ashby that features a terrific Beau Bridges in the lead role. Along with superb supporting performances from Lee Grant and Pearl Bailey, the film is an engaging future about a young man entering a new world and embracing his new surroundings while rebelling against the privileged lifestyle he once lived in. For those new to Ashby, this film is a good start though his subsequent films in the 70s are better introductions. In the end, The Landlord is a brilliant film from Hal Ashby.

Hal Ashby Films: Harold and Maude - The Last Detail - Shampoo - Bound for Glory - Coming Home - Being There - Second-Hand Hearts - (Lookin’ to Get Out) - (Let’s Spend the Night Together) - (Solo Trans) - (The Slugger’s Wife) - 8 Million Ways to Die

© thevoid99 2012

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