Sunday, August 06, 2006


The Front, director Martin Ritt’s 1976 semi-autobiographical chronicle of the dreaded Hollywood blacklist, veteran actor Herschel “Hecky” Brownstein becomes despondent after the government-fueled showbiz deems him an unemployable Communist sympathizer. Larger-than-life Hecky, elegantly embodied by that quintessentially heavyset theatrical powerhouse Zero Mostel, chooses to end his life with the illusion of class and dignity, encapsulated in his own hermetically constructed fantasyland that willfully ignores the totalitarian forces which deprive him of his art. Ritt and cinematographer Michael Chapman capture the final act, a lethal plunge from several stories above street level, in an eerily fluid long take that spares the gritty details without undermining its dreaded inevitability.

Alone in his primp hotel room, Hecky attempts to enjoy bourgeois pleasures before heading to certain death. He presumably falls onto the harsh Manhattan sidewalk, a collision that has its own metaphorical implications, but the camera avoids the jump itself, lingering on an adjacent mirror where Hecky has toasted his reflection and chugged down a bottle of wine before turning away for his fatal dive. The intangible notion of self-imposed elitism seems eternally sustained in the mirror—until it isn’t. After Hecky leaps away, the shot buoyantly pans to the gaping sill, covered by a billowing curtain unhindered by another death in a world devoid of miracles.

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