Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Right Stuff. A

Besides its obvious historical importance, The Right Stuff seems to be about men longing to fulfill their personal ambition of greatness. Not greatness in the eye of the public, but personal greatness that amounts to them being satisfied by their success. This comes through clearly in the best scene right at the end of the movie. Most of the pilots, having found their success (though one could say Dennis Quaid's Gordon Cooper isn't quite there yet), are sitting back at a celebratory Texas barbeque and watching a sensuous dancer glide around a stage, light like a bird, reflecting the feeling of the men. They sit back with their wives and, exchanging smiling glances with one another, suggest a complete contentment and sense of accomplishment. Director Philip Kaufman intercuts this scene with one of pilot Chuck Yeager testing a new hybrid rocket and risking his life to set a new altitude record. An accident occurs and he just escapes the jet, burned, bleeding, and suddenly a part of the group NASA pilots who have also risked their lives in their quest for personal fulfillment. The title relates to what it takes to get this done, and the movie shows us with great spirit, enthusiasm, fervor. I suppose the best thing about The Right Stuff is how little it surrenders to formula. The way the movie relates the stress of the pilots' wives felt a little obvious, and there are a few speeches that almost seem mandatory in fact-based drama, but for the most part this is a really fresh movie with new ideas and an intrepid approach that makes art and history one and the same. The cast is teeming with great actors, including a surprising turn by Levon Helm (who narrates, minimally, as well). But the first name that should spring to mind when this movie comes up is Kaufman, who took Tom Wolfe's book and turned in a script that, while not original, was fully his own. Kaufman directs with the audacity of Mann or Scorsese, embarking on a fearless three hour excursion that makes history like his own textbook. The Right Stuff was seen as one of the great American films in its early years, and I believe it still deserves such an honorable recognition. There are certain movies to show a foreigner that exemplify the American spirit, why America is great. Foreign Correspondent definitely comes to mind. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be this one.

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