Monday, June 23, 2008

Film #46: Coal Miner's Daughter

Sissy Spacek rightfully won an Oscar for her portrayal of country music legend Loretta Lynn in this smartly-produced bio-pic directed by British filmmaker Michael Apted (the man behind the 7 Up series of documentaries). The film follows her from her life as the oldest of a brood of kids belonging to a Kentucky coal miner and his wife, to her marriage at 14 to a self-assured WWII vet named Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones, in a performance equal to Spacek's) who lovingly guides her to success as the most popular female country singer/songwriter of all time.

 It's a perfect bio-pic in that it covers only a small portion of Lynn's life, but it really hits the stratosphere because it chooses to focus on the love affair the Lynns shared together, rather than the usual music bio trappings--you know, drugs, affairs, that sort of thing (which do make small appearances here, I must admit). With the two leads at the top of their game, it's easy to believe we witnessing one of the greatest partnerships ever, filled with passion and respect. Spacek is completely believeable as both a 13- year-old and a 30-year-old woman (the makeup and hairstyling here is a very important element, though); I find her incredibly adorable in this film, particularly the scene where she makes her stage debut singing "There He Goes" at a local honky tonk. Photographed in a smoky haze by Ralf Bode, this is my absolute favorite scene in the movie, because we get the whole story here: Loretta's nervousness, Doo's confidence, and then Loretta's willingness to be the great performer she is.

Levon Helm, the former lead singer and drummer for The Band, makes a lasting impression as Loretta's stern but loving father (Helm would go on to do a few more roles, most notably as Chuck Yeager's second in The Right Stuff, but we haven't gotten nearly enough on-screen action from this amazingly natural performer). And Beverly D'Angelo also excels as Loretta's best friend Patsy Cline. Both Spacek and D'Angelo did their own singing for the film, and did so superbly (D'Angelo used to be the lead singer for a rock band back in the late 60s, and Spacek had released a solo album three years before Coal Miner's Daughter was shot, so they were both well-prepared). For die-hard country fans, the film even has cameos by Grand Ole Opry staples Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl. Nominated for seven additional Oscars including Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Editing and Sound, Coal Miner's Daughter is a must for all fans of great music and great filmmaking.

Here, we have Sissy Spacek performing the title song, with the actor playing her father, Levon Helm, at the drums. This is transcendent.

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