The other night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, George Clooney and Alexander Payne discussed their movie, "The Descendants," and its place among "classic family dramas from Oscars past and present." At least, that's how the American Cinematheque billed the event, and they went to the trouble to put together a five-minute reel featuring clips from "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Ordinary People," "Terms of Endearment," "On Golden Pond" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" that was shown before the film.
Since writer-director Payne had told me in an interview last month that he doesn't see many contemporary American films, as the moderator, I was curious just how much he'd have to say about the movies in question. Short answer: Not a whole lot. He did just see "Kramer vs. Kramer" last year, liked it and noticed some parallels between Dustin Hoffman's suddenly single father and Clooney's "backup parent" in "The Descendants."
Then Payne matter-of-factly mentioned that he'd never watched "Ordinary People," and you could hear a loud gasp from the sold-out audience. "We all have gaps," Payne said, shrugging his shoulders. Just in case you were wondering, he has never seen "Beaches," either. Don't look for these gaps to be closed any time soon. He'd much rather be rewatching an Ozu movie, thank you.
Clooney, the Merry Prankster to Payne's prickly pear, was, naturally, more forthcoming. He remembered being 19 years old and seeing Timothy Hutton in "Ordinary People" and thinking seriously for the first time about an acting career. He marveled at Hoffman's manic French-toast-making scene in "Kramer" and called "Mockingbird" a "profoundly important" film to him on a number of levels.
"Atticus Finch ... there was a reluctance to his heroism that I always loved," Clooney said. "And Gregory Peck was the quintessential leading man."
Clooney was at his Lake Como home in Italy with friends the night Peck died. He rounded up his friends and their kids, led them into his screening room and put on "To Kill a Mockingbird."
"And the minute it came on, all these kids were like, 'Oooow ... God! It's black-and-white!' And they immediately hated it. And I was like, 'Shut the ... up.' But it was great because it took them about 15 minutes to get into the rhythm of it, and by the end, they didn't want the movie to end. They were scared. They were scared of Boo Radley and they were caught up in that story. It's such a compliment to that idea of storytelling really does work. And it's something we can't lose sight of as we move into 3-D and everything else we do."
— Glenn Whipp