American Auteurs: Robert Mulligan March 18 - 25, 2009
Robert Mulligan, who passed away just before Christmas at the age of 83, worked his way up from messenger boy at CBS to director, and he was one of the pioneering figures in live dramatic television. He made his feature film debut in the late ’50s and established himself over the years as one of the most gifted and visually expressive filmmakers in American cinema. “Things have to sift through me,” Mulligan said. “That’s me up there on the screen. The shooting, the editing, the use of music—all that represents my attitude toward the material.” Taken altogether, his work amounts to a vivid and totalizing vision.
Mulligan’s most fondly remembered film, To Kill a Mockingbird, has become a deserved classic, but his overall body of work is one of the most distinguished we have. He was a master of what critic Fred Camper called “the emotionalization of space,” the careful orchestration of behavior, distance, recurring movement, light, and shadow so that his characters’ emotional lives bloom into vivid life, all the while staying rooted in an extremely personal sense of place. From the children in Mockingbird (small-town Alabama) to Jason Miller’s paranoid small-timer in The Nickel Ride (the meanest streets of Los Angeles), from Lee Remick’s quietly observant wife and mother in Baby the Rain Must Fall (rural Texas) to a young Reese Witherspoon in her first movie and the director’s last, receiving a series of harsh life lessons in The Man in the Moon (the Louisiana countryside of 1957), Mulligan fashioned an unforgettable gallery of people and places.
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This selection of Mulligan’s work inaugurates AMERICAN AUTEURS, a year-long celebration of some of our greatest artists through retrospective series at The Film Society. And stay tuned for our Natalie Wood show in May, when we’ll be showing two more Mulligan films: Love with the Proper Stranger and Inside Daisy Clover.