860,000 feet of raw footage. This is a short review of a big movie.
“Giant” is what it is, so take it or leave it: a ridiculously oversized 1950s soap opera epic. It’s big to the point of being obscene, tedious hours long, often stilted and inaccessible, and monstrously over-scored. Stiff cameras look over huge vistas and process shots in 35mm that wants to be 70mm. Men come in from hours in the dust with mousse-drenched hair while women cake themselves in makeup. Spurs are worn indoors. The young people we meet at the beginning are grandparents at the end and I’m sure some kid gets fatally thrown by a horse. (Is there any movie besides “Barry Lyndon” where this doesn’t feel contrived?) Replace Egypt with the big sky country in Texas, replace the Exodus with the oil boom in the early part of the 20th century, give pharaoh a pompadour, and replace Yul Brynner with James Dean, and it’s basically “The Ten Commandments.”
Based on the doorstop by Edna Ferber, not to be confused with adult film star Edna Ferberger, we watch Central Texas—the part without hills or grass—as it goes from ranch land to oil land. Much in the same way a certain other Southern epic uses a drawn-out runtime to emphasize the passage of history, the change of social mores, and the young becoming old and a bit confused, so does this film. Our eyes belong to the Benedicts, an old family of rancher aristocrats. The favored son, Bick Benedict, (Rock Hudson) brings back an Eastern bride (Elizabeth Taylor), who shares an unacknowledged attraction with a dinghy cowhand named Jett Rink (Dean). Nothing ever comes of the attraction, but it gives a subtext to the class-based antagonism between Bick and Jet. Taylor comes along with all kinds of far-out ideas that make the Texans uncomfortable, like not shuttin’ the hell up just ‘cuz her man says fer her to.
Let me just type that again: “Bick Benedict.” “Jett Rink.” Wow.
Jet becomes drenched in money when he becomes drenched in crude. We love and hate Dean as Jet—he steals the show, and it was his final show—as he gives the entitled their comeuppance. He eventually sinks into drunken, empty wealth, envious of Bick for having the woman he loves, nasty to Mexicans because insecure ex-poor people tend to be mean to current poor people to emphasize the difference. His method acting, which consists of a lot of talking into his chest, is the way of the future, just like the oil. The star system of Hudson and Taylor is the obsolete cattle of the past.
“Giant” also explores how the rich man’s financial humbling at the hands of a former cowhand helps him to overcome his racial prejudices. It’s pretty satisfying to watch his ass get kicked in defense of his half-Mexican grandson in a diner. The movie throws around the phrase “wetback” a whole lot and the movie Mexicans are either white guys in brown face or the result of cinematographers who aren’t used to other skin tones.
Dean is joined by his “Rebel Without a Cause” alum Dennis Hopper as one of Hudson’s sons. The movie has been called “The National Movie of Texas” by some Texans, but my money’s on “Days of Heaven.” Yeah, what a shock, I like art movies.
Finished Thursday, June 16th, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Friday & Saturday Night
What do you think of Giant
Share your opinions on our forum