When I first heard the Black Crowes’ debut recording Shake Your Money Maker (American Recordings, 1990) I thought, “Wow, this is great.” I listened to the album many more times and began to wonder where I had heard this before. I put on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones, 1971) and things began to clear up. When I put on The Faces’ A Nod is as Good as a Wink (Warner Bros., 1971), all doubt was gone. Add Humble Pie, Bad Finger, and Eric Burdon and the Animals to the mix and there is nothing new about the Black Crowes, Only an an update to remind me when the real music was. Doesn’t mean that the Black Crowes are bad, only derivative.
I watched August: Osage County (Smokehouse Pictures, 2013) and had the same feeling as I had hearing the Black Crowes…where had I experienced this story before? I immediately downloaded Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1956), read it in one sitting and had my answer. The story of Beverly and Violet Weston and their three daughters is the same as that of O’Neill’s doomed Tyrone family: a descending arc of unrequited intelligence, dissolution, chemical dependency, dysfunction and hopelessness. While both stories are told with a sinuewy, taut control, film better captures the finer dynamics and granularity of this arc, providing for a more realistic cohesion while adding post-modern irony and black humor.
It escapes me how Sandra Bullock (Gravity), fine actor as she is, could have shared the same Academy Award nomination for Best Actress as Kate Blanchett (winner - Blue Jasmine), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Dame Judi Dench (Philomina), much less with Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Violet Weston, a performance more nuanced than that required of O’Neill’s Mary Tyrone, but I do not chide a masterpiece, Streep’s performance along with those of Julia Roberts (Barbara Weston-Fordham) and Julianne Nicholson (Ivy Weston) were exceptional as was that of Margo Martindale (Mattie Fae Aiken, Violet’s sister). These actors captured perfectly the multigenerational dysfunction that was de rigueur of 1980s chemical dependency theory and treatment infusing it with the dark comedy that accompanies such a circumstance.
But like A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, August: Osage County ends on a negative note, though the film does define a well understood entropy where O’Neill’s play defies such, remaining in a static decay.