|THE ART OF JUSTICE|
December 4, 1998
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The film director Alan Pakula died recently in a freak accident while driving on the Long Island Expressway. For a while people will remember the way that Pakula died. But much for a much longer while, they will remember his work and hits quality.Among the films he directed, produced, or both, are "All The President's Men," "Sophie's Choice," "The Sterile Cuckoo," "Up The Down Staircase," "Presumed Innocent," "Klute," and "To Kill A Mockingbird."
To know Alan was to love and admire him. I never heard him express an unkind thought, though he could double you over in laughter and be astonishingly penetrating in his analysis of human nature. The body of his work centered on individual psychology but always in a particular circumstance. Alan was concerned with justice. He wanted justice to be done. Justice is only sought by the very best people. And for that alone he wins a special place in films and everywhere else.
One surveys Pakula's work then to see what he thought about justice, how many varieties of justice touched him, and, in the end, what justice means to art. "To Kill A Mockingbird" puts the theme front and center. A black man, wrongly accused in a white courtroom - the quest for justice there is stark, urgent, if fairly uncomplicated - as it is in "All The President's Men," a detective story with justice as the goal. "Presumed Innocent" turns justice on its side, suggests how elusive it can be. The innocent are guilty, yet not. The guilty are not guilty, yet not innocent either.
In "Sophie's Choice" the sense of guilt is overwhelming. Sophie chooses between the life of her little boy or her little girl, an unjust problem. (scene with children crying) But justice cannot be done anyway because the Nazis murdered justice to create the choice. Justice - blatant - murky - impossible. Justice for one, for all, in the courtroom, or in the eyes of God - the subject is immense, yet also the size of a person's mind.
If you ask people what most brings them to tears, either of rage or of pain, it is injustice. What should be right is not right. This was Pakula's subject. To make art of it, however, takes a gift and a point of view. One must believe that the world was meant to be righted, even when it is wholly out of whack.
The movie "Klute" had as its outer plot the serial killings of a deranged businessman, but its inner story, the one that made the film, was that of the prostitute Brie, played remarkably by Jane Fonda, who could not get her life right. One only cares about Brie, because one believes that she deserved better. And to make us feel that, Pakula had to have us understand how unright, unjust life could be.
JANE FONDIA SINGING: We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing …
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The art of justice in the film consisted of pitting Brie's body against her soul, and then to make us root for the soul. To accomplish that, one first had to make judgments about good and evil and clearly Pakula did this in films. There was absolute evil - Nazis, racists, serial killers. And there was everyone else in moral struggle. Looking at his work, one senses that Pakula new moral struggle in his bones. The best people usually do. When a man dies, a civilization dies. The poet, Milos, wrote something like that. But when an artist dies, something of his civilization remains. Thus with Pakula. I read that during a shooting he would playfully take off his shoe and hop on one foot if he approved of a performance and on two feet if he thought the performance deserved the deepest admiration. Two hops, Alan.
I'm Roger Rosenblatt.