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PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: “Waking the Dead” Alive with Love and Loss

PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: "Waking the Dead" Alive with Love and Loss

PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: "Waking the Dead" Alive with Love and Loss

by Ray Pride


Death’s not the tragedy, it’s the forgetting.

That’s one of the many thoughts in Keith Gordon’s grand, impassioned
romance, “Waking the Dead.” While it would never attain the
stratospheric box office of “Titanic,” it has the courage to remember
that even the unhappiest endings can show us how to be happy ourselves.

(l-r) ‘Waking the Dead’ star Jennifer
Connelly, executive producer Jodie Foster, and star
Billy Cudrup.

Credit: Takashi Seida

Here are the first demands of commerce upon romance in motion pictures:
two pretty people must beam at one another. Billy Crudup and Jennifer
suit that. The exchange of glances as Fielding Pierce (Crudup)
walks into his hippie brother, Danny’s publishing office in 1972 and
catches first sight of Danny’s activist assistant Sarah Williams
(Connelly) is to die for: widened eyes nervously darting, Crudup almost
smirking, Connelly’s smile shyly advancing, lip catching, tickling just
above her large white teeth. Whatever Gordon gets right, it is in the
patience to capture particulars like this. (Gordon even manages to
capture one of the few righteous simultaneous orgasm scenes I can think
of, in a way that neither embarrasses nor titillates.)

The first night they’ve met, he’s urgent, she’s reluctant. “C’mon, can’t
we think of this as a wartime romance,” the Coast Guard uniform-wearing
Fielding jokes, toying with a thick strand of her long volume of hair.
The next day, there is a splendid shot of her unbroken stare at him, as
she lies modestly under her covers, watching him tie his four-in-hand,
reflected in her full-length mirror. There is another scene where she
has filched a black t-shirt of Fielding’s; separated from him, she wears
it, swaddled in his scent as she lies abed, masturbating. This is epic

Keith Gordon directs Billy Crudup on the set
of ‘Waking the Dead’.

Credit: Takashi Seida

Sarah is a supernally intuitive old soul, gifted with directness. She
wants “a life of unbelievable adventure and profligacy–and at the last
possible moment, sainthood. I want a life that makes sense.” They talk
in this stark and open way and it is wonderful. They seem foolish only
in their ingenuous longing for endless love.

Romance begins as a desire to elevate another: this person is good and
attractive and strike some spark inside me. Then it grows. “I want to be
good,” you might only think, and Crudup manages, later in the film, to
shyly but bluntly make these words from Fielding to his father hit

Fielding wants to hit all the stepping stones necessary to redeem his
working class family’s dreams: D.A. and Senator and ideally —
idealistically, President. Yet this is earnestness as virtue, not
suffocating self-righteousness. Fielding and Sarah, like the movie, have
found the great questions and are only beginning to imagine the answers
when Sarah’s life is cut short. Gordon preserves much of Scott Spencer’s
1986 novel, including the shuffling of time, like regret in Fielding’s
memory as he is on the campaign trail a decade later. The budget is
limited, and title cards are necessary to indicate the different eras.

But the performances elevate “Waking the Dead” above most of my
quibbles. Throughout, the acting is deliciously individuated — Stanley
Anderson makes a marvelous impression in a few scenes as Fielding’s
father — and that is the great accomplishment of the film. Its flaws
come from unrelenting ambition on a limited budget, not from the scale
of its heart.

Crudup and Connelly are simply great. The intensity is incandescent
throughout all the trappings of the plot, their young love registering
with the bold ache of a dream, where every instant is contained in every
other instant and there is only a piercing sensation that cries out for
life. Gordon has joked in the past that his real job is raising money,
and that making movies is only his hobby. We could use a few more
dilettantes like him.

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