As “Sometimes a Great Notion” turns 50, it’s worth revisiting the Stampers and Oregon’s role in the film.
While Ken Kesey is Sometimes a great notion Perhaps considered Oregon’s quintessential novel, its 1971 film adaptation is more like a forgotten little brother.
With Flight over a cuckoo’s nest (based on another Kesey novel, of course) ranking as one of the most famous film productions in the state, only those devotees of Oregon film history or 70s cinema probably remember much of it. Notion the film. That, or maybe Paul Newman bought your uncle a beer in Newport in the summer of 1970, according to the countless alcohol stories surrounding the making of the movie.
Fifty years old this month, this drama directed by Paul Newman unveils the pathological seeds of the Stamper clan, a family of loggers in the fictional coastal enclave of Wakonda, Oregon. The Stampers have turned their teeth in the face of a wood strike, and one only needs to look at the family motto – “never give an inch” – to see why they’ll keep cutting, damn it.
The film opens as if swept landward by the Pacific, an aerial shot combing the central Oregon coastline as country music pioneer Charley Pride sings the gospel sentiments of ” All his children “. As the establishment shots progress, they rarely get any more amazing, but we immediately see the film veer in its own tonal direction. In Kesey’s opus, the setting and the style are torrential. In the space of one page, the reader will be able to immerse themselves in three chronologies of genealogy and perspective with unfilmable fluidity. Meanwhile, Kesey bestows on the nature of Oregon an almost alien power to inspire and infuriate the Stampers.
By comparison, much of the film’s vibe is almost casual, as if the production can’t help but be impressed by its own wealth of talent, sources, and locations. Nature is conventionally majestic. The Stamper House, built by Universal Studios on the Siletz River near Kernville, is more attractive than the novel’s half-drowned monument to stubbornness. Composer Henry Mancini’s bluegrass score practically frills, while Newman’s irrepressible charms give Hank Stamper a fair bit of irascibility, as he cuts union offices in half and essentially leaves Wakonda to rot during the strike. In addition, we can feel from classical and pictorial cinema why Notion escaped lasting fame compared to other 1971 films, which saw The French connection, Klute, Tree and A clockwork orange help shape the new Hollywood aesthetic with trendy and provocative urban settings. (Alright, it didn’t stop Notion to be the first movie ever to air on HBO in 1972.)
Or Sometimes a great notion unequivocally prosperous, however, is by livening up the dynamic of the Stamper family, drenched in Olympia lager and maple syrup at 4.30am. In a plaster cast that keeps his broken arm 90 degrees to his body, Henry Fonda unforgettable eyeing and mocking the family’s influential patriarch, Henry. Then, in an Oscar-nominated spin as the cousin and cheerleader of the Joe Ben family, Richard Jaeckel’s sunny disposition perfectly masks the film’s shocking conclusion. Michael Sarrazin excels as the hippie black sheep brother Leland re-entering the orbit of his distant family. And Lee Remick as Viv is incredibly nostalgic as Hank’s wife realizing that she is the true underdog of the crew.
Across five stellar performances, Oregon’s survivalism seems as spiritual as it is illogical. As Kesey’s novel puts it, they are the descendants of men with “itchy feet”, who migrated further and further into the wilds of the West, in pursuit of a pasture of a hue. imperceptibly greener. Even though the film portrays their anti-social tendencies more as a source than a curse, the logging scenes bear witness to their work as a terrifying religion. We see school bus-length trees hand-pulled down and pulled up mountains, and Quentin Tarantino called the film’s logging accident one of the best single movie scenes from the early ’70s. Immediately before, a thrilling montage of clearcuts shows the Stampers participating in an Olympic feat of tradition, challenge and gluttony.
No matter how handsome Paul Newman is, one need only remember the origins of the book and the film title – “Good Night, Irene” by Lead Belly – to remember the suicidal tendency that deepens and condemns every glorious spectacle that the film can bring together.
“Sometimes I live in the countryside / Sometimes I live in the city / Sometimes I have a good idea / to jump in the river… and drown. “
SEE : Sometimes a great notion streams on Amazon Prime and YouTube. You can also rent it at Movie Madness, 4320 SE Belmont St., 503-234-4363, moviemadness.org.