Viewer Guide: The Way We Were and Stronger

October 23, 2020 | Richard Peña

REEL 13 CLASSIC | THE WAY WE WERE

The Way We Were (1973)

This week’s classic is The Way We Were, the 1973 romantic drama written by Arthur Laurents and directed by Sydney Pollack.

The Hollywood blacklist era, dominated by the House Un-American Activities Committee’s anti-communist “witch hunt,” was the most devastating political crisis in the history of the American film industry. Officially extending from 1947 to 1960, the blacklist ruined scores of careers, and caused untold personal damage to friendships, marriages and families. We’ll also never know all the great movies—or at least the better movies—that the world was deprived of as a result of those terrible years that turned old friends and colleagues into informers and enemies. Yet for an industry that loves to make movies about itself, only a handful of feature films have been produced that incorporate the blacklist into a “behind-the-camera” storyline.

One of the most prominent, and one of the first, of those films is tonight’s presentation, The Way We Were. Opening in New York City in the midst of World War II, the film chronicles the star-crossed romance of Katie Morosky and Hubbell Gardiner, two 1930s college classmates who unexpectedly re-encounter each other at a wartime Manhattan nightclub. While they may have attended the same college, the couple, as played by Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, are polar opposites: Katie is a passionately committed Jewish Marxist, constantly fighting for the working class; while Hubbell, is a privileged golden boy, coasting through life on family wealth and cynically detached from the world’s troubles. So of course it seems obvious that two people could not be more ill-suited for each other—except that Hubbell also happens to be a talented writer, an artistic gift that Katie initially regards with jealousy before deciding to accept Hubbell’s literary promise. Soon after they re-connect in New York, Katie’s interest in Hubbell starts to move past his literary gifts. But as the unlikely couple enters the postwar period, with Hubbell’s career leading them to the clubby world of Hollywood, the blacklist era begins to emerge, steadily creating an increasing strain on the original fault lines in Katie and Hubbell’s relationship.

Also featured in supporting roles are Bradford Dillman, Lois Chiles, Patrick O’Neal, Viveca Lindfors and James Woods in an early film role as a fellow member of Katie’s Young Communist League.

The Way We Were screenwriter Arthur Laurents’ relationship with Barbra Streisand dated back to 1962, when he cast the-then 19 year-old aspiring singer and actress in her first Broadway show, I Can Get It for You Wholesale. Trying to devise a new movie project for her nearly 10 years later in 1971, Laurents remembered a politically passionate classmate from his alma mater Cornell University, the president of the university’s Young Communist League with the prescient name of Fanny Price. From there Laurents created the character of Katie Morosky, weaving in other characters and incidents from his college days as well as his career in Hollywood to write an extensive treatment that was enthusiastically received by Streisand and producer Ray Stark. While there was initial discussion of Ryan O’Neal to play golden boy Hubbell Gardiner, Streisand’s off-screen relationship with O’Neal had cooled by the time casting got underway. Impressed with his work on They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Laurents suggested Sydney Pollack to direct, with Pollack’s old friend Robert Redford fast becoming everyone’s first choice to play Hubbell. Redford initially resisted, feeling the role was too thin and secondary to make sense for him, yet after much persuasion he finally agreed.

Now, with more cooks now in the kitchen, work continued on the script, but the surfeit of opinions led to the ironic outcome of Laurents being fired off the project, and a parade of eleven writers brought in to make revisions, including such illustrious names as Alvin Sargent, Paddy Chayefsky, Herb Gardner and actual blacklist survivor Dalton Trumbo. Now faced with a disjointed script that nobody liked, Pollack asked Laurents to return to the project, which he did—but only for a hefty fee. Once in production, Pollack then had to contend with the opposing techniques of his stars: Streisand liked to discuss her character in depth, but Redford did not, concerned it would undermine spontaneity. Yet despite the production challenges, the chemistry of the two stars surmounted it all, with Pauline Kael famously quipping in her review in The New Yorker that the film was like “…a torpedoed ship full of gaping holes which comes snugly into port.” A box office hit that has remained beloved by audiences for almost five decades, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Actress for Streisand, with Marvin Hamlisch’s score and theme song with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman taking home the year’s Oscar statuettes. In addition to becoming a #1 hit, Streisand’s recording “The Way We Were” went on to be one the leading signature songs of her career.

REEL 13 INDIE | STRONGER

Stronger (2017)

Tonight’s indie is Stronger, a 2017 biographical drama about Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, directed by David Gordon Green.

Adapted from Jeff Bauman’s 2014 memoir, Stronger stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Bauman, an affable “regular guy” working at a Boston-area Costco and living with his mother Patty, played by Miranda Richardson. Jeff is somewhat adrift after a recent breakup with his girlfriend Erin, played by Tatiana Maslany, who had ended their relationship after becoming disillusioned with Jeff’s seeming inability to commit to building a future together. But when Jeff re-encounters Erin at a local bar, he’s struck by her dedication to run in the Boston Marathon as a fundraiser for the hospital where she works. Jeff spontaneously decides to help Erin secure more pledges, and promises to be waiting for her at the marathon’s Boylston Street finish line. True to his word, on April 15, 2013, Jeff is in the crowd of well-wishers cheering the runners on…when out of the corner of his eye, he notices something strange about a solitary figure in the commotion. In an instant, Jeff’s life is changed forever, losing both his legs in the terrorist bomb attack that would kill three people and injure some 260 others. But beyond his grueling recovery and traumatic adjustment to coping with his disability, Jeff discovers the biggest challenge is in learning how to break through his psychological isolation and become the actual hero that everyone wants to believe he already is.

Jeff Bauman’s compelling story first captured national attention with a riveting news photograph that powerfully conveyed the utter horror of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. To prepare for his performance, Jake Gyllenhaal spent considerable time bonding with Bauman, with the pair forming a warm friendship that greatly enriched Gyllenhaal’s powerful performance. Director David Gordon Green’s convincing recreation of Bauman’s story even extended to casting some of Bauman’s actual medical team in their real-life roles, including the Martino brothers who created Bauman’s prosthetic legs. Jeff Bauman and Erin Hurley’s daughter Nora was born in July 2014. Eventually returning to his job at the Costco deli counter, Bauman also went back to school to study engineering.

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