The film IRONWEED, adapted for the screen by William Kennedy from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, will be shown on Friday, December 9, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. in Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, on the University at Albany downtown campus. The screening is a 30th anniversary celebration of its filming in Albany, NY. Prior to the screening at 6:30 p.m. Kennedy will offer film commentary and reminiscences of the film's production. The celebration will also include raffle giveaways and a reception following the screening.
The New York State Writers Institute dedicates an evening to the 30th anniversary of major motion picture IRONWEED, filmed on-location in Albany and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by famed local Albany author William Kennedy. Just prior to the screening, Kennedy will give commentary on the production, which involved adapting his novel for the screen alongside director Hector Babenco, enlisting Jack Nicholson (Billy Phelan) and Meryl Streep (Helen Archer) to bring his characters to life, and returning parts of Albany to their Depression-era appearance. Remarking on the book's original release in 1983, the Wall Street Journal said that Kennedy's "power is such that the reader will follow him almost anywhere, to the edge of tragedy and back again to redemption." The film, which garnered Best Actor and Actress Oscar nominations for Nicholson and Streep, summons great performances to convey a similar power to the viewer. Janet Maslin of The New York Times said that Jack Nicholson gave "a fine performance, very true to the burned-out quality of a man confronting his own failures" and dubbed IRONWEED "a bleakly handsome, extremely well-acted film." Regarding Nicholson's co-star Meryl Streep, Maslin said that she "uses the role of Helen as an opportunity to deliver a stunning impersonation of a darty-eyed, fast-talking woman of the streets, an angry, obdurate woman with great memories and no future."
Kennedy worked closely with Brazilian director Hector Babenco to transport his vision from the page to the screen. Roger Ebert noted that the pairing produced a movies whose "visual look is heightened realism....a movie of moods, locales, and voices."
Credit for the visual landscape of the film belongs also to Albany and its real-life citizens. In February-May of 1987 local carpenters were enlisted to turn Lark Street around Orange and Sheridan, and Broadway and Livingston, as well as some of the brownstones on Clinton Ave. into Albany circa 1901 - 1930. This involved digging to find the old trolley tracks, casting calls at the SUNY campus, and filling a barroom with local extras to shoot the famous scene in which down-in-the-dumps Helen imagines herself singing beautifully to a finely-attired crowd.
In an interview with Robert Blau that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Kennedy explained the importance of filming in Albany: "The movie just belongs here. This is where it happened. This is where the strength of that world exists. There is some psychological substance that comes out. I don't know what it is, but I feel it. Also there are a lot of places that look the way they did. You can't get that in North Carolina."
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