Quiet on the set! for ‘All Is Lost’

One-man and one-woman shows are at home on Broadway and other stages. They’re easy to produce, if not so easy on the actors wielding those 90-minute monologues. But in the movies? One cast member? That’s crazy minimalist for such a dilatant art form.

I won’t officially review All Is Lost — who can top this New York Times treatment, anyway. What he said.

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Thar she blows, just one lonely credit drifting by …

The J.C. Chandor-directed movie is not quite The Old Man and the Sea nor Life of Pi — it’s Robert Redford in a boat hell-bent on self-destruction, proving that he who ends up with the most toys does not necessarily win. Still, amid the deep thematic undertow of this telescopic tale, I had to laugh at the end when the single cast credit rolled. Not often does one see that.

It got me thinking: What other movies dare deal in lone-wolf casting?

Certainly not 1958’s The Old Man and the Sea, which starred Spencer Tracy, a feisty marlin and about 12 bit players including Ernest Hemingway himself (cameo as a tourist ) and his fourth wife (and widow), Mary. Tracy did get an Oscar nomination for his sea crusade, which is more than I can say for Our Man Redford, at age 77 snubbed even worse than Tom Hanks was this year. How many more commanding roles dooyaspose Redford has left in him? He even has to sit idly by while Leo’s The Great Gatsby gets … oh, never mind. That remake nabbed only two nominations, for costume design and production design (the original won for costume design). So as Gatsby the Great, Leo got snubbed just as badly as Redford 40 years ago.

Old man indeed. Tracy’s Old Man was also nominated for best color cinematography (in those days the Academy once broke it down into color and black-and-white — so sorry, Nebraska). It clinched a lone Oscar for score, because in a movie with few other frills, music helps provide much of the thrills.

I never would have dialed up the fatalist feature All Is Lost On Demand if it weren’t for its solo Oscar nomination, for sound editing. I’m soooo glad I did, though. If you want to truly understand what sound editing is all about, plunge into this film.

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Redford had five able-bodied stuntmen standing in for him, but he proved he’s still a pretty able body at 77.

There’s hardly any dialogue. What Redford elicits with his sage, rugged face is a thrumming inner monologue.The lapping waves against the boat’s hull. His fidgeting with ropes and jibs. The rustling of plastic bags, sloshing of water, flapping of the sails, grunts and sighs, probably all of it overlaid in post-production to mask Chandor’s direction. Save for the opening voice-over narration, Redford’s voice isn’t heard until 20 minutes in — an SOS call. And then not again until 1:10, a one-word line beginning with “F.” It’s a wordless wonder, masterfully mixed.

The soundtrack, though, is nothing to write home about —a morose Jaws-tinged theme. But that mix. As shipshape as Redford.

What an achievement. A movie dare that defies formula. The Academy is just getting it all wrong lately.

I asked my friend and movie animal Jon Briggs, another man of few words (spoken, anyway), what other movies have featured just one cast member. I hesitate to say it — because he faithfully reads my blog (when I nudge him) — but the man is a genius. How it went down:

Me: “Hey, Jon, can you think of any movies with just one cast member in them besides Robert Redford’s All Is Lost?”

Jon: “You gonna credit me again in your blog?”

Me: “Mebbe.”

Jon (looking ceiling-ward to activate data sensors, eyes flashing, 20 seconds later): “I think there’s Secret Honor, with that one guy I always get mixed up with Philip Seymour Hoffman [because he goes by three names, starts with Philip, has a face]. … Yeah, I think it was just the one guy. But I never saw it.”

Who does that? Remembers details of a film they’ve never seen? But he’s right, it was Philip Baker Hall, doing a “fictional meditation” of Richard Nixon in a 1984 Robert Altman film. How’d I miss that!? It did win one award: the FIPRESCI Prize from the Forum of New Cinema. Hey, isn’t the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences supposed to represent the arts? Where’s the art? Where’s the science?

Jon’s answer for everything: “I vote for The Counselor.” Not nominated.

But now, in the midst of my Oscar-nominated marathon, I am sidetracked to see Secret Honor. The whole 90-minute shebang is on Hulu, courtesy of The Criterion Collection (part of Jon’s bucket list, and why he hasn’t gotten to it yet — it’s down in the S’s).

Or, SPOILER ALERT, if you’d rather just watch the final scene:

(For other posts featuring Jon Briggs, see:)

Oscar’s snub of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ resurrected (mommytongue.com)

Moonlighting at the movies (mommytongue.com)

Goodbye, Mr. Chipmunk: Pick the best rodent flick (mommytongue.com)