August: Osage County (2013): The movie

The following blurb appears for August: Osage County (2008) (the book) at the Toronto Public Library website:

Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

“A tremendous achievement in American playwriting: a tragicomic populist portrait of a tough land and a tougher people.”— Time Out New York

“Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County is what O’Neill would be writing in 2007. Letts has recaptured the nobility of American drama’s mid-century heyday while still creating something entirely original.” — New York magazine

One of the most bracing and critically acclaimed plays in recent Broadway history, August: Osage County is a portrait of the dysfunctional American family at its finest—and absolute worst. When the patriarch of the Weston clan disappears one hot summer night, the family reunites at the Oklahoma homestead, where long-held secrets are unflinchingly and uproariously revealed. The three-act, three-and-a-half-hour mammoth of a play combines epic tragedy with black comedy, dramatizing three generations of unfulfilled dreams and leaving not one of its thirteen characters unscathed. After its sold-out Chicago premiere, the play has electrified audiences in New York since its opening in November 2007.

Tracy Letts is the author of Killer Joe, Bug, and Man from Nebraska, which was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His plays have been performed throughout the country and internationally. A performer as well as a playwright, Letts is a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where August: Osage County premiered.

[End of blurb from Toronto Public Library website]

Reflections regarding August: Osage County

You can find reviews of August: Osage County (2013) (the movie) through a Google search.

I attended a theatrical screening of the movie recently and am pleased, as a former reviewer – for Cinema Canada from 1975 to 1980 – and currently as a Ryerson film student, to share my reflections.

By way of a digression: An early article – in fact, the first – that I wrote for Cinema Canada addresses the dynamics of film schools; it makes for enjoyable reading – even now close to forty years later:


Some of the text, maybe a line or two, is missing from the PDF of the above-noted Cinema Canada article. It may have been missing from the original article. The proofreading, as I recall, was a little spotty. This was before the days when you sent in your work as an electronic file. Instead, you submitted a typewritten manuscript, which was then retyped by the magazine. You never knew if your text would appear in some kind of intact state when the magazine was published. Often it did but sometimes it didn’t.

The fact the magazine kept going for as long as it did is an achievement and I’m pleased that archival copies are available including online.

Writing for the magazine – and meeting interesting and intriguing people and doing countless interviews – was a great experience. Much of what little I know about writing, aside from what a person learns in university, I learned when I began writing for Cinema Canada. In those years I met a good number of young English-language filmmakers who subsequently made significant contributions to the television and film industry in Canada and elsewhere. I also met some of the older, well established figures in the industry. Film is such a great form of entertainment reaching and engaging so many people on so many levels.

[End of digression]

A key feature of August: Osage County (2013) is that some things are told quickly. Consider the suicide at the start of the movie. You see the water as viewed from below. The camera is filming from within the water looking up toward the surface. You see the empty boat. You see the cars from the sheriff’s department at the edge of the water. You see quick close-up shots of the undressing of the body – shots of bits of clothing, close-ups of the victim’s hands – after its recovery, and the dressing of the body in preparation for the funeral. This aspect of the story is told quickly. The information is telegraphed leaving much for the viewer to fill in.

The rest of the film is a glossary of family dynamics and regional history. Describing the family as dysfunctional doesn’t tell you much, in my view. Two of the leading characters are alcohol and drugs. Meat processing and linguistics, and processes of domination, marginalization, linguistics, and pragmatics – pragmatics of communication as in the structuring of conversations – and how social interactions are conducted, are explored. The movie serves its key purpose, which is to enable the viewer to experience a mind vacation.

IMBd ratings

August: Osage County (2013) has an IMBd rating of 7.4 which compares to a rating of 6.2 for Cowboys and Aliens (2011), 8.2 for The Maltese Falcon (1941), and 8.2 for Notorious (1946). Each of the latter three movies are available as DVDs from the the Toronto Public Library.

Cowboys and Aliens (2011) isn’t a particularly successful film but from a film student’s perspective, as I’ve noted in an earlier post, it warrants close study – in particular with regard to what it takes for a movie to engender a voluntary suspension of disbelief as the story unfolds.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) is a remarkably engaging film, in my experience. Since viewing the movie, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the author of The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett and about crime fiction as a genre. The latter genre overlaps with an equally interesting one, namely crime non-fiction. Both genres are closely related, from what I can gather, to military history.

A novel by Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939), has strongly engaged my interest as well.


2 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Colleen O’Marra writes:

    Re: The Maltese Falcon…Another fascinating aspect of John Huston’s
    film was his discovery of a great stage actor who, in his
    sixties,stole the picture as Caspar Gutman(aka FatMan) Sidney
    Greenstreet was acting in a local play which Huston attended. He knew
    this was Gutman.It would be Greenstreet’s first film and what a
    performance.Warners took full advantage of this rather late discovery
    and worked the actor incredibly hard with back to back
    films.(including one of the greatest films ever made, Casablanca) His
    diabetes caught up with him and he soon retired. (C. O’Marra)

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    That’s an interesting detail! These are great films – The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942). So many roles and contributions come together with great films – the script, the actors, the director, the cinematographer, the sound recordist, the producer, the editor, the financial backers, and so many other resources – including the audiences – the paying customers – for whom the films are destined.


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