Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – dir.Martin Scorsese, 1974

When we begin with a young Alice, the screen is soaking red. The opening titles suggest a silky smooth fifties romp, something involving whisky swigging cigar smoking men, and teary loose lipped broads running away from the hell of it all.  Then out comes Alice, just like Dorothy Gale, swathed in her ruby red. So intense is the colour it’s as though a sunset is fit to burst. It’s a pretty emotive beginning and it lets us know that this Alice is both a charming little dreamer and someone who clings to song. Song is as much the identity of Alice the outsider on her bridge, as the Prairie home on the hill is America’s, and she will never let it go.  When we next meet her, the red has faded and the screen widens to birth America. This is New Mexico, its hot and sticky with seductively sprawling highways, screaming at her to exit.  Alice has an irascible distant husband (Billy Green Bush), and a mischievous bespectacled boy (Alfred Lutter).  Pretty soon her husband is killed in a freak accident.  Its not clear whether what happens next is born from quiet relief or grief, but Alice (Ellen Burstyn) is spurred to move on, she takes to the road with her boy, bound for Monterey, California.  On the road with Alice, the scene cuts a little quickly, a little awkwardly, but it fits somehow with her nerves, after all, she’s leaving home.  The photography and music flood, gushing into scenes of sprawling dusty highways, mountain topped Americana at its most fleeting and nonchalant. We’re unsure whether to like this place or that as Alice and her son check into some cheap motels along the way. She soon meets a smooth talking low-life wife beater  (Harvey Keitel) who scares her and her son back onto the road again.  All the while we fleetingly glimpse her life ambition, she has a voice, she wants to sing, and so Robert Getchell gives her a shot at the American songbook.  With her fingers on the piano her quiet voice lets us know, ‘the clothes you’re wearing were the clothes you wore’, and from then on we know she is awaiting her deliverance.  When Alice gets a job as a waitress and can’t sing anymore, her frustrations become apparent, and the whole world seems to be a diner full of short-fused poor-tippers.  She meets David (Kris Kristofferson) who for the first time offers her a man seemingly without wife beating inclinations and perhaps even, akin to her, a musician’s soul.  She befriends Flo (Diane Ladd) a woman as fraught as she, with a dirty mouth to boot.  At one point Flo shows Alice her necklace, a cross, made of safety pins, that’s what holds me together, she says. This is a piece of the Scorsese oeuvre unlike any other.  One could almost call this film a musical, its protagonist after all has gotta’ do what she’s gotta’ do, and that is sing.  All the while her son brandishes a guitar like it’s an extension of his arm. The film is a funny and glorious thing, a joyous portrayal of starting over, moving on, ultimately it is something that will never leave you.

★★★★★

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One response to “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – dir.Martin Scorsese, 1974

  1. God this film is excellent. Excellent post.

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