Winter 2015

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22 CINEMONTAGE / WINTER 2015 by Peter Tonguette W hen Robert Benton's Places in the Heart premiered in September 1984, the response was enthusiastic. Audiences turned out. Critics raved. In The New York Times, Vincent Canby invoked the names of European masters Buñuel, Renoir and Truffaut in describing the film's artistry and impact. The following spring, the film was up for Academy Awards in seven categories, and when the Oscars were announced, two statuettes were handed out — one to Benton, for his screenplay, and another to leading actress Sally Field. But the opinion that mattered most to the film's editor, Carol Littleton, ACE, was that of Mildred Littleton, her mother, who had experienced the Great Depression depicted in Places in the Heart, and spent that part of her life in an area — Shawnee, Oklahoma — not far from the film's Texas setting. As the film was being completed, she visited her daughter in Los Angeles for several weeks. One day, Carol took Mildred to the MGM Lab, where final work on the film was being done. As Carol, Benton and cinematographer Néstor Almendros, ASC, consulted with the color timer, Mildred watched the answer print. "Néstor was very sweet to her and very cavalier," Littleton recalls. "Afterwards, I could see that Mother was quietly crying at the end, which was very unusual for a stoic Oklahoman." Places in the Heart weaves together the stories of several denizens of Waxahachie, Texas, who band together in 1935. There is Edna (Field), a widow compelled to come up with the funds to pay for her farm's crushing mortgage. There is Moze (Danny Glover), an African-American farmhand whose offer of assistance gives Edna the idea to grow enough cotton to retain her farm, but who is subjected to brutal displays of racism from others in the town. And there is Mr. Will (John Malkovich), a taciturn sliver of a man, who returned from World War I missing his sight — and some of his humanity — and who becomes Edna's reluctant boarder. Mildred vouched for the authenticity of the film. "Carol, I know all these people," she told her daughter. "This is the life I observed in the Depression. Many times people would come to my back door and ask for something to eat and I would give it to them" — referring to a moment in the opening credits montage. This was a film that actually earned that old cliché: It touched people's hearts. It touched Carol's heart, too; because the film's characters and events were recognizable to her family, so they were to her. "It's the most personal film I've edited by far," she says. The youngest of three daughters, Littleton was born in Oklahoma City, lived for much of her childhood MY MOST MEMORABLE FILM Carol Littleton on 'Places in the Heart' Places in the Heart, MCA/ Universal Pictures/ Photofest. Inset: Carol Littleton, photo by Wm. Stetz

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