Could Franco Zeffirelli's Endless Love be the Last Great American Melodrama?
A production centered around the sudden stardom of the fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields
, and geared to the sensibilities of teenage girls, older women, and gay men, Endless Love
is firmly poised on the terrain of the Melodrama sub-genre, the "women's picture". Martin Hewitt
plays David, a high-school senior semi-abandoned by politicized parents, who falls in love both with younger teen-Goddess Jade (Shields), and her seductive, tight-knit, seemingly libertine family. Jade's parents (Don Murray
and Shirley Knight
) and brother (James Spader
in one of his first roles) provide the familial intimacy for which David's always longed, but the intensity of Jade and David's blatant passion forces a network of incestuous tensions to the surface, and David is banned from the family. Cut to the quick, the still-immature David is inspired to foolhardy faux-heroics: while Jade's folks throw one of their wild, teen-centric parties, David starts a small fire on the porch of their ramshackle house. Thinking it'll be easy to put out, and that he'll save the day and be taken back into the fold, the ensuing conflagration pushes David into a realm of criminality, mental distress, and outsider-status beyond his wildest nightmares. Through it all, past any point of rational perspective, David will not give up his all-consuming love for Jade--a self-defining love on the grand scale, authentically Endless.
A protege of the greatest of operatic film directors, Luchino Visconti
, Franco Zeffirelli had spent as much of his career involved in theater and opera production as filmmaking. Famous for his previous assay in the territory of beautiful young-love gone-awry, the International hit adaptation of Romeo and Juliet
(1968), Zeffirelli rarely found sympathy with serious critics, who found his work too soft, sentimentalized, and pop. Endless Love
proved no exception, its modest box-office success only confirming him as an artistic lightweight. A tiny minority of genre-sympathetic auteurist critics disagreed, however, believing that for once Zeffirelli's flamboyant, operatic stylizations had struck pay-dirt in being melded with the florid emotionalism of the American "women's picture".
In their view, Zeffirelli's Queer, Italianate sensibilities brought a startlingly fresh and deep perspective to unhinged Family Romance and teenage American love, and provided a transgressively sympathetic portrait of male heterosexual passion pursued into the jaws of despair and madness. For this minority it was a major work of that despised and dying genre, the unrepentant Melodrama. Zeffirelli's collaborators were also noticed--his cast was a mix of fresh faces (including Tom Cruise
in his first screen appearance), and a superb roster of stage and screen veterans. Endless Love
's lush, glowing cinematography was arguably the best in the career of the brilliant, future Academy Award-winner David Watkin
After almost thirty years, Endless Love has all but been forgotten. In the interim, the film Melodrama has been reassessed by critics, and come to be seen as a key cinema genre, most famously displayed by the celebration of the 50's films of Douglas Sirk. Could enough time have passed for Melodramas of the 70's and 80's to receive their due? Is Endless Love the last major work of the classical Hollywood cycle? On August 22nd, YOU have the chance to participate in the rediscovery and reevaluation of an important work of cinema!
Based on Scott Spencer's National Book Award-nominated novel!
Not on DVD!