Nancy Savoca’s Dogfight: An IM Discussion Between Matt Zoller Seitz and Sheila O’Malley

Matt Zoller Seitz (Salon’s staff television critic) and I share a love of Nancy Savoca’s Dogfight, and in that, I know we are not alone.

Dogfight, written by Bob Comfort, and directed by Nancy Savoca, starred Lily Taylor as Rose Fenny, a shy frumpy (at first) waitress in San Francisco in the early 60s, who dreams of being a folk singer like Joan Baez, and River Phoenix, at his very best, playing Eddie Birdlace, an angry coiled-up Marine, about to ship over to Vietnam. The “dogfight” of the title is a contest held by the Marines over who can bring the ugliest girl to a party. Savoca had an adviser on the film who was a Marine, and he said he had been to a couple of “dogfights” himself, only they were called “pig parties”. I think for some potential audiences just hearing what the movie was about might have been a turnoff. Will it be some sort of glorification of misogyny, do we really want to see “ugly” girls humiliated like that? But Savoca manages this material with great heart and sensitivity, and Dogfight ends up being an emotional and true encounter between two misfits – Rose and Birdlace – as they navigate one strange night in San Francisco before Birdlace goes off to Vietnam. The acting is superb, and the movie has great reverb. What you think it will be, is not what it is. It goes far beyond just a Meet-Cute (or, more accurately, a Meet-Ugly), and a romantic pas-de-deux between an unlikely pair. It goes into another realm entirely, something transcendent and redemptive.

Last night, Matt and I chatted online (after a quick training session via phone, because I’m such a Grandma when it comes to technology – “These kids today with their texting and their rumble seats …”) about Dogfight, and I am happy to share that unedited conversation now. We talk about the final moment in the film, so consider it a spoiler.

Matt Zoller Seitz: ‬ ‪I am so happy to find somebody who’s as enthusiastic about Dogfight as I am. I know there’s a cult of fans out there, but you almost never hear this movie mentioned except in conversations about River Phoenix and how everybody misses him. But it’s a really extraordinary film all the way around.

Sheila O’Malley: ‬ ‪I so agree. It’s one of a handful of movies I’ve seen over 20 times. I’m not sure what it is that is so damn effective about it (in all its particulars), but that mystery – of why it so consistently works – is what keeps me going back to it. And, for me, one of the things that really made me want to talk more about this with you was your comment to me on Facebook that: “The movie would have been terrific even without the last ten minutes. But the last ten minutes make it a masterpiece.” I can’t tell you how much I agree with that statement, although I hadn’t quite put it into those words. I’d love to hear you talk more about that.

‪MZS: ‬ ‪Well, I should address that by backing up and telling you about the circumstances under which I saw the film. It was 1991 or 92 when the movie played Dallas — I don’t remember exactly when. I was just out of college. Twenty-three year olds may have many fine qualities but maturity is generally not among them. And what really knocked me out about that movie was how the ending sort of put the rest of the story in its place — put it in perspective if you know what I mean. This movie showed me a future perspective that I myself would one day have, and that all functioning adults eventually have, on love, on relationships, on the mating dance. It’s a great relationship movie, a great love story, a great two-hander drama, and a great movie about the fundamental, even primordial differences between men and women, and how that difference is laid bare when they interact, flirt, try to get something romantic going. And incredibly, the last ten minutes doesn’t inflate all that, it diminishes it, in a really interesting and wise way. But maybe we should talk about the other stuff, the central relationship and the performances and Nancy Savoca’s direction, before we get to that amazing ending?

SOM: ‬ ‪I recently watched the film again and loved listening to Savoca’s commentary track, and was surprised to hear how nervous and insecure she felt going into this project. It was a period piece, first of all, and it wasn’t strictly in the world she had already explored so beautifully in her other films. She said she over-researched it, she felt like she needed that permission to tell the story. I really appreciated that about it, because when you tell people what this movie is about (and I generally try to avoid that – I just say, “Just see it”) many people balk. They don’t want to see a movie about a bunch of Marines who hold a “dog fight” party where the contest is to see who can bring the ugliest girl. It sounds horrible.

SOM: ‬ It would take very gentle hands to take this and really turn it into a deep and tender love story, about two young people on the brink … on the brink of so many things. One of the things I love about the two characters in this film (played by Lily Taylor and River Phoenix) is that the stakes are SO HIGH for both of these characters – and yet … and yet … neither of them are aware of it. Or, to qualify that: the stakes that they think are the highest (he is about to go off to Vietnam, and she wants to “go help out in the South or maybe join the Peace Corps”) are not actually the highest. Those are just circumstantial stakes. What is really at stake is who they are as human beings on this planet, and who they are in RELATION to the opposite sex. Both of them would have taken very very different paths (I mean romantically) if they had not had that encounter.

‪MZS: Birdlace Eddie, the River Phoenix character, seems to be playacting machismo, in the way that so many young men do, except in his case it’s a lot more pronounced because he’s (a) a Marine and (b) about to get shipped off to Vietnam. Phoenix really nails this part, and it’s not necessarily a part I would have thought he’d have in him; the only time I recall him showing this kind of hardass coloration was in “Stand by Me,” and in that film we were aware from the very beginning that his character was a wounded soul, a 12-year old boy on the inside bluffing and pretending manhood with the curses and the cigarettes.

‪MZS: Eddie has the curses and the cigarettes, and he denigrates women and objectifies them just like all his buddies — it’s his way of holding them at bay, holding his fear of women at bay. But Rose’s reaction to realizing she’s participated in a dogfight — that she was brought there because she’s so “ugly” that Eddie thought she would win a prize — touches something in Eddie, some humanity that was buried. This could be so maudlin and easy were it not for the unsentimental edge both actors bring to the scene. Rose looks as though she’s been kicked in the heart.

‪MZS: And the only reason Eddie is touched and shamed by her reaction is because almost from the minute he started latching onto her, buttering her up and setting her up to end up at the dogfight, he liked her! You could SEE that he liked her. It was involuntary, just a reflexive reaction, an attraction. So almost from the minute he met her he was living a lie, this lie of the detached macho hunter taking the prey to the slaughter. There’s a lot in this film that speaks to acting as a condition of being alive — to the idea that masculinity and femininity are performances, that identity is a performance, you know?

SOM: ‬‬ ‪Yes! Brilliant point! Because one of the necessary things that has to happen in order to grow up – for men and for women – is that we are able to easily and comfortably segue between who we are with our friends of the same sex, and who we are with our lover/mate or potential lover/mate. The people who can’t do that – who bring the hostility of the world with their friends (which is often a very valid response to feeling powerless) into the world with their potential-beloved – are often very unhappy bitter people indeed. Birdlace might have been on that path. But yes, you are so right: I love the moment where he tries to dissuade her from going into the party. This happens after the awful moment when he suggests that she put on more lipstick, and then, terribly, takes the lipstick and draws it all over her mouth. This is a fantastic moment, very difficult, and beautifully played by both actors. In another movie, the film would never recover. We could never forgive Birdlace. But watch River’s face, as he watches her giggle and check her compact, and say to him, embarrassed, “You put on lipstick almost as good as I do.”

SOM: ‬ A deep gong sounds in him. A gong of: “This is wrong.” And not only “This is wrong” but “I am wrong.” And somehow the whole moment is played without underlining it, without making a “big moment” of it. It’s his own process of discovery – and the movie allows him to have it. He cannot bear what he was about to do to this girl. And his response to her is not one of pity. It is: “This is WRONG. I LIKE this girl and what is wrong with just telling my friends that I LIKE this girl?”

‪MZS: Birdlace does try to dissuade her from going to the dogfight party…but he doesn’t try hard enough. He can’t overcome his conditioning. He hasn’t achieved his full potential as a human being yet. He’s not there. Inside he’s too much the guy who defaced Rose with that lipstick.

SOM: ‬ In the commentary track, Savoca mentioned that in the original script it went from them starting off to the party straight into the party, without that scene in the middle, with the lipstick and his lame attempt to dissuade her from going in. But they realized they needed another beat there, something else. Something that would be more revealing about him, and who he is – and also provide an opening for later in the film. I think that was a very smart choice. It’s a tough scene, and it still makes me uncomfortable to watch, but you can see them both, struggling under the weight of gender roles, and also just your basic date behavior, which is true in any generation. And it is my belief that Birdlace has never been on a date in his life. He’s 18 years old. He has only been with whores. That’s his ONLY experience of women. Anyway, that’s my theory. This is as much a “first” for him as it is for her. He may have had sex, unlike her, but he’s never had to seduce someone, or make a nervous girl feel comfortable, or even had to be gentle. Their first kiss is so tentative that I actually get nervous for them BOTH.

‪MZS: ‪I like that theory. Hey, I want to go back to something you said earlier, because I was hoping you would clarify it. “What is really at stake,” you write of the characters, ‘is who they are as human beings on this planet, and who they are in RELATION to the opposite sex.” I agree that those two things are important, but I wonder what order you place them in. For me, the five-sixths of the film that takes place on that one night is about the characters’ respective identities as men and women and how that colors the way they exist in the world and see the world and interact with the opposite sex — how it’s the umbrella that covers every other aspect of their identities. But I think the other part, their identity as human beings PERIOD, is even more important than the man-woman thing, and for me that’s the real intent of the last sequence, the postscript. They connect as human beings. The years and experience, the suffering, have burned all the bullshit out of them. I get the sense that the final hug is between two human beings, not a man and a woman — that they have transcended the conditioning, transcended the flesh. Which is what true love really is anyway.

SOM: ‬ ‪Okay, I have a lot to say about this, so let me get my thoughts together. I think it is connected to the music choices in the film, which are so specific. But I’ll get to that in a minute. So. We have Rose, a wallflower who lives with her mother, works as a waitress, and listens obsessively to folk music and wants, vaguely, to be connected to that movement. Somehow.

SOM: ‬ And then we have Birdlace, an angry kid who believes in what he is doing, who is proud he is a Marine, and proud that he has been chosen. Okay. This is the early 60s, remember, not the late 60s. This is before President Kennedy died. When Birdlace tells her he is shipping out to Vietnam the next day, she says, “Yeah, I think I’ve heard about that place. Aren’t they fighting there?”

SOM: ‬ Now. Why I think the film is so good, or one of the many reasons (and it goes back to my “high stakes” comment) is that these two people are “types”. As we all are, like it or not. They are well-drawn and well-played, but they are also TEENAGERS and often teenagers assume “roles” that they will end up playing for years and years to come. This is where these two are at. Rose needs to feel that folk music will “change the world”, bless her heart, and Birdlace believes “if you want to change the world, pick up a gun and start shooting.” Because we now know how the rest of the 60s played out, and what Vietnam ended up being, we can easily imagine or guess where these two characters would be if they hadn’t met one another.‬

SOM: ‬ I can easily imagine that if Rose had NOT met Birdlace, she might have been one of those vicious hippies that we see later in the film, the jackass who says to Birdlace on the street, “How many babies did you kill?” A terrible moment, a beautiful moment: the tolerance of the hippies seen as what it really was, in many ways: total intolerance. I can see that if Rose had not met Birdlace, she might not have had her heart opened up to ALL of humanity, not just the folk singers singing about peace and the downtrodden, but the American boys fighting a horrible war. This is one of the huge strengths of the film, because it is entirely unspoken and also un-shown. What I imagine is that during the horrible years following, as Vietnam heated up, as the rhetoric heated up, there was something in her – a quiet still center – that resisted the dogma of the San Francisco neighborhood she lived in. She may have wanted peace, but it would have never never come out in a mean-spirited way like “How many babies did you kill?” And I believe that Rose, in her idealistic and in some ways naive world, COULD have gone down that path. She COULD have become one of those hateful people. But she didn’t. How could she? She had known Birdlace. Whether or not they end up together as a couple is irrelevant in the face of her realization that EVERYONE deserves peace and understanding, especially those boys in uniform returning home. There was a heartlessness to the 60s. She might have succumbed. But because of Birdlace, she will not. She is a better PERSON for having known him.

‪MZS: ‪And yet that postscript, if memory serves, sticks with Birdlace until that very last scene. This leads me to something else I wanted to ask you about. Do you feel that Rose is slightly more advanced, more mature, than Birdlace? I certainly do, and I think the film thinks that, too. Bob Comfort’s screenplay does suggest that while both characters might have misconceptions about each other and themselves, Birdlace is more fucked up, more limited, and his pathologies more toxic than Rose. He’s the one who needs to get his consciousness raised, slightly more than her, I’d argue. And…What were you going to say about the use of pop music in the film?

SOM: ‬ ‪Well, I’m not so sure about that. This might be the interesting situation of a man and a woman seeing the film and having different responses, based on our own experiences. I think Rose is emotionally more mature. And he eventually recognizes that, too. But she is a child in many ways. I mean, she has this hot Marine in her room and she suggests they play musical bingo? (His reaction to this is one of my favorite moments in the film.)

SOM: ‬ ‬ I don’t think she should be shamed for that. We all mature at different speeds, and she is quite fortunate that she found this unlikely person to usher her into being a woman. But I certainly agree that the film is, in many ways, about men. About what happens with men in PACKS, and how deadly that can be. So yes, he needs to grow up, and be able to choose the woman he wants to choose, and also to have the freedom to not see women as either dogs or whores. But she also needs to realize that she is not a little girl, she is a woman. He somehow, weirdly, awkwardly, helps her do that. That scene in the bedroom is a masterpiece. Not only is it acted brilliantly, but Savoca made the choice to not do close-up to close-up – they are filmed in medium shot, making out on the bed, and it just plays out in real time. It is agonizing to watch.

SOM: ‬ And what I love about HIS role here is that … he steps up. This is a woman who needs to be drawn out. He doesn’t “draw her out” to manipulate her, but because he senses that’s what she needs, and he wants her to be happy and comfortable. In that way, he is further along on the maturity path than she is – but I still think this movie represents a GIANT leap forward for both of them. Now to the music, which is connected to all of this:‬ When she comes back from the “dogfight”, devastated, she sits in her room, and plays Joan Baez’s “Silver Dagger”. That’s the one that has the line “I decided to sleep alone all of my life.”

SOM: ‬ Later, when she and Birdlace come back to her room, she asks him if he wants to hear some music. He says sure, and she puts on a record. The song that comes on is “Shake Sugaree” – written by Elizabeth Cotten and sung by a 12 year old girl. Birdlace and Rose talk, awkwardly, and try to play musical bingo, and she tells him about the folk singers on her wall – all as the 12 year old girl sings in the background. Finally, the sexual vibe starts heating up and they get into bed together. At that point, the Shake Sugaree song ends, and another record drops. The song that starts then is “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right”, Bob Dylan.

SOM: ‬ The energy changes. It is now Birdlace who is in charge. They’re kissing, and he’s whispering in her ear, making her laugh, and kissing her on the forehead, her cheekbones … When I write all this out, it seems way too obvious, but it’s really all just an underlining in the scene, not too on the nose. When it comes time for him to take charge, Bob Dylan is there. They don’t make love for the first time listening to Joan Baez. That’s too exclusionary, too much HER world. In that moment, after a whole night of him learning to soften, to relax … it’s time for the male-ness to come back into play. It’s time for him to take charge. I may be making too large a claim for the music choices, but I honestly don’t think so.

‪MZS: ‪I hadn’t thought about that — the way the soundtrack alternates female and male singers and there’s a reason why it does that. It’s the Greek chorus effect. Not to get too meta here, but I think the soundtrack doesn’t just work with the storyline, it certifies in a larger sense exactly what sort of movie we’re watching. It’s a dialectical film, with the male and female perspectives talking to each other through these characters, and it’s all in service of ultimately transcending gender roles and getting at something deeper. And since we’re going here, isn’t is great, and doesn’t it help tremendously, that the film is written by a man but directed by a woman? I would imagine that dynamic contributed mightily to some of the qualities we’re appreciating here. To me it seems likely that if a heterosexual man had directed this film — especially somebody who was of Birdlace’s generation — it might be too much about the hero’s maturation, with Rose serving as a catalyst. But I don’t get that sense at all. That sense of Rose as a person who is hiding from adult relationships, from adulthood generally, in naive attitudes and a kind of weird girlish affectation comes through very strongly, and I suspect that having a woman in the director’s chair probably contributed to that sense of vividness, that sophisticated and tender appreciation, that the film has for Rose.

SOM: ‬ ‪I love your comment. I think it’s right on. How awful would it have been, how typical, if it had only been Birdlace’s story. That would have cheated Rose of her own growth, of her own story. This is a two-person movie, make no mistake. One would not work without the other. And yes, I think the female director guided the project through some pretty treacherous waters. She mentions in the commentary track auditioning the women for the “dogfight”, and suddenly realizing, on the day they were seeing actresses, what she was actually doing: “I am admitting to these women that I find them less than attractive.” She said it was a very emotional day, for everyone, and that the women she ended up choosing as the “dogfight girls” had a lot of fun with it, getting into the spirit of the project, and I can’t help but think that that had a lot to do with Savoca herself.

SOM: ‬ The gender roles here are very toxic, and set-in-stone, and you can see how both sides are trapped by that rigidity. Birdlace rips up Rose’s address on his way to shipping off to Vietnam, and while I imagine that people sometimes gasp in pain at seeing that gesture, I thought, “Yup. Of course he would do that.” Where he’s going, he can’t afford to be looking back like that. He has to go completely into the male world. But look at what happens in those final 10 minutes, as you mentioned. When he returns, who does he go back to find? We need each other. We don’t even know why. But the entire world depends on us needing each other like that. That’s what Dogfight honors, in the end. That’s what it’s all about.

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139 Responses to Nancy Savoca’s Dogfight: An IM Discussion Between Matt Zoller Seitz and Sheila O’Malley

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Dogfight: Matt Zoller Seitz and I IM Our Hearts Out | The Sheila Variations -- Topsy.com

  2. Doc Horton says:

    Sheila, I feel like the librarian in ‘Ulysses’ listening to Steve Dedalus and the boys talk about ‘Hamlet’.

  3. A brilliant film, and analysis of it. I completely agree that the film’s finale is what shoves it over the top into masterpiece territory. That, and the scene where Lili Taylor sings that folk song for Phoenix while at the club. Also, I love the scene where Birdlace puts a quarter in each of the machines at the arcade and the two of them dance to the beautiful cacaphony. What a lovely, honest little film.

    • sheila says:

      One of the things I really love about that folk-song scene at the club is Phoenix’s behavior in it. It’s kind of unexpected, he’s still got that edge – almost casual – “I just want to see you up there …” He seems to have no concept of how nervous she is, and – ironically – that’s just what she needs. I don’t know, there’s something about that particular scene – how they still are so separate (even physically) – but there’s this huge strong current flowing back and forth.

      Apparently, it was Phoenix’s idea to play the scene that way, a little bit distant, fiddling with his cigarettes, sort of casually saying, “Come on, play for me!” Savoca was nervous about the choice, she had wanted him to be softer sooner in that scene – but once she saw how she did it, she realized how right it was.

  4. sheila says:

    Dean – Thanks for your comment. Those are two sequences I really love, too, because even though they are both so romantic, there is this undertone of darkness and uncertainty. The “beautiful cacaphony” is a perfect soundtrack for their first kiss, where everything is so heightened – and their feelings so intense. It’s romantic and bittersweet, but the music is a jangle of noise. Perfect.

  5. Charles J. Sperling says:

    “Urbane to comfort them, the quaker librarian purred…”

    1) Taylor always makes me think of the French term “jolie laide,” which means she’s attractive in an off-beat sort of way. A lot of people don’t seem to catch that sort of attractiveness. Once you do, it’s hard to believe that you didn’t see it right away;

    2) With any luck, Eddie Birdlace will turn into Marty Pilletti, who met Clara,
    a girl considered “a dog,” in “Marty.” Marty in the end is able to tell Angie it’s “too bad” that he doesn’t like Clara. And if I remember “Marty” correctly, at the start of the picture, Marty calls a Mary Feeny, who turns him down. Rose’s last name is Fenny, hmm?;

    3) “Marty” is from 1955. So is “Rebel without a Cause.” In considering what Birdlace does as part of a pack, it’s hard not to think of Buzz Gunderson and Jim Stark before the chicken run: “You know something? I like you,” says Buzz, and Jim asks: “Why do we do this?”, only to receive the reply: “You’ve gotta do something. Don’t you?” Maybe so, but it should be the right thing. If it’s not, and you do it anyway, you should attempt to make up for it afterwards; and

    4) Great call on Vietnam in 1963 as opposed to what it would become within two years: that same year, you could have an episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “In Praise of Pip,” in which Jack Klugman’s character reflects on how his son is dying in South Vietnam where “there’s not even supposed to be a war there.” Technically, they were still “military advisers,” even if there were 15,000 more of them than there were when Eisenhower left office in 1961. Rod Serling, like Rose, didn’t know much about Vietnam: he’d wanted to set the episode in Laos, but U.S. troops had left there, and he contacted the government to see what country he could use instead. The answer included Vietnam, and Serling used that. A year later, Lyndon Johnson would win a full term by declaring that he would not send American boys overseas to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves; and

    5) Vietnam was “a wanton and bloody stalemate” for Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska, one of the only two votes against the Tonkin Gulf Resolutin in 1964 (the other was Wayne Morse of Alaska). Luckily, the conflict between the sexes does allow for happier resolutions.

    And the analysis of them for wonderful conversations, such as those between SOM and MZS.

    As Mr Bloom would say at the end of the “Circe” episode:

    RUDY!!!!

  6. sheila says:

    Charles – have you seen the movie? I can’t quite tell from your comment.

    One detail which probably no one would catch unless you’ve seen the damn thing so many times like I have: when Rose sneaks Birdlace into her house late at night, her mother lies asleep, with the TV on. You can’t see what’s playing, but you can hear it – and it’s I, Confess, which I think was a rather funny and perfect choice. Both for the mother (played by folk singer Holly Near – a nice nod to the folk music running through the film) – and for the daughter, who is about to commit her first really rebellious act.

    So glad to see so many people linking to this conversation. Dogfight, as they say, is really under-appreciated.

  7. kathy says:

    i always do a quick check of your site to see whats new. Even when I can’t go into it too deep because of pesky life needing attention. I just want to see what’s new for later. I think about things while cleaning or cooking. Seeing River. Oh my. Still sad after all these years. I never saw this move- how, I don’t know. Lily Taylor, too? That is why I love this site> Always learning>always interesting. A treasure!

  8. sheila says:

    Oh, Kathy: I’m so excited for you: See this movie!! You are in for a really amazing experience.

  9. John Levy says:

    This is brilliant. A much finer and better articulation of analysis for the film than I’ve had with friends and fellow filmmakers or “buffs” over the years. I badly want to hear that Savoca commetary now.

    Thanks to both of you for your love of this film and sharing it with us.

  10. sheila says:

    John – Thank you so much! I saw your comments over on FB and really related to them. I’m so glad you came over to comment here.

    Her commentary (and she does it with one of the producers) just gave me a deeper appreciation of the magic of the film – and God, how it just keeps working. I mean, there are very few movies I can watch endlessly, repeatedly, like I can with this one. I can count such films off on a couple hands. Holiday is another one – which actually has a similar melancholy-underbelly to its beautiful romance that Dogfight has … You know, that’s actually quite a dark movie, but the two people at the heart of it … you just love them, eventually.

    Who knows. It’s a mystery.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Savoca commentary. Great stuff.

  11. John Levy says:

    Sheila – ‘Holiday’ the George Cukor Grant/Hepburn film? Haven’t seen that one in a while either.

    Yeah, your exchange with Matt not only renewed my crush for Dogfight, but has reignited my love for 90′s independent film all over again. “Dogfight” was indeed superior in a much more subtextual way, which I always felt, but couldn’t articulate as beautifully as you two have brought to light. But the spirit of the films at that time… Director’s early works have something much deeper/personal going on in them. Hal Hartly (Trust, Unbelievable Truth) Spike Lee (Crooklyn, Do The Right Thing) Soderbergh (Sex Lies…, King Of The Hill). It was a very special time in film, like so many others, but reading this made me remember a singular feeling I had a little over 5 years ago, which was the last time I watched ‘Dogfight’. That it is a love story of a much more genuine nature than most. I couldn’t really ever elaborate on it, but you two have done a beautiful job of it here. While it is very much a story about a man and woman in the 60′s, when you don’t separate those three elements, the bigger picture, for me, is about human connection and the lifeline that is between two people….I don’t know if that came out right. But that is a feeling I was reminded of by your exchange and your text above just elaborated on it extensively.

    I cannot tell you what a pleasure it was to read this upon waking this morning. You two had me thinking about the film last night and then I woke up and read this and now…I’m staring at my vhs of ‘Dogfight’. I got the dvd in my netflix cue, but…I think I have to breakdown and watch the tape.

    Again, outstanding analysis! Savoca should read it!

  12. sheila says:

    John – the more I think about it, the more RADICAL I think the last moment of Dogfight is. I believe in the original script there was some dialogue – “why didn’t you write” or “how have you been?” – and to cut ALL of that out and have it just be him saying “Hi” and her saying “Hi” back and then the hug … No kiss, just a hug?

    I have goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s radical, it’s courageous. It’s not what you expect. It’s still not clear what will “happen” with these two, but in the face of the connection expressed in that moment – that really doesn’t matter, does it? What they found that night was indeed a “lifeline”, as you say.

    But still: that took guts on Savoca’s part. To decide to go that way. I’m still kind of amazed by it.

    And yes – Cukor’s Holiday. I just get sucked into that damn thing and all the characters all over again, as though it were the first time.

    I have more to say in response to your comment – I’ll be back.

    // I’m staring at my vhs of ‘Dogfight’. //

    Ha! Pop it in, go ahead! :)

  13. John Levy says:

    Absolutely RADICAL! It’s the right choice for a director to make. I often feel in the case of a film like Dogfight or anything set in ‘reality’ of it’s premise makes it’s most important statements without words. It wouldn’t surprise me if she didn’t know she was going to do that until the day of the shoot or even made the decision in the editing room. It all there in the eyes. It’s stops being about romantic possibility and simply about connection at that point. The ‘romance’ of the story was making the connection.

    Okay, I got to do some things, but this afternoon I’m watching it for sure.

    By the way, this whole revival of Dogfight and Savoca reminded me of this episode of ‘American Cinema’ http://www.learner.org/vod/vod_window.html?pid=214

  14. Charles J. Sperling says:

    Sheila:

    Honesty forces me to say that I haven’t seen “Dogfight.” After reading this dialogue, though, I almost feel as if I have.

    I almost feel that I shouldn’t see it, because I’d be watching under the spell of Sheila and the magic of Matt.

    But as a general who argued that “anyone who commits the American Army in the Asian mainland should have his head examined” also asserted, “there is no substitute for for victory.” And I’d like to see that use of “I Confess” for myself.

    “Silver Dagger” begins Joan Baez’s first official album. (*Joan Baez in San Francisco* was recorded earlier under dubious circumstances and released later.) *The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan* concludes with “I Shall Be Free.”

    Now there’s a goal we can all get behind!

  15. sheila says:

    Charles – Yes, you should fall under our spell immediately!! Go forth and rent it!! :)

    (There’s an interesting use of “We Shall Overcome” in the film as well – clearly a political song – and actually the two characters have an argument about the song at one point – and then later, it is used as background for a really personal moment, 100% personal – and – it just works. The song trnascends the political – as the two characters do – and it flat out works.) The movie is full of bold creative choices like that. Meticulous work that ends up being relatively invisible (that is, until you’ve seen it 20 times)

    More to say about the music, but I honestly don’t want to pick it apart too much. Needless to say: I love the music in the film!

  16. sheila says:

    John – No pressure, but I would love to keep chatting with you after you’ve seen it again. I’d love to hear what you pick up on/notice after the 5-year gap since you’ve last seen it.

  17. sheila says:

    And one last thing: EG Daily who plays Marcie, the girl with no teeth, is an amazing actress and her performance is one of my favorite cameos in a movie ever. If you only have one scene, you want it to be that good, that tragic, that angry – and also that hilarious. I mean, that character is not a victim, that’s the most amazing thing about how she plays her.

    Slam-dunk cameo.

    “He says to me, ‘Hey, GUMS, howdja like to make fifty bucks, and you don’t have to do no one?’” – as she brushes her one tooth in the mirror.

    That chick is brilliant.

  18. John Levy says:

    Yes!!! LOVE E.G. Daily! Queen of cameos! ‘Streets Of Fire’ & ‘Better Off Dead’ and so many others I cannot seem to recall at this moment.

    I totally remember that scene, in the Ladies Room, right? Where she let’s Lili in on the ruse. Brilliant (slam-dunk) indeed!

    No pressure at all, I’m just constantly conflicted between watching and making films. Right now, I want nothing more than to watch it, but gotta square away my own stories before surrendering to Savoca’s. But it has been truly awesome reading and discussing this film. Tonight I do have a date with ‘Dogfight’ and it’s for real!

  19. sheila says:

    Yes, and she’s squatting on the tile, picking up the change, in her green outfit, and beehive hairdo, and fishnets, and she’s just this weird heroic little grubby girl. FanTASTIC.

    // gotta square away my own stories before surrendering to Savoca’s. //

    I so hear that. Good luck to you. :)

  20. sheila says:

    “The thing is, I’m really not all that ugly. You should see me when I really get dressed up,” she says.

    Unbelievable little performance.

  21. sheila says:

    And speaking of Better Off Dead (which sort of dovetails with the Dogfight conversation) – I went on my first date ever to see that movie. I was 15 or 16. I didn’t remember a bit of it, due to the fact that, you know, I was on a date. WITH A BOY. But I finally saw it again, when my head was cleared from raging hormones, and I just love that damn movie.

  22. John Levy says:

    Hahaha!

    I would love to see that character when she’s really dressed up! But I love her just the way she is.

    You are freakin hilarious, Sheila! I remember clearly the countless times I went to the theaters and payed ONLY $6 for 2 people!!! – so that me and my date could go ‘make out’ in a huge dark room where no one’s parents would be caught dead in. Missed most of Corey Haim and Kerri Green’s careers because of it. (RIP Corey)

    Yes, ‘Better Off Dead’ is another little gem. And I can’t help myself now, speaking of Corey Haim and ‘Dovetailing’ with Dogfight, do you remember the film, ‘Secret Admirer’? C. Thomas Howell, Dee Wallace, Fred Ward, Lee Taylor young, Laurie Laughton, and Kelly Preston? I still watch that one, GOLD!

    I know of course these films don’t even compare to Dogfight, but at least touch more lightly on some of the themes. All good stuff…(heavy sigh)

  23. sheila says:

    I have not seen Secret Admirer – but boy, those names are a blast from a somewhat shameful past. I am a sucker for poignant teen romances. I really am.

    And speaking of that – Lucas??? (RIP Corey. Always loved that kid).

  24. John Levy says:

    I KNOW!!! I discovered ‘Lucas’ late because of one of those shameful past theater experiences. Remember ‘First Born’? That is a DAMN GOOD FILM! That was the first thing I watched after Corey passed away and just LOVED it all over again!

    Gotta see ‘Secret Admirer’ Sheila! So worth making the time to seek out and watch. I knew I forgot another name too, Casey Siemaszko is in it too and it’s his best part after say, ‘Three O’Clock High’ and ‘Young Guns’. Saw that guy in a lame commercial recently. Made me super sad.

    But yeah…Lucas….dang. Great stuff.

  25. sheila says:

    I suppose Casey is paying the rent, like most of us, but yes, it’s sad to see someone not fulfill their potential. Wasn’t his sister an actress as well? I think I saw her in a Red Shoe Diaries. (Speaking of shame …. Not hers. Mine, for having seen it.)

    Yeah, Lucas is a good good good movie, and it actually makes the Slow Clap Cliche into something special and tremendously moving. Corey Haim was a phenom. One of those child actors that really “had it”. Like River Phoenix did. So fucking sad.

  26. sheila says:

    And yes. First Born. Amazing!! He was just incredible onscreen. “Lucas” is not an easy part. It’s made for a mini-Woody-Allen to play it – it’s quite complex, full of lies and deceptions, and hidden pain … and he handled it all brilliantly.

  27. John Levy says:

    Heeeeey, I kinda….kinda liked Red Shoe Dairies. And yeah, I think that was her.

    Yeah, Casey and so many other great GREAT character actors are just working for the rent. Tough racket. He was doing a lot of T.V. for a while. But haven’t seen him lately.

    Lucas will choke me up every time. And it is the film that will always prove he had the acting chops many people don’t realize he had. His career should have gone another way after that one.

    Don’t forget, ‘Secret Admirer’. Gotta see it. Crucial.

  28. sheila says:

    It’s on the queue now. Can’t wait!

    I liked Red Shoe Diaries too – wasn’t there one with good ol’ Adrian Zmed?

  29. sheila says:

    And totally agree about Haim. It’s like that talented young soul was thrown to the wolves of Hollywood. I don’t know the whys/wherefores of it – but unlike Jodie Foster, whose mother carefully managed her career – he seemed to not have that. He was lost after a certain point. We all get lost from time to time, but it happened way too soon for him. He was a very very talented individual.

  30. John Levy says:

    Adrian Zmed……WOW….wow….Grease 2….wow. I hope not! I actually only saw the first one. So, you’re totally busted on watching the sequels. It’s okay though, I’m still a ‘Two Moon Junction’ fan FOR LIFE!

    Yeah, I feel the same way about Haim. He was really talented. He is the BEST in ‘Secret Admirer’! Just hilarious! Brilliant and hilarious. I’ll admit something here and now.

    Some time in the late 80′s I went to a barber with an US magazine in my hand and pointed at a picture of Haim and said, “I want that hair!” It was awesome hair for the times. Like all hair was. Terribly awesome.

    Was it Zmed or Zane? They were probably both in different sequels. Did you watch them all? ;-D

  31. sheila says:

    // So, you’re totally busted on watching the sequels. //

    hahahahaha My shame is revealed.

    No, I did some research on IMDB – and Adrian Zmed actually was NOT in Red Shoe Diaries – but he did appear, very memorably, in Silk Stalkings.

    Clearly, I was watching a lot of soft porn back in those days. Good God.

  32. sheila says:

    I love picturing the barber looking at the picture you showed him and nodding curtly. He had probably seen that picture a million times from customers. “Yup. Corey Haim? Got it.”

  33. sheila says:

    Two Moon Junction!!! hahahahaha

  34. John Levy says:

    We were all watching a lot of soft porn back in the late night HBO/CINEMAX days. That was the schedule. It replaced the News when getting home from a long afternoon and night.

    The Haim cut’s were the only cuts in ’87, that I do remember.

    ‘Two Moon Junction’ is great because it’s as if David Lynch made an actual soft porn….and it’s this nightmarish clash of childhood and sexual fantasy because it has Burl Ives, Herve Villache and Kristie McNicole. Which is to say, Christmas, Fantasy Island, and Little Darlings! Throw in the Carnies and you got something wrong and right at the same time! Maybe.

    There is no real justification. I just like it.

    So which Red Shoes was your favorite?

  35. sheila says:

    // nightmarish clash of childhood and sexual fantasy because it has Burl Ives, Herve Villache and Kristie McNicole. Which is to say, Christmas, Fantasy Island, and Little Darlings! //

    Totally.

    Speaking of Kristy McNichol – WHY isn’t Little Darlings available on DVD? WHY???? It is a grave injustice.

    All of the Red Shoe Diaries kind of blend together. I wasn’t really watching them for the plots, sadly. But yeah, they did the trick.

  36. sheila says:

    Someone uploaded Little Darlings in its entirety to Youtube, which I am very grateful for … but seriously, that movie should be released on DVD. It has some major heavy-hitters in it – not to mention Cynthia Nixon as the hippie girl – and is also really quite good and moving when it’s not totally silly.

    I can’t understand why some things make it to DVD and others – like that – do not. I know there are all these business decisions behind it – but still.

  37. John Levy says:

    Red Shoe Diaries was definitely about plot for me :)

    It’s these assholes who own the right to the films, not releasing them because of probably some personal reasons. I don’t know who owns the rights to Little Darlings accept that he’s a jerk. Sounds like a job for Criterion.

    For me Little Darlings is right up there with Over The Edge. Matt Dillon is in Little Darling’s too isn’t he? That’s a great double feature. I wonder if there is an online petition or something for the Little Darling’s DVD.

  38. sheila says:

    Matt Dillon is wonderful in Little Darlings – and he and Kristy McNichol are just perfect together. Two tough wounded little souls. Their scenes are so so touching.

    If you find an online petition, let me know. That’s a gem of a movie.

  39. DBW says:

    This is very frustrating. I’ve never seen Dogfight, so I can’t read the post or comments, BUT the little I did read makes me want to read the post and comments–my own Catch-22. I’ll have to get the movie somewhere.

  40. sheila says:

    DBW – RENT IT IMMEDIATELY. AND THEN COME BACK AND JOIN US.

    Would LOVE to hear your response.

  41. sheila says:

    For some reason, DBW, I have a feeling that you will really really dig this movie.

  42. sheila says:

    Cutting-and-pasting a conversation from Facebook, because it adds to what we’ve been talking about here.

    Mitchell i love this movie soooo much!
    11 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley I’ve been talking about it for 24 hours straight now. I’m in heaven!!! I love this movie, too. so so so good.
    11 hours ago · Like

    Mitchell look at that face…killing me!
    11 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley Fucking sad. I’m still pissed he’s not here.
    11 hours ago · Like

    Mitchell its a shame
    11 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley They’re both so good in this.
    11 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley and then of course there is our favorite quiet moment from the old guy in the bar: “No charge on that Carl.” “Thanks.” “Thank you.”
    10 hours ago · Like

    John Levy Maybe I’m going waaaaay out on a limb here, but her entrance strikes me as that of a Siren almost. Her singing, the shadow of the rainfall on the wall, her identity still mysterious when he first lays eyes on her. He doesn’t know if she’s dogfight material, he goes to her because he is beckoned.

    No?

    Because deep down, I think she knows the Jim Swain line is pure bullshit.
    9 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley ‎// he goes to her because he is beckoned. //

    I completely 100% agree with that. Very moving. That is exactly how that scene is played – they’re in this magical shadowy world over in the corner.

    and yes, I think she knows – even though she’s undeveloped as a woman – she’s got a womanly instinct – and she doesn’t just buy his line. She gently asserts her own knowledge – “I have the sheet music upstairs – I don’t remember seeing Swain’s name …”

    This is connected to that great monologue about “bullshit” on the bus near the end of the movie, with the alpha male laying it out for Birdlace. “Lemme tell you something about bullshit – You lay some on me and I buy it, I lay some on you, and you buy it. That doesn’t make us idiots. That makes us buddies.”

    I think the same can be said for courtship. If it’s done in a kind manner, that is, and not with ulterior cruel motives. There’s a certain level of “bullshit” in the opening salvos of a courting dance – and if you’re interested in the person – then you ‘buy” it. At first. Don’t be a hardass. Don’t give him TOO hard a time (if his motives are pure, that is). Let the man try to court you.

    And she does.
    9 hours ago · Like

    John Levy She even humors him later in her bedroom about sadly, there no pictures of “Your Jim Swain though”. Super sweet. Like ‘I know you’re full of shit, but it’s okay. It was great bullshit.’

    He seems very grateful for that. Instead of getting ‘a hard time’.

    And I can’t explain why, but something about her filling sugar bowls when they first meet. I love that.

    He knows from the start she’s pretty fricken great. The thing about her bringing the guitar and the lipstick scene, it’s as though he needs to make her a “dog” possibly in a futile attempt to feel better about what he’s doing or even just so his buddies don’t think she’s awesome even.

    He definitely is beckoned to her and she definitely has him from the start. He spent all day trying to “take prisoners” and in the end failed only to be “taken prisoner”. He lost his Bee stinger or I should say, got stung himself.

    One of Pheonix’s best roles ever.

    p.s. – Love Lili Taylor’s ferocity and frustration when getting ready for the ‘dogfight’ date. Sooooo GOOD!

    p.p.s – could just talk about Lili Taylor FOR DAYS!
    9 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley I love how he laughs at himself when she gently teases him about the Jim Swain thing. There’s a relationship there.

    Oh man and her getting ready…. Savoca in the commentary said that she interspersed those crazy scenes with shots of Phoenix calmly smoking outside – “because I really wanted you guys to get that this is really what we go through to go out with you guys.” hahahahaha I love Savoca.

    I love her as a director because she loves HIM too.

    I really think Birdlace is quite inexperienced in all of this. He doesn’t know what the HELL he is doing. He suddenly finds himself in the position of having to court someone, and make out with her (without having to pay her afterwards) … and he doesn’t know what to do either, but fuck it, he DOES know what to do. It’s all just so damn human.
    9 hours ago · Like

    John Levy ‎”I love how he laughs at himself when she gently teases him about the Jim Swain thing. There’s a relationship there. ”

    Exactly, well put.

    Yeah, he does and he doesn’t know. He’s struggling between what he’s been taught and his own natural intuition. I think that’s his central storyline throughout the middle of the film . For the first time Birdlace is going to follow his natural intuition. And she’s the catalyst for that. She makes it possible. And it’s a lot of cutting through bullshit to get there. Which is a beautiful thing because most people won’t extend you the courtesy of time to do that. And she really gives him that after he comes back for the ‘real’ date and apologizes. Beautiful.

    Yeah, gotta hear that commentary. Puttin’ it in the cue.
    9 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley Yeah, he has a core of goodness and gentleness that has never been able to express itself.

    One of my favorite revealing moments (and I have no way of knowing if this was Phoenix’s idea or Savoca’s or what) – is when they are walking to the dogfight party and she’s babbling on and on about her life, and he’s not listening at all – he’s probably pretty anxious about what is coming at the party – but she’s pouring out her soul to him about how she wants to join the Peace Corps and she wants to have an impact on the world, blah blah …

    and during this one-sided conversation they come to a busy street, and he instinctively holds out his arm in front of her, to keep her from walking into the traffic.

    it’s so freakin’ automatic and protective.

    This is the thing that males can provide (I know, it’s so retro- sue me) – and that women so appreciate when it comes from a pure place – it’s the whole mating dance thing … those things matter. But he’s not doing it to make a show of it, he barely seems AWARE that he’s doing it.

    It’s an unconscious automatic protective moment from him – holding out his arm to stop her from crossing.

    To me, it’s one of the most eloquent moments in the movie in terms of his character, who he really is.
    9 hours ago · Like

    John Levy Who he really is, exactly. That intuition begins unfolding from the moment they start off to the party to when she confronts him after her scene with E.G.

    You and Matt pointed out a lot of things in the scene with the lipstick before they arrive at the Dogfight. You described his internal dialogue. THAT moment is his last ‘attempt’ at fighting his natural intuition. And when he goes back out to find her after, for the actual date, that is the moment he starts to surrender to it.
    8 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley Right. There’s the scene in between the dogfight and him going after Rose scene – where he and his friends are in the arcade, and he’s playing a pinball machine so violently it is as if he wants to kill it. His friend (I keep calling him the alpha – can’t remember the character’s name – Burzon?) tries to hand him a beer – but Birdlace doesn’t even look. You can see Burzon looking down at him quizzically – like: something’s different, what’s up with him …

    And then, Birdlace disappears. They lose track of him. He’s gone after Rose. I like the thought of him playing that pinball machine as though he’s beating the crap out of his own cruelty and bullshit. He’s HAD IT. Until finally (and we don’t see the moment) he probably just stands up straight, turns around, and walks out to go find her.
    8 hours ago · Like

    John Levy YES! YES! THAT. IS. Exactly what’s happening in the arcade scene! Exactly! And that is what Birdlace did.

    Something else awesome in that scene is when he fills his mouth with food just as his buddy come over, almost so as not even have to talk to him.
    8 hours ago · Like

    John Levy He almost tells her outright he’s having this struggle when he says, “There’s a lot of shit I don’t understand, Rose. I never ever apologize and I came all the way back here, to apologize and I don’t understand.” A whole layer of bullshit gets cut right there. That particular scene outside her diner is really beautiful.
    7 hours ago · Like

    John Levy Also, love how much story is in that 4 bee’s tattoo of his in the end.
    4 hours ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley I love how he says he never apologizes – as though it’s a philosophy of his – but then over the course of the night, he apologizes quite a bit.

    There’s something else I wanted to mention that I forgot to mention during my talk with Matt:

    The 4 Bee’s. The 4 guy friends. PERFECTLY cast, and I love how each one of them is so specific. The lead guy, the one who brings EG, is a really interesting case and I think he plays it wonderfully. For example, when he sees Birdlace and Rose through the window. And then re-routs Benjamin away from the window so they won’t be seen by the others. I can imagine that if Benjamin or Okie saw Birdlace or Rose they would make a big deal out of it – maybe even run out to meet them in the street and give Birdlace a hard time. But the other guy? He sees the entire situation, understands immediately – and then protects his friend’s privacy.

    I’m not saying he’s a hero – he’s even more lost in a way than Birdlace is – because he is fully conscious of his behavior, and what he is choosing in life. The whole “bullshit” monologue shows that. But there’s a sudden seriousness in that guy, an understanding – like, he’s a man already. But he just doesn’t want to be one. Not really. Being a man means he is being shipped off to war and he might die. So he wants to raise hell while he can. But when push comes to shove, he’s gonna have to grow up too – and there’s something in his face, as he stares out the window at his friend – that shows all of that. Like: wow, Birdlace is …. going there … look at Birdlace going there ….

    The other two guys are just idiots. Not evil or anything like that, but clearly lower down on the totem pole of maturity. They would have seen Birdlace out the window with Rose and started laughing hysterically, and shouting out to get their attention, etc. They’re still little boys.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley I guess I really like the complexity that that alpha-dude Burzon is allowed. Because somehow that means the deck isn’t too stacked on one side. Meaning: if it were just about “men are bad” and “women are victims” – well, boy, that would have been tiresome. Somehow the movie becomes about the gender roles for both, and how trapped we all can be when we want to connect with someone.

    I think I can almost see a little bit of jealousy in Burzon’s face as he looks out that window.

    Beautiful moment.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley Sorry one more thing: because the same thing that isolates men and women from one another, also isolates men from each other. There is something very powerful in male friendship – and necessary – and that “bullshit” scene on the bus in the end is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. We NEED that scene. These guys are real friends. More so those two than the other two, who are just idiot sidekicks. But these two? Real friends. And they’ve never before spoken to each other – as MEN – in the way they do on the bus at the end. Nice touch.
    48 minutes ago · Like

    Sheila O’Malley Also, did anyone else notice that at the very end, when Birdlace goes back to Rose’s cafe, there’s a little poster for the Peace Corps hanging on the main door?

    It makes me wonder if she actually did join for a year.
    38 minutes ago · Like

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  45. John Levy says:

    I did see that, and couldn’t decide whether it was her hanging on to the idea or if it was a sign she went.

    I got the feeling she did go for a while, sometime between her hearing the news of Kennedy and Birdlace’s return. There was a lot different about her presence and the look in her eye was filled with so much wisdom and understanding. Her walk even had a step in it that said, ‘I know who I am now whether I’m here or out there.’

  46. sheila says:

    All right, John, shall we continue our 2nd straight day of talking about this movie? I’m so happy!

    I love how the cafe looks different now that she’s in charge. Plants, artwork, I don’t know – the rigidity of the 50s (as kitschy and wonderful as that look is) is now gone. It’s more natural, more open.

    And yeah. They meet as equals in that open space. The look in his face as he looks at her. Gah. Kills me. He seems so changed.

  47. sheila says:

    And I’d love to hear what you think about the dynamic between the guys that I mentioned earlier. A male perspective on that would be good – but that seems to me to be what is going on – especially between the main two guys.

  48. John Levy says:

    Haha!

    I love the power of a little movie. I’m probably gonna have a lot to say about is for at least the next week. But I will have to be more sparse in my posts. I’m falling behind on things! Ha! Happily, I might add!

    I thought the dynamic between the 4 Bees was great. Particularly between Birdlace and Burzon. I liked the other two guys and they certainly rounded out the ‘pack’ mentality, but at the same time were sort of one demensional in comparison to Birdlace and Burzon. I would’ve actually like to have rather seen shades of those two guys in Birdlace and Burzon. But, that being said. Loved Okie’s one demension. And the other guy, the scene with Ms. Two-Bears alone was beautiful.

    The ‘bullshit’ scene is a crucial part of the whole film most definitely. Reminded me of conversations I’ve had with pals. 1.) it’s been conditioned in them. Certainly Burzon. 2.) I feel like, okay, you’re 18 or so and about to go off to who the hell knows to face whatever the heck is out there, most likely, death. You are gonna make a choice to either get numb or get real. And I feel that Burzon and Birdlace represent those two choices. Yet always bound by a sense of ‘brotherhood’ and understanding of the ‘bullshit’ code.

    I have more to say about these 4 guys and the last 10 minutes of the film in general. I shall return….

  49. sheila says:

    John – There’s that moment in the arcade when Okie is sort of bonding with a mousy young woman wearing a cowboy hat – and … don’t you get the sense that they like each other? That there’s something that might be going on there? But Burzon pulls him away, saying, “Dogfight’s over” (a terrible vicious line).

    But Okie’s energy with that girl is funny – and she seems to find him funny, too. Like, if they were just free to keep playing the game, maybe they would have bonded, gone out for a Coke, made out a little bit, had a nice time.

    But he’s not a man yet.

    I liked that detail. Women come in all shapes and sizes. There is certainly the ideal, the hotties who stroll by with the Navy guys – the naked woman onscreen at the skin flick (love that scene!) – but then there are all these oTHER women out there –

    Poor Okie goes to Vietnam and is killed, and never got to have the experience Birdlace had – but he was unconsciously moving in that direction, by having fun with that unremarkable-looking-yet-undeniably-cute girl at the arcade.

  50. sheila says:

    And I just love Ruth Two-Bears.

    That actor who played Benjamin is very very funny. Totally nailed the slightly manic energy of a guy who is probably a big fat NERD all by himself and somehow, because his last name starts with B, gets to pal around with the cool guys … He’s the one who still really needs the group. It has totally given him his identity. I liked that actor a lot.

  51. sheila says:

    // kay, you’re 18 or so and about to go off to who the hell knows to face whatever the heck is out there, most likely, death. You are gonna make a choice to either get numb or get real. And I feel that Burzon and Birdlace represent those two choices. //

    Very astute.

    And of course the other 2 guys are not involved in that conversation. There is always some other undercurrent of – I guess intimacy – between Burzon and Birdlace. Maybe more so from Burzon’s side. He is aware, on some cellular level, that Birdlace likes Rose – you can see him checking out the dynamic between Birdlace and Rose when they’re at the table at the dogfight – and he sees it ALL.

    He sees it before Birdlace sees it.

  52. John Levy says:

    I did notice the scene in the arcade with Okie and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I certainly had that feeling (and I thought that girl was awesome) and I think your right.

    The two other actors (Okie and Benjamin) are great. And I love that when the film starts they are seemingly all four on equal footing. I think I just wanted to see….something that didn’t make those two…just ‘our poor dumb buddies’. Which I see a lot in film. It didn’t bother me, I loved the performances and the characters, but when we get to the Nam scene, as brief as it is, Burzon and Birdlace seem different and Okie and Benjamin don’t. It’s just me, I am always wanting to see more duality in characters. But I suppose in a way, as the film goes on, they really help illuminate the changes in Birdlace most of all, but even in Burzon. From the dogfight to the arcade to the porn theater to the tattoo parlor to the bus depot. I get the sense that if Burzon wasn’t already committed to ‘taking the kids out’ and getting numb, if it were just he and Birdlace on the town, he might want to find a girl to get real with to. Which is one prime motivation beyond general screen friendship to support Birdlace’s journey into the heart. Maybe even hoping to learn something from Birdlace someday. It’s a coming of age motivation for Burzon….his first action as a man, is respecting his friends courage to actually grow-up instead of continuing the facade that he already has before facing what they are about to face.

    “There is always some other undercurrent of – I guess intimacy – between Burzon and Birdlace. Maybe more so from Burzon’s side. He is aware, on some cellular level, that Birdlace likes Rose – you can see him checking out the dynamic between Birdlace and Rose when they’re at the table at the dogfight – and he sees it ALL.”

    I love that. That’s a true friend. He puts all the bullshit aside for Birdlace. Especially when he see’s him from the tattoo shop. He knows, ‘this could be it for us’ and in his own way is saying, ‘go Eddie! Whatever is happening with you and this girl, go!’

    Again, the ’4 Bees’ on Birdlace’s arm at the end, in the bar (love that scene too)…..so sad, so much story in that. You know he’s the only one who made it. It’s all over his face, in his voice, his step, and yes…right there on his arm.

    I shall return…

  53. sheila says:

    You know, John, I’ve been thinking about it and I think you’re right. I think there’s a missed opportunity in that scene in Vietnam when they’re playing cards. War touches everyone in different ways, yes, but it might have been nice to see those two having sobered up a little. River, with the shock of hair sticking up, looks terrifying, like an uncivilized warrior – he is lOST in the mayhem of war, and Burzon seems pretty much the same. Maybe a little bit sick of the company of Okie and Benjamin – like he has moved so far past the stupid boobie jokes, he can barely tolerate them.

    But I think you’re right. Even though the movie starts out with these guys behaving like total pricks (“You and me against the pricks. Are you with me?”) – the strangest part about this movie is that I actually like all of them. I wouldn’t want to DATE most of them, but I did care about them. They got wrapped up in the machismo of being young men, facing uncertainty.

    Oh, this is funny: I got an angry email from a woman who didn’t comment here but said she hated that I was so soft on the guys in my conversation with Matt – she said, “It’s obvious you are very male-identified.”

    I don’t understand that language.

    Does she mean I’m straight? Guilty as charged.

    Oh, and that scene in the bar …. every single second is PERFECT. It’s a bar full of old men, including young River Phoenix. Old before his time.

    And the moment when the guy says, without looking up from his paper, “No charge on that, Carl.”

    I can’t take it. I grew up with veterans, my uncles were in Vietnam, my cousin is a soldier … Those moments matter. Those guys know what it’s all about. Even though they’re so uncomfortable in his presence, because they know Vietnam is a fucking mess. But that soft still moment … “No charge on that, Carl.”

  54. sheila says:

    Also, can I just say that I love the choice Savoca made (or maybe it was Phoenix’s idea) – that when Burzon sees Rose and Birdlace out the window of the tattoo shop, what Rose and Birdlace are doing is not just walking along. Birdlace is talking to her, animatedly, with hand gestures – at one point, he gets so into what he is saying, that he has to STOP – and keep talking to make whatever point he is making. Burzon squints out at this scene, and then we see the two of them walking away, and Birdlace is laughing at whatever anecdote he just shared with Rose.

    I love it because it’s so specific – and also, it shows that … hmmm. How to say this without sounding all New-Agey-womyn’s-studies-ish … Without “bashing” on men (which I would never do because as we all know I am very “male-identified”) – the movie has something to say about what women can provide men, if men allow it. You always want to have your guy friends, those are irreplaceable … but there’s nothing quite like talking to a girl that you’re really into. Not even about romantic stuff, but sharing your life with her, maybe impressing her with a story from your life, whatever … It’s almost like nobody can make you feel like a “real man” like a woman who is listening to you can. Does that make sense?

    It’s not about the sex, although that undercurrent is really important. It’s about being okay with being soft, vulnerable – Ugh, this is all coming out wrong.

    Courtship is so much about TALKING. I just love that THAT is what Burzon witnesses out the window, and I think THAT is what causes the brief flash of envy go across his face.

  55. sheila says:

    And this is something that so many romantic comedies nowadays miss: that men and women can actually get something wonderful from each other – that women provide something essential for men and vice versa. There’s so much hostility in today’s bromances and romantic “comedies” – I want to say to the people onscreen, “You obviously despise men … why don’t you just be single for a while?” Or “You obviously hate all women, why even bother to try and date this one?”

    Dogfight starts out there – but the underbelly of it is so human, so present at all times … It really knows that when Birdlace is talking to Rose, something really important is pouring into him, something essential, life-giving, whatever you want to call it. He’s learning that for the first time. It’s hard for him to relax at first. He swears too much when he’s with her, he’s brusque, all that. But he starts to learn some manners, mainly because she’s the kind of girl who requires it – so he adjusts himself in order to be more pleasing to her. Isn’t that what courtship is about? And she, too, adjusts herself – she tones down the rhetoric about war and folk music – she stops the strident stuff that has been buzzing through her head, since she has no one else to talk to – and is able to giggle and laugh and have a good time with this guy, admiring her meal on the table, and smiling at the sights that he wants to show her.

    There’s so much ARMOR in romantic comedies today – the underbelly there isn’t tender and scared, but vicious and pissed off.

    yeah, that puts ME in the mood for love.

    Shaking my head in bafflement …

  56. miker says:

    I remember hearing about Dogfight when it came out. Saw some good reviews and thought about seeing it, but never did. I guess I never trusted that it could really avoid the minefield of potential pitfalls inherent with the subject matter. I’ll be rectifying that mistake sometime soon.

  57. sheila says:

    Miker – I’ve heard a lot of similar comments from friends. But Savoca is terrific (her other films are amazing, too) and her feminist sensibility yet also her kindness towards men makes for an interesting mix. Dogfight is a must-see!!

  58. sheila says:

    And looping back to Corey Haim, John – Lucas has that in spades. Those two sweet young people like to be together, they get something from each other that they can’t get from their friends of the same sex. The movie HONORS that instead of trying to scorn it and destroy it. Ugh.

  59. John Levy says:

    I rarely can get through today’s romantic comedies. Just seem very weak. I feel like it’s so far from the point now. Great escape and all, but….nah.

    Nothing you said came out wrong. It’s just hard stuff to put into words and frankly, shouldn’t be. It’s a much finer thing than words could ever express. It really fucking is.

    My best friend for the better half of a decade is a woman who has also been my lover at one point and continues to be my best friend and we are essentially the only two people in the world we can be THAT vulnerable around without it costing us something. We can say anything. I can be at my weakest and strongest around her. And grand spaces of time and distance don’t seem to change our dynamic in essence. If there is a riff between us and we see each other, without fail, what should only be a brief awkward 5 minute conversation turns into a 5 hour long heart to heart (shit! I got that theme song stuck in my head now) And yes, as important as sex has been to us with and without each other, what is between us is about something much more.

    -”that men and women can actually get something wonderful from each other – that women provide something essential for men and vice versa. -”

    Absolutely true. It’s the very thing that takes them from being a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ to simply two human beings.

    I love that scene when they are walk back to her place and passed the tattoo parlour. They go through all the red tape. He makes confessions, tells stories, unintentionally insults the things she feels passionate about, they make-up. And because of this, because the whole night ISN’T in fact a sham, the scene in her room is almost a 3rd date in a way.

    “But he starts to learn some manners, mainly because she’s the kind of girl who requires it – so he adjusts himself in order to be more pleasing to her. Isn’t that what courtship is about? And she, too, adjusts herself – she tones down the rhetoric about war and folk music –”

    Yeah, they are learning each others sensitivities and how to conduct themselves through it rather than around it. Without really compromising their own individuality. Adjusting the point of view now through a new window.

    For the moment….sheesh…..all I’m gonna say about the email you got from that reader is that she is obviously a major contributor to the difficulties between men and women. And even though I haven’t heard it yet, she should listen to Savoca’s commentary. Making films about people (men or women) as well as watching films comes with a sort of anthropological responsibility if you are going to insist on saying boo about it. I can’t have those conversations with people anymore….if they are coming from such a small, small place.

    The scene in the bar with the old fellas is one of my favorites. EVERYTHING in that scene is more than is on the page or screen. I’m gonna break that entire scene down at some point. From the moment the guy says “on the house” to the end of the scene is even purer magic than the first half of the scene. And I think that scene is set up the way it is to show you just how much older, inside, he is. How he has been robbed of something and that also has a lot to do with why he is there. Which is a whole other analysis to get into.

    -”And the moment when the guy says, without looking up from his paper, “No charge on that, Carl.”-

    -”I can’t take it. I grew up with veterans, my uncles were in Vietnam, my cousin is a soldier … Those moments matter. Those guys know what it’s all about. Even though they’re so uncomfortable in his presence, because they know Vietnam is a fucking mess. But that soft still moment … “No charge on that, Carl.” – ”

    YES! Crucial stuff. They understand something the hippies, the top brass, and the politicians don’t understand. Something else I shouldn’t try to put into words, but in a brief long shot, they understand that when you’ve been in HELL and come back from it, a chunk of you and your soul is missing. It reminds me of a quote from ‘Carlito’s Way’ when he talks about getting out of prison. He says, “You pray for one face that still knows you.” Another reason he is there I’d say. Because, in a way, as far as we know, she is the only person who really, REALLY knows him.

  60. John Levy says:

    The part of him that isn’t a ‘growing pain’. The part of him that is in fact, WHO HE IS! IN HIS HEART! Deep, WAAAAY deep fucking down somewhere in that damaged soul.

  61. sheila says:

    John – // we are essentially the only two people in the world we can be THAT vulnerable around without it costing us something. //

    I have one of those too and cherish him as well. He’s an ex – we dated very briefly – a long time ago – but there’s something profound between us, always and forever. I’ve seen him only about 3 times in 10 years, but he’s always out there, and me for him. I have great girlfriends, too, but sometimes it’s good to have a man give you HIS take on things. Especially one who isn’t either trying to get you into bed, or bored with your company, or whatever. He’s there for me. It’s something quite unique. That’s what’s in that hug at the end of Dogfight.

    I wonder: do you have any theories about what happens next between them? Or should we just leave that be?

    I could see them going to the Justice of the Peace immediately that afternoon and getting hitched. Without even saying a word. hahahaha. Or I could see them just sharing a meal in silence and going their separate ways. Or maybe he moves in with her, and she takes care of him for a while, as he heals. It could go so many different ways.

    And that old-guy bar: I would love to hear you break that scene down. How about the whole circus theme? How random and perfect was that? Apparently that was all the production designer’s idea – and he just went insane with it. I think it, again, adds a nice subtext to the scene – it’s not too pointed-out – you might even miss all the clowns on the wall, because the scene is so fascinating to watch … but there’s something quite odd and off-kilter about that bar, and its’ perfect for the strange time-out-of-time scene that is about to go down.

    And I agree totally with your final comment – about her knowing him deep deep down, his essence, his soul. I think Burzon knows something about him, too – he is “known’ by Burzon – Burzon has his back – but again, there’s something different about being “known” by a woman (if you’re a man, that is). It’s not entirely comfortable, there’s still alot of anxiety – “she is different than me, I want to fuck her, I am afraid of her,” whatever … it’s not exactly RELAXING to be with a woman you are interested in … but to be KNOWN by her …

    I mean, Jesus, he walks into her cafe after not having written like he said he would – he’s been at war for, what, 5 years? They have had zero contact. He walks in, says her name (but not before taking off his hat) – she walks over to him, stares up at him, and then wordlessly takes him into her arms.

    Could not be a more perfect ending. God. I know I’m a broken record, but still: RADICAL.

  62. april says:

    Wow… what an amazing film. I can’t believe the number of great movies I’ve seen just because of your site, Sheila! But this one… just wow. Thank you thank you thank you.

    The whole cast was perfect, but I must say I had no idea Lili Taylor had this kind of acting in her. She’s always been someone that I want to like, but I’m usually put off by the feeling that her characters have just a bit too much Lili in them. Not in this one, though; this time, I thought she absolutely nailed every scene. What she’s able to convey without any words as she gets ready for the party… as she begins to comprehend the reality of the dogfight… when she’s lying in bed listening to “Silver Dagger”… and then when she gets the note in the window. Wow.

    Love love love the ending; didn’t see the wordlessness coming, but can’t imagine any words that could possibly have made it more eloquent. I also really liked the beginning — that there wasn’t an explicit description of what the terms of the dogfight were. We knew something was up, but exactly what had to dawn on us just like it did on Rose. I think that approach was brilliant, because it made it easier to see how the whole thing unfolded from her point of view. Without that element, I think it would have been very difficult for her much more subtly drawn character to attain equal footing with the Birdlace character.

    I also loved the scene in the bar at the end; I thought the circus theme was perfect, and I had the sense that the three guys in the bar were in some sense surrogates for what the other three “bees” might have become. With Berzon the one to make the statement about the free drink without ever looking up from the paper…

    Got a feeling I’ll be watching this one again soon. In time, I could even imagine it displacing Fearless as my nominee for most underrated movie ever.

  63. april says:

    Oh, yeah — one other thing. I assume after so many viewings you’ve noticed the faded “O’Malley’s” sign on a building that looks like it might be a garage…

  64. sheila says:

    April – ha! Yes, I did notice “O’Malley’s”! I’m so glad this conversation prompted you to see it! I like your comment about the 3 old guys being surrogates for the other Bee’s. That’s it, exactly. Birdlace has skipped his youth and is now an old man. His friends are gone, but these three gents awkwardly allow him into their circle for a time. I also like how Birdlace, when he asks about Rose, describes her as “chubby”. I don’t know why I like that moment so much. I suppose it could be seen as mean, but I don’t think so. It’s honest. He loves her anyway. Chubby, shmubby – it’s an accurate description – and doesn’t have anything to do with who she is to him. I liked that because – by that point in the film, you are no longer feeling so protective of Rose. You know she can take care of herself. Him calling her “chubby” isn’t an epithet – somehow. Only River Phoenix could play that and make it kind of sweet and sad.

    And I’ve always been a huge Taylor fan, ever since her crazy manic monologue near the end of Mystic Pizza, where she shows up to work an entire day early, and is on the edge of tears, and making plans to go back to school. She nearly steals the entire movie with that monologue.

    She’s still going strong – her role on 6 Feet Under was unforgettable! She’s amazing.

  65. april says:

    Yes, the “chubby” description was perfect!

    I just watched the ending again, and was impressed by how much Rose had aged, too — not in the same way as Birdlace, though; hers is as much about wisdom and calm and knowing who she is as his is about the opposite. And, my god, the look on his face as they’re embracing!

    What a great movie.

  66. sheila says:

    April – I love how it just keeps going from tight tight closeups of his face to her face to his face to her face … you think it can’t get any more intense, but it keeps getting more intense.

    Amazing!!

  67. John Levy says:

    WOW!
    I love the almost ‘ghostly’ interpretation of the three old guys in the bar. I looked at that scene again and it IS what that scene is presented as.

    Sheila, does Savoca say anything at all about this on the commentary? Or offer any subtextual insight on that scene?

    To answer you question about what do I think happened to them. That’s what I love about endings like this one, it does allow you real power and participation as an audience member to decide for yourself.

    I kind of have two ‘theories’ in mind.

    One is that she closes up the diner and they walk a very different walk together. A quieter, slower, but more revealing walk. In daylight. By evening, without even talking about it, he’s working the cafe with her. And with the same lack of expectation and condition they parted on, they quite naturally come together for what is then an uncertain future. But positive one.

    The other ending I ave in mind is more of a downer. They part from their embrace and sit over a cup of coffee and talk. They try, really try. They listen and understand one another, but…it isn’t there anymore. They resolve to be friends, but ultimately go their separate ways.

    But I of course prefer my first take.

    It’s all about that hug. That embrace is the story, them against the pricks, so to speak. That is the dogfight.

    And in regards to Lili Taylor I have two words: “Joe Lies”.

  68. sheila says:

    “Joe lies …….. when he cries ….”

  69. sheila says:

    John -

    What I remember from the Savoca commentary about that scene is:
    1. The production designer insisted on the circus theme
    2. She felt insecure about this scene because she’s a woman and this is clearly an “old man bar” – women never go there. Most women have never been in a bar like that, although they exist in many forms across the nation. So it’s a world that is foreign to her. She didn’t know how she could access that world and she really depended on those three older actors to take her there.
    3. She also said that she just let these guys “go” – they MADE that scene, and she said she really didn’t need to do anything but put the camera on them.

    And she just wanted it to be clear that River Phoenix was one of them. An old man.

  70. sheila says:

    John – yeah, that really is the dogfight, isn’t it, when you think about the multiple meanings in “dogfight”.

    I like the thought of him sort of working there, without even knowing how it happened … he basically just …. stays.

    I also love how HARD the old guys laugh at their friend with the tattoo on his stomach. You get the sense that these guys have known each other for, what, 40 years? “Man doesn’t want to see your tattoo, Carl.”

    It’s like Carl is the “Okie” of the group – and the one who says “No charge on that” is the Burzon of the group. Or maybe the Birdlace, but I think more that if Burzon had had a chance to grow old, he would have been the type of person to do that.

    My 2 cents.

  71. Helena says:

    Thanks for singing the praises of this film. I’ve now watched it (and it won’t be the last time) and just wanted to make a wee comment. The bit where she sings her song in the club. What a great choice of song. It’s almost eerie. She really is singing about him, as he is now, what’s going to happen to him and to the country he’s being shipped off to. Just made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

  72. sheila says:

    Helena – so glad you watched it as well! So glad people are taking this post as impetus to check it out. Yay!!

    That scene you mention is one of my favorites in the film. I agree with you: it is almost eerie, what is going on in that scene. The lyrics, her nervousness, his stillness out in the seats – how she’s all caught up with being up onstage, and he is really relating to those lyrics – or falling in love with her – maybe a bit of both.

    Perfect scene!

  73. sheila says:

    John – I wonder what you think about the scene that Helena mentioned. I wonder in particular your thoughts on River Phoenix’s choice of how to play that scene. It’s like he keeps that edge, he keeps it just a tiny bit distant – and then there’s that killer slow move-in on his face as she sings.

    I think it’s one of the most powerful moments in the movie. Would love your thoughts.

  74. april says:

    I thought this scene was great, too. To me, it seems like one of a series in which their bond really deepens — in the scene just before it, they do their apologizing dance in the middle of the street after he’s hurt her feelings about a song she loves, and he ends up saying in a very straightforward way that he doesn’t want to fight because he likes her. Then, in the scene after, she’s joining him in his Whack-a-Mole world — initially going through the motions but then really getting into it — *with* him. So in addition to everything else that’s already been said about what’s going on in the coffeehouse scene, I think he’s also really trying to make up for having hurt her by showing interest in her music. But then there’s the song, and those lyrics that are all about him… to move into her space, he’s also got to open himself to the emotions that his bravado bullshit is all about protecting him from. It’s a struggle, but he manages to stay with her, and with himself, and with the reality of his life that she’s singing about. It’s so beautiful, and poignant… and the song ties it all together.

  75. sheila says:

    April – Lovely. I love that you brought in the Whack-a-Mole. Love that scene!

    // he’s also got to open himself to the emotions that his bravado bullshit is all about protecting him from. //

    That is spot-ON.

    That is just what is going on there. As I mentioned, in the commentary by Savoca, Phoenix had told her how he wanted to play the scene – and she felt a bit iffy about it, but she let him try it. The take we see is his way, Phoenix’s way – which just shows his smarts, his intuition as an actor.

    Because what seems to happen in the scene – since it starts out kind of casually, with him throwing it out there, “Hey, why don’t you play something?” – is that he then gets ambushed, out there in the audience – by the lyrics. By her, too, but mostly by the lyrics to the song. He really gets what he is going out there to do.

    But that can only work if he starts out a little bit blase – and, like you said, being “polite” because that’s what you’re supposed to do: show some interest in what your girl is interested, etc.

    • april says:

      What occurred to me after I posted is that the Whack-A-Mole scene also follows the coffeehouse in such an abrupt way. That suggests to me that whacking the moles is doing for him the same thing that the pinball machine did right after Rose called him on his bullshit at the party. Like, oh my god, I felt something…. now I’ve got to destroy!!!! And he had to get at least some of that vulnerability back in the box pretty quickly. But not all of it — very next scene they go to the music box/diorama place and have that wonderful, tentative, vulnerable first kiss.

      Also loved it that in the coffeehouse scene Rose said her hair wasn’t yet long enough for her to be a real folksinger. Even the throwaway lines are gems… did I mention I *love* this movie?????

  76. sheila says:

    Oh man, I know, that line is so vulnerable, so sweet. She needs someone who won’t make fun of her for it.

    “I’m waiting for my hair to grow a little bit longer, then I’ll be ready to hoot.”

    Heartcrack!!!

    And yeah, I like your comments on how those scenes follow one another. Once he whacks a few moles like a maniac, he is then ready to get quiet and gentle and move in to kiss the dame. But he really needs to whack those moles first.

    If they had kissed at the cafe after her song, it would have been too schmaltzy – too saccharine. Right?

  77. april says:

    Yes!!!

    And the arcade is the perfect place for them to finally meet on common ground… Remember, he’s the one who takes her there, thinks of it as a place she’ll like. She does like it, but her focus is on the little-kid aspects of it — the toys and the music and the wonder of the animations. He’s got to have everything going at the same time, though, to match the chaos he’s got going on inside. But their worlds have finally come together; they’re both totally there, and totally with each other.

  78. bybee says:

    “Don’t sing love songs, you’ll wake my mother…”

    Now that I’m a fan of the movie, I’ve been going up to my friends and insisting that they must view it also. Now.

    Re Lili Taylor…Another good performance is her turn as Edna Ferber in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.

  79. sheila says:

    My favorite is her performance in Arizona Dream, as the suicidal accordion-playing daughter of Faye Dunaway. Unfortunately, the version of that magical film is severely edited – I remember seeing it in the theatre and it was much longer. Much of the subtlety was lost in the edited version. I yearn for a director’s cut.

  80. John Levy says:

    The scene with the music boxes and the scene with her singing at the piano are two of the most crucial set pieces of the film. The heart of the film.

    The scene where she sings to him from the piano is insanely powerful, not just because of the lyrics and the beauty and tenderness of how she plays and sings it, but visually. The camera cuts back and forth from a dolly shot pushing in on her and pushing in on him. The moment is essentially drawing them much MUCH closer. This is THE moment he feels a kindred connection to her. The moment she has his heart. Forget about what you see him doing or how he is trying to be ‘cool’ in the scene. The camera is telling you 1.) He is now truly seeing her for the first time. 2.) he feels he is being seen for the first time.

    It’s beautiful.

    Then the scene with the music boxes is his ‘serenade’ to her. He is not musically talented, but he none the less can serenade her with sound and vibration, drowning out any further nervousness, drawing them physically closer. It’s the first scene where they are really REALLY alone together and the surrounding, in an urban sort of pocket full-o-change kind of way is magical.

    Again, fucking beautiful.

    btw, just showed this to my Mom who was in her 20′s in San Francisco during the time the film takes place, just before she met my Dad and she loved it, was glued to the screen. It took her back. And she balled like a baby at the end.

    p.s. ~ Lili Taylor is indeed awesome as Edna Ferber in Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle. Also, ‘I Shot Andy Warhol’.

  81. John Levy says:

    As far as Pheonix’s performance in the scene where she sings to him… he is maintaining the ‘Birdlace’ exterior, but you see, when that camera is pushing in on him, a grand, master stroke chink in his armor. He has been wooed by her. He is different, more ‘romantic’ for lack of a certainly better word I can’t find, from that moment on.

    At least…that’s my take.

  82. sheila says:

    John – I too was fascinated and drawn by the camera moves in that cafe-singing scene. (Which is quite different from the sort of circling camera moves in the music-box-kiss scene). Every shot is perfect. She doesn’t go in too close too quick. She almost gives them both their privacy in this very public moment … and they’re both having different experiences, although they are getting closer to having the same experience. Everyone here is right: this is when they click. They’ve been moving towards it, and then – it happens. They have a brief respite, while they Whack Some Moles, and then he takes her into the music room. He’s ready now. And he better be ready, because she is still unaware that Sex is on the table for that night. I don’t think she thinks of herself that way. She lives with a strict mother, and spends her evenings watching TV with her mother, and going out to the Tuesday night open mic nights at the folk music cafe – probably the highlight of her week, where she probably sits in the back quietly and has a Coke. (Although I like the detail that she says to the owner, when she takes Birdlace in, “I’m just gonna show him around, Bob, okay?” This girl isn’t a neurotic head-case, pathologically shy. She lives in the world, and has a LIFE.) But I don’t think she’s thinking, “Maybe we’ll have sex tonight!” She may be a little bit worried about having her first kiss at some point, but she certainly won’t be the first one to make a move. She’s terrified.

    So she strolls through the music room like a little kid, agog and alight – (I love how he keeps shooting these secret intense glances at her – he’s getting ready, waiting for the right moment) – and I have watched the scene a million times looking for at least some small awareness that SHE is aware of what he is planning. I can’t find it. She’s still in a cocoon, not awakened yet – although once the moment starts, she whooshes out to meet it. He’s helped her “be ready”, if that makes sense. He didn’t jump the gun too early.

    There is something so eerie about that scene, as beautiful as it is – with the jangling music and the closeups of the little ceramic cows and guys in tuxes playing instruments … I can’t put my finger on it, and maybe I don’t need to. It is a moment in time. Falling in love is magical, but Savoca never forgets that there is darkness at the edges, looming towards them. That is why they could connect.

    Even the song she chose for their first time having sex – the Dylan song – she goes into that quite a bit in the commentary. She was locked on that song from the beginning – it HAD to be that song – and some of the other colleagues working on it with her tried to help her see other options, not because that one wouldn’t work – but because they wanted her to at least consider another way. But she couldn’t.

    That song is a heartache song. It’s not a typical falling-in-love song – it’s the song you play when you’re getting over someone. And it’s perfect for the situation the two are in, even though they may only be aware of it dimly in that important moment.

  83. sheila says:

    April – I love your comment:

    // Remember, he’s the one who takes her there, thinks of it as a place she’ll like. She does like it, but her focus is on the little-kid aspects of it — the toys and the music and the wonder of the animations. He’s got to have everything going at the same time, though, to match the chaos he’s got going on inside. //

    Right! And once they start kissing, the cacaphony dies away, and you only hear one of the music boxes, reflecting their focus on one another, and the romantic nature of the moment. But before then, just NOISE. It was a reflection of what he was going through.

    God, I miss him. What a fine actor.

  84. Helena says:

    I could have gone a lot longer about that coffee house scene, so I’m glad you and John dug in a little deeper. There’s such a lot going on in it, the music, the falling in love. But that eeriness … I guess the word I was looking to pin it down was – it’s a lament for something that hasn’t happened yet, that they can’t know will happen, to themselves and to the world. Expressed with fantastic economy, in the song, in the scene. One of the many instances in the film where you could just never have predicted where it would take you. Because we know that Birdlace is kind of doomed, but it’s foreshadowed by poetry, not clunking irony.

    Love the scene later in the bedroom too, especially how she changes into That Nightie.

  85. sheila says:

    Oh That Nightie. Love your capital letters. The nightie!!! And how he takes one look at her in that billowing granny gown and says seriously, “You look real good.”

    He totally means it. Awesome.

  86. sheila says:

    // it’s a lament for something that hasn’t happened yet, that they can’t know will happen, to themselves and to the world. //

    Exactly.

    We haven’t covered the mini-montage following their night together when we see in succession:
    1. Rose sitting with her guitar on the floor listening to We Shall Overcome, zoning out in bliss at the night she just had
    2. Her and her mom watching the footage of the announcement of the death of President Kennedy
    3. An endless line of Marines getting onto the ship to take them to Vietnam

    And then – cut to 4 years later, with the 4 Bee’s in Vietnam.

    That’s a lot of ground to cover. I think she does it with economy and courage. Leading us through it. Okay, that’s done, now we’re going here, now here, now here …

    Savoca’s comments on the commentary track are very interesting about that montage and how much everyone (including herself) worried about how to pull it off.

  87. Helena says:

    Economy is a key word in how the film works. I think she hits very precise points between what she can count on the audience knowing in terms of historical context, and how she chooses to show her characters experiencing it. The scene in Vietnam is so brief, but tells you so much about the Birdlace you see at the beginning. In a way you’ve been waiting for it to happen, and then it comes: Birdlace and his friends are finally chewed up and spat out by the war.

    (BTW, Sheila, the DVD isn’t really available here in the UK – but I was able to watch by the miracle of youknowwhat tube. Some bits even had the sound track removed because of copyright issues, but eventually I was able to track a ‘full’ version down. I’d love to hear Savoca’s commentary, not to mention track down other films by her.)

  88. sheila says:

    Helene – I love your resourcefulness and also God bless Youtube. I’ve found some really hard to find stuff there – although watching something on Youtube is obviously not ideal!!

    And that montage, too – if I’m not mistaken, “We Shall Overcome” is playing through the whole thing, or at least underneath it. Again, that song has such specific political connotations but because of the love story we’ve just seen – it takes on a really personal feel here (not to mention the fact that we know how important that song is to Rose). But Savoca lifts it out of its specific political/social context – and it becomes a PERSONAL anthem. Not entirely personal – that time in history was one when the personal and the political were wed, they really had to be … but it feels much different playing under those scenes, after we’ve seen this love story – the words even sound different. Again, a bold choice. It might not have worked. But I really think it does.

  89. Helena says:

    Yes, bless YT and all the kind souls who share their favourite films. I’ll watch Dogfight again, that’s for sure.

  90. John Levy says:

    I think if Dogfight ever gets released on Criterion Collection, your IM with Matt and the thread that followed should be published in the dvd booklet. I just realized how much I would love to find something like this in a criterion booklet for a film like Dogfight, that hasn’t really been properly recognized for it’s place in the first century of cinema. In a very loose way, it is almost more revealing than some essays I’ve read in those booklets.
    I love the effect this film has had all over again.

  91. sheila says:

    John – That’s so nice of you to say, and I’m with you: an essay is all well and good, but I would love to read a back-and-forth about any of my favorite films too.

    Do you have any contacts at Criterion? :)

    We can get this thing moving!!

    I should post it on IMDB on the Dogfight page. I’ll get right on that.

  92. Lizzie E says:

    I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for a while now, and when I saw you had this indepth conversation going I decided to watch it before reading all of your insights. So I popped it in last night.

    And my heart promptly broke at least 4 times.

    The scenes at the beginning when the Marines are trying to pick up the girls basically made me curl up into a fetal position. All of the actresses in those scenes did such a good job, I thought, trying to tamp down their mingled disbelief and excitement, letting incredulity slowly evaporate, and I ached for them.

    When he ripped up the little pink paper?! It felt as if he was physically ripping up my own heart. I could only say “Oh my God” in total disbelief and anguish.

    And the four B’s?! The new tattoos? SUCH PAIN. I might have gasped.

    But then I just loved, loved the whole restaurant sequence, and her frantically improvising about the mom’s funeral as he’s THROWING the jackets around…and then when she ordered in such a pleasant tone–and he just looked at her in total shock–I cheered to myself!

    His walk–before and after? Genius.

    Their–I don’t even know what to call it–hug? embrace? at the end–when she’s basically holding him together? Beautiful. Heartbreaking. And it just keeps going.

    This seems like the kind of movie that could haunt you forever–but in a good way, a life-affirming way–”People can change. Don’t stop caring. Be open to love. Remember Rose and Eddie? Remember them?”

    So now that I’ll be thinking about it all weekend…off to read the conversation/saga.

  93. sheila says:

    Lizzie E – love your comments. So glad you went and watched it (and waited before reading this conversation!!)

    I have shown this movie to friends who have never seen it before – and I remember one woman in particular, a good friend of mine, literally gasping in pain when he ripped up her address. It’s a brutal moment. It really brings you DOWN from the high of their night, and brings you back to the real world.

    In the scene where he’s throwing the jackets around: one of the things I love so much about how she’s playing the “girlfriend” or “wife” is how much FUN she is having – she reminded me so much of myself as a teenager. Like, the pretend-game they are having, the adventure they are on … she has never had so much fun in her LIFE.

    And his response when she orders her meal? Hilarious!! He’s stunned, and also … he kinda loves her in that moment. Like, “Look at Rose, swearing. This girl is awesome.”

    I ached for the dogfight girls, too. I thought each and every one of them was wonderful. And even though it was very sad when Rose blew the whistle on the dogfight – I am just glad that those other girls KNEW what was done to them. I think it’s better to know, rather than to walk around blithely unaware that you have been used so cruelly. It’s terrible, but I am still glad that they all found out.

  94. sheila says:

    And I like what you say about the hug. Had never thought about it that way before: Yes, she is holding him together.

  95. Lizzie E says:

    Thank you, Sheila! Oh, these comments are so wonderful! (That Nightie MUST be in caps. Of course.) Although I was aware that there was… SOMEthing going on in the clown bar, the fact that he was supposed to be an old man with them…and the shift in tone as soon as they realize he was in Vietnam…that clarified a lot.

    One other part that I haven’t seen mentioned specifically that I loved, just loved is the dueling apologies (in the middle of the street, no less!) I love how it starts with them being so sincere, then trying to be even MORE sincere until it gets slightly absurd…and then, even though she tries to end it, he gets the last word. And he really needed to have the last word, not just because he’s Birdlace and a man, but because he’s the one who stepped over the line and hurt her feelings–and he stepped up and owned that fact. And the WAY he says “Well, I’m really REALLY sorry, so you shut up”–humorously, firmly, and still totally sincerely–is just right. Makes me smile just thinking about it!

  96. Jeremy says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your comments Sheila regarding this amazing film. I have a question…and it may be hard to answer…but considering how we saw these two characters develop throughout the film…what happens after the hug? Where do they go from there?

  97. sheila says:

    Jeremy – That’s so funny, we were also speculating on that very thing up there in the comments thread (which, I realize, is the longest comments thread in the free world).

    First of all: I would love to hear what YOU think. What do you think happens??

    I have a hard time separating what I WANT to happen from what I think MIGHT happen but here’s what I honestly think: I think he walks into that cafe that day, and they hug, and he never leaves again. That’s what I think happens. I could see her serving him up a good healthy meal, and then putting him into a hot bath, and then they fall asleep in one another’s arms that night – and then the next day they go down to the Justice of the Peace and get hitched. I honestly think that is plausible. It’s what I HOPE for – and I also believe that if it DIDN’T go that way, they would be okay with it too. At least they reconnected. At least they had that moment of reconnection.

    But I honestly think that when he walks through that door – he will never leave the place again. He’s there to stay.

    What do you think??

  98. Jeremy says:

    I think you are absolutely right Shelia. I don’t see any other real option for Birdlace. When he walks into Rose’s shop at the end of the movie, he walks in a broken man. That is why I thought it was interesting to see the broken down truck parked in front of the shop as Birdlace makes his way into the shop. That kind of symbolized the condition of Birdlace’s soul at that moment. Even more interesting is the fact that right as Birdlace is entering the shop…the guys working on the truck get it to start again.

    As a guy, I just find that last scene so moving. I can only imagine what is racing through his mind as he walks back towards Rose’s neighborhood (glancing over the bridge where he had thrown his coat that night with Rose…as if he hopes the coat is still there), looks out from the bar at Rose, and even the final walk into Rose’s shop. In 1963, he had walked into the coffee shop with such confidence…with such purpose. I remember being like that when I was 18…so sure that I had everything figured out…confident of where I was headed. Birdlace was “ready for anything” in ’63. As Bob Seger said in one of his songs…Birdlace was “like a rock”. Yet, the second time he walks into that shop…he is no longer that 18 going on 19 year old boy. He has seen the horrors of war…been introduced to the greyness of life (not black and white as he most likely thought in ’63). He is no longer confident…no longer sure of himself.

    All he is sure of is that he needs Rose. He has no one else. So I can only imagine the thoughts he was having…”is she still there”, “will she remember me…”she has to remember me”…”how has she changed”…”is there a place for me in her life”….”will she reject me”. It takes great courage for him to walk into the shop. I love how he pauses at the door. Man, I’ve been there…I know exactly the mixture of fear, desire, and longing he is having at that moment. He is being drawn to Rose…has been ever since he left Vietnam. Yet, there is the fear of the unknown for Birdlace…what is going to happen when she sees me?

    That is why the look on his face right before Rose hugs him is so POWERFUL. That one look conveys so much more than any words could have. At that moment…he is completely and utterly vulnerable. His friends are dead…his idealistic vision of the world is gone…and all he has left is this young girl he spent one amazing night with. When she embraces him…that is it. She already had his heart…at that moment he gives her his soul. That isn’t easy for a guy to do. It isn’t easy to allow yourself to be completely laid bare before a woman.

    Afterwards, I think you are right. He needs her to take care of him. I think Rose, who appears to be so wise, would sense that. It is amazing to see the differences in the characters from the first time Birdlace walked into the shop. As I said above, in 63…Birdlace is the confident one while Rose was kinda unsure of herself. Yet, when Birdlace returns…the roles are reversed. Birdlace needs her to take care of him…for her to give him a bath…for her to hold him in her arms as they fall asleep. He needs her to make a place for him in her life…because as I said, she is all he has. Without her…without that magical date they had his last night stateside…who knows what would have happened to Birdlace when he returned home?

    The whole movie is just amazing and I think it says so much about male/female relationships. Today, it seems that so many “romance” movies revolve around sex and all that. Not Dogfight. Sex is almost an afterthought in this movie. Instead, we see why a man needs a woman…reasons that move past the sexual…and exposes the connection that can be made between a man and a woman…the instinctive need that is present. Even in the midst of the all the bullshit.

    I feel that at the end, Birdlace and Rose have overcome. They have overcome all the crap that is going on around them…they have overcome the pricks…they have overcome their own self-constructed walls. That isn’t easy to do. Yet, they were able to do just that. I think that is one reason why the movie has such a powerful effect on people when they watch…we all want what Birdlace and Rose have.

    November 21, 1963…young Eddie Birdlace goes out to find a girl to take to a dogfight. What he finds instead in a young woman who he will walk with through the dogfight that is life. A young woman that will be his saviour.

  99. Robert says:

    I just finished watching for the first time moments ago (because I wanted to read the back-and-forth). It’s immediately a favorite. For strictly personal reasons, as it always is… In this case, because I was lucky enough to find a woman who, when I told her all the horrible ways I’d lived as a single man — and above any way she could have reacted — chose to hug me. It’s as if she saw this movie and was just waiting for the right selfish jerk to come along to be a Rose for. There is nothing like a silent hug, when rejection is what you deserve.

  100. sheila says:

    Robert – Oh, your comment warms my heart in so many ways. I am so happy you had that hug and that it worked out. And that the movie touched you on that level. Profound stuff, isn’t it???

  101. sheila says:

    Jeremy – your comment is fantastic. I have read it 5 times just to keep soaking it in. I think you’re bang on the money, with all of the swirling issues going on in Birdlace, and what it is he is going back to find.

    But let’s not forget her either. She could have become one of those professional-martyrs that the 60s was so good at producing: a woman who chose to love the whole world as opposed to finding a lover for herself. Devoting herself to causes, with all her heart, and getting her needs met (sort of) that way. That was the life she had already (unknowingly) chosen for herself. Until he came along.

    She set him free by hugging his broken self. But he set her free by seeing her, and by ushering her into the world of love, connection, one-to-one.

    Every woman has the need to nurture. Men, too – and the moment when Birdlace automatically puts his arm out to keep her from stepping into traffic shows how deep that goes in us – but the movie is about those primordial needs, which may not be PC to say, but who cares. This is love we’re talking about. Her need to nurture, to “help out” (in the South, in the Peace Corps) can now be channeled into something even more important – loving this man who needs it so badly.

    And neither of them even have to SAY anything about ANY of this – that’s the best part!

    Thank you so much for your comment!!

  102. PeaceLove says:

    Great to read through your discussion and the comment field. Dogfight came out of left field for me when I first saw it about 8 years ago. I remember when was released (Siskel & Ebert reviewed it!) and was mainly curious because I’m a big fan of River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, both of whom are astonishing in this one. I think the secret to its success lies in the fact the film is so finely calibrated throughout; the emotional currents are subtle but very deep.

    I think Phoenix did his best work in this one and the earlier “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon,” another strange, dark quasi-comedy. “Reardon” was horribly magled by the studio upon it’s first release but a restored version, titled “Aren’t You Even Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye?” is getting a new lease on life. Good backstory by Nathan Rabin here: http://williamrichert.com/

  103. sheila says:

    PeaceLove – Thanks for reading and commenting!

    I was obsessed with Phoenix from Stand By Me on, so yes, I saw Jimmy Reardon (love Nathan’s piece, which I’ve read – totally agree with it). I’m also impressed with Phoenix in Thing Called Love – preparing a piece on it as we speak.

    I saw Dogfight in the theatre. Loved Ebert’s review, especially his comments on the powerful last moment.

  104. Pingback: Dogfight

  105. Troy says:

    This was a fun read. Now I have to see this movie. A blessing and a curse. :-)

  106. JCS says:

    I love the way you’ve unpacked this film here. Dogfight’s a gem; one of those that just stays with you.

    Since several interlocutors have weighed in on their favorite moments, here are mine:

    1. The condom. Birdlace is stripping down with an earnest urgency and suddenly remembers the condom in his wallet. A look of momentary panic rushes across his face, praying that there’s still one left. Relieved, he then takes it and secures it in the nearest object of convenience — Rose’s stuffed teddy bear. This little sequence is … perfection. Besides the endearing imagery, it’s one of my favorite parts because we see Birdlace man up. He’s acting responsibly, unselfishly. It’s such a contrast to what often goes down between couples of the same age (then and now): an awkward exchange over getting the guy to wear a rubber.
    2. Birdlace striking out with his first few targets. Sheila, you made an interesting point that had it not been for Birdlace, Rose may have become like the hippie at the end of the film. I actually think it’s more likely she would have turned into the older woman who suggests that Birdlace find a streetwalker. That woman is savvy, self-assured even. But there is rancor there. Perhaps she was a Rose years before, vulnerable and open. Now sadder and wiser, she has no compunctions about busting his balls. This film is about the poles of alienation and connection — and especially about the miracle of a man and woman finding themselves tethered to one another in a society where there’s such a lack of empathy between the sexes. There’s hope for them because of it — for Birdlace in particular in light of the trauma he’s endured. We see how in certain areas of the world the most extreme form of alienation between men and women, gender apartheid, has wreaked havoc.
    3. The final embrace. Everyone who loves this film loves this scene. The first time I saw it, there wasn’t for me any ambiguity about what happens to these two. Subsequent viewings have slightly altered my thinking on this. Although to the extent it is ambiguous, I think it’s on Rose’s side. This film’s center of gravity is Birdlace’s evolution. The last ten minutes of Dogfight make that clear. We see the battle wound, the haggardness, the limp, the post-traumatic stress, the hesitation to walk into Rose’s Cafe, the need for some liquid courage beforehand at the bar across the street. (And speaking of evolution, compare Birdlace’s nonplussed reaction to the hippie with his apoplexy years earlier over the maitre d’.) On the other hand, we don’t really know what happened to Rose after Kennedy was shot. From the poster, we gather she may have joined the Peace Corps for a tour. She’s now in charge at the cafe. But was there another man after Birdlace? We don’t know. Does she have a lover now? We don’t know. Birdlace we know has been in battle more or less the whole time. He may have had occasion to seek the solace of prostitutes while he was stationed overseas (or some other type of random, casual encounter). But I think it’s safe to say that his last — and probably also his first and only — meaningful experience was with Rose. We all understand what it means to a war-weary GI to have something to hold onto, even if his original intention was to let it go. But for Rose it could be different. It’s possible. I still like to think that my first reaction was the right one, though. The subtext of this scene encompasses so much. Rose embraces him because he’s alive, because he’s come back to her, because she sees his pain and because, in the scheme of things, nothing else really matters.

  107. Bethel says:

    Dear Lord, for some reason, a few weeks ago, compelled and propelled by my love for this film for the last 20 years, I trawled through pages of Google having searched ‘Dogfight Review’ and what a find! Thank you Sheila et al.

    I feel that I’ve come home. You cannot or perhaps somehow, do know what it is like to possess such a searing love for this movie and have no outlet for it. I’ve made my family and almost everybody I know watch this movie, but to finally be able to read all the above, is for me, pure unadulterated joy!
    What joy!
    There’s nothing to add here other than to say thank you again, Sheila.
    And to also add another scene that just killed me and that is the part where Rose carves out of her dinner for Birdlace on to a little sideplate. After all his protestations about being OK and not being hungry, his reaction, beautifully acted by Phoenix to her doing this is pure genius from his final protest ‘whacchu doin’? to his quiet, ‘thank you’

    GAaaawd!!!! I love this movie and I love you guys for loving it too!

  108. A real late comer me, but THANK YOU for your wonderful discussion on DOGFIGHT. I got the link by finding Nancy Savoca’s website – by accident that too. I loved Dogfight the first time I saw it, and afterwards many times, too. So I wondered what happened to Savoca, and it’s nice to know she has a new film up.

    But Dogfight is just such a beautiful, atmospheric film. I used to watch it on VHS at Christmas, but I never found it on dvd, so now I’ll have to go and see where I can find the one with Savoca’s commentary. The relationship of the characters is so touching and real, and how such a gentle and wise a film is constructed on such a risky premise. And how the distancing – setting the story in the 60s – works so well. Of cours, Lili Taylor and River Phoenix are exceptional actors. It’s not just the loss of Phoenix but the loss of “that kind” of filmmaking that makes you sad. American film can be such a great art form but nowadays it’s used many times so stupidly. I don’t know all the teenage films that you talk about later in the comments, but that brings to mind Joe Dante’s Matinee, which I only saw just recently on dvd and then again a couple of weeks ago in Sodankylä, Finland at the Midnight Sun Film Festival with the director in the audience. Matinee is also a very sweet film about youth, and also a comedy about the experience of seeing films and making B-movies. I congratulated Dante on his ability to get a real performance out of child actors, which works wonders in the film.

    Dogfight is a masterpiece, but so seldom seen – or talked about – that even I, a great fan, have not seen it in many years. I have to correct that failure on my part. Thank you very much for caring and putting up such beautiful images from the film for us to get in the mood of it.

    Greetings from Finland
    ~(;^)~Hannu

    • sheila says:

      Hannu – Hello!! Yes, I saw that Nancy Savoca had added a link to our conversation on the front page of her site – what an honor! I’m very glad people are discovering this conversation here, since it’s been so interesting – and is certainly the longest on-going conversation I’ve ever hosted on my site!!

      I actually recently re-watched it yet again. It just ALWAYS works.

      And yes, see if you can track down the DVD with Savoca’s commentary. It’s really really interesting.

      Thanks for your great comment!

  109. Be sure to catch Pasek and Paul’s world-premiere musical adaptation of Dogfight playing at Second Stage Theatre in NYC through August 19th! Two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello directs, with choreography by Tony winner Chris Gattelli, and book by Peter Duchan. Visit 2ST.com to learn about $30 tickets for theatergoers under 30 and our $18 student rush!

  110. Daniel R. Whitman says:

    As a former marine, the movie was spot on. I loved the movie when it first came out and I just recently saw it again with my fiancee who is alot like the character Rose. She loved it also. It is one of my favorite movies! Great job!

  111. Maire says:

    Hi,
    This whole post (and subsequent commentary) is wonderful! I love this movie and was so pleased to find some in depth conversation about it.
    Regarding the director’s commentary on the DVD, though: I’ve only noticed one edition of the DVD out in 2003 but on amazon it says there are no extras on it. Is there another edition out there with the commentary, or is that description wrong?

  112. Simona Micianova says:

    I watched Dogfight yesterday and I have to think about this great film since, can’t help it. I love the sincere atmosphere, it seems so real, it almost feels like I am watching my friends on the screen or something. If you know what I mean.
    I just love the whole film, everything…. It gives me creeps. And it also makes me little sad because of the tragic death of Mr. Phoenix, who was so unique actor and didn’t have the chance to live a long happy life.

    Btw. I am so glad I have found this article, I am really enjoying reading it. But what makes me a bit angry is the fact, that I have never heard about this film before. Yes, I was 4 years old and lived in the Czech Republic in 1991. But still, everyone should know about this film.
    (sorry for the mistakes, I am not a native speaker and I rarely comment on something in english, but this time I just feel I have to).

    • sheila says:

      Simona – thank you so much for your comment and I am so glad you discovered this incredible film! I agree that everyone should see it.

  113. eliane says:

    Does anyone know what Eddie whispers to Rose when they’re in bed? I always wondered… I was 13 in 92 when I first saw the movie, and I identified myself to Rose. 20 years later, I still cry with her when she listens to Joan Baez and I’m falling in love again with Eddie. I now understand things in another point of view but I feel love between the two the same way. Please excuse my bad english (french is my first language), and thank you for your blog. May the movie have a very long life.

    • sheila says:

      Eliane – your English is just fine, thank you so much for commenting!

      I love that moment when he whispers to her. I don’t know what he whispers but, like you, I like thinking about it. What I really love about that moment is that whatever it is he whispers, it’s something that makes her laugh, something that relaxes her because he can tell that she’s very tense and nervous!

      A kind and sensitive thing to do on his part!

  114. Casey says:

    Well, I just spent an insane amount of time reading the original discussion and every comment here.

    I just discovered this movie about a month ago and it’s already one of my favorite films. I’ve watched it about 8 times… And I never, ever watch films that much. I love the fact that I catch something new every time I watch it. At first, I thought it was just a film about a cute guy falling for an awkward girl under odd circumstances, but it’s SO MUCH more than that. I seriously cannot get enough of this film. I’m almost afraid to share it with my friends because I’m afraid that they won’t see how truly brilliant it is. One random moment I love that I don’t think has been mentioned is when Rose says to Edfie “I don’t think you’re a little shit.” “Gee, thanks.”

    There is one question I have though, I’ve seen a picture online of Rose and Eddie in her bed and he has his head resting on her stomach. Does anyone know anything about this? Was it from a deleted scene?

    • sheila says:

      Casey – Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I know what you mean about showing the movie to friends. What if they don’t get it?? Yes!

      “I don’t think you’re a little shit.” “Gee, thanks.”

      Ha! Wonderful!

      I haven’t seen that image you mention, of him with head on her stomach. If I recall, the copy of the film that I have does not have any deleted scenes. But I do know that it was recently re-released by Warner Brothers, I believe – a brand-new copy of the DVD and maybe there are deleted scenes on that version??

  115. Mare says:

    I just watched “Dogfight” for probably the 9th time recently when I introduced the film to a family member who’d never seen it. Like you Sheila, I regard this one as a quiet little masterpiece and could probably enjoy it repeatedly. It’s so rare to find a film where every single nuance seems to come together just perfectly to paint a story of amazing power and poignancy. So how amazing to run across this fantastic discussion thread dating all the way back to 2011! I wanted to comment because I’d ended up having the very same “how do you think they ended up?” discussion with the family member in question, who happened to be male. Interestingly, his initial reaction was very literal and practical, until he went through and watched the film a second time. There’s just something about the framing of that final sequence — nearly everything left to expression, eyes, silences, tone of voice — that forms the core of the entire movie. I am always mystified when a viewer describes these last few minutes as “tacked on.” They form an epilogue, yes … but in my opinion, one that deepens the significance of every event that came before it. Savoca made some extremely brave choices, but none more effective than refusing to pull away on that final, heart-wrenching, healing, redemptive embrace. It was as if all the right ingredients were there in 1963, but they wouldn’t necessarily have held together until those intervening years of pain and disillusionment burned off the extraneous parts and solidified these two as soulmates. Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but after such a powerful coda I can’t imagine any other fate for Rose and Eddie.

    p.s. ~ I also find “What Have They Done to the Rain” almost unbearably poignant here, because it not only foreshadows what becomes of the unsuspecting Eddie but of River Phoenix as well. I imagine part of me wants these characters to end up together because in real life, it was painful to lose such a gifted, good, and profoundly sensitive spirit.

    • sheila says:

      Mare – Thank you for reading and your comment!

      // I am always mystified when a viewer describes these last few minutes as “tacked on.” They form an epilogue, yes … but in my opinion, one that deepens the significance of every event that came before it. //

      Totally agree.

      And I also think they end up “together,” in whatever form that might take.

      It still blows me away that Savoca made that choice, to end it the way she did. Yes, so bold. So mysterious. So perfect. And no lines between them! I mean, wow!! Profound.

  116. Mare says:

    Oh shoot, okay, and there’s just one more thing I have to add: the character choices in those last 4-5 minutes are so telling and so fascinating to watch. Had you ever noticed the way Eddie kind of skirts around and comes up to the coffee shop from the side, instead of walking straight across the street in full view of the windows? What also strikes me is that tiny little beat Lili Taylor takes as she’s walking toward him — the subtlest moment of recognition as she pauses still halfway across the room, then that tiny nod which conveys so much as she steps up to meet him. Mostly I just love how the camera goes back and forth from one pair of eyes to the other, with Eddie’s melting into more and more woundedness. I guess I’ve always interpreted Rose’s reaction as one of a now-matured woman who long ago (probably the moment she handed him the address, actually) resigned herself to the fact that she would never hear from Eddie again, but completely recognized the affect their encounter would have on her life. She moves in to hug him first and then just remains still and waits to see what he’ll do — her eyes just waiting, searching — and he just keeps holding on and deepening the hug. Watching this strong, sweet, and intuitive female soul silently “read” him, and what he needs in that moment, is beautifully heartbreaking. As somebody else noted in this thread, I think this “permission to break apart into each other” is what speaks to all of us. All right, now I’m done. :)

    • sheila says:

      Wow, excellent observations and you make me want to watch it again immediately. Thank you!!

    • sheila says:

      // She moves in to hug him first and then just remains still and waits to see what he’ll do — her eyes just waiting, searching — and he just keeps holding on and deepening the hug. //

      Goosebumps!

  117. Mare says:

    I always found the late Roger Ebert to be a much more “visceral” film critic than most (in particular, his late partner/pseudo-nemesis Gene Siskel, who seemed to approach critiques from a somewhat cerebral level). Ebert responded to the emotional weight of a film and, when his comments were rendered in that wonderful writing style of his, I mostly loved him for it. I remember how thrilled I was that he really seemed to not only “get” the ending of Dogfight, but to comprehend the film’s absolute NEED for it. Although interestingly, to echo some of your previous observations above, his original review did seem to perpetuate a distinctively male assessment of the plot line — i.e., sensitive young girl feels sorry for immature teenaged marine and helps him grow. I’m much more in agreement with your assessment Sheila, that this film carries emotional weight and (very clearly) suggests life-changing evolutionary stakes for *both* sides. I admire Savoca’s brilliance in that she balanced such a fine male-developed script with such a poignant yet dignified female perspective. And darn it, can you tell this movie managed to get me under its spell once again ??

    • sheila says:

      Mare – yes, Ebert’s review is wonderful. (Full circle: Matt Seitz is now editor-in-chief of Rogerebert.com and I am a regular reviewer there!) I love his focus on that last hug – it’s simple, if I recall, what he says about it – and he doesn’t give too much away. the film flat out would not be the same experience if it had ended differently. They don’t even kiss! God almighty, it’s bold. It’s perfect.

      // I’m much more in agreement with your assessment Sheila, that this film carries emotional weight and (very clearly) suggests life-changing evolutionary stakes for *both* sides. //

      Absolutely! It would be way too easy to see Rose as the enlightened one and Birdlace as the one who needs to grow up. But that’s only part of it. Rose needs to grow up too. Consider her relationship with her mother – it’s not bad – but it’s keeping her stuck as a little girl. She doesn’t even seem to REALIZE it. That is such a human thing. It happens to girls sometimes! And along comes this guy who …. knocks over all those chess pieces.

      She might have been one of those intolerant sneering hippies at the end without his influence. I mean, maybe not … but it’s certainly a possibility.

      Both of them were deeply changed by the encounter. Love that aspect of it so much.

      Clearly I love discussing this film!! :)

      • sheila says:

        Just looked up Ebert’s review. Here is the section I remember:

        “I wonder if you will like the final scene in “Dogfight.” Some people have found it tacked on. I feel the movie needs it – grows because of it. I won’t reveal what happens. I will say it is handled with great delicacy, that the buildup is just right, and that Savoca and Comfort were right to realize that, in the final moments, nothing needs to be explained.”

  118. Mare says:

    Haha, that’s perfect!! I hadn’t even realized that, and just happened to refer to Ebert because I’d always loved the purity of his heart for film, his sheer breadth of knowledge, and the eloquence with which he could articulate all those exquisite little nuances.

    So quite obviously (!), I am in no way a professional film critic — but I’ve always wished I at least had some sort of insight into WHY a brilliant little film like “Dogfight” would get so buried by its studio. It almost seems like they wanted to hide it when it was released … ?

    And that just doesn’t make sense to me, because the moments you and Matt illuminate here are so spot-on. I love, for instance, how you point out the way Rose is being “held” in her role as a little girl, without even necessarily realizing it; and the way Eddie is unconsciously “holding” himself to the expected standard of a wartime Marine.

    In the end, I think the really, truly brilliant films (like this one, without a doubt) serve the same function as a gifted photographer who finds a way to let others “see” different aspects of his/her subject. I mean think about it: Each of these individual scenes between Eddie and Rose could almost serve as a separate vignette emphasizing a totally different angle or aspect of human love. We see the gruff gender posturing (party, piano scene); the tentative give-and-take (restaurant, street argument); the clinging to childhood securities (Rose in her room); the fun goofiness (whack-a-mole); the awkwardly magical romance (music boxes); the softness and charity (Eddie putting Rose at ease in bed); even the out-and-out renouncement faced with duty and perceived expectations (4 B’s scenes, tearing up the address). And then, finally, when everything has been so painfully stripped away, we see the final angle, so powerful because it’s the only one that really matters — the raw need and surrender, the humanity, the unconditional redemption, the quiet holding together, the gentle welcoming home.

    What a portrait indeed. :)

    • sheila says:

      In a way, it has the same profundity (at least for me) of Richard Linklater’s “Before” series. It has the same patience with the topic of falling in love. It is interested/obsessed in every single step of that process. It is not rushing us through the plot, or making sure we cover all the bases – in that sometimes-anxious checklist way that you feel in so-called rom coms. “Let’s have a wacky scene!” “Then let’s have him open up to her suddenly!” “Let’s have her show how feisty she is!” And blah blah, it all feels so rote, paint by numbers. The characters don’t LIVE.

      For whatever reason – and I think it’s a mixture of good writing, good directing, PERFECT casting and electric chemistry between the two leads – these characters expand in the mind long after the movie ends. I mean, here we are, still talking about them, and wondering what happens afterwards. Does Birdlace just stay? Does she take him upstairs to her apartment, put him in bed for a rest, and then … he never leaves? I mean, that’s what I feel happens … but we just can’t know. The point is: they’re so alive and so well played that the whole thing EXPANDS once the film ends. It’s not over. They continue to live on.

      It’s certainly one of the most romantic films ever made … but there’s a poignancy here, a bittersweetness (her face when she hands him her phone number at dawn, leaning against the wall … God almighty) … that puts it on some other level.

      I have no idea why the film didn’t really catch on at the time – but it’s really rather extraordinary what has happened since. The film’s reputation has grown … and grown … and grown ….

      I think Criterion should release it. Sometimes they’ll ask on their Facebook page : “What movies do you think we should release?” I’m always like: “Dogfight, please!!” I think Dogfight would be a perfect choice for Criterion!! Essays and special features – interview with Lily Taylor – Savoca – it would be amazing!

  119. sheila says:

    Mare – and I know we’ve discussed this elsewhere in the comments thread here – but I absolutely love the scene on the bus about “bull shit.” In anyone else’s hands, it would have been way too on-the-nose thematically – but Savoca has set up the situation so clearly that the conversation has a huge context in which to thrive.

    His pal, the leader of the 4 B’s, knows that he’s full of shit. He is smart. Unlike the other two B’s, who really don’t get it at all. He saw Birdlace with Rose. He led his pals away from the window, to let Birdlace have his moment.

    I am still touched by that, no matter how many times I have seen the film.

    A lesser film would not have allowed that character to have that amount of complexity.

  120. Mare says:

    YES! I absolutely agree about the “Before” movies … in fact, I’ve discussed this very thing with other friends who love the movie too. “Dogfight” almost feels like the “Before” that came … before, doesn’t it? It has (as you mention) all the ideal ingredients, fully realized. There’s that infinitely patient camera work, choreographed by a director who has the amazing courage to just wait, often at mid-shot, and simply let a scene play out in real time. There’s an excellent script and top-notch young actors with the ability to play every nuance so that nothing feels “scripted” in the slightest. There are even those secondary players, like Berzin, who are rendered as real, believable, fleshed-out individuals. I especially love the analogy made in the thread above, with the old men in the circus bar serving as “stand-ins” for the other 3 B’s … representing not only the loss of Eddie’s friends, but his youth. I hadn’t considered that before, and it gave me shivers.

    I wonder if Linklater ever saw this film. You are so right — it’s so much more than pointing the camera and waiting. These films were made with infinite care and craft, and the result is so poignant that they actually live and breathe. The “conversations” just continue in our heads, long after the credits roll. Except unlike the re-visiting that’s occurred in the “Before” series, there’s (I think) something intriguingly perfect about leaving Rose and Eddie framed exactly where we last see them.

    Being from the Chicago area, I can say that Lili Taylor is practically regarded as our national treasure. :) I’m always so fascinated by the way she so humbly describes her process of “making room” for a character. What an amazing thing that would be, to release the film with back-and-forth commentary between BOTH Taylor and Savoca. Wow. They each have such an amazing body of work behind them now. I would love hearing their thoughts and insights on this early filmmaking experience — how they saw it then, and how they see it now.

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