Thursday, December 15, 2011


In a 1906 film house, pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. plays an accompaniment to a newsreel which shows President Teddy Roosevelt making a country train tour, Harry Houdini making a daring escape, and a young heir protesting his wife's image being used for a nude sculpture commissioned by architect. Later at a gathering, the heir shoots the architect in the back of the head, and from this point we see several intertwining stories leading up to Walker's own crusade for justice in the form of a standoff at a New York Museum. "Ragtime" is a beautiful and glorious intersection of American stories set in the early years of the twentieth century. Adapted from the novel by E.L. Doctorow, the film was criticized by some for the way it failed to juggle all of plot balls and its choice to narrow the focus. On the contrary, one of the things I quite admired was how the story introduced many different threads and then narrowed it down to a black man's search for justice. Milos Forman, one of the great directors, treatment of the material is great looking and feels right at home in the era in which it is set. The cast is phenomenal as well and the standouts include Howard E. Rollins Jr as Walker, Elizabeth McGovern as the heir's wife, Brad Dourif as another man driven by her to ire, James Olson as his reserved brother, and the legendary James Cagney, in his final role, as the gruff police commissioner Rhinelander Waldo. "Ragtime" is a wonderful cinematic assortment that particularly captures a transitional period of our history.