Director: Fred Schepisi
Writer: Richard Russo (based off his book "Empire Falls")
Cinematographer: Ian Baker
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Although you expect that the factory eventually gets reopened or purchased, I wasn’t seeing the subtle comment Russo gives of the consequences, in which the increasing wealth drove riverfront properties through the roof, making you wonder what became of the area and its homely atmosphere. Being from Chicago and having gone to the more modest areas back when I lived there - Wisconsin Dells, New Buffalo, Koontz Lake (where my grandparents had a lake house), I’ve realized the rarity out here in California of keeping a beautiful small town affordable. My friend has brought us to Donner Lake near Lake Tahoe and to his hometown of Calistoga in Napa Valley and both have become victims of massive property value spikes. Their main drags aren’t filled with small town diners or general stores, but boutique fashion outlets, overpriced home furnishings stores, and expensive restaurants. There is nothing wrong with this, as that type of economy contains its own sense of intimacy and cuteness, but there is something for the latter, which out here in California, is getting taken over by an increasingly affluent population.
I always wonder what happened to the towns I grew up visiting. I think about Wisconsin Dells, which for those who don’t know - or perhaps from what I recall - is essentially an entire town dedicated to kids, with numerous water parks, go-cart tracks, arcades, miniature golf courses, carnival rides, roller coasters, tons of gift shops, and so on. I’m sure if I visited Wisconsin Dells today it’d feel much different. As an adult I’d filter out most of the kid stuff, instead seeing the bars and restaurants. Whether it was still what I remembered or completely changed, I wonder how much I’d recognize as different versus the same and how close I’d be. There’s an association between this film and what I watched before finishing these thoughts - Summer of ‘42 - about the celebration of small town life and the way the mind can form such an idyllic place, creating roots based on either distorted fact or idealized memories. I feel fortunate to have had a great childhood, and it’s a strange moment when you realize that they will no longer return. Living at home with your parents, not having any say in what they did, but suddenly you’d wake up outside of a giant water park with not a care in the world is no longer something I'll have provided so much as provide. The real world is more fun in some ways, but like anything that’s over, and like memories altogether, we tend to idealize childhood and the places associated with it, sad they can never return.
The thing is, as I attempt to piece Empire Falls and what it mean all together, I don’t really know what it results in. I’d like to say that if Empire Falls is a fading past memory then the people should leave. None of them do. Beyond all the personal conflicts and doubts, everyone remains in the town, with only Miles looking to actually do anything different - and that’s opening up a restaurant that can serve booze. I thought Miles was a great character and provided a fitting conclusion. Beyond him and his daughter, though - I don’t know what the point of what anyone else and what they learned actually was. It felt much too self-celebratory, as though borderline nationalistic, where no one’s welcome and no one can leave. Even when Miles went to college - the only one who ever left - he ended up returning before finishing up. I’m not sure what it means. I hate to even take it that far, as trying to deconstruct why it felt so near empty in the end, I was struggling. The memories people have of this town exist because people remain there to help keep create those memories, no matter what happens. They’ll adapt in any way they must to move forward, whether a new restaurant, or getting together with an alleged gym owner and dropping him when discovering there’s no money. And yet they all stay there, as though it’s the only place they know how to survive in. It’s a good film, with a great cast, and when you start unraveling what it all means it takes you for a pretty interesting ride.
BELOW: Still slim pickings on YouTube, so here's a TV spot that shows some of the cast
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