Monday, August 1, 2011

Ragtime (1981)

Ragtime: A Cinematic Good Time

- Known for more unconventional beats and melodies, Ragtime was the first musical genre that was completely American, preceding Jazz in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Milos Foreman's 1981 film entitled Ragtime, from E. L. Doctorow's novel of the same name, incorporates unconventional aspects of its own in characters and story.

Always staying ahead of the audience with unique and interesting turns, the story is great and sucks the viewer in immediately. With such an interesting progression of events, you wonder if the story is historically accurate.... Well, it is and it is not.

Set early 1900s America, Ragtime is the very definition of historical fiction as it takes many historical characters and puts them into a fictional story. But, at the same time, it takes fictional characters and positions them into a historical context. This blending of characters and story lines really makes the film memorable and interesting; although by the end of the film, because of the amount of characters and long runtime, a few story lines do not quite get the conclusion they deserve.

Even with this small downer, Ragtime is made up of nothing but quality and entertaining elements. The film has a great look with wonderful cinematography, brilliant art direction, and costume design and is gracefully assembled by director Milos Foreman. Also of considerable note is the score and soundtrack for the film. Randy Newman writes a wonderful score for Ragtime; lacking the more recognizable Randy Newman sound, the score is a powerful final touch with great atmospheric music from the era.

Most of them widely unknown at the time of the film's release, all the members of the film's cast also give fantastic performances. Entering Ragtime after a 20-year film hiatus, James Cagney is terrific; also, Brad Dourif and Howard E. Rollins Jr. are especially great in the film, giving electrifying shots of thespian adrenaline to their characters. You many recognize the many familiar faces throughout the film: Samuel L. Jackson, Fran Drescher, John Ratzenberger, and Jeff Daniels fill many smaller roles before they hit it big.

Perhaps not as well-known as other Milos Foreman films like Amadeus (1984) or One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Ragtime is a terrific movie. While often forgotten, Ragtime is always enjoyable.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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