Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Pipe dreams

A charming idealist or a wasted opportunity - it's unsettling to think how my perception of Johnny Nolan has changed. I first saw A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was 15 and most recently last Saturday, though I have seen it many times in the intervening 27 years. Usually with repeated viewing I notice the faults, no performance can be perfect, but I was surprised to find it was my reaction to Johnny that was different. It was the first time I could properly feel the frustration of his wife, I'd always understood but this time I felt it. This disturbed me a little, worrying about being too harsh, but I let myself off with a warning. He is a drunk, a pipe-dreamer but also a purveyor of hope… until you get to know him. Yet I am conflicted for he is a kind generous man and genuinely loved, surely the greatest of achievements? I don't know why this film in particular affects me so much. James Dunn who won an Oscar for his portrayal had problems with alcohol throughout his life and Peggy Ann Garner who played the central character was married three times and died of cancer having outlived her daughter. Such is life; to me however she will always be Johnny's daughter Francie Nolan, and as such perfect, though whether that's a healthy outlook I'm not so sure.

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