Swing Shift (1984)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
It takes only a small step to say that Demme was the greatest American filmmaker of the 1980s. The several beautiful movies that he made during this time—among them Melvin and Howard, Who Am I This Time?, Stop Making Sense, and Something Wild—in fact consist of small steps taken by lonesome people towards each other in the interest of forming a community. The (often, though not always, working-class) characters dreamed up by Demme—who passed away last Wednesday from cancer and heart disease complications at age 73—possessed small lives and enormous ideals, and spent their waking hours striving to strike a delicate balance between the two.
He consistently brought out fresh and wonderful performances from his actors, and to the towering roll call of names found in the films listed above can be added the brilliant ensemble of Swing Shift, whose ranks include Ed Harris, Christine Lahti, Kurt Russell, Fred Ward, and even a young Holly Hunter. The center of the film’s action is occupied by giant-eyed Goldie Hawn (four years post-Private Benjamin) in the role of Kay Walsh, an American housewife who becomes a klutzy and unexpectedly heroic airplane factory worker after her husband (Harris) joins the military during the Second World War. As was consistently the case with Demme, the film operates largely as low-key dramedy, covering three-and-a-half years in the lives of the characters with a focus on Kay’s blossoming friendship with nightclub singer-turned-riveter Hazel (Lahti) and her burgeoning/burdening affair with musician and fellow worker Lucky (Russell).
Demme initially emphasized the kinship between women; Hawn, who produced Swing Shift in addition to starring in it, ultimately recut the film to highlight heterosexual romance. Yet, even though the finished film unfolds in looser fashion than it could have, it still conveys the charms innate to many other films made both by its director and by its star. Swing Shift is a gentle film with love for every character in it. The basic sensuality of a work capable of inspiring viewers to want to hug each person onscreen will be emphasized at the Quad through the theater’s screening of Swing Shift on a 35mm print. Aaron Cutler (May 7, 1pm; May 10, 7pm at the Quad’s Goldie Hawn series)