(John Turturro, USA, 1992)


All of the wildly adulatory quotes on the back cover of Mac – including the memorable exclamation "I love everything about this movie!" – come from well-known directors, instead of the usual half-dozen film reviewers. This is a refreshing change, but it is also apt. For actor John Turturro (Barton Fink,1991), here making his directorial debut, seems to have been gripped by the irresistible impulse to pay excessive homage to almost every great semi-autobiographical movie in world cinema.

So there's the roving camera darting between arguing men, and merry Italian folk music as a counterpoint to scenes of violence, as in Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973). There's the solemnly fetishistic lingering on fabric textures, wall paintings, huddled groups of whispering relatives as in Terence Davies' The Long Day Closes (1992). There are the bonds of honour between guys hanging together through thick and thin, as in John Milius' Big Wednesday (1978). And there is heavy nostalgia for the multicultural rough and tumble of the '50s, as in Philip Kaufman's The Wanderers (1979).

Mac tells the story of an Italo-American working-class family. When the gregarious father of this clan dies, his three sons (played by Turturro, Michael Badalucco and Carl Capotorto) take on the family profession of house-building. The film traces a familiar tale of woe as the years roll by: architectural standards decline, family values fray, and artisanal "doers" are replaced by entrepreneurial "talkers".

Turturro won't win any prizes for progressive sexual politics with this debut. The world of the film is relentlessly male; women are divided into screaming mothers (often kept off-screen) or pretentious arty-farts (Ellen Barkin has a thankless role as a neurotic writer who "documents life").

Yet, for all its old-fashioned masculine myopia, Mac's obsessive gaze upon the physicality and intricacy of manual labour is quite fascinating. Turturro's film serves to remind us that work is something rarely seen or celebrated in the movies.

© Adrian Martin December 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search