Ironweed


2h 24m 1987

Brief Synopsis

Francis Phelan and Helen Archer are has-beens on the outside of society, homeless, hungry and surrounded by dreams of what could have been. Now the drifter plans to confront his family.

Film Details

Also Known As
Järngräs
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Period
Release Date
1987
Production Company
Barish Group; Boyington Studios, Inc.; Cinema Research Corporation; D Bassett & Associates Inc; Delaware And Hudson Railway Company; J & M Entertainment; Mobile Facility Productions Of Nevada; New York State Governor'S Office For Motion Picture & Tv Development; Panavision, Ltd.; Russell Sage College; Salvador Catering; Seifert & White; St Joseph'S Church; Taft Entertainment Pictures; Tristar Pictures; Troopers Mounted Police; Worldvision Enterprises Inc
Distribution Company
TriStar Pictures; Concorde Filmverleih Gmbh; Live Home Video; Medusa Film; Palace Pictures; Tristar Pictures; Ugc; Ugc International; Vps
Location
Albany, New York, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 24m

Synopsis

Francis Phelan and Helen Archer are has-beens on the outside of society, homeless, hungry and surrounded by dreams of what could have been. Now the drifter plans to confront his family.

Crew

Myron Adams

Unit Production Manager

Stanley Adams

Song ("Pappa Treetop Tall")

Tom Allen

Property Master

Nick Anderson

Post-Production Supervisor

Vibeke Arntzen

Location Manager Assistant

Joseph Aulisi

Costume Designer

Laurie A Bailey

Accounting Assistant

Jenny Bancroft

Assistant (To Keith Barish)

Keith Barish

Producer

Barbara Barnaby

Dialogue Editor

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Music ("The Ninth Symphony")

Elin Bjorkman

Wardrobe Supervisor

Denis Blouin

Executive Producer

Arthur Blum

Dolly Grip

Mark Boisseau

Sound Editor Assistant

Sarah M Brim

2nd Assistant Director

Joan Brockschmidt

Other

Vincent Bryan

Song ("He'S My Pal")

Milton Buras

Hairstyles (Jack Nicholson)

Dawn Leduke Calcaterra

Assistant (To Keith Barish)

Hoagy Carmichael

Song ("Pappa Treetop Tall")

Donald Carpentier

Design Consultant (Historic)

Teresa Carriker-thayer

Art Direction Assistant

Christina Cassidy

Production Assistant

Alba Censoplano

Costumer (Meryl Streep)

Aleta Chappelle

Casting (Location)

Albert Cho

Production Assistant

Rob Cohen

Executive Producer

Con Conrad

Song ("Margie")

Craig Conwell

1st Assistant Editor

Virginia A Cook-mcgowan

Dialogue Editor

Benny Davis

Other

Robert Dawson

Special Production Consultant

Robert Dawson

Title Design (Main And End Sequences)

Victor Denicola

Hairdresser

Tommy Dorsett

Sound Editor Apprentice

Anthony Dunne

Other

Claudio Edinger

Stills

Gus Edwards

Song ("He'S My Pal")

Juno J. Ellis

Adr Editor

C. O. Erickson

Unit Production Manager

C. O. Erickson

Co-Producer

Lauro Escorel

Director Of Photography

Lauro Escorel

Dp/Cinematographer

Julia Evershade

Sound Effects Editor

John Paul Fasal

Sound Effects Recording

Toby Fitch

Music Research

Toby Fitch

Song Arranger ("Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord")

Linda Folk

Foley Editor

Sukey Fontelieu

Sound Effects Editor

David Craig Forrest

Makeup Supervisor

Richard Galante

Other

Alan Gibbs

Stunt Coordinator

B A Gill

Assistance

Nancy Gilmore

Set Dresser

Karen Gordon

Production Accountant

Susan M Goulder

Set Dresser

Anne Goursaud

Editor

Raymond K Greene

Transportation Captain

Bruce Lee Gross

Set Dresser Supervisor

Robert Guerra

Art Direction

Sandy Hamilton

Property Master Assistant

Kimberly Harris

Sound Effects Editor

William Harrison

Special Effects Assistant

Barbara J Hause

Wardrobe Supervisor

Jack Hayes

Original Music

J. Roy Helland

Makeup (Meryl Streep)

J. Roy Helland

Hairstyles

Ellen Heuer

Foley Artist

Dwight D Hill

Location Projectionist

John K Hill

Location Projectionist

Janice Irwin

Production Assistant

Joseph H Kanter

Executive Producer

Pam Katz

2nd Assistant Camera

Pamela Katz

Assistant Camera Operator

Katherine A Kennedy

Production Coordinator Assistant

William J Kennedy

Lyrics ("Poor Little Lamb")

William J Kennedy

Screenwriter

William J Kennedy

Source Material (From Novel)

Richard Kerekes

Dolly Grip

Gene Kirkwood

Co-Producer

Steve Kirshoff

Special Effects Coordinator

Michael Klastorin

Unit Publicist

Betsy Klompus

2nd Set Dresser

George Kouzoujian

Other

Beth Kuhn

Art Direction Assistant

Leigh Kyle

Set Dresser

Gary Leib

Music Research

Gary Leib

Song Arranger ("Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord")

Mitch Lillian

Key Grip

Andrew Lipson

Production Assistant

Robert J Litt

Sound Rerecording Mixer

Kenneth Lubin

Transportation Coordinator

Constantine Makris

Camera Operator

Maria A Marini

Production Accountant Assistant

Eugene Marks

Music Editor

Annie Marshall

Assistant (To Jack Nicholson)

David Martino

Production Assistant

Ben Massi

Other

Larry Mcconkey

Steadicam Operator

Stan Mendoza

Location Manager

Danny Michael

Sound Recording Mixer

Brad Miller

Assistance

Octavio Molina

Set Dresser

Sue Bea Montgomery

Post-Production Supervisor

Sue Bea Montgomery

Assistant (To Hector Babenco)

John Morris

Music

Karen Morris

Liaison (Los Angeles)

Marcia Nasatir

Producer

Kenneth D Nelson

Other

Bob Noland

Other

Paul Andrew O'bryan

Craft Service

Jon O'connell

Other

Elaine O'donnell

2nd Set Decorator

Jeannine Oppewall

Production Designer

Greg Orloff

Foley Mixer

S Bernard Pare

Assistant (To Denis Blouin)

Jayme S Parker

Dialogue Editor

Lisa Parks

Casting (Location)

Tony Payne

Assistant (To Hector Babenco)

Dorothy Pearl

Makeup (Jack Nicholson)

Carl Peterson

Grip Bestboy

Joseph Petruccio

Construction Coordinator

Toby F Phillips

Steadicam Operator

Enno Poersch

Art Direction Assistant

Kevin L Poor

Sound Editor Assistant

Leslie Pope

Set Decorator

Stephen Purvis

Adr Editor

Dana Rafferty

Production Assistant

Rick Raphael

Steadicam Operator

Brenda Ray

Boom Operator

Danis Regal-o'connell

Production Coordinator

Marie-ange Ripka

Key Hairstyles

Colleen Kahl Robilotto

Transportation Captain

J. Russel Robinson

Other

Robert Roda

2nd Assistant Director

Pattee Roedig

Other

John Roesch

Foley Artist

Cornelia Rogan

Script Supervisor

Cornelia Rogan

Script Supervisor

Victoria Rose Sampson

Sound Editor Supervisor

Eric H Sandberg

Costumer (Men)

Jimmy Sandoval

Assistant Editor

Clare Scarpulla

Art Direction Assistant

Solange Schwalbe

Foley Supervisor

B Tennyson Sebastian Ii

Sound Rerecording Mixer

Berta Segall

Production Designer Assistant

Albert Shapiro

1st Assistant Director

Heidi Shulman

Wardrobe Assistant

Michael Slovis

Gaffer

Louis St. Louis

Song Arranger ("He'S My Pal")

Miki Stedile

Wardrobe Assistant

Armin Steiner

Music Scoring Mixer

John Thomas

Best Boy

James Thornton

Song ("When You Were Sweet Sixteen")

Bonnie Timmermann

Casting

Lisa Trachtenberg

Post-Production Coordinator

Toni Trimble

Makeup

Elliot Tyson

Sound Rerecording Mixer

Lisa M Varney

Apprentice Editor

Tom Waits

Music ("Poor Little Lamb")

Lloyd K Waiwaiole

Wardrobe Assistant

Joel Warren

Stills

Tamara Weiss

Assistant (To Meryl Streep)

Paul Weller

Video Playback Operator

Carol White

Publicist

Zachary Winestine

1st Assistant Camera

Denis A Zack

Set Dresser

Film Details

Also Known As
Järngräs
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Period
Release Date
1987
Production Company
Barish Group; Boyington Studios, Inc.; Cinema Research Corporation; D Bassett & Associates Inc; Delaware And Hudson Railway Company; J & M Entertainment; Mobile Facility Productions Of Nevada; New York State Governor'S Office For Motion Picture & Tv Development; Panavision, Ltd.; Russell Sage College; Salvador Catering; Seifert & White; St Joseph'S Church; Taft Entertainment Pictures; Tristar Pictures; Troopers Mounted Police; Worldvision Enterprises Inc
Distribution Company
TriStar Pictures; Concorde Filmverleih Gmbh; Live Home Video; Medusa Film; Palace Pictures; Tristar Pictures; Ugc; Ugc International; Vps
Location
Albany, New York, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 24m

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1987
Jack Nicholson

Best Actress

1987
Meryl Streep

Articles

Ironweed - Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep in IRONWEED, One of 1987's Most Overlooked Films


One of the most maligned major films of the Reagan era, Hector Babenco's adaptation of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Ironweed is not an easy film to defend in its essence. That is, the book is a largely interior narrative that probably shouldn't have been ever converted into a mainstream movie, and Babenco's attempts at literalizing its haunted fantasticality are misjudged at best and embarrassingly leaden at worst. (Did the ghost of the streetcar conductor killed with a thrown rock have to have a fake rock glued to his head? Did the ghosts have to show up in white face and in white tuxedos?) All the same, what a waste of attention, to experience this achingly sad, stunningly unorthodox Hollywood product with only a literalist's eye, and with the jaundiced, unpoetic perspective of a populist film reviewer, for whom films are merely professional narratives told in a brisk and distracting fashion, and to whom a film that fails to please a broad audience is all the evidence you need of its inadequacy.

Ironweed may not hold together like clockwork, but the raw stuff of it is often beautiful and terrifying. Start with the absolute defiance inherent in the subject matter: Kennedy's novel is set in 1938 Albany, amid the demimonde of deep-Depression vagrancy, where the bums and skidrow losers have only wild-animal decisions to make, about where to find food and hootch, what backbreaking dayjob they can scrounge, what alley to sleep in, how to stay warm in the winter nights so they don't simply freeze to death, at which point "the dogs will come along..." Imagine if you can an American movie now being made in this territory, even from a prize-winning novel – it's remarkable not only for the daring of its gloom, but for its fidelity to its unusual period and place, which is not anywhere we'd hanker to visit in our lust for escapism. (Depression-era movies, since the '60s, have tended toward the warm and dusty South.) Babenco and his DP Lauro Escorel capture the inhospitable small city in unforgettable grainy tones, and the sense of being lost in a quiet, dark town at night, with its storefronts lit up and distant sounds portending possible hazards, is indelible and unique.

The sojourn into the lower depths is handled with a gentle simplicity – no howling pedagogy or menacing drama cues – and Babenco fuses for the first time squalid American poverty with magical realist poignancy, beginning his film with a dream-image of a locomotive billowing steam and then transitioning upwards through cotton clouds to blue sky, and then back down, finally, to the windy, trash-strewn lot where Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) awakens under cardboard after a particularly bad night. Taste this bit of dialogue, between Phelan and fellow loser Rudy (Tom Waits), as they chase hungry dogs away from the prone figure of a passed-out Indian woman, and try to get her to shelter as night descends again:

"She's been a bum all her life."

"...She had to do something before she was a bum."

"Well, she was a whore, in Alaska."

"What about before that?"

"I don't know... I guess before that she was just a little kid..."

"Well, that's something. Being a little kid is something..."

Kennedy's book is rich in this kind of titanic melancholy, and the film channels it with textures: darkling set design, John Morris's bruisingly sad lullaby score, and acting. Nicholson, already in the lazy, showboating, I'm-just-Jack phase of his career, clearly relished the role's grim implications: Phelan left his family 15 years earlier after accidentally dropping and killing his newborn son. Nicholson doesn't overplay the grief and guilt; Phelan is a man used to the streets and tired of life, but Nicholson gives him a restless edge, as if he's always looking just beyond every scene, toward another, truer way to escape, or keeping an eye out for the ghosts for whom he's responsible. The action of the film is in some ways kickstarted by a day spent digging graves for pocket money; Phelan ends up in his dead boy's cemetery, and the scene where the slow, stooped man confronts the grave might be among the top five swatches of Nicholson's redoubtable career.

But of course he's overshadowed by Meryl Streep, as a sickly, ex-radio chanteuse who drifts in Phelan's shadow (when she isn't letting other bums fondle her for a night's sleep in an abandoned car), and half-lives in a fantasy world of affluence and lingering fame. Muttering her lines in a deep, confused voice, her bloodshot eyes unsteady in their tiny sockets, Streep makes it perfectly clear without saying so that her Helen is both chronically ill and borderline psychotic. One of the film's pivotal scenes cements the deal: when in a grungy gin mill Helen is cajoled into singing "He's My Pal" for the paltry crowd, her performance subtly rips with rousing confidence, and the light grows more golden, and the bar patrons respond with happy applause, and then Babenco cuts to the reality: Streep's withered old girl rasping out the song's last bars obliviously (the sunny version was not her hallucination, but her dream), to no applause at all. There's the lie of the American Dream, distilled in a single cut to a middle-aged woman's delirious and hapless open mouth.

The tragedy of Ironweed is not an easy morality tale, but an explanation of America (in poet Robert Pinsky's words) in its saddest, least humane moment. Babenco, a Brazilian who came to Hollywood on the strength of Pixote (1981) and got himself Oscar-nominated for Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), deserves more credit for the resonant details of the movie (for instance, the closeup of the unexplained family photo on Helen's flophouse nightstand the day she dies), and for the sugar-coated Hollywoodization that he didn't allow to take hold, than for the clumsy spiritual manifestations, or the occasional over-punctuated supporting bit (Michael O'Keefe and Diane Venora spitting bitterness at each other as Phelan's grown children, upon his return home). It's not a perfect film, but what's perfect? Under the cosmetic arguments there is a plaintively beating heart.

For more information about Ironweed, visit Lionsgate. To order Ironweed, go to TCM Shopping.

by Michael Atkinson
Ironweed - Jack Nicholson And Meryl Streep In Ironweed, One Of 1987's Most Overlooked Films

Ironweed - Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep in IRONWEED, One of 1987's Most Overlooked Films

One of the most maligned major films of the Reagan era, Hector Babenco's adaptation of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Ironweed is not an easy film to defend in its essence. That is, the book is a largely interior narrative that probably shouldn't have been ever converted into a mainstream movie, and Babenco's attempts at literalizing its haunted fantasticality are misjudged at best and embarrassingly leaden at worst. (Did the ghost of the streetcar conductor killed with a thrown rock have to have a fake rock glued to his head? Did the ghosts have to show up in white face and in white tuxedos?) All the same, what a waste of attention, to experience this achingly sad, stunningly unorthodox Hollywood product with only a literalist's eye, and with the jaundiced, unpoetic perspective of a populist film reviewer, for whom films are merely professional narratives told in a brisk and distracting fashion, and to whom a film that fails to please a broad audience is all the evidence you need of its inadequacy. Ironweed may not hold together like clockwork, but the raw stuff of it is often beautiful and terrifying. Start with the absolute defiance inherent in the subject matter: Kennedy's novel is set in 1938 Albany, amid the demimonde of deep-Depression vagrancy, where the bums and skidrow losers have only wild-animal decisions to make, about where to find food and hootch, what backbreaking dayjob they can scrounge, what alley to sleep in, how to stay warm in the winter nights so they don't simply freeze to death, at which point "the dogs will come along..." Imagine if you can an American movie now being made in this territory, even from a prize-winning novel – it's remarkable not only for the daring of its gloom, but for its fidelity to its unusual period and place, which is not anywhere we'd hanker to visit in our lust for escapism. (Depression-era movies, since the '60s, have tended toward the warm and dusty South.) Babenco and his DP Lauro Escorel capture the inhospitable small city in unforgettable grainy tones, and the sense of being lost in a quiet, dark town at night, with its storefronts lit up and distant sounds portending possible hazards, is indelible and unique. The sojourn into the lower depths is handled with a gentle simplicity – no howling pedagogy or menacing drama cues – and Babenco fuses for the first time squalid American poverty with magical realist poignancy, beginning his film with a dream-image of a locomotive billowing steam and then transitioning upwards through cotton clouds to blue sky, and then back down, finally, to the windy, trash-strewn lot where Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) awakens under cardboard after a particularly bad night. Taste this bit of dialogue, between Phelan and fellow loser Rudy (Tom Waits), as they chase hungry dogs away from the prone figure of a passed-out Indian woman, and try to get her to shelter as night descends again: "She's been a bum all her life." "...She had to do something before she was a bum." "Well, she was a whore, in Alaska." "What about before that?" "I don't know... I guess before that she was just a little kid..." "Well, that's something. Being a little kid is something..." Kennedy's book is rich in this kind of titanic melancholy, and the film channels it with textures: darkling set design, John Morris's bruisingly sad lullaby score, and acting. Nicholson, already in the lazy, showboating, I'm-just-Jack phase of his career, clearly relished the role's grim implications: Phelan left his family 15 years earlier after accidentally dropping and killing his newborn son. Nicholson doesn't overplay the grief and guilt; Phelan is a man used to the streets and tired of life, but Nicholson gives him a restless edge, as if he's always looking just beyond every scene, toward another, truer way to escape, or keeping an eye out for the ghosts for whom he's responsible. The action of the film is in some ways kickstarted by a day spent digging graves for pocket money; Phelan ends up in his dead boy's cemetery, and the scene where the slow, stooped man confronts the grave might be among the top five swatches of Nicholson's redoubtable career. But of course he's overshadowed by Meryl Streep, as a sickly, ex-radio chanteuse who drifts in Phelan's shadow (when she isn't letting other bums fondle her for a night's sleep in an abandoned car), and half-lives in a fantasy world of affluence and lingering fame. Muttering her lines in a deep, confused voice, her bloodshot eyes unsteady in their tiny sockets, Streep makes it perfectly clear without saying so that her Helen is both chronically ill and borderline psychotic. One of the film's pivotal scenes cements the deal: when in a grungy gin mill Helen is cajoled into singing "He's My Pal" for the paltry crowd, her performance subtly rips with rousing confidence, and the light grows more golden, and the bar patrons respond with happy applause, and then Babenco cuts to the reality: Streep's withered old girl rasping out the song's last bars obliviously (the sunny version was not her hallucination, but her dream), to no applause at all. There's the lie of the American Dream, distilled in a single cut to a middle-aged woman's delirious and hapless open mouth. The tragedy of Ironweed is not an easy morality tale, but an explanation of America (in poet Robert Pinsky's words) in its saddest, least humane moment. Babenco, a Brazilian who came to Hollywood on the strength of Pixote (1981) and got himself Oscar-nominated for Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), deserves more credit for the resonant details of the movie (for instance, the closeup of the unexplained family photo on Helen's flophouse nightstand the day she dies), and for the sugar-coated Hollywoodization that he didn't allow to take hold, than for the clumsy spiritual manifestations, or the occasional over-punctuated supporting bit (Michael O'Keefe and Diane Venora spitting bitterness at each other as Phelan's grown children, upon his return home). It's not a perfect film, but what's perfect? Under the cosmetic arguments there is a plaintively beating heart. For more information about Ironweed, visit Lionsgate. To order Ironweed, go to TCM Shopping. by Michael Atkinson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States July 13, 1989

Released in United States on Video June 22, 1988

Released in United States September 1988

Released in United States Winter December 18, 1987

Re-released in United States on Video May 9, 1995

Wide Release in United States February 12, 1988

Shown at Deauville Film Festival September 1988.

Shown at Moscow International Film Festival (in competition) July 13, 1989.

Formerly distributed by Vestron Video.

Began shooting February 23, 1987

Completed shooting June 1987.

Wide Release in United States February 12, 1988

Re-released in United States on Video May 9, 1995

Released in United States on Video June 22, 1988

Released in United States July 13, 1989 (Shown at Moscow International Film Festival (in competition) July 13, 1989.)

Released in United States September 1988 (Shown at Deauville Film Festival September 1988.)

Released in United States Winter December 18, 1987