Amazon Update No. 14: “Time out of Mind”

March 20, 2016

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Bob Costas tells a story about having dinner with Mickey Mantle and thinking it odd that Mantle asked for a doggie bag when the meal was through. When they left the restaurant, Mantle asked Costas to take a walk with him. At a certain point, Mantle stopped and knocked on a big cardboard box where a homeless man was sleeping. The man emerged, appeared startled and afraid at first, but then recognized his visitor and said, “Oh, hi Mick.” Mantle gave the man the doggie bag, and Costas reasoned from the manner of the exchange that this was not the first time this had happened.

Since Bob Costas told this story, I assume it is true. And if it is, it means that whatever problems Mantle had—and he had more than his share—he had the grace to look at a homeless man rather than avert his gaze, rather than pretend not to see the evidence of neglect and indifference lying at his feet.

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The neglect and indifference with which much of society regards the homeless is the underlying truth of Time Out of Mind, a 2014 film starring Richard Gere and Ben Vereen. Gere plays a man named George who, although he denies it—claiming to be in some transitional state of life—is homeless. He has no prospects and no identification, and at times he seems disoriented. When he is able to scrape together a few bucks, say by selling his coat, he uses it to buy a six pack of beer which he quickly consumes. His wife has died, and his daughter, who tends bar in a New York tavern, wants nothing to do with him. George finally resorts to a shelter where he meets Dixon (Ben Vereen), a self-described jazz pianist, who talks almost incessantly and acts like a conscience, a kind of Jiminy Cricket, to George.

The movie is almost without a plot, except for George’s effort to re-establish a relationship with his daughter. Time Out of Mind was written and directed by Oren Moverman and provocatively filmed in Manhattan. There are many scenes in which there is no dialogue, scenes that are mostly a study of how a man who has lost all ties to the world around him can be completely alone among millions of people. There are long, brooding shots, many of them from unconventional angles. There is no background music, only the sounds that sweep over and around George as a world busy with its own affairs goes on as though he were not there. “We don’t exist,” he tells Dixon.

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It is a disconcerting film in the same way that the homeless men and women in New York and other cities are disconcerting reminders of the failures of our society, our institutions, and our economy. This film, which Gere’s production company developed, has made no money, and I read on the IMDb web site that twenty people walked out when the movie was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Maybe that says as much about them as it does about the film.




5 Responses to “Amazon Update No. 14: “Time out of Mind””

  1. Louis Caruso Says:

    Paolino very interesting blog, we all don’t relise how good we have it.

  2. Jack Kelly Says:

    I remember the movie, and the the non-reaction of sorts. It is hard to get good long term numbers on homelessness though. I did find this site: which might help in understanding the scope and recent trends as viewed by the federal government, though the census might be skewed and difficult to actually verify.
    I wonder if the actual number, relative to the total US population is actually higher today, than for the great depression of the 1930″s which saw massive transitional movement. We also have developed a much more expansive social welfare system, but have reduced the ability to give institutional care for psychiatric patients (many I understand are now homeless or being incarcerated, in lieu.). So, the problem is real, maybe intractable. That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and a few acts of christian charity probably wouldn’t hurt.
    As for Mickey Mantle, I was not a Yankees fan, but I certainly admired players of his era, who made small money in current terms. I wonder what Yogi, Rissuto and DiMaggio would have said about the story.


    • charlespaolino Says:

      Thanks for the comments, Jack. I don’t know about Rizzuto and Berra, but I wouldn’t want to depend on DiMaggio for charity. You’re right about the connection between homelessness and mental illness and our general inability to deal effectively with the latter.

  3. shoreacres Says:

    Your review reminded me of a real-life analog to what’s portrayed in the movie. You may not have read my blog entry about EllaElla, a blogger who disappeared, and, eventually was “found” after her death. It’s been a while since I published it.

    In real life, her name was Donna Penyak. She worked in radio in DC, and was with CBS in New York for a time. Jim Bohannon was one of her friends. The thought of her end still tears me up. I didn’t realize I still was grieving her loss until I read this piece. We just have to find better ways to help not only family and friends, but strangers, too.

  4. shiftynj Says:

    Added to the Netflix queue. Sadly unsurprising that people were disturbed by it.

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