Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore remains a massive turning point in the career of Martin Scorsese. It was the first Hollywood film he directed after a string of independent films, his previous film Mean Streets blew him up as a director to watch. It still remains as one of Scorsese’s lesser known works probably down to the fact it’s a low-key feminist drama instead of the violent gangster films he is better known for.
The film begins with one of Scorsese’s most gorgeous homages to classic Hollywood. It has a preface in the style of Douglas Sirk via. The Wizard of Oz of the young Alice in her idyllic and deliberately artificial childhood farm-house. The aspect ratio soon changes and to the tune of Mott The Hopple’s anthemic All The Way From Memphis, the realities of middle age womanhood comes crashing into Alice’s world.
Ellen Burstyn in an Oscar-winning portrayal plays the adult Alice Hyatt whose husband has recently died in a freak accident. She decides to move to Monterey, California to attempt to restart her singing career which he get on hold when she got married. She takes along her son Tommy (Alfred Lutter) with her and soon meets Ben (Harvey Keitel) who is an abusive monster. They soon escape to Tucson after accepting a job as a waitress and despite some hesitation due to her past experiences, she starts a relationship with one of his customers David played by Kris Kristofferson.
Scorsese after getting hired by Burstyn (who was given carte blanche after her success with The Exorcist) was asked “What did he know about women?” and he replied with an extremely honest answer “Nothing, but I’d like to learn.”. He hired many women to help him to find his way through the film including his then girlfriend Sandra Weintraub as producer, Toby Carr Rafelson as production design and Marcia Lucas as editor, he always wanted his go-to editor throughout the ’70s Thelma Schoonmaker but due to weird rules she couldn’t get into the editors union. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore certainly comes out of the second-wave feminist movement of the ’70s with it’s story of a strong-willed independent woman taking control of her own life.
Ellen Burstyn has always been a great actress but given its her project even more so than Scorsese’s she gives it her all. Kristofferson who was always an exceptional screen actor plays the honourable silent type which is a type of archetype Scorsese is always attracted too but rarely uses in his films. Harvey Keitel is absolutely terrifying as Ben and his scenes probably down to his casting seems the most typical of Scorsese’s more well-known work. Alfred Lutter plays her son Tommy it might be slightly to cutesy which might be why they made a TV sitcom version of the film a few years later. Jodie Foster and Diana Ladd also give memorable supporting turns as well.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore over 40 years on remains one of the hidden jewels of Scorsese’s filmography He brought grittiness to what could have been a relatively light weight film which is why Burstyn wanted him in the first place. Burstyn has been rarely better with the exception of her terrifying turn in Requiem for a Dream. BFI’s release replicates the previous Warner Bros. disc with its commentary track and featurette, sadly its DVD only because from what I gather there hasn’t been a HD transfer available yet. The new release does contain a booklet with new writing on the film however.