US, 1982, 96 minutes, Colour.
Dennis Weaver, Kurt Russell.
Directed by Joseph Sargent.
Amber Waves is an above-average telemovie. It is set in the wheat belt of Kansas and portrays the way of life there in the plains and in the small towns effectively.
However, the film is a study of two men. One, played excellently by Dennis Weaver, is a widower who has clashed with his older son about Vietnam and who discovers that he is dying of lung cancer. The other is a petulant male model who is stranded in Kansas, befriended by the older man and his family and who learns responsibility and work. The film is well-written and directed. While it is treated with restraint, the film is in the sentimental American vein but somehow or other keeps the balance between self-indulgence and being moving.
Direction is by Joseph Sargent, who has made many telemovies (Sunshine) and feature films (The Taking of Pelham 123, Macarthur, Coast to Coast).
1. The film as a superior telemovie? Entertaining? Message? Persuasive for an American audience? Non-American?
2. The film made for audiences at home? Serious material but handled easily, with feeling and sentiment? Humour? The stars and their television image? Persuasive for the home audience? The focus on work, ordinary details, emotional crises?
3. The colour photography of Kansas, the plains, the wheat, the harvesting? The title and the reference to the amber waves of wheat? The American towns? Landscapes and beauty? Seen with regrets by a dying man? Independence Day? The songs, their lyrics? The musical score?
4. The credibility of situations and characterisation? American types? The two generations of American men? The issues of the '70s? America, Vietnam, the disillusion with the generation that thought that America could do no wrong? The influence on the next generation? The need for repentance and reconciliation? Issues of life and death, support and love?
5. The introduction to Bud: the machinery during the credits, the work of harvesting? Bud and his son? Pete and the antagonism on the road with the car? The silos, the wheat? The contrast with the world of advertising and photography? Caravans, Bud as widower, relationship with his son and daughter? Marlene and her looking after the household, wanting a different life away from home? A man of moods? His smoking? The authentic Midwest American type?
6. The interview with the doctor, the explanation of lung cancer? The need for the operation? Bud's fate and his anxiety pervading the whole film? His visit to his sister for help and the celebration and the party before they went on a trip? The attempts to ring his son in Canada? His going to the banks and their refusal? The question of selling out? The need for men to work? Growing desperation? His going to Pete and his ignoring him? The clash at the silo? The clash at Pete's home? The issue of the son's growing up together and Vietnam? Pete taunting Bud about his son's war injuries and Greg's safety? The phone call to the doctor that he wouldn't be coming for the operation? His facing death? The talk of next year and next harvest and his impending death?
7. The background of the men at work, hire and fire, Bud and his moods, the caravans and the talk amongst the men? The hard work, Marlene joining them? Harvest to be got before the storms? Working through the night? Tiredness and Larry saving the harvester? Bud's apology for his anger? The saving of the crops that was possible before storms? The wheat-owners and their hopes, promises for next year? wheat and the life of Kansas? The bread sequence? An authentic picture of the Kansas way of life?
8. Larry and his moods, the glamour world of advertising and photography, the contrast with Kansas, his work and impatience, his being the scarecrow and his antagonism? The clash with his boss? The bar and his being bashed by the locals? The effect on his face ? and his continued looking in mirrors? His being sacked? Kicked out? Not having any money? Wandering the town, phone calls to the bank, getting lifts on the road, being hassled by the police?
9. The encounter with Bud, 'one of those days'? Their talking, Larry's admitting his failure? Bud's idea of getting custody of him and paying his fine? The work abhorrent to Larry? Bud's demands but all owing Larry to go? Larry's staying, getting to know the men, the family, Marlene? The hardness of the work, the blisters and the sunburn? His staying with it? Honouring the contract? Bud trying to provoke him into acting like a man and acting strongly? Expectations of toughness? His helping, Independence Day? Marlene's infatuation? Her offering herself to Larry, their discussion? The bond between them? Marlene's giving meaning to the sexual encounter, its memory?
10. Bud and his work, the success with the crops? The ringing Greg and the emotional reaction? His staying the night with the willing friendly woman?
11. Greg and the meeting, discussion about Vietnam, the reconciliation after nine years? Bud admitting the failures and the pride of his generation? Greg's new life in Canada? The invitation to the wedding? The happiness of the reconciliation? The support from Marlene? His younger son and the sequence of the death of the dog? His bathing him and talking about death?
12. Larry's return, Bud's telling Larry about his death? The fire and his wanting to die? Larry's rescuing him? Abusing his betrayal of trust? Expressing his love for Bud? His taking the men out to harvest the crop? His stating that Bud had given him a meaning in life, the ability to work? His expression of love?
13. Marlene and the talk about death? His providing for his family?
14. The meaning of life? The interaction and one person seeing the potential in another? The recognition and trust and love? Themes of death and dying?