Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Under a gray and brooding sky, Stephen King's Maine brings forth yet another labyrinthine tragedy in "Dolores Claiborne." This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride. The non-supernatural movies based on King stories ("Stand by Me," "Misery," "The Shawshank Redemption" and this one) are curious in that they deal with unhappy situations, and yet somehow don't turn audiences off - maybe because the characters are so strongly drawn.
Here we have a story involving a hardworking housekeeper named Dolores (Kathy Bates) and the daughter she hasn't seen for 15 years, a New York magazine writer named Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh). One day Selena gets a fax of an article from the Bangor, Maine, paper, about a woman suspected of murder. Scrawled across the cover page are the words, "Isn't this your mother?" Although she has a big assignment in Arizona she desperately wants to cover, Selena ventures to the Maine island where her mother awaits possible booking for the crime. She arrives in the kind of town where the motels close all winter, everybody knows one another, and people still say, "Oh, my gravy!" But the prosecuting attorney is from the mainland and has cold eyes. His name is Mackey (Christopher Plummer), and his accent starts out folksy but turns chilling.
We in the audience have already seen the fatal event, in the title sequence, and it sure did look like Dolores pushed that poor old lady down the stairs, and then was fixing to bash her head in with a marble rolling pin, just when the mailman interrupted the crime. But maybe there is another way of looking at the murder - andat the death, 15 years ago, of Dolores' husband and Selena's father, a mean drunk who died after falling down a well.
Dolores worked for ages for the old lady, a perfectionist named Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt), who demanded "six clothespins, not five" on every sheet, and wanted them hung outside on the line, even in deepest winter. Maybe she had a motive for killing her. The mother and her daughter move back into the ramshackle family home, and we discover that Selena uses a lot of booze, pills and cigarettes to keep the lid on the kinds of stresses that are caused by cigarettes, pills and booze. She has little regard for her mother and may even believe the woman had something to do with the father's death.