Mask. 1985. USA. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Screenplay by Anna Hamilton Phelan. With Cher, Eric Stoltz, Sam Elliott, Laura Dern. 35mm. 120 min.
Cloaked in Oscar-winning makeup that disguises all but his eyes, mouth, and shock of wavy red hair, Eric Stoltz gives a magnificently subtle performance as Rocky Dennis, a teenager afflicted with the disfiguring bone condition craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. Bogdanovich was an unlikely choice for this true-life medical drama, but from the first shot panning across Southern California’s labyrinthine freeways, he announces the authority he will bring to the project. In Bogdanovich’s telling, Rocky is not a figure to be pitied but another lovelorn teenager in the mode of the young cast of The Last Picture Show. Cher, who won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, is Rocky’s proudly unvarnished biker mother Rusty, delivering dialogue the way Bogdanovich preferred it: with rat-a-tat-tat speed. The director’s cut features songs by Bruce Springsteen and several extra scenes, including the funeral of a biker played by Harry Carey Jr.—a John Ford reference befitting a film co-edited by Ford’s daughter, Barbara. –Peter Tonguette