Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Silkwood (1983)

Karen Silkwood: You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?
Mace Hurley: I think you'd do just about anything to shut down this plant.
This biopic is the fairly accurate story of Karen Silkwood, a metallurgy worker at a plutonium processing plant who was purposefully contaminated, psychologically tortured and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing blatant worker safety violations at the plant.
"Silkwood" made its US-wide premiere on Wednesday, December 14, 1983 on just 257 screens.  Two days later it was met with quite a few competing films which included "Uncommon Valor", "Two of a Kind", a re-issue of "The Rescuers", "DC Cab", "Gorky Park", "To Be or Not To Be", and "The Man Who Loved Women".  However, the biopic would remain strong holding the #1 spot at the Box Office for 6 weeks and eventually earning over $35.6 million domestically.
Directed by Mike Nichols who previously directed such incredible films such as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?", "The Graduate", and "Carnal Knowledge", "Silkwood" was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay, two Best Actress nods for both Meryl Streep and Cher, and Best Director (it was considered snubbed as the film was not nominated for Best Picture of the Year).  This film didn't win any of the Oscars it was nominated for.  At the Golden Globes it was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Kurt Russell), Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Director, Best Film in the drama category, and Cher walked away with its only win as she won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.  Lastly, at the BAFTAs, both Streep and Cher were nominated, but neither won (these two were the only nominations "Silkwood" received at the BAFTAs).
"Silkwood" starred Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood, Kurt Russell as Drew, Cher as Dolly, and co-starred Craig T. Nelson as Winston, Fred Ward as Morgan, and Diana Scarwid as Angela.  There are many other familiar faces in this film, including a young David Strathairn (this was his fourth film).
Filmed at various locations throughout Texas and New Mexico, here's some more information regarding "Silkwood"...
1.  Executive Producers Larry Cano and Buzz Hirsch started working on the picture when they were graduate film students at UCLA.
2.  Reportedly, the production of this film set a legal precedent in the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the protection of confidential sources for film-makers under the First Amendment, as is the case for media reporters [See: Stephen F. Rohde, 5 Pepp. L. Rev. 351 (1977-1978), "Real to Reel: The Hirsch Case and First Amendment Protection for Film-makers' Confidential Sources of Information"].
3.  The movie is based on a true story. The picture was made and released about nine years after the events depicted in the film had taken place in 1974.
4.  Actress Jane Fonda, who had recently starred in the thematically related movie "The China Syndrome", once owned the film rights to this picture.
5.  Debut feature-film screenplay (but co-written) for writer-director Nora Ephron.
6.  Lily Tomlin auditioned for the role of Dolly.
7.  Actress Meryl Streep only had two-and-a-half weeks off between completing filming on "Sophie's Choice" and starting principal photography on this picture.
8.  The scene where Karen sets off the radiation alarms actually happened. Her level of contamination was forty times the safe limit.

9.  First of three films that actress Meryl Streep and director Mike Nichols have made together. The movies include "Silkwood", "Heartburn" and "Postcards from the Edge". The two also collaborated on "Angels in America" for television.
10.  It was this film and the previous year's "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" that introduced Cher as a serious actress. Both roles were ensemble/supporting parts which were the precursor of much bigger 1980s lead roles with "Mask", "Suspect", "Moonstruck" (for which she won an Oscar) and "The Witches of Eastwick".

11.  In an interview with "Entertainment Weekly", director Mike Nichols said that this film was "the beginning of me exploring a more fluid, less conscious approach to movies."
12.  In an interview with "American Film", Meryl Streep said of Karen Silkwood, "she wasn't Joan of Arc at all. She was unsavory in some ways and yet she did some very good things...[director] Mike [Nichols] spoke of the film as being about people being asleep in their lives and waking up: 'How did I get here?' And that's exactly how I felt...I think the movie is about human nature more than about any issue...I get very creepy feelings if I think about it [whether Streep's characterization let her get to know Karen Silkwood]. My heart breaks for her. She was only twenty-eight or twenty-nine when she died, and it was a real waste. I'm really glad I got the chance to try to step into her shoes for a while".
13.  An autopsy on Karen Silkwood after her death produced results that there was plutonium contamination in several of her body's organs. An civil court case followed that went on for years which resulted in the eventual out of court settlement of US $1.3 million.
And now you know.
"Silkwood" struck a chord with audiences throughout the US.  The reason was because four years prior to this film's release (and in real life), the Three Mile Island Accident occurred.  It was a partial nuclear meltdown which occurred in one of the two Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979.  It was considered the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history. The partial meltdown resulted in the release of small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment.  It's interesting to note that a film also about nuclear reactor plants and radiation leaks called "The China Syndrome" was released just 12 days before the Three Mile Island Accident occurred.  Such fears and concerns struck the very core of the American people which erupted into a nation-wide uproar that went on for years.  That uproar accompanied by the tragic real-life story of "whistle-blower" Karen Silkwood and her death helped make "Silkwood" a success.
Below you'll find picture stills of the lead characters in the film "Silkwood" as well as picture stills from the film itself including three rarely seen photos of the real Karen Silkwood and her "accident"...







This film's closing epilogue: "The precise circumstances of Karen's death are unknown. It is also not known whether she had any documents with her. None were found. An autopsy revealed a high level of the tranquilizer Methaqualone and some alcohol in her bloodstream. Oklahoma police ruled her death a single car accident. A year later the plant shut down".


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