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The Movie Ed Burns Has 'Seen A Million Times'

Nov 24, 2012
Originally published on November 24, 2012 6:26 pm

The weekends on All Things Considered series Movies I've Seen A Million Times features filmmakers, actors, writers and directors talking about the movies that they never get tired of watching.

For actor-writer-director Ed Burns, whose credits include The Brothers McMullen, Saving Private Ryan and the new film The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, which is available for download and opens in theaters Dec. 7, the movie he could watch a million times is Tender Mercies.


Interview Highlights

On what Tender Mercies is about

"It takes a look at Robert Duvall's character and his road to redemption as he gives up booze and tries to get a second chance in life. A second chance as not only a singer-songwriter, a second chance at love and marriage with Tess Harper, and a second chance at fatherhood."

On his favorite scene in the film

"Probably my favorite scene in the film involves Robert Duvall and Ellen Barkin's character. They have a very awkward conversation and as she's leaving the room, she asks Duvall if he remembers a lullaby that he used to sing to her when she would go to bed. And Duvall says no, he has no recollection of that lullaby. And Barkin's a little disappointed, and she walks out and she gets into the car and takes off. And then Duvall turns away from camera, walks to the window, it's a beautiful gorgeous shot, and he then sings that lullaby to himself."

On why he loves that scene

"It is, for me, hands down the most heartbreaking moment in cinema. I've watched it hundreds of times and it's a big part of why I wanted to make movies. I mean, I still get chills when I describe the scene but I remember what it was like to sit there alone, you know, watching this VHS tape on an 18-inch color TV and what happened on that small screen, it was the kind of emotional reaction that I only hope that one day I can sort of evoke out of an audience."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

We've been asking filmmakers about the movies they never get tired of watching, including this one from the writer-director of the "Brothers McMullen."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) See that cloud...

ED BURNS: This is Ed Burns. I'm a writer, director, actor. And the film that I've seen a million times is "Tender Mercies." It stars Robert Duvall as an alcoholic country singer, Mac Sledge. It was written by Horton Foote and directed by Bruce Beresford.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BURNS: There's so many things about the film the first time I saw it that just made me immediately fall in love with it. The thing that I've always been attracted to are quiet stories. I mean, I love films that are not plot-driven. I like small character studies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Character) What are you doing down here?

ROBERT DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) Thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: About what?

DUVALL: Things.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Good things or bad things?

DUVALL: Some of both.

BURNS: It takes a look at Robert Duvall's character and his road towards redemption as he gives up booze and tries to get a second chance in life, a second chance that is not only a singer-songwriter, a second chance at love and marriage with Tess Harper and a second chance at fatherhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) I have a daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Character) You do?

DUVALL: She's seven or eight years older than your boy.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (as Character) Would you all stop talking? I can't get to sleep.

BURNS: There's a subplot where we meet an 18-year-old Ellen Barkin, who plays the daughter that he had no relationship with.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

ELLEN BARKIN: (as Sue Anne) Do you recognize me?

DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) Yes, I do.

BURNS: Probably my favorite scene in the film involves Robert Duvall and Ellen Barkin's character. They have a very awkward conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

BARKIN: (as Sue Anne) You know, you haven't spoken my name once since I've been here. Don't you know my name?

BURNS: And as she's leaving the room, she asks Duvall if he remembers a lullaby that he used to sing to her when she would go to bed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

BARKIN: (as Sue Anne) I think it went something about all the wings of a snow white dove...

BURNS: And Duvall says no he has no recollection of that lullaby.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) I don't remember that. I don't.

BURNS: And Barkin's a little disappointed, and she walks out, and she gets into the car and takes off. And then Duvall turns away from camera, walks to the window - it's a beautiful gorgeous shot - and he then sings that lullaby to himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) (Singing) To the waters that day he was baptized in the usual way...

BURNS: It is, for me, hands down, the most heartbreaking moment in cinema. I've watched it hundreds of times. And it's a big part of why I wanted to make movies. I mean, I still get chills even when I describe the scene, but I remember what it was like to sit there alone, you know, watching this VHS tape on an 18-inch color TV and what happened on that small screen. It was the kind of emotional reaction that I only hope that one day I can sort of evoke out of an audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TENDER MERCIES")

DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) (Singing) ...on the wings of a dove.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Baby, you're the only dream I've ever had that's come true...

LYDEN: That's Ed Burns talking about the movie that he could watch a million times, "Tender Mercies." Burns wrote, directed and stars in a new film, "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," which opens in theaters December 7th.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) And if you just hold the letter, baby, I'll... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.