Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Bogdanovich|
|Produced by||Martin Starger|
|Written by||Anna Hamilton Phelan|
|Music by||Dennis Ricotta|
|Edited by||Barbara Ford|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$48.2 million|
Mask is a 1985 American drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Cher, Sam Elliott, and Eric Stoltz. Dennis Burkley and Laura Dern are featured in supporting roles. Cher received the 1985 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress. The film is based on the life and early death of Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis, a boy who suffered from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, an extremely rare disorder known commonly as lionitis due to the disfiguring cranial enlargements that it causes. Mask won the Academy Award for Best Makeup while Cher and Stoltz received Golden Globe nominations for their performances.
In 1978 Azusa, California, Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), who suffers from a skull deformity, is accepted without question by his freewheeling biker mother's boyfriends, his "extended motorcycle family," and his maternal grandparents, who share his love of baseball card collecting; but is treated with fear, pity, awkwardness, and teasing by those unaware of his humanity, humor, and intelligence. Rocky's mother, Florence "Rusty" Dennis (Cher), is determined to give Rocky as normal a life as possible, in spite of her own wild ways as a member of the Turks biker gang, as well as her strained relationship with her parents. She fights for Rocky's inclusion in a mainstream junior high school, and confronts a principal who would rather classify Rocky as mentally retarded and relegate him to a special education school, despite the fact that his condition hasn't affected his intelligence.
Rocky goes on to thrive at school. He wins friends by assisting a fellow student with remembering his locker combination. Using humor when faced with an awkward silence during roll call, Rocky just repeats the prior new student's line, "Wow, thanks a lot." The class turns to smile and laugh with Rocky. He shows his brilliance in history class by giving a rendition of the Greek myth about the Trojan Horse and it being the turning point of the Trojan War. Gradually overcoming discrimination and tutoring his classmates for $3 per hour, Rocky is asked by the principal to accept a job as a counselor's aide at Camp Bloomfield, a summer camp for blind children. At his graduation from junior high, Rocky takes home academic achievement prizes in mathematics, history, and science.
Rocky feels the need to leave his chronically depressed and drug-addicted mother, and helps her break her drug habit. At camp, Rocky falls in love with Diana Adams (Laura Dern), a blind girl who cannot see (but feels) his deformed skull and is entranced by Rocky's kindness and compassion. Rocky uses his intelligence to explain to Diana words like "billowy," "clouds," "red," and "green" by using cotton balls as a touchable vision of "billowy clouds," a warm rock to explain "red" and "pink," and a frozen rock to explain "icy blue." Diana introduces Rocky to her parents, who are put-off by Rocky's appearance, and do not want Diana to spend time with him.
Near the end of the film, Rocky faces the pain of separation from the two people to which he feels closest. Diana goes away to a school for the blind and his dream of a motorbike trip through Europe collapses when his best friend, Ben, who was to come with him, tells him that he is moving back to Michigan for good. This drives Rocky into berating Ben and calling him "stupid", then finally revealing to Ben that he conned him out of a Rube Walker card. However, Rocky feels better after taking a bus trip by himself to visit Diana at the equestrian stables, located near Griffith Park. Diana tells Rocky that her parents prevented her from receiving his phone messages.
One evening when Rocky's "biker family" is visiting, Rocky is fighting a fierce headache and quietly withdraws to his room, removes the tacks from his map of Europe, and goes to bed. Rocky dies in his sleep during the night. The next morning, Rusty, who tries to wake up Rocky for school, flies into a fit of grief-stricken rage when she realizes he has died. After destroying the kitchen, Rusty mourns the death of Rocky, then re-pins his map of Europe and says, "Now you can go anywhere you want, baby."
The movie ends with Rocky's biker family, Rusty, Gar and Dozer, visiting his grave, leaving flowers and some 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards by his headstone and a voice-over by Rocky himself, who recites the poem he wrote for English class earlier in the film.
Bogdanovich had originally intended to use several Bruce Springsteen (The real Rocky Dennis' favorite singer) songs on the film's soundtrack, but due to an impasse between Universal and Springsteen's label, Columbia Records, the songs were pulled from the film and replaced with songs by Bob Seger for the original theatrical release, prompting a $19 million lawsuit by Bogdanovich against the studio. The Springsteen songs were eventually restored for the 2004 director's cut DVD of the film.
Reviews were highly positive: Roger Ebert wrote of the film, "A wonderful movie, a story of high spirits and hope and courage." A contrasting review in the New York Times read in part, "Mask is one of those movies that try so hard to get their supposedly universal message across (don't we all hide behind a mask of one sort or another?) that they are likely to put your teeth on edge more often than they bring one little, lonely teardrop to the eye."
As of October 2014, the film has a 93% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes.com.
The film was a box office success garnering $48,230,162 in total.
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- London, Michael (1985-02-27). "Legal Snarl: Springsteen Or Seger?". Los Angeles Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Witt, Linda (11 May 1986). "An Unusual Mother: Helping Her Children Face Down Death (3 of 4)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 April 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- "Mask: Bogdanovich Tale of Rare Disease," Vincent Canby, New York Times, March 8, 1985
- Mask reviews on Rotten Tomatoes
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