Man of the Century

Man of the Century

1999, R, 78 min. Directed by Adam Abraham. Starring Marisa Ryan, Bobby Short, David Margulies, Frank Gorshin, Dwight Ewell, Brian Davies, Victor Young, Cara Buono, Anthony Rapp, Susan Egan, Gibson Frazier.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 3, 1999

Johnny Twennies (Frazier) is a man out of time. As his name implies, he's an artifact from another decade -- one that roared and had flappers and speakeasies and people who talked a hip, hard-boiled language and had a quaint code of conduct. He's a newspaperman in the Ben Hecht mode, a fast-talking, rat-a-tat columnist whose “What's the Scoop?” column in The New York Sun-Telegram reflects his sunny optimism about such events as ribbon-cuttings and other civic affairs. The only problem is that he's living a His Girl Friday existence in a Who's the Boss? kind of world. Johnny is totally oblivious to the fact that he's living in contemporary times -- a Twenties man in a Nineties world. The seamlessness with which the filmmakers (director Abraham and star Frazier mutually co-wrote and co-produced the project) pull off this illusion is the source of Man of the Century's inimitable charm. When Johnny wants to ask his girl Samantha (Egan) for a date, he sends her a telegram; when he sees a damsel in distress he rushes to rescue her from the street toughs; when he sits in the newsroom he pounds his old manual typewriter and smokes despite the “no smoking” rules. Yet when he visits Samantha in her SoHo art gallery, the modern art fazes him not a bit; at a nightclub he has to leap to the dance floor to “fidget the digit”; when his photographer Timmy (Rapp) explains his homosexuality, Johnny just stares into space uncomprehendingly. A popular hit at 1999's Sundance and SXSW Film Festivals, the black-and-white film is impeccably crafted. Frazier's performance as the throwback newsman is note-perfect and is essential to the creation of the film's graceful trompe l'oeil. Man of the Century is an original work, not likely to be repeated nor leaving much room for improvement (although an ongoing serialization of Johnny's adventures sounds dandy to me). Although the movie is short on plot, it's long on concept and well-executed. Besides, a man like Johnny, who knows who he is, is a man for all seasons. And that's no jive.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
The Last Tree
British migrant coming-of-age drama empathetically explores what it is to belong

July 17, 2020

The Truth
Binoche and Deneuve clash exquisitely as mère et fille

July 3, 2020


Man of the Century, Adam Abraham, Marisa Ryan, Bobby Short, David Margulies, Frank Gorshin, Dwight Ewell, Brian Davies, Victor Young, Cara Buono, Anthony Rapp, Susan Egan, Gibson Frazier

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle