Under the Radar with Barry Levinson

Barry Levinson Under the Radar at Above the LineIt’s easy to see why Academy Award and Emmy winning director, screenwriter and producer Barry Levinson is considered by many insiders as one of the most multifaceted and successful filmmakers of the last thirty years.  His films are well crafted and personal, frequently serious and often provocative.  He explores diverse subjects including race relations, coming of age struggles in small town USA, the pursuit of the American dream through the immigrant experience, revenge and political satire.  His films have broad appeal and proven box office success, yet Levinson is an enigma, a filmmaker who remains successful while operating just under the radar of mainstream notoriety.

After relocating to Los Angeles from Baltimore where he grew up, he began writing for popular American variety shows of the 1970’s – The Tim Conway Show and The Carol Burnett Show among the most notable.  A string of successful screenplays for the Mel Brooks’ comedies Silent Movie (1976) and High Anxiety (1977), and the Oscar nominated script he co-wrote with then-wife Valerie Curtin, And Justice for All (1979) allowed Levinson to helm his first movie, the low-budget critically praised film Diner in 1982.  Diner launched Levinson’s career.  He was considered a filmmaker of merit after that and deservedly received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.  In many ways Levinson followed suit after Diner, taking on more commercial and economically viable projects like The Natural with Robert Redford in 1984, Tin Men with Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito in 1987 and Good Morning Vietnam with Robin Williams that same year.  But what remained the same from picture to picture was the indelible Levinson stamp, a personal touch eliciting strong performances through well told stories and keen direction.  The hallmark of any director is this imprint.  Scorsese, Howard, Lumet – you can very often trace this imprint from picture to picture among the most successful filmmakers in history.  Some credit Good Morning Vietnam as the performance nurtured by Levinson that freed Robin Williams from the straight-jacket role of Mork from the popular television series, Mork & Mindy.

Levinson’s biggest and most successful film came the following year when he directed Rain Man (1988) for MGM.  Starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, the movie earned over $350 million dollars in box office receipts and solidified Levinson’s status as a bankable filmmaker.  Rain Man garnered four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.  Levinson continued into the 1990’s with a number of successful films including Disclosure (1994), Sleepers (1996), Liberty Heights (1999) and most recently What Just Happened (2008) and the HBO film You Don’t Know Jack (2010) with Al Pacino.  Levinson has worked with an all-star roster of actors including Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Al Pacino, Robin Williams and John Turturro among many, many others.  Through his television production company with Tom Fontana (The Levinson/Fontana Company) Levinson has served as executive producer for several successful series, including Homicide: Life on the Street for NBC from 1993-1999, and OZ for HBO from 1997-2003.

In 2003, Levinson published his first novel, Sixty-Six, directed two webisode ads for American Express in 2004 and currently blogs for the Huffington Post.  At 68, he continues to write, direct and producer and has several projects at imdb.com listed as in development.  While he has yet to achieve the kind of house-hold name recognition afforded to many of his peers, he remains a steady source of topical, inviting projects and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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3 Responses to Under the Radar with Barry Levinson

  1. Dan says:

    Excellent article. Levinson does seem to operate under the radar but when you look at his body of work it seems surprising. One of my favourite films of his is one of those films that I feel has steered itself unconsciously under the radar – Tin Men. Love the performances of Dreyfuss and De Vito in that movie.

  2. Rodney says:

    Sleepers…. errr, I saw that film in the cinema, I think I was about 21 at the time, and I didn’t like it. it was a little too dark for my tastes at the time, and I think I need to revisit now that maturity has caught up with me.
    Love most of Levinson’s work, however, which isn’t saying a lot because after reading this, there’s plenty I haven’t seen yet!! Of those I have seen, though, Pacino in And Justice For All… remains right up there among the best. That is a ripper film, and Pacino nails that script perfectly.
    Of the film’s he’s directed, I’d go with Good Morning Vietnam (cliched, I know) as another favourite. Sigh…. might be a trip to the video store in my near future…

    • rorydean says:

      I have to agree, Sleepers is a heavy, then again sexual abuse and court room procedurals don’t usually stray too far from the mark. I did enjoy seeing such a diverse cast of actors and De Niro was quite effective given his limited screen time. Pacino was tops in And Justice For All. It’s a shame that he’s been hit or miss so frequently these days but after watching him in several docs (including his own) I can see how he probably has to be working otherwise the top of his head might explode. Good Morning Vietnam stands the test of time, really. I just watched it again a week or so back and Robin Williams is amazing. In researching, it’s documented that most of the crazy on-air stuff he does in the radio station is ad-lib. Not surprising. I have yet to really see anyone marry the funny and the serious with him. I liked The Fisher King though, and moments of GMV are nice, though really close to sentimental. Ah the video store. My second official home.

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