YEAR: 1988

DIRECTOR:  Sam Shepard

US PREMIERE: November 11, 1988

Plot Summary

Bertrum (Charles Durning), a veteran of two wars and the railroad, is thrown from a cart by his rebellious runaway horse, and lands in the hospital obsessed with exacting revenge from the nag. His citified, unmarried pregnant daughter Kate (Jessica Lange) flies out from New York to comfort the curmudgeon in his crisis.

In what’s meant to be taken as a profound gesture of filial obeisance, Lange reluctantly agrees to assassinate the horse. This mystifies Lange’s slightly dotty mom (Ann Wedgeworth) and outrages her fiery farm-bound sister Rita (Tess Harper).

Adding to the emotional fireworks in this world without men is the post-pubescent defiance of Harper’s daughter Jilly (Patricia Arquette), who plays fast and loose with the local boys for amusement in this nowhere town.

This loving but fractious litle family is intended by Shepard to represent the dislocation of fundamental American values in the socially vertiginous 1980s.

Film Details
Jessica LANGE.................Kate
Charles DURNING......Bertrum
Tess HARPER...................Rita
Patricia ARQUETTE.........Jilly
Ann WEDGEWORTH.......Amy
Daniel MOFFAT.....Uncle Dane

Production Notes

Filmed during October and November  of 1987 around Duluth, Minnesota. Much of the filming was done inside a pop-up film studio in the Duluth Port Terminal, designed to look like a waterfront. The movie also called for a large living room, kitchen and dining room area that had a 1930s authenticity. The location manager lucked onto 2 Hawthorne Road in the Congdon neighborhood, which was owned by William Zinmaster. The scene of a 100th birthday party celebration took a night and the next day to film.

Jessica Lange said the idea of making "Far North" in and around Duluth was Shepard's, not hers.

''It never had occurred to me. . . . This is the location Sam wanted. He thought this was perfect. It really didn't have to do with being my hometown. It was just a place he had seen and liked very much. . . . And a lot of it takes place in the woods and he had to come pretty far north to find the birch forests. He wanted the lake and everything.

''He started coming up here with me, when we'd come to the cabin or see my family or whatever. I think there was something about this area that was very unfamiliar to him. Most of his plays take place in the West and Southwest. That's what he's familiar with. But there was something here that fascinated him and captured his imagination.

''For somebody who's never grown up in the woods, it's a very mysterious thing. Even for someone who's grown up living out in the woods there's something unique and unknown, something very mysterious about the woods. That's part of what he wanted to capture in this movie.''

Sam quote:

"It's been frustrating not directing my own material. It's much more satisfying this way because there's no middle man. I can make all of my own mistakes and go through A to Z myself."

Publicity Stills & Posters

In his film directing debut, Sam Shepard forsakes the fevered elliptical prose flights of his plays, for a straightforward approach of surprising flatness and sentimentality that never gets airborne in this conventional tale of a Minnesota farm family coming to terms with its past and present in a time of accelerating change.

Leonard Maltin:
Shepard's directing debut, which he also scripted, is a pointless, artificial drama about the various members of a Minnesota family and what happens when patriarch Durning is almost killed by a wild horse. Good cast is wasted.

Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel:
In creating the directionless "Far North", Shepard has simply failed to adapt his impressive stage talents to the task of filmmaking... The distance between Shepard's intentions and what he has achieved here is disappointingly vast... At best, "Far North" comes off like a weak imitation of "Crimes of the Heart", which is ironic because Shepard is at least as fine a writer as [Beth] Henley.

Candice Russell, Sun Sentinel:
Simply put, "Far North" is another rambling, self-indulgent exercise from Sam Shepard, director. A better actor in other people`s films than a writer- helmsman of his own pictures, Shepard creates folksy eccentrics this time around, then takes them absolutely nowhere.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:
"Far North" is a disorganized, undisciplined, rambling, pointless exercise in undigested material, and you can't blame the actors, the technicians or the middle men. This movie fails at the level of writing and direction. That is a shocking statement to have to make, because Shepard is a great playwright and a good screenwriter who has not produced anything remotely this half-baked elsewhere in his career. Perhaps he directed "Far North" himself because no other director was interested. What he might have heard, had he solicited the advice of an experienced filmmaker, was that he had no narrative line from beginning to end, no clearly defined mission for his characters and no urgent reason for his story to be told. It is a meandering, episodic series of chapters in the history of a family that needs professional help, urgently.

Janet Maslin, NY Times:
In ''Far North,'' Mr. Shepard shows himself capable of making great associative leaps with the camera from time to time, but the incidental passages are more awkward, shapeless and uncertain. There is less sense of what the muted, oblique ''Far North'' actually is than of what it might have been.

Kim Newman, Film Yearbook:
The film is carefully acted, but it is a bit too meagre and whimsical for its own good, and the endless dialogue sequences have very little of the cinema about them.

Graham Fuller, Film Yearbook:
Shepard is no Beth Henley when it comes to delineating the dreams that motivate women, and the pacing of the movie is as leaden as its mise en scene.

Sue Heal, Radio Times:
Playwright Sam Shepard's feature film debut as director stars his real-life partner Jessica Lange. Despite the fact that Lange is arguably the most accomplished movie actress of her generation, this still manages to be a major head-banging exercise in dragging Freudian clichés through the farm dust of Minnesota. The cast is impeccable - Tess Harper, Charles Durning, Patricia Arquette - but Shepard's tediously tangled script and lumpen direction badly let it down.