The page-turning joys of E.L. Doctorow’s bestselling Ragtime, which dizzily and entertainingly charted a kaleidoscopic vision of a turn-of-century America in the midst of intense social change, have been realized almost completely in Milos Forman’s superbly crafted screen adaptation.
Within a myriad of characters who include the likes of Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, Booker T. Washington and J. Pierpont Morgan, the film charts the syncopated social forces that truly ushered in 20th-century America by pivoting them around a nameless upper-crust family unexpectedly caught up in the maelstrom.
Overriding focus of the film is on the travails of a fictional black ragtime pianist (Howard E. Rollins), whose common-law wife (Debbie Allen) is taken in by The Family after she abandons her newborn child in their garden.
Juggling the scores of characters that Doctorow intertwined in his quirky blend of historical and fictional people and events, Forman and scripter Michael Weller were forced into some occasional truncation and short-cutting, but ultimately win the chess game hands down.
1981: Nominations: Best Supp. Actor (Howard E. Rollins), Supp. Actress (Elizabeth McGovern), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Art Direction, Score, Song (‘One More Hour’)