Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Joys of Marriage

I wanted to soak in Another Year the way all the critics did. It's great food for thought, they all said. I wanted to nod appreciatively at how it keeps its few plot mechanics quiet and sometimes abandons them entirely. Mike Leigh tells this story by accumulating what seem to be loosely related bits of wisdom, an incidental ball of wax to which each scene has something to contribute. I wanted to gratefully accept this tangle of quotidian truth and experience and awaken to its themes and its purpose, and articulate my own correlatives to its characters and situations.

Because I really love doing all those things.

But Jamie simply could not sit still. She obviously was extremely bothered by something, and my solemn contemplation was constantly interrupted by her fidgeting. At last, she blurted out: "I'm sorry, but I can't take this seriously- I can't stop thinking about The Dark Crystal! Don't you see it? Every person in this movie looks like a character from The Dark Crystal!!!!"

I made a photo montage to represent what was going on in Jamie's head:

As a quick search reveals, the practice of comparing various famous people to characters in The Dark Crystal is already rampant online, so I won't make any attempt to point out who looks like whom. But I did want to note that I put Mike Leigh in there too, because he kind of looks like Aughara.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jamie and Alex's Memorial Day Drive-In of Mayhem

Memorial Day is for Americana. For me, a drive-in movie theater- or at least the idea of one- is as good a piece of Americana as anything. They're somehow wholesome, yet… seedy.

I am captivated by the certain melange I assume was once the traditional programming at these theaters (I've only actually been to one about 4 or 5 times in my life): monster/alien movies with unconvincing costumes and/or models of buildings and vehicles; slasher films in which the blood is a cheerfully bright red; stunt-based spectacles in which car chases, martial arts and gun play were used for visual effect (I believe they used to be called "action movies"), and generally anything that exploits or aims for sensationalism, centered on something never previously captured on film, or seen before perhaps in any medium.

The closest I think I ever came to this experience- don't laugh, or groan- was when I saw Grindhouse. I hear it was overhyped, but I never even heard about it until the night it opened, which I consider one of the great film-going experiences of my life. I'm not kidding. It's not that Grindhouse was actually that great from beginning to end. It's that by attending it, I somehow fulfilled all the unrequited need I'd had to go back in time and have an authentic, raunchy drive-in experience. I didn't see it after dinner at some dull suburban multiplex with stadium seating. I saw it from 11 PM to 2:30 AM at the Roxy Theater, the stickiest, grubbiest cinema in Philadelphia, where the seats line up in a narrow shotgun file before a tiny screen, and where on that night, a full house of crazed kids was making it the event of the season. It was one of the most complete and convincing time-warps ever. I wished the filmmakers could have been there to see their creation achieve its true potential, on and off the screen.

So this Memorial Day, now that the porch is officially open for business...

...we decided we would fire up the outdoor movies, and let our selections nod as much as possible to the spirit of those old bat-shit drive-in classics.

Basket Case
This is not a horror movie. It's sweet, it's goofy, it has faith in the basic goodness of most people, and all its attempts at horror- the vehicle for this is a lump of flesh with a face and two arms- end in pure comedy. Its finest moment is a stop-motion animated sequence in which the little guy trashes a hotel room; all we could think was, this is exactly how our cat behaves at 5:30 every morning. Awww. And how is he supposed to be killing his victims, anyway? It looks like he just rubs his hands on them and then they yell and fall over, pretending to be dead so he doesn't feel bad.

Best Worst Movie
A where-are-they-now documentary about the director and cast of the fascinating bomb Troll 2. Last summer, the Village East was playing both Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie, and Jamie and I attended the former, although by then the cult frenzy had long since died down, and we were joined by just a handful of die-hard fans. If you haven't seen Troll 2, you should consider it. It fails in a way that is singular and, I am now convinced, impossible to describe. Best Worst Movie couldn't do it justice. Even with all the interviews of everyone from fan club organizers to theater owners to the cast and crew themselves, all describing this turkey, along with plenty of clips from the film, this documentary will not make you understand what it actually feels like to watch Troll 2, or how you will feel the next day or two after watching it. The director of Troll 2, who is one of this documentary's tragic figures, assesses his disaster majestically: "Making the worst movie is just as good as making the best movie; it means that I've made an impression." I'm not sure that it's "just as good," but the words certainly resonate, and come closer to explaining the phenomenon than any other statement in the film. People who love movies don't want to leave a theater unscathed; they want to be deeply affected by the experience, one way or another. And there is simply nothing comparable to how Troll 2 affects you.

Jamie and I had a lively debate about Best Worst Movie directly after watching it. We disagreed on how successful it was in providing a story arc for its main subject, the actor who played the father and whose actual profession is dentistry; we mostly agreed that the saddest parts of the documentary were unnecessary and even exploitative; and we agreed that it didn't hold a candle to Bill Cunningham New York (she bristled when I began comparing the two films).

Deep Red
I’m not really an Argento fan, so getting the director’s cut of this probably wasn’t the way to go, but I loved the way the actors would switch without warning between English and Italian, with the latter done in distinctly unconvincing ADR by other actors who had lovely voices, but who made no effort to match to the sound of their screen counterparts’ voices. The effect is that every character is apparently possessed by an Italian demon who can only take control fitfully of its host.

It struck me that the music choices for the different scenes were so unexpected- in the scenes of violence, some of which are memorably horrifying, the score jumps to life with what might have been chase music from an "A-Team" episode- and that Troll 2, essentially another Italian film, has a similarly unusual sense, although even more outrageous, of what music would be appropriate for a particular scene. Coincidence?

Something else I didn’t expect: Deep Red predates 10, one of my all time favorite films, by four years, and I think 10 must have drawn inspiration from it. There was almost never a moment that I could watch David Hemmings without thinking of the songwriter George Webber (Dudley Moore), and that of course made me think of Sam (Julie Andrews) every time Daria Nicolodi made an appearance. Hemmings’ character is crotchety, peevish, defensive, stubborn, and often pathetic in the precise way that Webber is. There’s even a scene in which Hemmings and Nicolodi face off in a “battle-of-the-sexes” argument that sounds just like George and Sam fighting in the bedroom. At least, until the demons make them speak Italian again.

Tokyo Drifter
I loved many moments in this handsome crime saga, including a brawl in a cabaret that was equal parts John Ford and Blake Edwards. Yet it flags just before the end, as do all films centered this much on style. In the DVD interview, director Seijun Suzuki says that inspiration strikes his actors at two moments: the costume fitting, and when he sets them loose on a stylish and dramatic set. These are the points at which they realize who their characters are, and how they are supposed to act. He’s almost saying out-right that he made the actors part of the scenery- which directors do at the risk of a cold and impersonal product (e.g. The Hudsucker Proxy). But what the hell- this is the kind of movie that drive-ins (and the Roxy) were made for. If I had seen this at the Roxy at midnight with a bunch of crazy kids, it would have been brilliant.