Politics or monster movies

2016
A string of great, obscure 30’s horror flicks on TCM tonite. So I asked myself–what would Wayne Shorter watch? A presidential debate or Doctor X?  You can watch the debates online, ad infinitum. But Doctor X? With Lee Tracy and mad scientists and scary synthetic skin and Faye Wray?

Politics is ephemeral, a breath of wind.  But monster movies are eternal as the living dead.

Doctor X

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Frederic March

If we’re talking about movie stars and not, say, jazz musicians or my friends, I’d say Frederic March does the best drunk ever, better even than William Powell, if you don’t count John Barrymore, John Gilbert and Errol Flynn, who cheated, being actual drunks. No one plays a drunk like a drunk drunk.

Now in The Best Years of Our Lives, stone sober Frederic March is drunk and giving a speech. It’s a helluva speech. The major says take that hill, Frederic March. Frederic March says no, Major, there’s no collateral in it. The hill went untaken and America lost the war. And alternate history if there ever was one. I’m not sure if you all appreciate this point. Before multiple universes had even been conjectured over at Caltech, or even on Star Trek, Frederic March laid out the possibilities–the hill not being taken–and the ramifications. In Frederic March’s  alternative universe, even if it was only for the duration of an inebriated speech to some babbity little bankers, the Japanese won World War 2. Frederic March, drunk, changed the entire fabric of the universe.

Now that is a drunk. But no wonder, Frederic March played the best drunk. No mean Foster Brooks he, that Frederic March. He played other roles too, and brilliantly, and is one of my favorite actors ever. But today’s lecture was about drunks, so there.

West Side Story

The Misfits morphs into West Side Story and I flash back to the time I was nearly killed in a vicious gang dance. Those grade school square dance lessons–if it wasn’t duck and cover back then, it was square dancing–saved me from a mean pirouetting. When you’re a Jet…one of my last soprano moments was reading aloud from one of these scenes in English class in junior high. I was Tony. Bernardo was a kid whose voice had already plummeted. “Bottles!” he croaked. “Bottles, knives, guns!” I squeaked. I remember the teacher giggling. Within days my voice began cracking like thunder, dropping octaves in an instant. But I digress. I just wanted to point out that Natalie Wood has the greatest Spanish accent ever, up there with Sid James’ western twang in Carry On Cowboy. I always picture her dialect coach as Fortunio Bonanova in Citizen Kane, screaming No! No! No! No! No! at poor Dorothy Comingore. Also, it’s amazing what Rita Moreno could do with a pair of stockings. And did everyone sing like Marni Nixon back then?

Not that Rollerball

Rollerball was on. Cool. I was busy writing and wasn’t watching the television but within seconds of half listening I knew something was wrong. For one thing, the voices were all wrong. For another, there was no Bob Miller announcing. And there was a helluva lot of screeching. Tires screeching. Players screeching. Crowds screeching. I didn’t remember that much screeching. I also didn’t remember Rollerball being this mindnumbingly stupid. I looked at the television. Oh yeah, this was a remake.

I didn’t think I was going to hear Toccata and Fugue in D Minor anytime soon. Or Shostakovich. I think I heard Green Day, though. I didn’t stick around to see who the new John Houseman was. Caught a glimpse of some lady without a lot of clothes on. More loud music. Screeching. And LL Cool J. I remember when he couldn’t live without his radio. Rocking the bells with real bells on. And here he is twenty years later in an incredibly bad remake of a favorite science fiction movie of mine.

Yup, this was the Rollerball remake, 2002. You probably never saw it in the theater. It apparently shows up on IFC occasionally for irony’s sake. Unfortunately, by my age, I don’t feel that I have enough time to spend on irony. Irony is best left for the twenty somethings. Things are funnier then. I imagine a man of my reputation being felled by a stroke watching the remake of Rollerball. Staring dead eyed at whoever that is who’s not James Caan, Green Day blasting from the television. My friends wouldn’t remember what I’m writing now. No, they’d remember that I died watching the remake of Rollerball. You spend your life being an arrogant intellectual snob and they find you watching that. My mother used to warn me about things like this. Well, she said I should wear clean underwear in case I ever had to go to the hospital. You don’t want the nurses to know you wear dirty underwear. But the metaphor holds. So I don’t want people to know I was watching the remake of Rollerball either. I can just hear my smartass friends at my wake, snickering.

So I turn it off. The room fills with silence, nothing but the clacking of the keys as I write this. Though in my head I’m hearing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. But that’s not a pipe organ, it’s a Moog. Switched on Bach, Walter Carlos switching into Wendy Carlos. And before it mentally morphs into Hooked on Classics, I turn on the stereo. Afro-funk fills the room and brings this to a close.

James Caan in the real Rollerball (1975), which was set in 2018, actually.

James Caan in the original Rollerball (1975), which was set in 2018, incidentally.

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Eyes Wide Shut

If Kubrick had died a year or two earlier he never would have made Eyes Wide Shut and his legacy would have been untarnished by such a mediocre flick. Not to mention the dirty old man as director ickiness about the whole thing. And the dialogue, sheesh. Only Pollack sounds like he not acting, and it has to have the worst last line by any genius director ever. The whole mess is just stupid, and there are few things more embarrassing than a genius being stupid. It’s great if you’re really stoned, though, which I was the first time. Unstoned, it’s just endlessly tepid, the lousy performances, inane dialogue, absurd plot devices, meandering subplots and more T & A than Vegas, baby, if that’s your thing.

Julie Newmar

I don’t know what movie this is, but Julie Newmar looks like she could hurt James Mason. In fact, Julie Newmar looks like she could hurt me. Pretty good Swedish accent, too, quite musical. Though imagining Julie Newmar hurting me and James Mason in a Swedish accent seems weird.

Dunkirk

Saw Dunkirk. Quite a let down. As an action flick it was pretty good, and a lot of it was gorgeous, but as far as being in anyway a reflection or retelling of the battle and rescue at Dunkirk, it flopped. It failed badly as history, which wouldn’t be an issue except that it presented itself as a historical epic. The three primary narrative threads–the RAF pilots, the soldiers on the beach, and the boat–all avoided showing the evacuation completely. The pilots engaged in dog fights over the channel, the soldiers spent the entire evacuation in the hold of a beached fishing boat acting like a cowardly mob instead of a platoon of Royal infantry, and the boat picked up soldiers without getting anywhere near the beach. All three subplots were arranged so that we never saw the evacuation off the beaches at all. It’d be like shooting The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan without showing the D-Day landings. Perhaps there was no financing. So we get an action flick instead of a historical drama. But it’s a shame, as it was an epic operation,  some very high drama, and an extraordinary tale, and we miss nearly all of it in this film that promised all of that. Imagine what David Lean could have done with such material.