Friday, November 17, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1977 &1978

My daughters are home from school today, thanks to one of those curriculum-based "holidays" instituted by the school. Yesterday, when we discussed the potential activities for today, we considered heading out to see Flushed Away. I've seen just about everything the Wallace & Gromit team has produced, and I'm sure I'll enjoy this movie too. But as we talked, I had to put a muzzle on my inner child; like everyone else this weekend, he wants to take a date to see the new James Bond.

"Hard to believe," I said, while staring wistfully at my older daughter, "but before you came along, your mother and I went out to the movies every week. Left work, met for a quick beer at the pub, then dashed across the street for a show."

I don't make a habit of this sort of reminiscing (for what it's worth, this week has been an abnormal slog for the lot of us). And I mention it only because responding to this list has made my recollection of the past look downright dubious. Off to the movies, at least once a week? Plus movies on the VCR -- often on Friday, Saturday and Sunday? How is it possible I missed so many ostensibly great movies?!?

These lists have been, as the politicians are fond of saying, "humbling". But since I've already outed myself as a dilettante, I might as well keep going.

1977

1. 3 Women
2. Providence
3. The Late Show
4. A Woman's Decision
5. Jail Bait
6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
7. Aguirre: Wrath of God
8. Annie Hall
9. Sorcerer
10. Star Wars

Let's start with the obvious -- 1977 was the year I first went to the movies. Just go here if you don't already know my Star Wars story.

Close Encounters -- saw this way back then, too. First impression: this sure ain't Star Wars. Second impression, 20 years later: what, exactly, was the big deal over this movie? The first three seasons of The X Files were an enormous improvement on the entire concept (but then I've always been partial to paranoia).

Annie Hall -- wow. Woody Allen discovered his swing and knocked it out of the park with this one. This really should have made it to my Fifteen Favourite list (maybe I'll just quietly remove Gidget...).

Aguirre: The Wrath of God -- my favourite Herzog movie. Unfortunately, you'll see exactly why this is so when we get to 1982.

1978

1. An Unmarried Woman
2. Days of Heaven
3. Heart of Glass
4. Stroszek
5. Autumn Sonata
6. Interiors
7. Halloween
8. National Lampoon's Animal House
9. Kings of the Road
10. Superman

Interiors -- the final scene where the sisters artfully arrange themselves for the camera got me giggling. I don't think that's the response Woody was hoping for.

Halloween -- when I was 16 I attended a Halloween party, and this was what we were watching. At 16 years old (in 1981) that moment when Jamie Lee Curtis runs from room to room and discovers all her dismembered friends was, I thought, sufficiently scary. I watched it again last year and was struck with two realizations: 1) by today's standards, this movie has a leaden and ineffectual pace; 2) the young and adorable Ms. Curtis was (by today's standards) a thick-ankled lass!

National Lampoon's Animal House -- I'm setting myself up for a fall, but here goes: First of all, I don't mind admitting this is a truly entertaining flick. But that's part of my problem with it. In 1979, in my suburban grade nine classroom, every single one of my male classmates had seen this film and memorized swaths of its dialogue. They also committed to memory every word uttered by Cheech & Chong ("Dave? Dave's not here!"). Throw in Saturday Night Live and you had a three-cornered template for life. In Grade Nine. In the suburbs. I've gone back to the old neighborhood and caught up with most of my friends from that single year, and I can't help but get a little depressed by what a corpulent, brain-dead bunch they've turned into. Maybe there weren't the proper parental checks and balances to prevent this outcome. And maybe your grade nine class was different. But I think this movie had an undue influence on these feckless kids of bourgeois privilege.

Superman -- I've always had problems with this character. He's only compelling when he's Clark Kent. Otherwise, he's Steve Austin (the original, mind) with a cape.

10 comments:

DarkoV said...

Label me a heathen and get it over with.
Why?
I am not a Spielberg fan.
Jaws, Close Encounters.., Sophie's Choice, E.T., yep, just add them to the list of movies worth one view and then good riddance.

At first I thought Providence was this movie. Never saw the former. Loved the latter.
3 Women was....strange; nothing new there since it's an Altman.
No matter what depth of moral terpitude Woody has sunk to since 1977, I'm with you that "Annie Hall" is simply a great, great film.

Hated "Superman" and never bothered with any of the sequels. "Steve Austin (the original, mind) with a cape"? Too funny...and too kind.
"Interiors" was a comedy, right? That's all I remember from seeing it; laughing a lot. That and wondering who kept the rooms so clean as the moving air caused by all of the room-to-room floating had to have kicked up the dust bunnies. The constant sound of the ocean gave me the impression that most of the cast would walk into it one night, thus leaving us alone with that gorgeous house. I believe realtors got the idea of showing videos of prospective houses for sale by watching this movie, so some long term benefits did come out of Mr. Allen's efforts.

The best for last.
I saw "Animal House", if memory has not deserted me, in the summer of 1978, shortly after "Star Wars". Loved both for how different they were from most movies shown then. I've seen "Animal House" multiple times since and, I confess, still find it hilarious, as opposed to some movies these days. "Star Wars"? I haven't seen since 1978 and have no urge to see it.
Your grade nine classmates' current condition? I can explain it only as reality not meeting expectations. Did they go off to college, where knowledge is good, (sorry, couldn't hold myself back) and not have any of those experiences they thought "Animal House" was advertising? I'd be bummed out too, depressed that I'd been fooled again by that false dreams machine in Hollywood. As a kid, "Animal House" and Cheech & Chong sure did make adulthood, or at the very least, suspended adulthood, appealling. How did the wool get pulled over our eyes so easily?
Probably, becausee we were so eagerly doing the pulling.
"Animal House" is a lot like extended guitar solos. Only appreciated by guys. Only scoffed at by the gals.
I still put the movie on at least once a year and I still fall out of the couch on certain scenes. Suspended adulthood? Punch my ticket, I'm waiting to board. Well, at least for a couple of hours.

Whisky Prajer said...

If I had to deliver a quick prognosis re: my grade 9 friends, I think the troubles began when they tried to live out the Cheech & Chong/Animal House lifestyle in grade 9. One of the more disturbing "extras" available on the Metallica: Some Kind of Monster DVD is footage of an audience member in his mid-30s, standing up after a screening and tearfully announcing how he can now see it's possible to be drug-free and still "rock out". That guy sure looked and sounded familiar. I guess some journeys get started with little steps.

ジョエル said...

I agree that close Encounters is over-rated. And Annie Hall is the best film about relationships ever.

F.C. Bearded said...

Substitute "Monty Python" and "Fawlty Towers" ("Farty Towels") for "Cheech & Chong" and SNL, and you have a pretty good picture of schoolboy life in Scotland there too.

But wait... didn't "Kentucky Fried Movie" come out the same year as Animal House? A twofer, I recall. But you had to be there... which is pretty much your point, isn't it?

My kids, to continue the tradition, quote "Family Guy" and Dane Cook incessantly.

Phil said...

Days of Heaven is worth a watch.

Whisky Prajer said...

fcb - "Fawlty Towers" & MPFC? If you're trying to make me feel better, it's not working. Now, "Family Guy" - that's it, exactly. You listen as the progeny chuckle, you hope against hope this is some indication of higher intelligence, then you despair as the parrotting begins. You could take them aside and explain the fine points of irony, but it would be a lost cause.

Whisky Prajer said...

ジョエル - Annie Hall is an altogether unique "date" movie: you can see it just as you're on the verge of getting serious with someone, and you can see it as you're on the verge of breaking up.

phil - *sigh* One more to add to the Netflix cue...

Yahmdallah said...

Hey Whiskey,

I've been enjoying your rejoinders to my "I'm Listing!" on Ebert's picks. (Been out of town, then very ill, so only now am getting back to it.)

First of all, regarding "2001: A Space Odyssey" - I did see it on wide screen in a theatre several times. It is mesmerizing and the accuracy of the space scenes is cool (e.g. no sound when in the vacuum of space), but it does drag, I think, except for the part where Hal goes nuts. And the ending (where Bowman evolves like the monkeys at the beginning due to influence from the black monolith into the "star-child/star-embryo" (with fantastic cosmic powers) - presumably the next step in evolution) just isn't all that clear within the narrative of the film. So, I stand by my "boring and impenetrable" remarks - while realizing I'm delving into a bit of film buff heresy, particularly since I'm a geek, too.

The secret to "Close Encounters" was that it was the first and only film of the time to couch the idea of initial extraterrestrial contact as a positive thing. And the special effects for the time were amazing. Yeah, it's aged and has a lot of its thunder stolen by the fact that most of its ideas and themes have been absorbed into the general gestalt. (Not that you don't know this, but just thot I'd toss it out there.)

Finally, the reason Jamie Lee C. is thick-ankled is because she's really a boy. She has a very rare genetic condition that prevents her own body from absorbing any testosterone it produces, so she "defaulted" to female anatomy due to that. If she didn't take hormone enhancement, she would've looked like a boyish female all her life, but estrogen and other hormone treatments have made her look more female. (For the record, she's sterile, too.) But, genetically, she's XY.

Whisky Prajer said...

Nice to hear you're up and at 'em, Y (I can't quite by the XY Curtis proposition, though - I've always been a bit sweet on her).

Scott said...

Erm...I've always been sweet on Jamie Lee too, even a little after I woke up to being gay. The XY theory therefore makes both perfect sense to me while being deeply unsettling. :)

Ah, the fascinating fluid river that is sexuality!

Bottom line though: Curtis writes adorable books for adopted kids, she's an underrated actress (pleeeease do another movie with John Cleese!) and she's Jake Gyllenhaal's godmother, which seems both odd and quite sweet. Man, woman or in-between, she's a class act!