Friday, September 14, 2012

You Don't Even Want to Know What This Post is About

The Right Stuff (1983)

I had not seen this previously. I confess to finding it passably entertaining. Americans in the pursuit of grand and heroic achievements. For an almost 30 year old movie, it looks as though it could have come out last week, which suggests that it has been more influential than is usually acknowledged. Its narrative language, its fastidious concern with clothing and interior design, its reliance on cultural iconography, its attitude towards history, that is with fitting characters within the historical framework rather than having the historical setting serving as a background or added interest, are in line with what is still prevalent today. Its stylized depiction of the 50s is very much the same 50s we have all come to know and love over the intervening thirty years, though it is a departure from the usual way that decade had been presented theretofore. This has doubtless been a reflection of the prevalent zeitgeist, which is often skeptical of the possibility of autonomy and is obsessed with institutional power, media manipulation, the engines of bureaucracy and the like.

The early astronauts, it is noted in passing in the film, for all their remarkable efforts and sacrifices and risks, were not paid anything beyond their normal modest military salaries. Nor does it seem to have been much of an issue.

I've never read the book by the famous author Tom Wolfe, nor any of his other books. He is considered a great, or at least important writer by some people--with himself, it seems, often occupying the vanguard of this faction--though the official intelligentsia does its best to tamper any encroachment of this strident enthusiasm into those areas of literary taste over which it wields the most influence. Excerpts from Wolfe's books and interviews frequently appear in the popular press. He does come across to me as more pleased with himself than most of his purported insights, satire, iconoclasm, and so forth, would merit. I know he has been industrious and successful, and that cannot be taken away from him.Still, he does strike me as for the most part tiresome and not particularly revelatory. Given the theme of the movie I was anticipating a more obnoxious, in-your-face brand of machismo to be ascendant in it, but for the most part the swagger was depicted as contributing to healthy competition among men of near equal strength in the pursuit of noble ends, which even I do not have a problem with. Any such totally inferior contenders as were destroyed, dismissed and humiliated in the course of this process were left out of the film; I think this was for the best.

There was a actress in this I took a liking to, named Pamela Reed--that's a kind of name I like too--who played one of the wives. I think she has been in a lot of TV-movie type things over the years. I don't like any of the photographs of her that I could put up here though. She may be one of those people who looks better in motion.

My sixth-grade teacher claimed to be Chuck Yeager's cousin. This is not apropos of anything, since I don't know how tight their connection was or what, if any, similar qualities she benefited from. She was kind of the tough old broad type, and she did not favor me, as most of my early teachers did, so I did not like her. Obviously, seeing that Chuck Yeager was her cousin, she could probably tell I was not made of the good sort of stuff that the film celebrates. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, was from New Hampshire, though that is not mentioned in the movie. I only note this because it is very unusual for anybody born and bred in New Hampshire (or Maine, or Vermont), to attain elite status in any nationally or internationally hypercompetitive field, especially one involving any extreme degree of physicality. (Chuck Yeager was from West Virginia, which is also, nowadays at least, an unusual place of origin for world class talent.)

Entre Nous (1983)

Written and directed by a woman (Diane Kurys), and based on her own memoir, about a pair of friends who  reject the stifling bourgeois life of 1950s France which, as artists are fond of reminding us, was a pretty staid and rigid period in that country's social history, in contrast with our usual image of a land awash in sophisticated and hedonistic intrigue from one end to the other. This started well, and for the first half I thought we might be getting somewhere interesting, but I didn't like how the movie played out. The Isabelle Huppert character and that of her husband I did not think developed in a way consistent with what I came to expect through the first half of the movie. The husband especially got an unnecessarily bad rap. It is perhaps true that she never loved him, though it is not clear to me why she should never have liked him, or felt any loyalty to him. The presentation of him is that he is not especially cultured or sensitive, but he is not a weakling. He runs a prosperous business--a garage, which I guess has prolish connotations, which obviously we are intended to feel sympathy with his put upon wife about. He is very personable socially, and can get along with other men. He is certainly a doting father by the standards of 1950s France that I have heard about. He also by marrying her in the first place saved her from going to Auschwitz--granted they did not know each other and he doubtless only made the offer because he found her pretty. But her character as developed was not especially dynamic or so blatantly superior to his that one felt she had a good reason for abandoning him and breaking up their family to take up with her unstable female artist friend. Also the Isabelle Huppert  husband character begins to act in violent and inappropriate ways, presumably to show she is justified in leaving him, which are however completely inconsistent with everything else we are shown about this man in the movie. So in my opinion there is that weakness in it.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Perhaps the ultimate false nostalgia movie, though I do love it. I am going to give it its own post to sort out all the middlebrow traps I know are coming at me from the beginning of the picture, and my powerlessness to avoid falling into them.

Jaws (1975)

I had never seen Jaws until the other day, because I am a wuss and I didn't want to be scared. I grew up well acquainted with the tales of theatergoers having to run out into the lobby and vomit during the middle of the film and of grown men who were terrified to climb into bathtubs for several years after seeing the movie and my reaction was always, Do I need this in my life? Thus I was disheartened when this legendary film turned up on my list. As I plowed inexorably back towards the 70s I began to dread its approach. Finally it arrived in the mail. My wife assured me there was no pressing need for me to watch this movie. Yes, but the sanctity of my system...and also the experts it seemed had slowly begun, in recent years, to treat it not merely as a historically important summer blockbuster but worthy of respect as a work of art. The New Yorker just published such a piece within the last few weeks. My trusty video guide had rated it 5 stars. Everybody and his grandmother has seen it twenty times, and it was even, to my admitted astonishment, rated PG, so how bad could it possibly be? Everything seemed to be indicating that I ought to see it. I was ready.

The good news was that it was not as terrifying as I expected. Obviously we have become accustomed to much higher degrees of gruesomeness since 1975. Most of the scariness comes from the anticipation of something about to happen in an alarming, terrifying and unforeseeable way that however does not come about most of the time; this is I think a trademark technique of Steven Spielberg's, though in middle age I find it rather tiresome.

The promotion of this as a great movie is a stretch. There is nothing about it that I can discern that would be interesting to a intelligent person above the age of about twelve, and there aren't even any pretty girls in it, though the main character's (too little seen) wife is decidedly MILFy in the best way. The recent critical reassessments in the direction of greater praise strike me as similar to the arguments put forth for A Hard Day's Night being in fact underrated as work of cinema. Both of these films were monuments of popular culture, made a lot of people in the entertainment industry rich on a scale that evidently is difficult to duplicate, emotionally if not in terms of strict cold finance, nowadays, they remind both writers and Hollywood players of a certain age of the golden years of life, when work was joyous, the world overflowed with 19 year old white girls in memory more beautiful and gettable than what it offers now, substance abuse was socially acceptable anyplace anybody would want to be, art mattered, money was not the be all and end all of every aspect of existence...but let's not get carried away. Also the mechanical shark, which Spielberg and other people have admitted they never achieved perfect mastery, looks really fake. All my swaggering aside, had I seen the movie as a 16 year old in the summer of '75, I'm sure I would have screamed in terror and run out of the theater with my high cut shorts soaked through, and guaranteed myself at least two more long years without getting a sniff of the wild 70s free love raging all around me, putting all my hope into College...

Baby Boomer Magic Moments: Besides the opening scene where a top-heavy blonde at a beach party spontaneously flings all her clothes off while running into the ocean, the big one of course is at the end when the World War II vet and survivor of the USS Indianapolis disaster who has spent his entire life dedicated to killing animals on the water gets his comeuppance for mocking Richard Dreyfuss's Phd by becoming Jaws's last meal. I'm going to cut them a little slack on this one, because the old salt also brought up the soft hands issue, which was a particular obsession of grandfather and numerous other old guys of his generation, where they would disparage the feminine hands of the younger men because of course they had not spent any good number of years, or not enough, doing manual labor to have that coarse effect. To me as a 10-year old I was anxious about growing up to have womanly hands though I was also anxious about there being an expectation I should be spending a considerable part of my youth slaving away on a farm or in some industrial place, because of course I did not really want to do that; but if you were 30 and had to listen to old guys constantly passing commentaries about the manliness of your hands, it must have been annoying as hell. In my grandfather's case, and that of most of his friends, while many of them grew up on farms and were in World War II, after they were about 23 they all worked in offices and lived the suburban lifestyle themselves. But I guess they still had their hands to prove that they had been serious men once, and you didn't. Anyway, having rough hands doesn't seem to confer much status in current society; at least I never hear anyone bringing it up anymore.     

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