Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Movies 1985-1998

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I really do not like much from the 90s, movies or anything else, which is a little sad, since that was the decade I was in my twenties, and one would think I would enjoy being reminded of that era. But I find that I do not at all. With regard to the art and entertainment of the time in themselves, my charitable interpretation of this is that they are currently passing through that awkward age where their charms, assuming that they have any, are hard to discern, and their themes and guiding assumptions feel tired and unappealing, because the psychic universe they inhabit is still much the same as that which prevails now, only with an incomplete awareness of everything that has happened in the interval, which has the tendency to give them a rather grotesque character. This is similar to how I felt about the entertainments of the 1960s and 70s when I was younger, and what I presume is how people in those times felt about the ones of the 1940s and 1950s. In these latter cases enough time has passed now that the environments and social atmosphere we see in them seem quite unlike that in which we currently live, and in some instances the differences--including many that we either took for granted or considered to be unfortunate if we happened to be sentient at the time--have become attractive with the passage of years, at least to some people. If I have enough energy, I may elaborate on this more later on.

Pi (1998)

Maybe it seemed good at the time, but now it comes across as a compendium of the worst tendencies of Generation X alienation, ennui, and incapablility of engaging with anyone at all who does not perfectly suit one's imagined social requirements dedicated to celluloid. It is a low budget indie shot in dreary black and white about a guy who has presumably a very high IQ but, unfortunately for the interest of the film, has little in the way of accomplishments, palpable genius, or even social acquaintance. He is obsessed with number patterns, though certainly nothing beyond what the internet has revealed lots of people to have, has a pill addiction, rarely leaves the house, has no real friends and grows ever more incapable of interacting with people or even being sentient as the film goes on. It did recall to me the time when most smart people built their own computers (maybe they still do, but I haven't met anyone who does this in years) and when New York City was the domain, both in reality and in the popular imagination, of a large population of eccentric obsessives and introverts who lived in apartments lined with bookshelves and were economically neither exceptionally busy nor productive. I suppose there are probably a few such people hanging on in today's New York. though they would seem to be increasingly marginalized, and it would not appear that they are setting any kind of dominant tone in the current life of the city.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

This has always had a high reputation, but I didn't care for it. It gave me no joy. The dialogue is 97% macho posturing and insults and defiance directed at other people. I think it is considered to be funny, but most of the humor was lost on me. This movie had an over-the-top aspect about it in the writing, acting, plot, etc, that makes me think it is a commentary on the Industry of some kind, which is the cause of its being so celebrated. I don't like most of the actors in this either. Chazz Palmintieri especially is like the anti-Claude Rains. I see his name listed in the cast and my heart sinks. Gabriel Byrne isn't much better.

Braveheart (1995)

I had never seen it. It at least has some entertainment value, though it could have been a little shorter. Mel Gibson is a polarizing figure now I suppose but I don't react to him strongly one way or the other. Clearly he has a violence fetish and he is more openly assertive in expressing contempt for weak and timid men who shy away from combat and struggle than most people are. This helps him as a director and actor in that it gives everything he does a decided character, but it is ultimately not one that moves me to any kind of especial response. One is reminded that people really love medieval fighting. The depiction of the blatantly homosexual Prince Edward, later Edward II, is mildly hilarious, but is probably too over the top to be acceptable to people nowadays.  

The Fugitive (1993)

Thriller starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, well-received at the time. For a 21-year old movie where people still use pay phones all the time its atmosphere, particularly when in professional and corporate environments, is very recognizable to anyone living in the present. I know that you are supposed to suspend belief and the necessity for strict realism when you watch this kind of a movie, and let yourself be carried along by the narrative, but this one asks a little too much of that, particularly since there isn't really anything else going on in it. I had a thought come to me about this movie about 3 days ago, when I was not a liberty or had materials to record it, that encapsulated better my impression of it, but I cannot remember any of it now.

This is set in Chicago, a city that has always held comparatively little appeal to me, and I suspect to most people from the east coast as a rule. I know a number of people who lived there for a time, mostly for graduate school, and I don't recall that any of them loved it, and several seemed to have loathed it more than I probably would have found necessary. But it is true that it has never struck me, in movies or in person (apart from Wrigley Field), as an attractive place, especially in winter. The weather is just as dreary as it is here probably, but we at least have trees and hills, and winding roads, and the light seems to be a little warmer. I would probably not dislike it that much if I had had a reason to spend some time there. I would like all the bars and the central and eastern European food, which latter especially is thin on the ground in New England.

Apropos of nothing, the 1960s television show which inspired this movie was apparently a favorite of my grandmother's. I have never seen it.

Mask (1985)

Now we are further back in time, to an era that does feel different to me from the present, and of which I do feel a certain fondness, though the period of which I am particularly fond was quite short. The peak, or 'real' 80s for me, were essentially two years, '84 and '85. '86 still had some of the qualities of these previous years but you could sense it was a year of transition. '87 and to a lesser extent '88 were disappointing. '89 to '91 I thought promising, as if building up to a world in which I might comfortably and meaningfully move, but it was really the swan song of a dying order. In '92 and '93 the new cultural environment, in which we still largely find ourselves, really began to insinuate itself, '94 and '95 were kind of dog years in which some of the lingering detritus from the previous age had to receive its final crushing (I remember these being the years when the restrictions on smoking really begin to be amped up, for example). '96 and '97 weren't bad. I essentially lost contact with the world after '97 and cannot tell one year from another since then. My feelings about these years by the way do not always correlate with what was happening in my own life, but with what I felt the possibilities in the greater society were if one could be a part of whatever was happening. I personally personally had better years socially in the early 90s than in 1985, but my sense was always that the opportunities I could have had if I had been cool 1985 or 1989 were better than those I could have had if I had been cool in 1993 or '94.

From a distance of 29 years, Mask has a good deal of this to me positive 1985ish vibe. Of course at the time (I was 15) I would not have found it so. Indeed, I remember when this came out and the way it was promoted it seemed about the most hideous thing possible, a tear-jerker about a deformed freak starring Cher, who seemed to me at this juncture the embodiment of everything gross about the 60s (and my dominant impression of the "60s" then, notwithstanding a thousand other things I surely knew about it, was that it was at its core an orgy of grossness, Woodstock, LSD, extremely hairy people on sexual rampages, and so on). If I had seen it in 1985, my response to it would have been morally reprehensible as well, something along the lines of, 'OK, so this guy had to live with a horrible and painful facial disfigurement and died when he was sixteen, but you know what, he still got more action in his life than it looks like I am going to get. I also would have begun to fantasize about getting a job a counselor at camp for blind people, which is where the character in this movie was able to meet his girlfriend, though, as wife my helpfully points out, my looks really are not my problem so much as my personality, which would have sabotaged all my efforts at picking up one of the blind girls.*

When this turned up on my list something of this ancient repulsion almost immediately started to rise up in me, though I was willing to give it a chance based on my warm feelings for its year. I also noticed that it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, several of whose 1970s movies I had thought were good, and this piqued my interest a little as well. There were a number of directors who made well-regarded movies in the early part of that decade (William Freidken; Francis Ford Coppola) and then went off the rails somewhat as it went on, but continued to work fairly steadily through the 80s and 90s, though their later work is not much celebrated. I like Bogdanovich's sensibility, and it informs this movie too, which on paper has a lot of things about it that I would otherwise be pre-disposed not to like.

The movie, or I should said the re-issued director's cut that I saw, has an excellent classic rock soundtrack that accurately captures the way that kind of music existed in the general atmosphere in those days, especially the Bruce Springsteen songs, which had to be cut from the original release of the movie due to a dispute with the record company over royalties, which dispute has evidently been cleared up now. You can also see in this, which even by the early 90s was beginning to change, how comparatively smaller the difference in socio-economic classes were compared to now. The film is set among a community of bikers, and they are different, and a subculture and all of that, but Bogdanovich and the actors do not seem to be daunted by the challenge of portraying or trying to make sense of this lifestyle, nor do they project a consciousness of it being something far beneath them that they are examining critically, nor do they need to pity the condition of their subjects and examine what ails them, because the community, while it has some problems with drug use and familial relationships, is not desolate and distressed in the way that such communities are often depicted as being now.

Cher did a good job acting in this, and supposedly she was considered in her youth by connoisseurs of the female form to have one of the most spectacular bodies of all time, but I still find her to be rather slaggy. The prejudices of youth die hard.

My recent late night time wasting has been watching old epsiodes of the very long-running 1960s TV show My Three Sons on Youtube. The shows in themselves are not particularly interesting, plotwise, though it is certainly enjoyable to imagine a world where a typical 'problem' is having made dates with two 1960s California babes for the same night. I like to study Fred MacMurray to learn how to be a dad. None of the children on this show ever scream at each other, or backtalk, or complain about boredom, or complain about work, or are on the autism spectrum, the dishes and laundry and vacuuming are always done. Fred MacMurray is an aeronautical engineer, and all of the other adults who appear in the show seem to be respectable professionals as well. It's all very calm. Of course I know the real world was nothing like this show even in the good old days; in my own family at this time, especially on the Irish side, severe alcoholism, chronic unemployment, domestic abuse, and problems of that ilk were more the order of the day than Steve Douglas, but for all that I do think to a certain extent MacMurray projects how the men and fathers of that day generally saw themselves, authoritative, necessary, competent, natural leaders in the community. The fathers of my generation, if they are of a squishy liberal background, are largely incapable of seeing themselves in this way. Those of a more right wing bent want to see and present themselves in this way and probably believe it is proper that they should, but even with them it is usually not convincing. It isn't deeply encripted in their world view the way it was with the older generation.

Another thing about this show I never realized is that even though for most of its run it was about an entirely male household, it was nonetheless a parade of really good-looking girls, the wholesome old California and Mormon types, mostly Robbie's dates or other love interests, but even the older teachers and social workers and so on who turned up were unusually attractive. My favorite episode so far is a blakc and white one from 1963 where in repsonse to various Russian threats Robbie's high school decided to award a letter jacket for excellence in science. The main competitors for this award are Robbie and a studious, bespectacled girl with blond hair whose father is a physican. When the jock types begin to mock Robbie about the science letter, he tries to lose on purpose. The smart blond girl does not like this. Wonder why? Her mom knows, and decides it's time for her to get down to the beauty parlor for a makeover. Robbie wins the award and Jimmy Stewart turns up (as himself) in his general's uniform to personally present it and give a rousing speech about the importance of young Americans to excel in school, and the sciences in particular, that everything we held dear depended on it (though I do not recall that the economy or the stock market or taxes were explicitly mentioned). Robbie and the blond girl end the show by going on a date to a highbrow musical concert. There are a lot of retro-stimulators that could be supposed to be appealing and reassuring to me packed into 23 minutes here. But I am not really taken in in practice.    

When the sons on this show (or two of them at least) get married, their (extremely lovely) wives move right into the house with the rest of the family and everyone gets along swimmingly and the house stays as clean and well-organized as ever. Even after one of the women gives birth to triplets!

I like Polly (Chip's wife). She was a cutie pie. She came in at the very tail end of the show, the last two years, from 1970-72 (It started in 1960).

*I forgot to note in the original posting the theme, still prevalent at that time in the Karate Kid and various other movies and TV shows, of the great California fantasy, wherein however hopeless of a loser one was at home in the East or Midwest, if he can make it to California he will inevitably find the beautiful, nice and happy girlfriend, in most instances blonde, of his dreams, whether his wildest or tamest ones I suppose depends on your personal preferences. I think everybody knew that this could not possibly be real, but myth was too alluring for most to avoiding succumbing to it. I haven't seen it depicted in a long time though, probably since the 80s, so maybe it has died out. 

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