OLD MOVIES SUCK!
I was listening to a Pixies' song on Pandora the other day when somebody asked me if I could change the station. "You don't like this?" I made the mistake of asking. He shrugged. "Well, y'know...I don't like OLD music."
Old?? It was "Subbacultcha" from Trompe le Monde! I still consider it new! The gall of this impudent blackguard to imply that 20 years ago is indistinguishable from the triassic period. The song itself was released only a year or two before this guy was born, yet he regards it with the kind of indifferent irreverence as I would the Comnenian dynasty of Constantinople.
But I guess that's how it is: it's hard to trust and respect pieces of pop culture that were released, praised and canonized before you existed. You hear about how incredible Lawrence of Arabia is, how many Oscars it won, how influential it was and continues to be...then you actually see it. It's not even a case of a film being overrated, per se - it's more like a religion, where you're expected to take a lot on faith. Trust us: Citizen Kane is the best movie ever made, period! The French Connection has the greatest car chase of all time! Charlie Chaplin is the funniest man who ever lived, and was in no way a plagarist! No discussion necessary! Now drink your Kool Aid!
Well, much as we love movies in general, there are certain films, made and enshrined before we were born, that rub some of us 'smoke writers the wrong way despite their apparently unbendable place in the history of cinema. Here are some examples...
Chris Funderburg - GOLDFINGER (1964)
I notoriously had never seen a Bond film until Casino Royale came out, but with Daniel Craig taking over the role and the style being switched up (not unlike when an operating system is powered down and then re-initiated), I decided to bite the bullet and take in my first 007 adventure. Plus: Eva Green. Ok, it was Eva Green that did it. I enjoyed it. Didnít go nuts for it. Anyway, once the seal was broken, there was no reason for me not to delve into the whole stinking mess of beloved classic Bond films including From Russia with Love, The Spy Who Loved Me and, of course, Goldfinger. For many Bond fans, the series' third installment and its gold-obsessed antagonist represent the apogee of the Sean Connery years, the man widely agreed upon as the One True Superspy. But I found Connery to be deeply unpleasant in the role and the film on the whole to be pretty terrible. Shocking. Positively shocking. That's what Bond says after he electrocutes a Mexican drug dealer in a bathtub in the opening scene. I know all of the action heroes merely standing in Bond's shadow have driven corny post-murder puns into ground but come on. This isn't even a good one by the extremely low standards of action film punnery. It sucks. And Connery's chortling smugness makes it unbearable: his entire demeanor at every moment in the film, whether he's delivering asinine one-liners or botching re-con missions, says "Are you getting a load of how awesome I am? Hey, stupid, I'm talking to you: look how much I rule. Look!"
I was genuinely surprised by how sleazy and unappealing Sean Connery is in the lead role. Instead of a suave charmer with an effortless ease in situations of both love and war, I was subjected to a borderline incompetent, hairy-knuckled crypto-rapist. Seriously: in Goldfinger, Bond doesnít seduce women so much as menace them into coitus and then gets into a car accident playing a game of chicken with his own reflection. His big plan for taking down Goldfinger? To get captured repeatedly and let the bad guys screw up. The only woman who responds to his advances without coercion is setting him up Ė that scene is a two-for-one of Bond incompetence and sleaze. I enjoyed From Russia with Love because the villains are great in that one (seriously, who the fuck is Bond compared to Kronsteen?) and there's an excellent buxom gypsy fight, but Goldfinger's spray-painted corpses and obvious twists left me completely cold. In general, there's a lot of major elements that donít come off quite right. For example, the plan to irradiate the gold at Fort Knox is pretty ingenious, but the "all the soldiers play dead" plan of defense was a lame trick that should have been obvious to even the most gold-addled mind. Odd Job is just silly. We're all in agreement on that, right?
Thatís really the whole problem with Goldfinger, how it uneasily brings together "silly" and "gross." Shirley Basseyís iconic theme-song (a lot of fun in a cheesy sort of way), Odd Job's comic book attack-hat and general big, fat Asian-guy-ness, Goldfinger's unwavering devotion to the theme of "gold:" all of these things are generally goofy and threaten to send the movie into the realm of straight-up camp. But then there's Coonery with his grease-ball strut and fondness for ribald puns, his leering oiliness and smirking self-satisfaction. The movie is all puerile peeks at half-naked bodies hilariously covered in gold body-paint because of a malevolent super-villain intent on making sure everyone understands his gimmick. The lead female character is named "Pussy Galore." Gross. And silly. It's hard not to imagine Connery, Bond creator Ian Fleming and director Guy Hamilton as a bunch of snickering perverts. Before I saw the films, I had always thought of Bond as the man who no woman could resist and no man could best. But if I found the Bond of Goldfinger in the bushes outside my apartment peeping on my wife (not an implausible scenario with the way Connery plays the role), I wouldn't hesitate to chase him away with a baseball bat. He'd probably just fall down an open manhole and die while running away, anyway.
From what I can tell, people really seem to respond to the film's gadgets: a souped-up Aston Martin and a bunch of lasers (the most famous one being part of Goldfinger's S&M emasculation device Ė again: gross and silly) give the film an almost science-fiction-y feel. But maybe that's the Bond series' true cinematic discovery: how to make science-fiction devoid of any of the imagination, ethical inquiry or metaphysical speculation heretofore inimical to the genre. Goldfinger invented science fiction without the science; or, the Modern Blockbuster. And there's no denying that people love that shit. And no denying that I am indifferent to the type of science-fiction that thrives on cool gadgets and fantasy spectacle. Some of it's good, some of it's bad, but scientifically unfeasible space age cars mounted with laser beams and bleeping doo-dads are not enough alone to hold my interest. I think a lot of my disappoint with Goldfinger is located in how it presaged the shitty modern blockbuster: scantily-clad "ass-kicking" bimbos, moronic jokes, comic book super-villains, wildly improbably space-age gadgets, obvious plot-twists, silly puerile spectacle on a giant canvas: it's like the worst parts of brain-dead trash that makes fun popcorn movies such a boring chore to sit through. But it's easy to see why it's a classic.
Marcus Pinn - EMPIRE (1964)
I understand that Andy Warhol and Jonas Mekas are two of the most important figures in experimental film, but people tend to just blindly praise everything they do (especially Andy Warhol.) Empire is a prime example of that. This is one of those movies that some writer at the Village Voice deemed important years ago, and people have been too afraid to question that opinion ever since. Warhol's "documentary", which is just an 8 hour-long continuous shot of the empire state building, is considered by many to be one of the most important films ever made. In fact, it recently made Time Out's "50 Greatest Documentaries" list and was part of a retrospective at Anthology Film Archives curated by Mekas, the film's cinematographer, this past summer. Sorry, but I just don't see what the big deal is. I'm sure Empire has been screened in various arthouse theaters, galleries and basements all over the world, but at the end of the day this movie is synonymous with being shown in New York City. If you actually live in New York, why would you want to look at a grainy projection of the Empire State Building for 8 hours when, depending on where you're standing, you can literally just look up and see it in real life? Actually living in New York while watching Empire is like owning a real fireplace, but watching one of those DVDs of a fireplace on a television instead.
Paul Cooney - THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)
Sometimes the hooker wants to spend a little extra time in the bathroom crying before she comes out and performs her 12 minutes of magic, sometimes your train is delayed when some genius decides that his suicide is more important than you making it home in time to see Chris Jericho on "Dancing With the Stars," and so you sit and idle while they shovel his remains off the third rail...
Well during those times maybe you catch a glimpse or two of a movie you would never lower yourself to sit and watch straight through.
The Cincinnati Kid is one such picture.
It seems to have a somewhat exalted reputation, or maybe it doesn't, what the fuck am I a film historian? I ain't. In fact I try to forget as much about movies as possible, especially all pornography made before the 21st century. Jesus Christ I don't know how the Brazilians took so long to catch on.
I digress...The Cincinnati Kid. He's played by Steve McQueen so you know he's supposed to be some kind of badass, but before the first frame even comes up there is a problem. If he's from Cincy, how bad could his ass be? Cincifuckinnati? If he had an ounce of sense he would change his name and pretend to be from someplace that wasn't best known for its radio station WKRP and abysmal sports teams.
Also, once Stevie McQueen took out the blob and then motorcycled away from Nazis he seemed to get a bit of an ego, and spends much of the time onscreen in his movies sort of glowering like "I'm George Clooney, Errol Flynn and John Wayne rolled into one" which he fucking ain't, cause not even Jesus could be that cool.
I never saw the film start to finish and I'm a little hazy on the facts but the Cincy Kid is a bit of a card player, and that just don't make for the best viewing. Jumping a motorcycle over the Alps is cool, taking out an alien space glob takes balls, but sitting across a table from Edward G. Robinson and Karl Malden? That's fucking depressing. I don't want to watch that shit for two hours.
This flick contains not one but two scenes of secondary characters on the telephone having rather congenial chats, while nubile half naked broads slink about on the beds next to them. In the first, some southern gent is drawlin' into the receiever discussin' business all nice like, while a tawny nymphette glides her finger across his chest and seems to politely wait for him to finish so he can fuck her again like she deserves.
He hangs up after giving a friendly toodaloo and then says icily to the nubile broad, "Don't....touch....me." Each word delivered like a dagger between her pert breasts! Ouch! Why the coldness hombre? That's no way to treat a harlot!
A short while later Karl Malden is chattin' away like a teenage girl on the telephone while Ann Margret, Mrs. Elvis Fucking Presley herself, is stretching that curvy tenderly lovable body out on the bed and looking like she is so hot she's ready to take his nose if his wang ain't up to the task. She starts to massage him and he brushes her off like she's a skunk who just raised her tail. What the fuck? If this is how dudes from Cincinnati treat buxom Swedish broads I'm glad as fuck I'm not from there.
McQueen later chases off his blonde tart and sends her back to her hick hometown. Just what the fuck is going on with this pack of degenerates? They got dough and fine ladies but spend all their time being obsequious on the phone-y poo and brushing off their broads. Why not give up the gambling life and work at the post office or maybe a nice construction job fellas?
Some other shit happens, I wasn't really watching, but Edward G. is some king of gambling legend known as "The Man" and Steve is the hotshot kid everyone thinks is gonna take him down and be the new champ. Playing cards. How bout acquiring a real skill guys? At least billiards requires you to stand up you lazy louts!
The final match finally happens and wagers are coming in from New York and Chicago this is such a big fucking deal! The Southern gent tries to rig it by offering Malden 25K to put on the fix. This is high stake shit! And yet somehow it's not just McQueen and Robinson playing. They get 4 or 5 stiffs to sit in as well. Huh? Who the fuck are these idiots? Why would these clowns agree to get in a game between "The Man" and "The Kid?" The Southern dude is a rich badass who drinks fine bourbon and shoots dueling pistols in his parlor for fun. He even has a confederate general's portrait hanging in his entertaining room! Clearly this is a man not to be trifled with, yet he has the sense to realize he can't beat the Kid and The Man, so just wagers on it. Somehow they get George Costanza's cousin and a collection of dweebs and losers to sit at the table and get rolled before the final confrontation.
I called bullshit and stopped watching. It was like if Jason Statham and The Rock decided to have an ass kicking/pussy eating contest one weekend and four mortal guys decided..."I want in on that! I took judo four years ago and I just got a new haircut. I can probably kick as much ass as those two and get as many chicks."
No you fucking can't! And watching those assorted losers get frustrated as they lost to "The Man" and "The Kid" was just a little too retarded for my taste. You really think you had a chance at winning stupid? The guy's fucking name is the title of the movie! You're way back in the end of the credits: "dude with glasses at final game." "Chubby guy who pulls on tie while losing shirt." You were doomed from the get go!
Could Matty Too Hotty From Southy Damon have saved this movie like he almost did Rounders with the sheer power of his Bournes? I don't know and I don't really give two shits!
Eric Pfriender - 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
I recently had the displeasure of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. I had seen bits and pieces of it, but this was the firs time I sat down and watched it, with the lights off, from start to finish. My immediate response was to send an expletive-ridden email to the editors of The Pink Smoke, begging for someone to explain to me how this movie could enjoy its reputation as one of the highest achievements in cinema, when it is so clearly a laughable, childish misfire full of half-baked ideas and trippy-hippy nonsense. I've had a few weeks to process and accept that one man alone is no match for the defenses surrounding Fort Kubrick, so rather than spew bilious epithets about how the movie is "worse than fucking terrible, but offensively fucking stupid," I humbly present below a few things that rubbed me the wrong way about Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the movie which I believe has the greatest divide between established critical reputation and actual quality.
Right out of the gate the movie announces how important it wants you to think it is by having you listen to an overture for a few minutes. Just music, over black. Now, I've had defenders of the film explain to me that a lot of "epic" films from the era opened with an overture, but my money is on 2001 being the only one to open with an overture, follow it with a three minute title sequence (not a credit sequence - three minutes of music that peaks with the big reveal of the title of the movie we all came to the theater to see), and then follow that up with a twenty minute-long sequence about monkeys learning to use tools. Undeniable pretension.
The monkey sequence is followed by the cut: a justifiably revered edit that encapsulates half a million years of evolution as our first tool flies into the air, and when it returns it is a ship flying through space. And then we have a little space-ballet. Very tasteful, very Kubrick. I'm on board with this. And then we're inside the ship, and there is a flight attendant who doesn't seem to be subject to the inconveniences of zero-gravity travel. We know this, because the close-up of her footwear reveals that they are clearly labeled as "Grip Shoes." It turns out, nearly everything in the movie is labeled: there is an entire shot whose sole purpose is to allow the audience to read the sign describing how to use the "Zero Gravity Toilet." If one of the reasons this movie impressed audiences so much was that it had a revolutionary and prophetic vision of the future, I would like to present its incessant naming of things as Exhibit A disproving that myth. All of these labels arenít there to be realistic, they are there to talk down to the audience. Now, it's one thing if you're going to be pretentious, but now you're also being condescending, assuming the audience won't be able to understand anything unless you spell it out for them. And if you're going to be pretentious and condescending, you're getting dangerously close to what most people just describe in shorthand as "being an asshole."
The performances are awkwardly bad. I get that they are stylized and drained of emotion in order to heighten the effect of Hal becoming more human than human, but emotionless doesn't have to mean awkward.
The movie has an intermission, but if you remove the intermission (and the overture and the title sequence), its run time is barely over two hours, so it's kind of unclear why it needs one. I'm willing to chalk it up to some kind of quirk of distribution from the 60's that I don't understand, but that just leaves me with a movie that is barely over two hours long, but feels like six. I get that it's a movie about evolution, I just wish it didn't have to feel like it was documenting the process in real-time.
And that just about brings us to the ending... which is where I lose the ability to be polite. I was born twelve years after the movie came out, so I understand that I'm seeing this out of context, but I have a hard time believing that the stupid light-show that lasts twenty (!) minutes was an example of "revolutionary" effects. It is in the same movie that has that spaceship-ballet! And don't give me that "But it was the 60s, man! I bet that shit looked amazing if you were tripping balls!" Great. Your argument is that not only does that sequence suck, but it is the primary cultural example of the type of thing that makes psychedelics look ridiculous.
And then we find out that we've traveled x-thousand light years only to journey deep inside our own minds, because what's the point in solving the mystery of existence if we're really all just star babies at heart? And maybe the movie has it right, because the knowledge that anyone thinks this movie is anything other than a silly, pretentious piece of shit makes me want to shut down, curl up in my space-womb, orbit Jupiter, and suck my thumb.
John Cribbs - KLUTE (1971)
Is Jane Fonda's pure, unquantifiable suckiness still up for debate, or has it become universally recognized by now? I mean, her worthlessness as a human being was firmly planted in my head growing up by my dad, who hated Fonda so much from a political standpoint that he recorded over my mom's copy of her workout video with an episode of "B.J. and the Bear" (allegedly.) But since then, I've had to stomach her mugging in order to enjoy Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou, her pseudo-Marxist posing to make Godard's terminally boring Tout va bien an even worse viewing experience, and - more recently - endure her grating Oscar-nominated lush in the late Sidney Lumet's The Morning After not once but twice (albeit the second time with occasional commentary running over her slurred vitriols.) I've never seen Barbarella, but is some self-conscious B-movie honestly all an actress needs to maintain an iconic 40 year reputation? (I know it worked for Raquel Welch with One Million Years B.C. but Raquel Welch is, you know, attractive.) Honestly, her career has never significantly crossed over into my pop cultural radar so, for me at least, it's been easy to largely ignore her, although I did give her a chance to defend her place in the annals of cinema. That chance...was 9 to 5. Just kidding, it was Alan J. Pakula's Klute.
Has there been a good movie based on a call girl made since Vivre se vie?* Belle de jour doesn't really count. I'm thinking more of movies centered around the "I'm tough with an insuperable attitude about what I do, and speak candidly about it in an empowering tone...but don't tell anyone, I'm really quite sensitive and vulnerable on the inside" character, a recent example being Steven Soderbergh's disappointing The Girlfriend Experience. I don't know if Klute was Hollywood's first attempt to tackle the subject of the tough/sensitive working girl, but the name "Bree Daniels" (who sounds more like a spunky high school detective from young adult novels) has certainly become synonymous with that type of role. Which is funny since she's such a half-assed, unconvincing prostitute. To establish the kind of life she's leading, there's an early scene where a john whispers something kinky to her which she informs him will cost an extra fifty bucks. But when Pakula cuts to the sex it's just standard missionary position, nothing really wild as Fonda's reaction seemed to suggest: what would $50 alone have gotten this guy, a handshake?
I don't know if Fonda's performance was considered gritty or uncompromising at the time, but it's dated pretty horribly: her ultra-conscious use of the word "whory" to describe herself and unconvincing reading of painful dialogue like "Is this the shakedown, hon?" makes me think that all she's missing is a piece of gum to be perpetually chewing and an afro. I've never really researched what it is people like about the movie, but if I had to guess I'd figure it was moments like the dark long shot of Fonda monologuing to some old dude about a significant sexual encounter while in silhouette. It's supposed to be arty, but it's clearly a ripoff of the opening scene of Weekend and, beyond the aesthetic gimmick, is no different than the countless shots of tape reels playing Fonda's voice as she narrates tales of her lascivious lifestyle. We're going to have to take her word for it I guess, because there's no real indication that her career is bringing her down except what she tells other people. The only part that even demonstrates that she's in any kind of trouble from her "whory" life is the ridiculous scene in the club where some dude bobs his head and applauds while Fonda snogs a random schlub. She looks messed up and in bad shape, even though she had literally just ducked inside the club and started "partying" like three minutes ago. Promiscuity is her drug! In They Shoot Horses Don't They?, Fonda looked bedraggled after hours of a sleepless dance marathon, but here she goes from seemingly normal to a wrecked shell of a human being at the drop of the hat. I guess it ultimately paid off: it created a job when Ted Turner had to hire someone to polish that acting Oscar.
I don't understand why they named the movie after Donald Sutherland's character, he's so dull and unmemorable. Sutherland must have read the script, saw that his character was supposed to be sexually undaunted, and decided to take Klute's frigidity to absurdly robotic extremes. Oh, she's charmed because he doesn't instantly fall head over feet for her? I guess a guy doesn't need to rely on charm, subtlety or even good looks to get a girl after all. Why didn't someone let me in on this sooner? He doesn't even have the Invasion of the Body Snatchers jheri curls yet; he looks nebbish-y like he did in The Dirty Dozen.
I mean - I get it. He's a passive P.I., whatever, he's laid back. However detached he is, he sure isn't cool. He sets up Fonda to be killed by the murderer (who, for someone who's already staged two convincing suicides, goes at Fonda like a nutty orangutan with no concern over how her body will look after he's beaten her to death) and gets there just in time to see the dude off himself. Nice work, Klute, why don't you take a well-earned vacation after all you've done, you stupidly-named big-eared weenie?
The suspense plot itself is hardly worth mentioning: people talking about other characters we've never seen when they're not too busy talking about themselves. Every once in a while there's a stalker POV shot so we know Fonda is supposedly in danger, even though it's impossible to care about what happens to her. The movie is one of those Watergate-era "paranoia" thrillers - The Anderson Tapes, The Conversation, Night Moves, The Parallax View, Marathon Man - that I want to like, but of those films this one, the one about murder and prostitution, feels neither dangerous or sexy. It actually has a lot in common with The Morning After: the killer could be one of two guys, and it turns out to be the obvious choice. Fonda runs around town with a romantic lead whose relation to her makes no sense. Most importantly, it's an unacknowledged crapfest from an American director held in high esteem by certain circles. I feel bad knocking Pakula - it's horrible the way he died - and Klute is certainly better than his later movies, but I can't help thinking it would be a better movie if Bree Daniels' shrink had told her she needs to talk less and lower her rates for regular old boring sex. The Vietcong would have agreed!
* Marcus Pinn called me on this by dropping Lodge Kerrigan's Claire Dolan from 1998. Excellent point Pinn, a great movie. In my defense though, the late great Katrin Cartlidge makes that character much more sympathetic than most high-priced call girls are depicted in movies.
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