Happy Solstice everyone.
This second installment of my favorite cinematic literature should in no way be taken as second choice as each one I list is the best of its kind. Surely there is no other movie like the one I lead off with this time.
Being There — Peter Sellers' last and best of a long string of outstanding performances since I first saw him playing ping-pong with James Mason in the original Lolita. I have mentioned that his character, Chance, entering civilization late in a lifetime of tending a garden is the exact reverse of my trajectory. With his single-minded care for symbiosis with nature he advises the nation’s top bean counters to grow healthy stalks/ stocks and large pods/portfolios. The closing scene of him strolling out on the surface of a lake is the only solid evidence for the surrealism of where he is throughout the story. A masterpiece of multiple entente, among all the genres of movies, this is the one I prefer watching with the uninitiated. It evokes the most interesting discussions about how we paint our reality with our attitude.
Ruling Class — The rehabilitation of Jesus to make him fit to be British aristocracy. As I mentioned to Leslie in a comment on her favorite movies post (she gave me the idea to do these two posts) about this movie being the turning point in realizing that I was an agnostic, non-card-carrying atheist when Peter O’Toole replies to the question of why he believes he must be god with, “Because, when I pray, I find I am talking to myself.” Nothing ever made better sense out of the quandary I was in at the time – only made more profound by studying Buddhism. The primary difference between Buddha and Jesus seems to be that Buddha realized that his enlightenment sprung from the same place within him that is within everyone and taught how to access it by going inward through meditation whereas Jesus is reputed to have allegedly claimed to be the only, exclusive access to some exterior creator god. Yeah, this movie was nearly as profound a turning point in my reality tunnel as Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, with his simple statement, “Agriculture is not the solution to famine, it is the cause.”
Lion in Winter — Never has such a horrible story been so well acted as King Henry II (Peter O’Toole Again) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) celebrate Christmas by slicing and dicing each other with acting chops honed over many years of excellent performances preparing for just these roles. Calling Eleanor out of her tower prison, their sons, Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey and clumsy John and Phillip, King of France (Timothy Dalton) Henry schemes to settle his affairs before his death leading to treachery and recrimination that plays like a combination of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf and House of Games and superior to both. Best scene: After a particularly scathing exchange that leaves Eleanor groveling at the door of her bedroom as Henry storms down the stairs, with uncanny timing she realizes herself and looks straight at the camera and says, “Every family has their ups and downs.” If it weren’t for the acting I mightn’t have included such an emotionally violent movie for it has no other redeeming quality.
Once Were Warriors — One might say this is the same story as Lion in Winter being enacted at the other end of the British Empire’s caste system in the persons of the displaced indigenous Maori population caught between the new zeal of New Zealand's colonials and the pride of the traditional island culture. It certainly would not be recommended without the light of a beautiful redemption at the end of a very dark tunnel through social hell. It makes me think about the possibility of my friends’ opportunity to gain land in Hawaii if the indigenous restoration legislation goes through.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — a launching pad for almost the entire ensemble into memorable careers, this hot house of socially unfit characters may be one of the few movies to live up to, and for me surpass, the original, wonderful book by Ken Kesey. Jack Nicholson is the only actor I knew to look for, from his breakthrough role as George Hanson in Easy Rider, but I wasn’t quite ready for this. Best scene: McMurphy hijacks the prison bus and takes his ward buddies out deep sea fishing by conning the owner of the boat into believing that these are all research scientists who, to a man, shape shift into a believable facsimile thereof as magically and subtly as the last supper scene appears amongst the cast at a funeral in M.A.S.H.
Bedazzled (1967)– Written by and starring British comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, this satirical mock of Christianity and the futility of planning the perfect mate is a masterful twist on Faust as nebbish Moore attempts to plot the perfect conditions for getting into his fast order waitress’ knickers, always to be thwarted by Cook, the Devil, who granted him seven tries to get it right. Best scene: in his fifth attempt to get Margaret for sure the Devil sets him up with stage, lights, girls and rock n’ roll stardom only to be upstaged by the Devil’s song declaring his haughty ennui with the line, “You fill me with inertia.” The code for escaping a wish gone wrong was a Bronx cheer, or “raspberry,” which I have found myself doing when real life situations get too crazy. Damn a bunch of pacts with the Devil, anyway
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Quit Worrying And Love The Bomb — If Jonathan Swift can write satire about the British dining on Irish babies Kubrick can make satirical movies about nuclear holocaust and boy did he. Peter Sellers plays three roles against actors like Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and George C. Scott to portray the failed strategy of having a doomsday machine if no one knows about it. I have always viewed it as a twisted example of how almost all of civilization’s strategies are doomsday machines that people are just coming to suspect have already been detonated but would still rather debate.
Catch-22 — Joseph Heller wrote this blistering condemnation of the entire absurdity of war and those who would profit from it in a vein so absurd one might mistake it for comedy. Army quartermaster Milo Minderbinder (Jon Voight) is a neocon prototype dealing chocolate covered candy on the black market … and stock in the black market itself. Best scene: Yosarian (Alan Arkin) wakes up in the hospital after being stabbed to witness two nurses exchange a patient’s empty IV drip solution bag with his full colostomy bag and move on down to the next bed.
Dark City — As Mahakal mentioned in comments to the first half of this post, this movie's style is gorgeous — in the most sinister way. It takes the notion of waking up feeling like a new person to a new extreme as the city folk struggle to realize they haven’t seen the sun or gone to the beach in … how long has it been now? … how did we used to get there? The manipulating villains float off the ground wearing black leather dusters a couple of feet longer than normal legs would be and gather every midnight to change the architecture of the city by combining their ability to “tune” materiality. I’m still not sure why I like it so much because I find no parallels of, or metaphors for, any life experience — maybe it’s prescient.
K-PAX — This sweet indictment of establishment’s walls of permissible reality personified by psychiatrist, Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) in his examination of the perfectly harmless alien, Prot (Kevin Spacey) who appeared from a mote in a beam of light unnoticed among the throngs in Grand Central Station. His benevolent innocence gets him arrested when he is the only person who tries to stop a purse-snatcher in the crowd of inured me-my-mine New Yawkers and his candor gets him into the shrink’s office when he explains that he has no proper ID because he has just arrived by light from K-PAX. Even after his brother-in-law verifies that Prot knows more than any earth astronomers about the just discovered neighbor hood of his planet, Doctor Mark remains convinced he can “cure” Prot’s problem. Quintessential dialogue:
Mark: “if you have no laws on K-PAX, how do you determine right and wrong?”
Prot: “Every being in the universe knows the difference between right and wrong, Mark.” I have never seen such a simple validation of genetic memory and the stifling of it with preemptive directives from clueless authority.
Well, I gotta quit now before I synopsize every movie I’ve ever liked. Terry Gilliam deserves a post all by himself. I could never be a movie critic because I wouldn’t want to waste any notoriety on something I felt was better off not existing, not even the chance to be as perfectly curt as the reviewer who wrote, “The Deep wasn’t.”
I still want more feedback on these and/or any others these bring to mind.