Friday, December 26, 2008

Questions from SLIFR

I encourage everyone to participate in Dennis Cozzalio's new, recent, fun-filled quiz over at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. My answers are as follows.

1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?

Theatrically - Role Models. On DVD - My Favorite Year.

2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?

I prefer to think of it as a choice between emotional and honest or saccharine and syrupy. I'd just as soon snuggle up by the fireside with Bad Santa (or better yet, Blast of Silence) as It's a Wonderful Life or A Charlie Brown Christmas.

3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?

Lupino was a better actress and director, but McCambridge was the voice of little Reagan in The Exorcist, so I'm afraid she wins.

4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks

Kyle McLachlan

5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.

Even lousy movies are products of their time, and as such, unless the remakes in question have the distinction of being as good as Cronenberg's The Fly, I'd still kinda prefer that they left well alone.

6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.

The 25th Hour

7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?

"Let's go to woik." Tierney all the way.

8) Are most movies too long?

No. Some, but not most.

9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.

Cheating here, but nothing else really comes to mind: Ossie Davis as John F. Kennedy in Bubba Ho-Tep.

10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.

The Kraken vs. The Giant Claw!

11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?

Peters for Sam Fuller's seminal Pickup on South Street.

12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?

Because, I dunno, you like it? I know Pauline Kael was against this, but really, I've never paid that much attention to what Pauline Kael had to say about anything.

13) Favorite road movie.

Y Tu Mama Tambien

14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.

Seven Men From Now

15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?

My high school photography teacher, Jason Whiton

16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)


17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

I'm not sure who Kenneth Tobey is, but I'm sure I've seen John Agar in some monster beach party movie or another. So, him.

18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.

I don't think Jean-Luc Godard's crankiness is mutually exclusive from his rightness or wrongness of any given subject, but that's beside the point. Great movies are popular (The Godfather) and so are crummy ones (300). I think it's just highfalutin' nonsense to try and say a film's popularity is disproportionate to its quality, especially since popularity is statistically mesaurable and quality is extremely subjective. That's not even taking into account films whose reputations has changed over the years - The Wizard of Oz tanked when first released, now it's the most beloved film ever. Does that make it it a worse movie now than it was in '39?

19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.

Stop Making Sense

20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?

Paper Moon is my girlfriend's alltime favorite movie (and a film I dearly love too), so, Tatum.

21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)

The ending of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.

I'm afraid I've only seen his most recent, A Girl Cut in Two, but I liked that one.

23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.

I really don't see why everyone hated on My Blueberry Nights. It's true that Wong Kar-Wai hasn't got a great ear for English, and Rachel Weisz does a pretty poor Southern Accent, but I found it an incredibly sweet fable of a confection and Norah Jones is just too cute.

24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?

Dennis Christopher, for a little film called Fade to Black which every self-proclaimed cinephile should see as a cautionary tale.

25) Favorite movie about journalism.

His Girl Friday

26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?

The interviews I've seen with Sam Fuller are even better than the movies themselves. What I would've given for this man to record a commentary track.

27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

Unforgiven, although I really also love Play Misty for Me.

28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?

Kurtwood Smith.

29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.

That I will have seen (or will have any interest in seeing) fewer of the nominated films than any year in recent memory, but will still watch the ceremony anyway, because I'm weak.

30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.

2009 is probably askin' a bit much, but for the near future, I sincerely hope that Ralph Bakshi manages to complete his ongoing project The Last Days of Coney Island.

31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)

#1 is Let The Right One In. #'s 2 through 10 have yet to be determiend. I need to catch up on my movie watching, but Synecdoche, New York, Pineapple Express and WALL-E all factor pretty highly too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The American Father Christmas - A Childhood Destroyed

Every English kid knows and loves the work of writer and illustrator Raymond Briggs, whose books are offbeat hybrids of the picture book and the graphic novel. The two animated adaptations of his most famous works – the heart-wrenchingly sad The Snowman and the comical Father Christmas - are staples of British TV during the holidays.

The latter film, based off of Brigg’s book of the same name and its sequel, Father Christmas Goes on his Holidays, depicts a year in the life of Old Saint Nick. Unlike the perpetually jolly old elf that is the stereotypical American vision of Santa Claus, Briggs’ character does not live at the North Pole, but on a pretty regular-looking Everytown, England street. He only has two reindeer, whose names we never learn, as well as a cat and a dog. I don’t think he utters a single “ho,” although he does say “bloomin’” a lot. Ex: “bloomin’ snow, bloomin’ toys, bloomin’ kids, bloomin’ Christmas!” In Great Britian’s swear word vernacular, “blooming” is pretty mild - about the equivalent of saying “darn” over here.

In the beginning, Father Christmas breaks the fourth wall, explaining how one year the pressure of his job was so great he decided to take a summer holiday. He converted his sleigh into a Winnebego, he set off on a camping trip in the south of France, but found that the French food gave him diarrhea. He decided to relocate to Scotland for its fine beers and whiskeys (the English Santa likes to drink. It is customary to leave him a glass of whiskey rather than a plate of milk and cookies) but becomes disenfranchised by the rainy weather and the shark-infested lakes. He travels once again to Las Vegas, where he enjoys himself immensely, but runs up a huge hotel bill. So finally he travels home, to resume business as usual.

Another running gag in the film is that we continuously see fleeting glimpses of Father Christmas’s buttocks when he pulls up his swim trunks, or sits on the toilet during his nasty bout of indigestion, or bends over to put presents under someone’s tree. He doesn’t seem to really care for children when he encounters them face to face, and once or twice he is overly snappy and short-tempered: when he picks up his red and white suit from the dry cleaners, the clerk asks if he’s “off to a fancy-dress party,” to which he replies “I should be so bloomin’ lucky!”

His character’s voice was provided by the great Cockney comedian Mel Smith, an actor best known to Americans as the albino from The Princess Bride. Father Christmas is humanized – Briggs’ intent was to make him a harried, working class Johnny Lunchpail type; like a belovedly grumpy uncle. And all British kids have an uncle who cusses (albeit midly,) drinks, gambles, and shows his plumber’s crack.

We had both Father Christmas and The Snowman on tape when we were young kids, and when our family moved from England to the United States, we had all our videos transferred from PAL to NTSC by one of my father’s friends. These dubbed tapes have been watched so many times, not only by my sister and I, but by my parents friends’ and coworkers’ kids whom my father leant the tape out to. So imagine our surprise when our neighbor, Ken, came over to our house one day and produced a store-bought copy of Father Christmas with a picture on the cover.

“Thanks,” my dad said, puzzled. “But we’ve already got this one on tape.”

“Not like this, you haven’t,” said Ken, with an air of facetious doom in his voice. So that evening, my dad, my sister and I sat down to investigate.

Imagine, if you will, how upset Americans would be if anyone from a foreign country re-edited The Grinch. If someone out there thought Boris Karloff’s voice-over was too scary for children, and didn’t approve of the idea of stealing toys, so they recut the story to make it seem like he was only “borrowing” them. Or better yet, imagine if they redubbed It’s a Wonderful Life to make it seem like George Bailey wasn’t contemplating suicide, but was a cold water swimming enthusiast. If you do this, you’ll have some idea of the offensiveness of the American re-edited version of Father Christmas.

The titular character is no longer the gruff Bob Hoskins type – gone is Mel Smith’s wonderful voice work. Instead, they have given him a “posh” accent, like someone impersonating Richard Harris or Richard Attenborough. His grumpiness is severely neutered. He is no longer the cantankerous old codger we know and love, but a good-natured toy-bearing martyr who explicitly states that he “does it all for the children.” Uses of the word “bloomin’” are all cut out, including the changing of the song he sings as he sets out on Christmas Eve – “So jump up on my sleigh / And we’re on our way / To another bloomin’ Christmas” has been changed to a horrifically tin-eared “another mer-ry Christmas.”

The producers of this video have left no stone unturned in completely emasculating Briggs’ vision of the old man. In the British version, when Father Christmas leaves his cat and dog at the kennel while he goes on holiday, he sniffles a bit and mutters “Bloomin animals!” under his breath. In the American cut, he overtly sobs and cries “I’ll miss you guys!” Watching with my mouth agape, I felt a little part of my childhood die.

Needless to say, all the shots featuring Santa’s bare buttocks are removed, as are any references to him drinking. The sequence that takes place in the pub in Scotland is totally eliminated, making it seem like when he lands in Scotland he goes out, buys a kilt, and then flies off again. The most insulting change takes place at the end, when Father Christmas climbs into bed just as the sun is breaking on Christmas morning, and opens his own presents – an “awful tie from Auntie Edie, the usual socks from Cousin Violet and,” to his great happiness, a bottle of liquor from “good old Uncle Bob.” In the American version he smiles and says “ah, lovely – a bottle of fine cologne.” It was probably at this point that I got up and left the room in disgust.

I realize that America is a much more politically correct society than Great Britain, and that the idea of Santa Claus as someone who grumbles, complains about his job, enjoys a nice drink in the evening and sometimes even has to go number two does not fit with the American idea of what Christmas is all about. I also realize that buying the rights to a foreign cartoon and re-dubbing it is a great way to make a quick buck. But I implore Americans – please leave we Briton’s most beloved animated films alone. Keep your mitts away from Watership Down and The Wombles of Wimbledon Common., because Americanized versions of these will inevitably be sanitized and neutered shadows of their former selves. When you mess with our cartoons, you mess with our heritage. Please leave our heritage be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

On the horizon....

.... the YouTubification of my new short film, Dummy Love.

.... thoughts on Synecdoche, New York.

.... Yeti or not Yeti? An Appreciation of Shriek of the Mutilated.

But for now, here's a woman on the internet who makes cartoon characters out of food. Check it out!

That vaguely frightening cat-bus from My Neighbor Totoro, and Totoro himself.

A severed Yoshi head garnished with an assortment of mushroom men.

WALL-E and EVE! Way too cute to even think about eating.