Walter Mencken 11:22 a.m., April 26
DVD Kill or Cure!
I have no one to blame but myself.
It was hot, my throat was scratchy, and takeout for dinner made more sense than turning on the oven. The burger didn’t survive the walk home and a phone call left the taco (and its single-serving container of fresh salsa) nestled in its bag atop the kitchen counter.
It was originally intended as a catnap, but I awoke to find that the little hand had moved from 6 to 9. The fast food bag remained, and since the climate was already baking, a stop at the microwave seemed unnecessary. I threw it down with a swig of Coke and went back to bed.
The next morning I was to begin dog-sitting for friends in Hillcrest. Brooklyn is a great giant mutt, part German Shepard, part davenport. I have spent at least one month a year out of the past ten hanging out with Brooklyn while her parents, Herb and Roberta, traverse the globe.
After my customary welcome cleansing (Brooklyn’s a licker), I popped a bagel in the toaster, brewed a pot of coffee, and began plotting how to take full advantage of my friends' 50-inch plasma screen. With the rasp still lodged firmly in my throat, I washed down a couple of aspirin.
The next 48 hours are a blur.
After two bites of the bagel, the glass of water and its pills decided they didn’t want to stay put. Thus began the first of many excursions this weekend piloting the porcelain bus. I reported for duty at my “real” job later that afternoon, but one look at my pallid demeanor was enough for my boss to send me packing.
Saturday morning found me doubled over in the doctor’s waiting room. Turns out the flu bug I had already contracted was compounded by a case of food poisoning. Dr. Welby actually had the good bedside manner to laugh in my face when I told him the cause of the sudden cartwheels in my colon.
I crawled to the pharmacy to have my prescriptions filled, and on the way out stopped at the local tobacconist to pick up a pack of butts. (I said I was sick, not dead.) By now I have pretty much logged everything in Herb’s video collection. I sensed a rough day or two ahead of me and felt the need for some brainless time-killers to help guide me out of my E. coli-induced haze. Fortunately, this is the one smoke shop in town that also sells used DVDs.
It was not my first time in the store, and I was delighted to see that some changes had been made. What originally sold for $6 a piece / 4 for $20 was now marked down to 4 for $10! Plus, a special buck-a-piece shelf! Generally speaking, the titles they stock are potentially more cancerous than the coffin nails they peddle, but imagine my surprise to find a pair from the Criterion Collection lounging amidst rows of Steven Seagal direct-to-video anomalies and “Saw” sequels. These aren’t your likely Criterion thrift store finds like Chasing Amy or Armageddon. We’re talking Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying and Olivier’s Henry V! Well, one out of two ain’t bad.
Something wasn’t right. Color Xerox copies replaced the original Criterion box art, but the discs were the real deal. Rounding out the 4 for $10 were Kelly’s Heroes and Cat Ballou (two films I hadn’t seen since the week they opened), plus another $5 for Cool Hand Like and Heaven’s Prisoners. From the buck-shelf came Get Over It!, Georgia Rule, and The Informers.
It was kill or cure time!
Cat Ballou is one of my earliest recollections of hating a movie. It was the first thing (after the Tetracycline and Imodium, of course) I popped in upon my return home. Forget the movie: my one burning memory of Ballou is the Columbia Pictures Lady turning into an animated incarnation of Jane Fonda firing a couple of lead-spitting six-shooters. I couldn’t get past the first ten minutes.
The same goes for The Cranes are Flying which had nothing to do with cinematic ineptness and everything to do with an inability to focus on a cohesive narrative. Kelly’s Heroes here I come!
As a kid all I could talk about was Don Rickles in appearing a movie. (I had yet to witness with my own eyes X- The Man With the X-Ray Eyes.) As an adult, Telly’s the thing! It’s scream theatre as every one of Savalas’ snarls is delivered at chandelier-shaking decibel levels. I can also remember my father’s laughter when, after spotting a Peacenik (Donald Sutherland) in the ranks, I asked, “Did hippies fight in World War II, daddy?”
Kelly’s runs an inexcusable 143 minutes, and after an hour or so, I caught some more Z-z-z-z-z’s. When I awoke, the main menu was plastered across the screen.
I did manage to make it all the way through both The Informers and Cool Hand Luke. Bret Easton Ellis has basically spent a career telling the same lurid, nihilistic story, and it’s one I never seem to tire of hearing. All this and Amber Heard naked throughout?! Well worth the dollar it set me back!
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Cool Hand Luke. Not long ago I caught a documentary on cinematographer Conrad Hall. They devoted a good chunk of the piece to his work on Luke and it left me eager for a repeat viewing. This isn’t an example of Douglas Sirk asking DP Russell Metty to beautify the surroundings as a means of commenting on the social decay that permeates Written on the Wind's story. Thanks to Hall’s soft, sentimentalized frames, Luke makes life on a chain-gang look positively cool!
Cool Hand Luke, Matthew, Mark, and John.
Only one other time in my life has a film quite literally healed what ailed me. I was 13 the first time Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily? played local TV, and the laughter it induced actually drove down my fever. The recuperative powers of Henry V were somewhat different.
I don’t care how sumptuous Robert Krasker’s cinematography is or how luminous the dye-transfer restoration. The play’s the thing and every inch reeks of Olivier’s condescending attitude towards cinema. When Sir Larry does decide to leave the safe theatrical confines of the studio, it’s to shoot a lot of exterior close-ups of actors talking. The one-take shot of horses on the battlefield progressing from a trot to full gallop is spectacular, but this isn’t moviemaking. It’s the Bard vs. the Bund as Olivier twists Shakespeare’s original intent into a piece of well-intended, stage-bound anti-Nazi propaganda.
How could I, self-appointed cinematic Reichsführer that I am, rest easy in a sick bed with patronizing arrogance from faulty filmmakers to take arms against?
The other DVDs will have to wait. Believe it or don't, it's Monday afternoon and I've yet to watch this year's _ _ MDA Telethon! I'm afraid that it might cause a relapse.
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