Real Life

The things that belong to our peace, meddled with by a comic out to cash in on An American Family, also the National Institute of Human Behavior and a major Hollywood studio.

All the latest techniques, of course, and authorities.

The great epic of show business interfering with the common citizen and his family, for all it’s worth.

The joke of Pasolini’s Teorema nobody got, with the great precedent of Wellman’s Magic Town.

 

Modern Romance

The main joke is on “saving the film in the editing room”, a creative approach to life taken by amateurs and even professionals, as here.

It seems a good idea to make a change, recut a scene, try something new, prepare some effect. The director advenes with a larger conception that transcends this particular notion, and the editorial department is only one among many he must deal with every day.

The film editor cuts his mistress out of his life with a sense of “it’s not working,” he’s done it before. An assistant editor looking for a job on the Schlesinger picture calls him up and gets it, then asks if he might date the girl. The editor already misses her.

In the editing room, George Kennedy as Zoron tells his space cadets, “I could communicate with the computer if I only had the code.” The scene is monkeyed with on the Moviola until one cadet is seen shiftily looking about, he has it, the director cancels this innovation and has a further task for this department.

Back with his girl and jealous over some calls to New York, the editor has to Foley Zoron running down a spaceship passageway carrying a large piece of equipment, a “communicator”, the scene is filmed on carpet, the director wants pow-pow footsteps, drama. The editor is uninterested, the sound men in the booth are blasť, it’s cursorily worked-through on the spot with the editor holding an empty Sparkletts bottle, but because he’s a professional and something of an artist in his own right, one take establishes the pounding feet and urgency of Zoron carrying his treasure away from angry pursuers (a track from The Incredible Hulk of the title character running is dismissed at the outset as “too slow”, and rejected once tried because the Hulk is also heard screaming at the top of his voice in the scene).

And this sort of surrealism is what makes the film a work of art, as much as the virtuosic scene of the mournful editor alone on two Quaaludes “making it through the night”, the jogging satire, the Imperial Gardens, the trip to Idlewild and so forth.

Proust’s Swann is the key, and the film satire, and the “no-win situation” that is not understood by the editor’s mistress, “Vietnam,” he tells her in the opening scene at a restaurant, “and this.”

 

 

Lost in America

Lost in America has an intricate little structure that completely befooled the critics. Formally, this is Beckett’s idea of stating the thing to its furthest limits and ending it there. Brooks plays an L.A. ad executive who dreams of a promotion and all that goes with it. Instead, he’s sent to New York on the Ford account, but he rebels at the notion.

His wife has an office job at a department store. They’re not getting anywhere, she feels. They liquidate their assets, buy a Winnebago and head East. In Las Vegas, she loses their money. At Hoover Dam, they argue. In Safford, Arizona, he becomes a crossing guard and she works at Der Wienerschnitzel. They decide to press on for New York.

“Sometimes you have to go a long way out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly.” The Ten Commandments and the parable of the rich young man are behind all this, and a clownscape of Sullivan’s Travels, to say nothing of the prophet Jonah. Minnelli’s The Long, Long Trailer almost certainly figures in.

The frosty, dry surface of this perfect martini conceals to some extent the deep structure, as when the couple are arguing on Hoover Dam after they’ve lost their liquidity (it’s what powers Las Vegas).

 

Defending Your Life

The film that will change your life... FOREVER!

A fellow buys a BMW, tools down Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, turns south around Frank’s Nursery and smacks into a bus. Now he’s in Judgment City, where he’s put on trial like a common saint, and found wanting. Yet, at the last moment, his spirited pursuit of a lovely soul (Meryl Streep) earns him his, uh, wings.

Judgment City is essentially hotels and civic architecture (or corporate spaces, as they’re called). It’s like Vegas or Laughlin, maybe, it’s announced on billboards as you’re taken there. You can review your past lives in a sort of Disney “haunted house” of booths (introduced by Shirley MacLaine). An old man sees himself, incredulously, as a little Victorian girl combing her dolly’s hair. An old woman is terrified by the apparition of a sumo wrestler she was, once. Our hero was an African tribesman chased by a lion. Streep was Prince Valiant.

Brooks plays an essential character of the workaday world, a fellow whose worldly ambitions are small and fleeting and more like expectations than anything else. There isn’t enough of him, really, to justify eternal life.

The casting is one exquisite calculation among many (truly, it took an Einstein to make this film). Lee Grant is the prosecutor or advocatus diaboli, and her counterpart (the advocatus dei) is Rip Torn. Streep lends a very humorous presence belying the celestial impermeability of her fame. Buck Henry is brought on, briefly, to secure the note.

Cocteau, of course, conceived the afterlife in terms of Postwar France. How telling is an American conception founded on the corporate vagary of our public lives? America saw this and started driving tougher cars. Vegas got a makeover, likewise.

 

Mother

Mind over mater? The idea is a confrontation with received ideas, and even better, an annunciation to go with Godard’s “Je vous salue, Marie”.

 

The Muse

The shithead muse of neo-Hollywood.

Dickens’ subservience is famously registered here, along with other practitioners in Hollywood. A comic portrait of the muse, on a double bill with Joseph Losey’s Eva, preferably at a drive-in.

“Music composed and performed by Elton John”. Lost in Translation, also Ginger e Fred.

The advantage is all to Resnais in Wild Grass.

Todd McCarthy reported for Variety, “script and dialogue are dead-on re Hollywood talk and attitudes.” Janet Maslin contributed a joke of her own, “the old one about the writer who’s happy to let an elf do his work for him until the elf asks for screen credit” (New York Times). Ebert used the word “edgy” (Chicago Sun-Times). “Light summer fare” (J. Hoberman, Village Voice), “a somewhat flimsy high-concept movie” (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader), “hit-and-miss satire” (Sight and Sound), “what’s madder than an entire industry built on the caprices of creative inspiration?” (Time Out Film Guide).

$1700 a night?

 

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Brooks, featured player in a remake of The In-Laws and featured voice in Finding Nemo (he lives in Los Angeles), starts an Indo-Paki war by telling three jokes over there for the U.S. Government.

“Halloween Gandhi.”

Danny the useless ventriloquist’s dummy.

The Japanese auto worker improv.

It doesn’t last long, the war is over soon.