Thursday, April 26, 2012

Taxi Driver and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Sandy and Todd are hanging out around the office coffee pot.
Sandy: “I finally got around to Taxi Driver last night and I don’t know what I thought. When Betsy follows Travis into that porno theater, the movie lost me.”
Todd (nodding his head): “Yes. That scene always gets to me too. Why didn’t she just dump him at the ticket window? I love the dirt and grime in that movie though and it has two of my favorite scenes.”
Sandy: “Ooh, I bet you’re gonna say, ‘You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?’”
Todd: “Yep. And the other is when Travis says ‘All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, I take’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.”
Sandy (eyes popping): “You’re weird. You actually memorized that?”
Todd: “Sure. It’s one of the most quotable movies ever. I slip bits into conversation every day. I don’t recommend telling the boss he needs to get organ-a-zized though.”
Sandy: “Not pretty?”
Todd (staring at his shoes): “No.”
Todd (after a long pause): “I don’t think it’s Scorsese’s best movie of the ‘70s though. I’m like a total fanboy of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”
Sandy: “I’ve never seen it. Is it really that good? Nobody ever talks about it.”
Todd: “Good? It’s just about perfect. And it has so many things in common with Taxi Driver. Harvey Keitel plays a great psycho, Jodie Foster plays a streetwise kid, Kris Kristofferson is the love interest, and the taxi station guy has a funny bit as a bar owner. He keeps saying to Alice, ‘I don’t even have a piano in here’ and it’s hilarious.”
Sandy: “Why is that funny?”
Todd: “You gotta see it I guess. But, trust me. It’s hysterical.”
Sandy rolls her eyes.
Todd: “Critic Robin Wood was too hard on the movie. He paired it with An Unmarried Woman – which is pretty crappy – as an example of how women’s liberation doesn’t really happen in Hollywood movies because both women end up shacked up with burly, bearded men who take care of them.
“What he doesn’t mention is that Alice was far more torn apart over leaving her best friend – a woman – than leaving her husband. The classic romantic challenge of the story isn’t between Alice and David (played by Kristofferson), but between Alice and Flo. David is just as potentially violent as all the other men in Alice’s life and she doesn’t make up with him until he promises things will be different. She decides not to go to Monterey which symbolizes marriage as she’s always known it (the movie opens with a scene in Monterey that evokes The Wizard of Oz) and we never get a neat, final image of Alice and David in each other’s arms or some such crap.
“No, Alice doesn’t live here – with ‘here’ meaning traditional marriage – anymore. I see her in some sort of mutually supportive relationship with both David and Flo after the movie ends.”
Sandy (lost in thought): “I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind shacking up with a burly, bearded Kris Kristofferson.”
The boss pokes his head into the break room and drums his fingers against the side of the fridge.
They fill their coffee mugs and head back to their desks, until their next break.

Friday, April 6, 2012


My wife often accuses me of being a pessimist. I prefer to think I just have something of a melancholic nature.
I’m not a popular picker of movies in my house. A typical exchange on a Saturday night goes like this.
“Let’s watch a movie together.”
“What movie?”
“How about The Last Picture Show?”
“Is it funny or all dreary and depressing?”
“Ummm, never mind.”
My first two girlfriends, many years ago, bore a striking resemblance to the girl in the painting The Wistful Look by James Carroll Beckwith. The first kept asking why I wanted to be with someone so morose. The other has since inspired many a dreary and depressing short story.
My fiction has had a definite preoccupation with suicides (I’ve known two people who did so and one who tried, twice). And murder and zombies have also found their way into my sad little tales.
By the way, I’m telling you this, not to make you listen as I lie upon a couch, but to tell you, in a roundabout way, why I felt a strong connection to Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, Von Trier being a most melancholy man.
After her husband is paralyzed and attempts suicide, Bess is ordered by him to satisfy her sexual needs with other men, with tragic results. As she gradually goes blind, Selma shoots a man who is trying to steal from her and is tried and executed. Grace is persecuted by everyone in a town except a dog named Moses. These aren’t stories from the world’s happiest guy.
Von Trier’s latest stars Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a young woman who suffers from melancholia. She can be seemingly happy one moment and so depressed the next that she can hardly move. Most of the first half of the movie shows us her wedding reception. She has married a sweet guy, but she spends the evening refusing his wedding night advances, having sex on a golf course with a co-worker before spurning him, and telling her boss what she really thinks of him. Basically, she rejects her life.
She can’t cope with the everyday. It reminded me of how despairing I become if my wife tells me she has been feeling tired lately. What would I do without her I wonder? It reminded me of the despair I feel every time I pay bills.
The second half of the movie deals with its huge element. In a state of depression, Justine is holed up on an estate with her sister Claire, brother-in-law John, and their young son. They all watch helplessly as a giant rogue planet named Melancholia tracks Earth on a collision course.
Von Trier was inspired by the insight that melancholics can be surprisingly tranquil in the face of catastrophe. Justine watches the planet approach with calm detachment. It’s Claire who freaks out and John who downs a bottle of sleeping pills.
I often think about how short human history is in the scheme of the universe and how quickly it could all be over. The Sun does something unexpected and suddenly it is as if The Holy Bible, Shakespeare, and Stephenie Meyer had never happened. I don’t run around stocking a shelter full of supplies and buying rifles though. I just sit back and enjoy the possibility of Stephenie Meyer never happening.
As Melancholia nears Earth, birds fall from the sky and we and Justine observe them abstractly in slow motion. These images feel un-real in the way I remember images of people falling from the Towers on 9/11 feeling. I’m glad they felt that way. They would’ve been overwhelming otherwise.

2012 Winter/Spring Series

The 2012 Winter/Spring Cinema 100 series opens in two most eventful ways.

On Thursday, January 12, at 7:00 PM, we will host the world premiere of the locally produced documentary, tentatively titled "Sh..." It relates the story, so far, of The Group That Opened The Box. I've seen it and loved it. We will be selling series tickets in the Sidney J. Lee Auditorium (BSC campus) lobby before and after the screening. There will also be much opportunity for discussion.

The series then continues at the Grand Theaters with the ageless classic "Harold and Maude." This film has meant something different to me each decade of my life as my identification has gradually shifted from Harold to Maude.

All screenings on Thursdays at 3:00 and 5:30 at the Grand Theaters are:

January 19 - Harold and Maude, USA 1971
January 26 - The Interruptors, USA 2011
February 2 - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Thailand 2010*
February 9 - The Guard, Ireland 2011
February 16 - Meek’s Cutoff, USA 2010
February 23 - Fish Tank, UK 2009
March 1 - Tabloid, USA 2011
March 8 - Beginners, USA 2010
March 22 - Another Year, UK 2010
March 29 - The Tree of Life, USA 2011*
April 12 - Touching the Void, USA 2003
April 19 - The Illusionist, UK/France 2010

* - Designates the film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.