Monday, October 16, 2017

who you really are

As I start writing today's entry, I'm not sure if I'm going to watch Ice Castles one more time. I've got a 48-hour rental, so I could watch it a third time, really boil down what it taught me when I was a kid, but it's mostly going to be something simple and cheesy... like It taught me about perseverance and love and the importance of having people around you. Obvious crap like that. One thing it didn't teach me was that being blind is fine because you can get right back up and... skate. Again. I don't skate. Not only was that never my calling, I rarely roller skated, and often did it wrong, and have only ice skated like twice ever. But, that's beside the point. My calling when I was young (not as young as where I still am with this deconstruction thing. Older, able to have dreams about what I wanted to do with my life.) was writing, then filmmaking. I could write without my sight, I suppose. But, filmmaking... And, more importantly, filmwatching--this ain't happening without eyesight. That shit is still scary. Plus, you fall down because of a few stupid flowers.

But, more important than any of that, after a weekend of being ill, my first weekend in a while with no movies in the theater (and there were like four I wanted to see), I managed to get to the theater before class today, and I saw none other than Happy Death Day. In case you aren't familiar, it's a horror film built on a time loop, and it was actually rather awesome.

Now, as the author of The Groundhog Day Project, I felt obligated to see it simply because it was a time loop movie. And, as a lover of horror films, I had to see it for that reason as well. But, I was rather pleased with it and glad to have seen it. So much that, while I don't normally review movies... Except for that stint of YouTube reviews last spring and summer, or my two different movie review blogs that fizzled. Except for those, obviously. Reviewing films, is not really my thing. But, I wanted to review this one, because it deserves better than the 6.5 it's got on IMDb right now... And I just checked Box Office Mojo and saw it was #1 this weekend. This is how out of touch I was this weekend. I didn't even realize the film was doing well. Not as high as Blade Runner 2049's #1 debut last weekend, but beating that film for this weekend by $11 million. (Happy Death Day made $26 million, Blade Runner 2049 (which I saw opening day, of course) made $15 million, and The Foreigner (which I want to see) made $13 million. It (which I saw opening day last month) in its 6th week made $6 million.) But, the thing is, the movie works.

It's better than it should be. Even when it--I'll get to SPOILERS farther down, actually. It manages all the basics of the time loop film. Easy markers (many of which you see in the trailer) to make the first resumption obvious to us and to Tree (Jessica Rothe), and to make clear predictions easy for her when she starts to get into the adolescent phase of the loop. It's got the central moral character in question thing going like Groundhog Day--Tree is an awful person at movie's start, so bad actually--she's disgusted at her own apparent hookup with a guy she didn't know, she's kind of a bitch to everyone she passes on the way back to her sorority, she insults an ex who is a little clingy rather than actually talk to him, she is dismissive of her roommate, she ignores her father's phone calls (when it is her birthday and we're aware pretty early on that her mother has died recently), and she is sleeping with a married professor--that when she has to come up with a list of who might be killing her on each of these resumptions, the list is not that short, especially considering she's just a college student, not some secret agent or public figure. And, she has to be a better person, and almost inadvertently becomes a better person just by having to face her every choice again and again and again, even separate from facing her own mortality again and again and again.

And, that's where the review gets sidetracked for a bit, because that's the thing, isn't it? When life is just the same thing again and again--and really, anything can become mundane if it is the same ol', same ol', day in, day out--that's when the details come into focus, when the backbone of it all comes into focus, when you get a real idea of what you're about. Especially the choices. I mean, when you've got a job that repeats every day, maybe keeping that job doesn't feel like a choice, because you've gotta have a job, you've gotta have money to live, to eat, to drink, to be entertained, to have the time to be loved. Capitalism is a bitch, but he's a persistent bitch. But, what do you do after work? What do you have for lunch? Who do you eat with? Who do you talk with? Who do you spend time with when off work? What hobbies do you take up? What tv shows do you watch? What movies do you see? What sports do you follow? What are your politics? Your religion? Your favorite color? Your favorite food? What do you wear? How do you do your hair? All these choices and more, and each one comes into focus the more the other stuff repeats and repeats.

Like my life right now. Sundays are for D&D, I've got classes in the afternoons, Monday through Thursday. I take my daughter to gymnastics on Tuesday nights. I watch Critical Role Thursday nights. I see a new movie Friday morning. And, I fill in the gaps with tv shows--right now far too many of them because the new fall shows just got started and I love sampling--and more new movies, and, of course, there are old movies every day, and writing this blog, and as long as the fixtures are enjoyable, the varying details are easier to enjoy, too. I paint a lot of miniatures lately. I prep stuff for DMing. And, when I'm not sick--right now, it feels like I've been sick forever, while it's actually been a weird off and on thing over the past two weeks, and it feels like it's almost gone--I make dinner some of the time--five of us in the apartment, all with different schedules, so other's make dinner too, and sometimes we just fend for ourselves when our schedules aren't even close...

But at least no one is killing me every night. And there, by the way, is something that makes Happy Death Day unique from other time loop movies (or tv shows), even the ones where people get killed; it's like a physical version of what the Lois & Clark time loop had with bits of the loop becoming memorable to not just Clark but others as well. Actually, that might not be the best explanation. Tree retains scar tissue, and feels the physical pain of her deaths when she wakes up. She tells Carter (Israel Broussard)--

(who is basically her Rita, except he's pretty easy to convince and the film doesn't have time for a date night sequence because he's the one who gets her going after the people on her suspect lists (which actually gets pretty comical))

--that she's getting weaker on each resumption, and shes' not sure how long she can keep doing this. Unlike Phil Connors, Tree Gelbman has no infinity in front of her. But, it doesn't take infinity to change, when you are forced to face yourself. Either you ignore what you see and keep blindly trudging on--which unfortunately is what a lot of people do--or you make the choices you've got to make to fix whatever's wrong, or to try to make up for whatever stupid choices you've made before. And you find new fixtures in your life. Tree finds Carter. Tree starts defending one of her sorority sisters who dares eat junk food and drink chocolate milk. She tries to help that ex; because of the timeframe, we cannot really know how successful that is...

Actually, I must get into SPOILERS here, even though this is a minor one--that her helping that ex, or standing up for that sorority sister never really happens because, well... That good deed day she gets like Phil's last day in his time loop--that isn't her last resumption because she makes a mistake. And, here come some big SPOILERS. See, the movie has done something that at first seems like a lame choice. She's been checking the people on her suspect list, ruling each one out, and then the film introduces an actual killer, a guy who is in the hospital attached to the campus after a shooting in prison. And he escapes. She immediately thinks he's the killer. I jump to the conclusion that her mother was one of his prior victims and that's why the connection is so immediate, but they never make that clear and when they show his victims on the tv, her mother's face might be there, but it's in the theater and I can't pause or rewind, and the movie has actually only shown us her mother briefly. In fact, as the movie was going, I was actually finding some parts of it problematic (but it makes up for those parts, especially if her mother is one of this guy' sprint victims). The first big problematic thing is that the sidestory with the dead mother and Tree ignoring her father's calls seems arbitrary--reminding me of the tacked-on backstory in last year's The Shallows, a little extratopical (to drift into debate lingo for a moment). When she eventually does show up for dinner with her dad, it's a nice emotional moment in the film, and it makes up for the arbitrariness of it a bit. (The failure of that good deed day to be the last resumption means that never happened, but one could suppose that Tree will manage something similar the next time.)


The next big problematic thing comes in two parts--first, they introduce this killer who was briefly seen, but ignored, on a news report earlier and it feels like a cheat; he's a new character, unrelated, not someone we got to see Tree interact with on Day One. And, unlike the baby-masked killer on all the previous resumptions, as soon as Tree knows it's this guy Joseph Tombs (Rob Mello), he not only takes the mask off, but starts talking. This introduces an extra element, potentially. For him to have reason to unmask right then, and no longer be silently creepy, he has to be experiencing the time loop, too. Otherwise, why change tactics on this particular day. And, this is interesting. A time loop cat and mouse game, with both parties learning from each resumption. But, he isn't. And, it feels like suddenly the film has different writers. But, then this brings us to the second part of this problem. He's a red herring. A weirdly clever one because his inclusion felt so much like an easy way out cheat. And Tree kills him. (Almost for the second time; she had previously gone after him, but Carter gets involved and is killed, so Tree lets the loop reset to save him.) The best bit of her killing Tombs is that she uses a late loop marker--a brief blackout--to do it. But there's a hitch...

And maybe I won't SPOIL the ending.

I will skip past it for one more thing that made me really like Happy Death Day--it directly references Groundhog Day, and rather amusingly because millennial Tree has apparently never heard of it or Bill Murray or even Ghostbusters. But Carter makes the comparison, indicating that, unlike Rita, he knows about the time loop after the fact.

 

 

 

 

 

I did turn on Ice Castles, by the way. Lexie just asked Nick to come see her. He said he can't. He's going to end up going anyway, and that scene was going to be a big thing I was going to talk about today, how so much of Ice Castles depends on showing us characters reacting to Lexie rather than assume that we're impressed with her. Nick's watery-eyed stare at how good she is, and the betrayal immediately thereafter when he sees her kiss Brian--that is a fantastic emotional beat, and it almost doesn't need any dialogue at all. That's great filmmaking.

But, Happy Death Day.

Actually, in terms of filmmaking, Happy Death Day uses frequent close ups on Tree to really make her emotional changes and reactions hit home. And, Jessica Rothe--who aside from a small part in La La Land, I hadn't seen her in anything before--has the charisma to carry the film, and the acting chops to convey he requisite confusion and horror, and to be both the bitch she is early in the film and the more caring young woman she becomes, as well as the badass who puts a knife to a security guard's throat because's he's the easiest place to get a gun. Her relationship with Carter is cute, but not the teenager cute of Lexie and Nick in ice Castles, and the two actors have chemistry to make it work. He's not so much the dick that Rita Hansen is; that helps.

Ice Castles is nice. And, this deconstruction thing is fun. But, getting to ramble about a new movie--that's pretty fun too.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

anything but darkness

Ice Castles is almost necessarily cheesy and sentimental. This particular story cannot be told any other way. At the core, there are two threads to the story--young girl, Olympic hopeful on the rise, loses her sight, then fights through near-complete blindness to skate again; and same young girl separated from her longtime boyfriend, cheats on him and only though her own struggle with that other story thread can she get her shit together and be with that longtime boyfriend again. It's a basic romance with a Cinderella sort of sports story over the top of it.

As for that basic romance, I love Roger Ebert's take on this film...

Have we grown so desperate for vicarious cheap thrills that the simple love story is done for? Is it no longer possible to have a movie in which two young people meet in the first reel, smooch in the third, get married in the seventh, and disappear into the sunset as we disappear down the aisles?

I must interrupt because any film out of Hollywood worthy of a 7-act structure breakdown would be far too complex for such a simple love story. That's more acts than most Shakespeare plays, I'm pretty sure. But anyway...

Roger goes on to describe the basic plot of Ice Castles, then this:

Call me Scrooge; stories like this make me cringe. I don't deny the bravery of the characters being portrayed--I just object to the emotional bankruptcy of the people making the movies. I sit there in the dark and I think of "Love Story," with the girl dying at the end, and "The Other Side of the Mountain," with the Olympic ski champion being paralyzed, and "The Other Side of the Mountain, Part Two," where she finds true love even so, and "Uncle Joe Shannon," where the kid was not only an orphan but had to have his leg amputated, and I ask myself, and I ask myself: Is it possible to find true love these days outside of the hospital?

Aside from the specific location being the hospital, my take on Roger's question is, is it possible to find true love without life otherwise being a struggle? And, in cinematic terms, if not in real life, my response is simply this: why should it be easier? I mean, this blog started--and still has at its core an association with--Groundhog Day, where the love story is simple because everything else is so complicated. Phil has to reinvent himself and reinvent his day time and time again until he can be worthy of love. Many romantic films rely on arbitrary differences between one person and another, or relatively innocent lies get in the way of things, or cultural minutiae (not to be too dismissive) gets in the way, and in the third act they realize their differences or their lies, or their cultures just don't matter as much as their love. That's already more complicated than what Roger seems to want. Where are these romances he's talking about? I mean, I think of romances before the 70s and I'm thinking of sexually progressive films like Carnal Knowledge or a screwball comedy like His Girl Friday, or Sabrina, Roman Holiday, or The Apartment (which I know Roger liked)--none of these are as simple as this thing he's longing for in his review of Ice Castles.

Nor should they be. The best romantic story is one that feels realistic, that feels like it takes place in a world that is lived in, with characters who feel like they have actual lives. Life and love can so very easily be at odds, I figure any romantic story needs something bigger to complicate it than arbitrary minutiae.

Ice Castles begins with a nearly colorless scene, Lexie skating on the frozen pond, the Oscar-nominated song "Through the Eyes of Love" playing, and gradually, the shots expand away from the skating, showing us a farm, a road, and then Nick in his truck coming back to the town of Waverly. And it puts us with Nick before we're really with Lexie, and that's interesting to me. But, Roger dismisses the film, saying, "One of the melancholy aspects of "Ice Castles" is the quality of talent that's been brought to such an unhappy enterprise." As if an unhappy film isn't a worthy film, simply because it might revolve around unhappiness. The first emotion of the film, of course, is joy, when Lexie sees Nick is back. He's dropped out of school, pre-med. And when Beulah asks why, he responds, "None of your goddamned business." He never really explains, either. But, explanations aren't the point. That Nick has failed at school, that he later isn't good enough at his hockey tryouts, this just rolls him into the same basket as Beulah and Marcus, the former who is coaching Lexie and wants her to go do something with her skating ability, the latter who is holding Lexie back because she reminds him too much of her dead mother, the one who first took Lexie out onto the ice. Not even ten minutes in, the two of them fight about it, but it's easy to boil it down with an exchange from later: Beulah: Damn it, Marcus, give her a chance to be something!" Marcus: "She is something!" He's her father. He wants to protect her from the world. Beulah is her surrogate mother. She wants to send her out into it. These aren't diametrically opposed ideals. The thing is--and this is the real melancholic aspect of Ice Castles--is that Beulah and Marcus are coming at Lexie from different angles but their both coming from the same place. Beulah won regionals 25 years ago. Marcus was probably happy when his wife was still around, and she was, we can infer, a skater as well. But, his wife died. His life fell apart. I swear I'm not even sure what he does for a living in Waverly. We see him at home, we see him drinking at a bar, we see him bowling angrily at Beulah's place. We do see him repairing a tractor, so I guess he has a farm. Every time the movie is in Waverly, it seems like a place of perpetual winter, so it's hard to be sure. But, that's sort of the point, visually. This is a town that is always covered in snow (even if it isn't). This is the town where Marcus lives as a distant father, a belligerent drinker, a distraught widower. This is where Beulah lives as a failed skater (for whatever reason), running a barely-used business into the ground, and coaching a girl who is explicitly too old to have any success in skating. And, immediately, though the film doesn't make it clear, Nick is there with them. For whatever reason, he quit school, and he's depending on hockey to take him somewhere. But then he tries out and that gets him to a farm club at best (and the coach suggests he should go back to school). Later he quits. And he comes back to Waverly just as much a failure as they are. But that doesn't mean his life is over.

They are all living vicariously through Lexie in the third act, of course. And, maybe that isn't healthy. But, when you've got nothing, you take what you can get. I was looking at the screenplay for one of my favorite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind earlier this evening, and I noticed one of Joel's lines about falling in love with every woman who pays him any attention at all. A melancholic note from that film that I have often felt far too familiar. But, here, too--having failed at your own dream--and I've failed at more than a couple--you can find a new one, you can make do, or you can help someone else fulfill theirs. (Or more than one of those options, I suppose, but who's got the energy for that?). Marcus' wife, Lexie's mom--she didn't die quickly. We are never told explicitly what happened to her, except for Marcus' description, that Lexie's mother could see more of the place than other people could but she "Never has a chance to show you. When you were old enough to remember, she couldn't come out her anymore." Maybe she had cancer.

(Or some form of dementia; when Marcus asks Beulah (after Lexie has been hiding in her room) "She ever talk to you?" It almost feels like he's asking about someone other than Lexie, that this question is bigger than that. Like maybe Beulah and his wife were close, that that loss is what has destroyed both of their lives... But, he's asking about Lexie. But he might as well be asking about something bigger, because Lexie's implosion could be the thing that destroys their lives all over again.)

Maybe hers and Marcus' story was even more one of those stories Roger wouldn't want to see on film.

And out there in the world away from Waverly, Lexie is told on the one hand that she's Cinderella, that she's special, but on the other hand, she's not good enough for a triple, when she literally just landed a triple--as her new coach Deborah tells her, "Triples may be big crowd pleaser so, to judges it's a piece of showoff acrobatics." (Which is interesting because Brian compares her to Russian gymnast Olga Korbut, whose focus on risky acrobatics, according to CNN drove the change in gymnastics from an "emphasis... poise and elegance, [with] older and more experienced gymnasts made up the majority of the competition" to something "more dynamic with its participants primarily comprising youngsters that are on the cusp of adulthood." It's an apt comparison, I suppose, but not one Deborah should approve of.

The dichotomy is deliberate of course, between Lexie and Nick. She knows what she wants and has the skill to get it, but doesn't seem all that into the business of it (or winning at the expense of others). Nick seems to know what he wants in playing hockey and he has the skill, but that farm club isn't enough for him. He gives up because he can no longer see his future, figuratively speaking. She gives up only after she, on the obviously more literal level, cannot see hers. In the end, it takes the different failures around Lexie to bring her back. Beulah and Marcus have to get on the same page, and Nick is there to force it, very dramatically.


But this push comes from all of them (and Lexie for a time) feeling like there's nothing left. They don't even know what they want anymore, and they certainly couldn't get it if they did know.

Coming back to that last big paranthetical, it feels as meaningful to Beulah as it is to Lexie that when Beulah does come to get her out, Lexie is in the attic, wearing her mother's old sweater. And the lack of detail in everybody's backstory becomes vital to this story. Marcus' loss, Beulah's loss, Nick's failure, Lexie's loss--these all get tangled up together, and Lexie, as blind as she is, is the only one who can manage to be pulled out of it. And maybe pulling her out will pull them all out. The reason this film is the wholesome family film it is is right there, in the end; when Lexie skates again for an audience, Marcus is there, Beulah is there, and Nick is not only there, when she trips over the flowers after her performance is over, he walks out onto the ice to help her up. The film starts with Lexie as this bright center in a cold, melancholy world. In the end, even she needs to be lifted up, because, and this is the big cheesy center of it all, family (even a broken one with surrogate members) is important. And maybe Lexie's success without them would have felt a little empty. That moment when she's at the party and she's looking at the empty ice outside, before her accident--being out there alone on the ice is more appealing to her than the hangers on and wannabes at that party. She has already invited Nick to come see her (which he does, but only after saying he can't) and that backfires. She misses them. She needs them. Although to be fair, she has already proven that she doesn't need Nick's actual help to get up--she quite stubbornly gets up without his help when he's with her out there her first time on the ice without her sight. But stubbornness can only go so far. In the end, she can need him and not need him at the same time. The point is that he's there. And her father is there. And Beulah is there. And the movies ends on that hopeful note. Sure it adds the flowers and that fall right before it's over, but that's life. Even when it's good, there's got to be something to make it interesting.

Coming right back around to Roger, really. Because whether it's falling on the ice then or falling earlier and going blind, these things make the love story side of things stronger. If it were nothing but a love story, it wouldn't be any good. There has to be flowers to get in the way, accidents to take away Lexie's sight, dead mothers, failed dreams. Otherwise, why even seek out love, but to pull you up from all the bullshit?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

we forgot about the flowers

Changing gears. After watching Halloween for a week, my daughter saw the movie that's on and asked "what's this got to do with Halloween?" I think she thought I was doing horror films for October. If we're lucky, I'll get to another horror film before the month is done but, no, I'm still deconstructing my childhood, watching the movies I saw often when I was a wee lad. This may mean some abrupt turns in theme or style, like today. From the beloved Halloween to a film I actually only remember portions of, and don't really know if it's any good (it has a 6.5 on IMDb, but sometimes you can't trust IMDb voters, of course). The film is Ice Castles. Notably, it's the actual plot I don't remember. Some obvious points--ice skater, olympics hopeful, in an accident, loses her eyesight, has to learn to skate again. Meanwhile, there's a romance. Maybe there's not much more, plotwise.

Plenty more story right away, though. Lexie's (Lynn-Holly Johnson) boyfriend Nick (Robby Benson) just quit his job and has no interest in talking about why. Her father, Marcus (Tom Skerritt) is widower, who has been, in a matter of minutes, distant, belligerent, and distant again. Her coach Beulah (Colleen Dewhurst), who runs, as Marcus puts it, a broken down bowling alley and a broken down skating rink, is strict, as a coach must be. Nick just wants her to have fun. Meanwhile, there's some other woman looking on. I don't remember her.

Which is interesting, because it seems like she's going to be important. A potential new coach coming in to swoop up this up-and-coming skater, perhaps...

Sure enough, she shows up at Beulah's place. Beulah knows who she is. Miss Mackland. Wants to train Lexie. But, gets up to leave when Beulah tells her Lexie is 16. Apparently, that's too old to learn her "figures". Cut to, Mackland, Beulah, and Marcus talking, deciding Lexie's life for her. Marcus is keeping it from happening, because he's broken inside, of course.

And, so it goes. Despite his misgivings, Marcus lets her go away to train. Meanwhile, Nick tries out for a hockey team--which when asked by Lexie if that's what he wants to do, he said, yeah, it's fun. Meanwhile, Mackland is so strict that, when Lexie shows off for an audience by doing a triple she hasn't trained for, she threatens to send Lexie home.

Insert a reporter, Brian Dockett (David Huffman), into the story, because becoming a world class skater in six months is a story. Before he and Lexie even speak to one another, he's framed in various shots, watching her skate a little too intently. And being followed by a film crew separates Lexie from the other skaters, and is just one more detail pulling her away from Rick when she gets to call home to talk to him. French skater falls apart and Lexie is the one getting all the attention.

And, I suppose it's a clear sign this is the 70s that a movie that earlier hinged on Lexie's age, now has her getting involved with the reporter. (While Johnson was three years older than her character, Huffman was 13 years older than Johnson. It's a good thing the producers didn't talk Johnson into a nude scene, because I assume it would have been here, and with the visual language of film that would have been an even bigger transgression against her relationship with Nick.)

But the moment that Nick sees her skate afterward, and he's shocked by how good she is is a nice moment. Robby Benson sells it pretty well. Then, immediately after, he sees her kiss Brian on the sidelines, and without dialogue, he's already got some nice grief and rage going on. Then he says, "It looks like you've got everything you need" and she leaves. She's winning at other people's expense. It's interesting. First the French girl, who they had previously established had some mental breakdown or something in the past and no one expected her to be skating, gets psyched out watching Lexie and falls down repeatedly. She falls. Lexie wins. Now, Lexie has left the old coach behind, the old boyfriend behind, and Nick is there to find out right when she's headed upward. So, she gets bored with the fancy party and goes outside to skate by herself.

And--SPOILERS, except the film is from 1978 and I already mentioned that she loses her eyesight--she hits her skate on some metal divider (the outside ice rink has tables and chairs on the ice at one end for some reason), falls, and hits her head several times on the metal tables and chairs.

Then lots of scenes of sad people, sad talk--I may focus on the melancholy that is all over this film (and Roger Ebert's wonderful abhorrence of it) tomorrow, and finally with Beulah's push and her father's help, Lexie goes out onto the ice.

Weird memory thing: I remembered that when Nick first helps her on the ice, he's kind of mean to her. I completely forgot about her cheating on him (or didn't fully understand the import of that when I was little) so it seemed more just another coach being hard on her. But this is actually more personal. And, it's nice how the scene twists on that. It starts to get a little nice, she's leaning into him, and he realizes and abruptly gets mean again, tells her to do an axel. Then, they get their anger out one each other, and it gets better between them pretty quickly. But that initial scene of him helping her on the ice plays pretty well for marking that change to come.

There's a brief encounter with Brian again, mostly because he could let everyone know Lexie is blind (when she hasn't told anyone in the skating world) and she's about to skate again. His interaction with Nick is more interesting because the films lets neither of them be the bad guy. Lexie skates. Does well. And falls when people throw flowers. The end.


Friday, October 13, 2017

everyone's entitled to one good scare

Killers wandering the streets. Young people dying when they make the wrong choices. Doctors and sheriffs ineffectual. And, evil never dies.

This is the world introduced to me by Halloween when I was a kid.

Long tracking shots. Deliberate use of the background and the foreground. POV shots to both put us in a role of the killer and to manipulate us into feeling him approach. A simple but evocative score.

This is the cinematic marvel introduced to me by Halloween when I was a kid.


It gave me something to be afraid of, and it gave me something to love.

 

 

 

 

 

One observation, and it only just occurred to me. Who was coming to look at the Myers house? Laurie leaves keys under the mat for her father because people are coming to look at the house. Did they ever show up? Did Michael kill them, too? Or did they get lucky because he was loitering outside Haddonfield High? Later Brackett and Loomis get into the house because the front door is unlocked. Maybe the potential buyers came by, got spooked, and ran. Given the film's focus on fate, it would be interesting to know who came by the Myers House while Michael was out, missing out on being murdered by maybe mere minutes.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

his own day of reckoning

Consider another angle. Maybe Michael isn't Laurie's id. Rather, Laurie is Michael's super-ego. Michael wasn't waiting for the opportunity to kill again. He could have done that at any time. He was waiting to be judged for having killed. This is why he follows Tommy first. He can feel a connection with Tommy. Tommy is just like him, a little boy full of imagination and potential. And, Laurie looks after Tommy. Like Judith didn't look after Michael all those years ago.

This means Laurie's repression is even more important to the story than already suggested. She isn't free of Michael's violence (up to a point--and that point matters) because she doesn't have sex and do drugs

(Notably, Michael probably has no idea Laurie was smoking in Annie's car. He's following them, but that doesn't mean he can see what's going on inside.)

but because being that pure, virginal girl, she can pass judgment on him. He wants approval. He wants disapproval. Whatever he wants, he wants it from someone better than ineffectual doctors, judges, police, better than his parents, better than his older sister. So, he waits. Given the details introduced in Halloween II, we know he's waiting for his younger sister, but within this film itself, why does he come back now? How does he know he can find someone?

Or has he just gotten bored in Smith's Grove.


Perhaps his inspiration came from somewhere else. Maybe he didn't just stare at the wall. Maybe that past Saturday night he was watching Fantasy Island because some nurse had been nice enough to move him into the common room--I imagine he's in there with a catatonic Randle McMurphy even though that guy should be in a hospital many states to the west. That week's episode had a Vietnam vet (Greg Morris) seeking a reunion with his former sergeant (Christopher George) only to really want revenge. That episode also had a roller derby skater (Anne Francis) who wanted to become a refined lady to get approval from her daughter's potential in-laws. Let's say Michael watched that episode, and for an hour that Saturday night, he was drawn out of his catatonia because that is the power of television, and somewhere in his head, he twisted these two plots together. He wants to go back to Haddonfield for a reunion, for revenge, and to be accepted. (And Dr. Loomis is his Mr. Roarke, I suppose.) And, this jumbled fantasy only comes into focus when he sees Laurie Strode--and either she just reminds him of what his sister Judith should have been like or (considering Halloween II) he recognizes her more explicitly as his younger sister, though she was far younger when he last saw her. And, she's there with Tommy Doyle, a boy like he should have been. And Laurie is protective of the boy even in that brief time Michael can see them. And, he knows that this is the person he seeks... But for what? Is it a reunion with his little sister? Is it revenge, a second act of mindless violence to demonstrate his role in the world? Or is it acceptance, because she has what he doesn't--self control. But then he gets her friends out of the picture, he sets them up for her to see, like a cat offering up its latest kill at the front door, and he wants approval. He has acted on impulse, punished these immoral teens. And, all Laurie has to do is give him a nod of approval. Michael never directs his violence at Laurie until she fails to approve of his tableau. She is horrified. She cowers back into the hall and against a wall. And, Michael is there in the dark, waiting to surprise her, to thank her, to embrace her, to be embraced by her. But, her response is all wrong. And, his fantasy refocuses. Maybe it was revenge he wanted. He brings down the knife, cutting her arm, and sending her falling down the stairs...

Or maybe it was last Tuesday he was in the common room, and he watched the latest episode of Three's Company, and he saw Chrissy get taken in by that guru, and this triggers his Thorn Cult mission... Except the Thorn Cult isn't part of the Halloween story just yet.

Or maybe it was The Love Boat, and Michael saw himself in Bobby Diller (Charlie Aiken) lying to all the crew members because his parents don't pay enough attention to him. And, he thought back to when he killed Judith so his parents could pay more attention to him, and it backfired because they sent him away, and how long has it been since they visited anyway? Staring at the wall all the time really messes with your sense of time, one day blends into another, and he can't remember if his parents came to visit last week or a decade ago. And, he misses them. So, back to Haddonfield he goes. If his parents won't come visit him at Smith's Grove, he will go see them. But, he gets to the house and no one is there. No parents. No baby sister. And the rage inside takes over. He will kill every last person in Haddonfield until his parents will finally pay attention. Starting with that teenage girl he sees outside the house with that boy. But, that girl seems nice, and the boy reminds him of a time when parents paid attention, and older sisters weren't too busy having sex to play a board game with him, or at least help him sort out his trick or treating hoard. But, he follows them. If he can' thing his parents, he can have these two. So, he starts to kill everyone around them, and he leaves them like gifts for this new surrogate mother, this new surrogate self. But, she disapproves. She backs into a corner afraid. And, that just won't do. He brings down the knife, cutting her arm, and sending her falling down the stairs...

Or maybe he'd seen every episode of the short-lived Who's Watching the Kids? and he actually missed those nights when Judith would babysit him. And he felt bad about what happened all those years ago. He just wanted to go home and apologize to Mom and Dad and they could be a nice happy family again. But, alas, the house was empty when he got there. A neighborhood dog even had the audacity to wander in, like people hadn't lived there in a long time. And, if Mom and Dad could not only send him off to live in that horrid hospital, but also abandon their home, then damn it all, damn the world. The killing would continue tonight, and it would never stop. Later as he sat down to cut eyeholes in a stolen bedsheet, because if you've gotta kill, you might as well make it fun, he wondered about old friends from when he was a kid, about what masks they might be wearing on this special night. And, would they join him in his rampage or find themselves among his victims?

And, maybe, as he lay there on the lawn in pain, after that nice old man Dr. Loomis had shot him six times, Michael thought back to the common room at Smith's Grove. And, he wanted nothing more than to get back there, because Diff'rent Strokes was premiering that Friday night, and he had always dreamed of being adopted into a nice new family, maybe one that would visit more.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

waiting for some secret

So then there's little ol' me. I'm two, I'm three, I'm four, I'm five. I'm all the ages since. And, honestly, I am still figuring out what the fuck all of the things around me are for, and I am blessed with the wonder that is cinema. Movies are just one of many stimuli that get injected into the mix. And, Halloween is just one of those movies. But, oh what a movie.

And what a great movie to see often growing up, watching the way it is put together, the way it is structured. There's not really any fluff. There's odd choices here and there--Annie could have just driven past rather than stop and talk to her father, for example, then there's no risk of getting caught with that joint. But then, does Brackett tell Loomis about the robbery details? And, do we know just how worried Laurie is at getting caught over this one transgression? Each detail serves the whole. And, some of the details are beautiful.

That high pitched music cue when the light goes out on the second floor and 6-year-old Michael knows he can head inside. Hell, consider this: Michael's costume is a clown costume, right? So, why does Danny have his mask? (Or is the mask just a symbolic gesture from either of them, like "Bob" under that sheet later. One man is another. With systemic harassment and sexual abuse in the news recently, I'm inclined to wonder.)

I imagine a guy near the camera making the thunder noises as Loomis and Marion approach the hospital. Or Pleasance's has some strange tics when he's acting. His repetition of "Never" is timed as if he thinks Marion didn't hear him, no as if he's emphasizing. Did they still do practical sound effects for thunder in 1978? Did they ever, for film? A guy with a sheet of tin or whatever it is, and he strikes it when they want the sound.

Little details like this have caught my eye these past few days. Also, I just realized that I mentioned that my sister and her first husband lived near the Myers House. I actually lived down the street Tommy comes running down to meet Laurie. Magnolia Street, South Pasadena. Lived there for a few months... The Myers House has since moved, though. That whole block of houses was torn down for some condos. The Myers House was deemed a historical landmark (I think for some other reason than (or additional reason to) it being in the first two Halloween films) and was preserved. But, they moved it. It's half a block down and across the street. And it's a doctor's office or a massage therapist's or something. It's much closer to the location that they used for the hardware store Michael robbed.

Totally complains about having to learn three new cheers in the morning, but the cheerleaders are practicing right then in the background. Perhaps, if she had stuck around to learn those cheers then, she might have survived past one film.

It's Laurie that swears. The clean cut one. But, she's the one who says "shit."

Also, Jamie Lee Curtis has some great reaction shots. When Annie says, "Oh great, I've got three choices, watch the kids sleep, listen to Lynda screw around, or talk to you" and it is dripping with sarcasm, Laurie has a dumb smile like all she heard was the "great." Later in the car, after Laurie has asked Annie, "What are you gonna wear to the dance tomorrow night?" Annie replies, "I didn't know you thought about things like that, Laurie." And, Laurie is silent, quiet, and so very sad. And, Carpenter lets the camera linger on just her, the sunlight in the background out the front windshield. It's nice.

Backtracking, Laurie has James Ensor's painting, Self Portrait with Flowered Hat, 1883, over her dresser, and a Raggedy Ann doll on that dresser next to what looks like a jewelry box. Compared to the set dressing in a teenager's bedroom in a film today, her room is practically Spartan. Today, there would be at least three different lamps, and several posters for bands only the coolest kids have even heard of yet.

"Coulda been a skunk" may be one of the best lines of this film. Up there with "It's tough growing up with a cynical father" or "He shouts, too."

So many of Carpenter's shots are amazing. He uses the foreground, sometimes with Michael in silhouette, sometimes without him at all. And, those shots when Michael isn't there. Like as the three girls walk after Michael has driven away, are especially nice because they invite us to look for Michael even when we know he cannot be there. And, in a way, they put us there with Michael--or taking his place--we're following Laurie, we're following her friends. We're standing around waiting for the kill.

Bob leaves the van door open.

You know what's great about Michael's bed sheet ruse? Michael Myers, supernatural killer, who bided his time for fifteen years in a mental hospital, sat down at some point to cut eyeholes in a sheet. Maybe humming to himself as he did it, I wish I had you all alone, just the two of us.

The streets of Haddonfield are always so empty. The film had a small budget so there are few extras, few cars, but it makes for a very quiet, very sad town. Given the slasher film trope to come of adults being ineffectual or absent, it's interesting here how few young people there are as well. How few trick or treaters. Like the town already has a curfew, when its boogeyman has only just come of age. It makes for a melancholy sort of place, and Laurie Strode, who boys think is too smart, fits right in.

Finally, Laurie not only opens the balcony door to mislead Michael, she ties the closet door shut. She reaches up for a hanger, rather than untangling one from those that have fallen onto the floor. She stabs Michael with his own knife when he drops it. Girl is smart. And, regardless of what I might have said before (or what Christensen (2011) says) while comparing her to Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Laurie’s a pretty good feminist model for the final girl.

Too bad she spends the second film so helpless.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

he was watching me

So then there's little ol' me. What am I--two, three, four, five? Somewhere in there. My brain is still figuring out what the fuck all of the things around me are for, and blessed with the wonder that is cinema, movies are just one of many stimuli that get injected into the mix. And, Halloween is just one of those movies. But, oh what a movie. Whether you take Michael as representative of fate, of death, of the inevitable, of moral judgment, of Laurie Strode's id--yes, that's a thing; just see Muir (2009) and it's right there along with his section about fate--Michael is some... thing. However much he appears an average kid in that opening, however much he looks like a normal man without his mask (when Laurie briefly gets it off of him right before Loomis shoots him), and however much the sequels explain him, he is a force of nature, or a force beyond nature. More supernatural than natural...

Except, that isn't really true. I mean, in this film and this film alone. Only in the end, after he has been stabbed with a knitting needle, a hanger, and a knife, and been shot six times--and all of this in a matter of minutes--is he really supernatural. But he is amazingly omnipresent, seemingly omniscient--he doesn't cut off the phone line to the Doyle house until 1) Laurie will be trying to call for help and 2) her failure to do so will make the situation scarier, for example--and he is some sort of mechanical genius--setting out the bodies of Lynda and Bob to pop out just at the right time to frighten Laurie the most--while he seems puzzled by the very mortality of his victims that he is taking advantage of in killing them. Because, perhaps, he doesn't expect them to remain "dead" once he has "killed" them. Michael is, of course, mentally a child, isn't he? He has done nothing but sit in a hospital and stare emptily since he was six years of age. In fact, he is effectively playing a game with Laurie--and with Tommy, mind you; he stalks Tommy first--by circling in on her slowly, building up the tension until he's reached peak fear.

Which is also why he works as a sort of id embodied... But this becomes problematic as you will see. Muir suggests that the specific inclusion of footage from Forbidden Planet might be deliberate because that film--a future-set patch on Shakespeare's The Tempest--involves the id of Dr. Edward Morbius taking on form and sabotaging his mission and killing his crew. Laurie is the uptight one of the female trio at the heart of Halloween, the one who refrains from acting on her impulses. She is interested in a boy, but Annie initially balks not just at Laurie's interest in a boy but here mere interest in anything to do with the dance at all. Laurie does smoke a joint with Annie, but she chokes, she coughs, and she's paranoid about Sheriff Brackett knowing what she was doing. She is the studious one, lamenting that she forgot her chemistry book. She is the Girl Scout, bringing a pumpkin along to her babysitting gig so that she and Tommy can make a jack-o-lantern. Muir takes a quote from Carpenter as support of this id theory--

John Carpenter himself lends some credence to this Freudian interpretation of Halloween by noting that Laurie, "The one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing this guy with a long knife... Not because she's a virgin but because all that repressed sexual energy starts coming out. She uses all those phallic symbols on the guy... She doesn't have a boyfriend, and she finds someone--him." (Danny Peary, Cult Movies. Delacorte Press, 1981, page 126). (Muir, 2009, para. 15)

Ever the picker of nits, I must point out that, no, Laurie doesn't "keep" stabbing Michael with a long knife. She stabs him with a knitting needle, she stabs him with a hanger, then she stabs him with a knife. One time for each one. Also, I really wish I could remember where I saw--and I swear it was Carpenter himself saying it--that the whole sexual transgression leads to death angle was coincidence; what they really were implying wasn't that Laurie was good and that's why she survived but that Laurie was simply not as distracted so she was able to see Michael coming. But, maybe the distinction there is really just a chicken or the egg problem. What mattered most is what we take from the film, anyway, not necessarily what they put into it. If we see that conservative message--premarital sex is bad, bad people must be punished--than that is what the movie is about. The further explanation from the sixth film actually suggests that morality has nothing to do with it; Michael is there to kill Laurie because (as retconned in Halloween II, she is his sister and he is supposed to sacrifice his family. The thorn cult stuff is actually supported by Michael's awakening in the opening of Halloween 4, but is a bit confusing when Michael follows Tommy around before he ever follows Laurie in this film. On a practical level, of course, this is because each film was made separately, and different filmmakers got involved. The mythology grew. The same sort of expansion happens with Freddy and Jason as well. Later films must justify themselves by building upon what came before with something more than just a body count. And, speaking of body counts, while Halloween II's body count is higher, since Carpenter is involved, you can see that most of the kills there serve Michael's need to get closer to Laurie. Not all of them, but then again, maybe he is simply acting out Laurie's request, that she wants him all alone, just the two of them. Plus, that second film references Samhain (mispronounced as so many people mispronounce it) as the Celtic lord of the dead, which is just as wrong as the pronunciation, but in the film's universe, we could take this as setting up the revelations of the sixth film.

Or we could come back to the id.


Laurie is the sexually repressed one of the group. And, who dies here (not counting Chris Hastings--the guy whose clothes Michael takes, a character who got a name and a backstory in in a comic called "Halloween: White Ghost"...

(An odd sidenote: taking the events of that comic into account, the presence of that matchbook from the Rabbit in Red Lounge in Hastings' truck is just a coincidence, and it's not actually the same matchbook from the station wagon dashboard that Loomis notices earlier in the film. Since the film never quite frames it so that Loomis necessarily notices the dead body in the grass there, this means Loomis is connecting dots that aren't really there.)

--or the two dogs Michael kills) except for the sexually active friends close to Laurie? The one detail that could ruin the id theory, though, is that at best, Laurie was a toddler when her older brother killed her older sister back in 1963. But, even then, maybe she was there in that house while Judith was having sex with Danny Hodges. And it wasn't about sexual repression yet, of course, but little Cynthia Myers (the future Laurie Strode) was jealous. She couldn't punish Judith herself, of course, but she could call out psychically to her big brother, and what then of Michael? Losing who he was in favor of this singular impulse of his baby sister. He picks up a weapon, he dons a new face to hide the one he no longer needs, and he murders his older sister because she put her own base needs before looking after the baby.

Michael couldn't be himself, again, of course. So, he is hospitalized. And, there he remains until one day, Laurie sees her friends doing things she wishes she could do. And, Michael is called back to Haddonfield.

 

 

 

 

 

But, I was talking about me.

Works Cited

Muir, J.K. (2009, October 31). "The Tao of Michael Myers? Or The Hidden 'Shapes' of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)." John Kenneth Muir. Retrieved from https://johnkennethmuir.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/the-tao-of-michael-myers-or-the-hidden-shapes-of-john-carpenters-halloween-1978/