Wednesday, September 27, 2017

precious seconds are ticking away

The thing about Murder by Death is that 1) it offers up a group of intelligent characters, capable of Sherlock Holmes-style deductions out of nowhere--

(For the record, even though I know better, when Dick Charleston asks about Marcel recovering from his accident, I assume he's talking about Marcel getting hit by the gargoyle that was pushed off the roof not ten screen minutes before. But, no, he's talking about some previous injury, and references the sound of Marcel's artificial hip, which WE CANNOT HEAR. Considering the Charlestons were also attacked with a gargoyle, it should be even more obvious that Marcel was injured. But, no, it's a previous "accident" with a car.)

--but also just dumb (if that's the word) enough to be so wrong about their guesses about the larger situation, particularly those at the end of the film, after Twain has essentially tried to kill them all in their rooms. 2) They, Sam Diamond especially, are capable of being sexist and racist and just plain dicks to one another. (The film itself involves racist stereotypes, cultural stereotypes, sexist stereotypes, but most of them feel so deliberate (and not just the result of this film being made in the 70s) that it's hard to even call them out.) About life, this is like a capsule of larger reality; you're going to meet smart people, but that doesn't mean they're always smart. You're going to meet dumb people who will surprise you when they do smart things. You will meet assholes who will still be able to get stuff done. And kind people who will be mostly useless. Some people are going to be sexist, some racist, some culturalist (now a word, if it wasn't already), some all three. Doesn't mean you can dismiss them outright. They might even have the most outlandish and entertaining things to say.


About film, Murder by Death offers up a similar concept. A lesson for writers (and not just screenwriters): your characters needn't all be the same, needn't all have the same voice. A lesson I could, of course, transpose over to D&D, too; not every player character needs to be a min/max character, not every character needs to be as powerful as can be and combat ready, you need a variety of character types, a variety of skill levels, and different skills. But, you don't have to go overboard, in D&D, in a film ensemble, or in your circle of friends... Some of them can, you know, be the same. Or same-ish.

I just noticed an awesome detail regarding Dora Charleston, by the way. Dick sees Mr. Wang, and says, "Ah, Wang." Then, to Dora, "Darling, you remember..." She answers, "Of course. Nice to see you Ah Wang." His name, of course, is Sydney; she's faking the politeness because, like her husband, I suppose she is just as "enormously well-bred" which one might also call fake, too proper to admit to not remembering someone. And, it's a great scripting detail. There's the more obvious cleverness in the parodic bits, or more overt jokes like Sam's thing about the last time he trusted a dame, or Dick's line about seeing a better place to be lost two miles back. Or Mr. Twain's complaints about the way Mr. Wang talks, or just the way Mr. Wang talks. But subtle is better, sometimes. Like--again with Dora--after Yetta comes to the dining room screaming, silently, and she has a note, "I think butler is dead. My name is Yetta. I don't work Thursdays" and Dora responds: "Ask if she sleeps in." That one, Maggie Smith really sells with the delivery. Her question, entirely separate from the murder at hand, is asked with the same urgency as all the relevant questions.

But, I digress to, you know, talk about the film directly. I didn't mean to do so, actually. Something about Murder by Death--I just don't have much to say about it that will be all that insightful, I don't think. It is what is is. I was looking at reviews on Rotten Tomatoes earlier and some complain about it being unfunny, some praising its humor. To each their own and all that. My oft repeated point in this blog: one audience is not another, one audience member is not another, we all experience films (and film) differently.

But, I gotta interrupt again because of Dora. When Dick tells her why someone might steal a dead, naked body, she says, with a wry grin, "That's tacky. That's really tacky." And, before the film cuts away, you can see that Dora is thinking about it, and pleasantly.

But, I had a point I intended to get to today. From the ensemble and especially it's internal diversity, I meant to segue to D&D (mostly because that takes up a lot of my time of late and I'm nothing if not an opportunist... When I can be. Actually, I'm not an opportunist most of the time, but here in this blog, I use what I can use to make a point. I wanted to talk about the kind of people one surrounds themselves with, your friends, your acquaintances. I mean, you can't always choose your coworkers. You can't choose your family. But, you can choose the people you spend time with outside of home (and outside of family gatherings) and outside of work. And, maybe it's because I'm getting older, or because with school behind me I don't interact with as many people anymore that aren't my students, or because being an adjunct professor, I don't even really have coworkers to interact with that often, I've noticed of late when my time is limited with my friends, with my immediate family, with the hobbies I let take up so much of my time--lately, in addition to numerous movies and D&D every Sunday (plus bursts of prep for the game I run some of the days between--like today, I had to work on expanding a map from the last session to set up the next), and painting miniatures (because I happened to get a bunch of them recently for cheap, I've had plenty to work with), I've talked politics with my son, talked movies (particularly mother!) with my daughter, talked teaching with my ex, but wasn't getting to much else that divided up the repetitive. This past weekend, though, my D&D friends (well some of us) got together to do an escape room and get dinner at a pub in Hollywood to celebrate one of our birthdays. We hadn't gotten together outside of D&D for a month and a half. Which meant more time by myself--my kids are old enough to have lives most of the time, when they're not at school or doing homework.

Is it any wonder that, this month, I have worked my way backward into my own childhood, the films I saw time and time again when I was still formulating who I was going to be (but not with too much planning because of my particular religious upbringing)? Is it any wonder that this month almost immediately became something far bigger than just a month? Murder by Death, for example, was on the full list I put together--78 films--but not the shorter list--29 films, one for each day between September 2 and October 2, except it was silly of me to think I could limit these films I know so well, that I have fond memories of, to just one day each. A month of westerns (June 2015), sure. Or that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon experiment (February 2016), sure. But, not something as personal as this.

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