Saturday, August 1, 2020

the stuff that dreams are made of

Ben wants a big answer. His story here begins with a dream that leads to the design of a new antenna the leads to the space bubble thing, which leads to the Thunder Road spaceship which leads to the alien vessel and Ben wants it all to mean something. Like, there's got to be a reason he and Wolfgang are bullied, when Trisha over at Charles M. Jones Junior High School is just as much a nerd... but maybe not as much of a geek. A reason why Steve Jackson and his friends are assholes. A reason why Darren's father is the way he is. Why Darren's mom died when he was young. Why movies like War of the Worlds and This Island Earth can lift Ben out of his mundane suburban life. Why he can't manage the confidence to talk to Lori Swenson.

Ben is still a child. He's got a crush on Lori but when he gets the opportunity to hover outside her bedroom window, he isn't looking for her to be undressing--as Darren points out, it's too early in the evening for that--but is excited just to see her
talking on the phone, and she's eating... Boston cream pie. She's got some stuffed animals on her bed, and it looks like Thompson Twins records.
At the junkyard he's excited just to look around.
And, he's a (sometimes inappropriately) big-picture guy. Woken while sleeping in class, he explains carbon dioxide a little strangely:
That's what you'd breathe on Mars. They have dust storms for months there, you know. And the temperature's 50 below. And that's what you'd breathe on Mars.
He doesn't think practically. Even the antenna design from his dream, he has no reason to think that it is anything. But, he thinks it anyway. For Ben, things are bigger, always bigger.

So, when he and his friends make a spaceship and something pulls it far away into space and it is swallowed by a larger ship, of course he'd expect something big. He expects "the greatest thing ever."
(Or he'd expect death. He does write out a will.)
Some meaningful revelation that explains everything.

But, the aliens Wak and Neek are also just children themselves, joyriding in their father's spaceship and making contact with faraway humans.

And, big answers might not be obvious. Like this blog. Watching Groundhog Day all those days in a row, and its big ideas stand out right away, but that doesn't even mean that they register as big ideas. Not immediately. Nor with Ben and Wolfgang and Darren on their space adventure. On the surface, the boys don't get much further than Roy Neary stepping onto that alien vessel at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They find children, obsessed with Earth fiction. Not that far removed from themselves.

But, then again, that's kind of the point. Like watching all these movies, watching Groundhog Day, and so many other movies over four "years" of this blog.
(It's really been seven years, but there were a couple gaps, since this blog began. Seven years tomorrow.)
Coming back to all these movies--not just in this last section of childhood deconstruction, but all the movies I've watched for this blog... Except for a couple, I always chose movies that I had seen before to make it easier to write about them while they were on. For efficiency, first. But, also, for a nice stream of consciousness approach that removes a need for structure and just lets things happen, lets ideas in, lets ideas out, and it's like Ben when they first get pulled into the alien ship, excited, wide-eyed, and expecting all the answers.

I've written many times about when I began this blog, separated, living alone. Darmok on the ocean. And, my master's thesis was called "Blogging to Make Sense of the World". The process here,
turning my own life inside out and doing something like the same to all these movies and I might as well be Wak, cycling through quotes from movies and tv like it's the greatest form of communication--it's the process that is the point. Kira at Bashi. I've written about the difference between a "masculine" quest and a "feminine" one. The former is going out there, heading to a destination in search of a goal. Think The Lord of the Rings. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Think Explorers.

The latter quest is aimed inward. Think Groundhog Day.

But, also, think Explorers. Starts with a dream, ends with a dream, and everything in between is a childish fantasy played straight. Ben wants the masculine journey but gets the feminine one. He's looking for big, easy, obvious answers, but finds that far out in space are a couple alien kids just like him, too scared to come all the way to Earth because they've seen our movies in which we kill aliens.
Ben travels some unknown distance through space to find that he and Wak are a lot alike.

And there's disappointment.

And, he thinks in the moment that he didn’t find anything valuable.

But, finding out that other people have
interests like yours,
fears like yours,
hope and dreams like yours—
that’s a great thing to realize, especially when you’re young. Realistically, some people are too far gone to try to find common ground a lot of the time. Politics, religion, and so many other things divide us from one another. But, one-on-one, if you can discover that you and someone else—like Ben and Lori sharing their dreams—have something interesting in common, something that can draw you closer, latch onto it, and hope the differences aren’t bigger than the similarities.

Sokath, his eyes open.

And, regarding Explorers specifically, remember, they never even finished making this movie. The studio gave up on it, and that’s why, for example, the helicopter pilot Charlie’s subplot seems to rise up and then fizzle so quickly. But, that’s also why it ends on such an ambiguous note.
The three boys, and Lori, are flying through the clouds.

If this is a dream, then what happens when we wake up?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.

Still, as Wak says,

I think it’s time for you guys to get going.

Do we have to?

And, we’re sorry you hav ego run along so soon.

But, tomorrow is the 2nd, and that means, everything happens all over again.

The answers might not be obvious. But, if Phil Connors can find them, so can Ben. So can you.

Friday, July 31, 2020

the secrets of the universe

Explorers opens with Ben asleep with his TV on (War of the Worlds is on), dreaming about flying over a Tron-ish circuitboard reality. He wakes and frantically draws a piece of his dream. Then he calls up Wolfgang to talk about it.

As you do. A good dream. A good movie. You gotta share with someone, gotta talk about it. Or at least I do. This blog is some of the obvious evidence.

The Junior High the boys attend here is Charles M. Jones... That is, Chuck Jones, the cartoonist. Not the name of the High School where they filmed, but chosen deliberately. Because the cartoon reference matters. This is a movie about creativity and imagination and I just found out that Wolfgang's house is not far from where I'm writing right now, and I love that.


This Island Earth is the next movie we see, after some science fiction magazines and books.

But, per the movie later, the island is not isolated. Like the immigrants in yesterday's An American Tail, the aliens in Explorers have knowledge about America, particularly our films, our pop culture. As Janet Maslin puts it in her New York Times review, director Joe Dante "includes more than enough of his standard touches [including] skewed scenes of suburbia" and his idea of "the great beyond is already filling up with the detritus of American pop culture". Much like the rest of the world, really.

Dante's (or screenwriter Eric Luke's) version of suburbia is fairly stereotypical. The kid with the messed up home life who puts engines together in his spare time teams up with the bullied nerd and his science geek best friend to have some power over their lives, and after getting sidetracked in their adventure in outer space, they can mess with the local bullies and maybe Ben can get the girl he's got a crush on. But in the meantime, it's a little like a Stephen King novel, if he wrote whimsical science fiction.

The boys build their spaceship out of suburban trash, and this matters too as far as the ideas the film is playing with. A lost tilt-a-whirl seat, a trash can, a tire, a suitcase, an old tv screen, some doors from clothes washers, and other random parts. The bubble that allows it to fly comes from a dream, and the ship itself comes from the remains of several.

And pieces of other movies are here too. From the two old science fiction films we've already seen, to the title of the film interrupted at the drive-in--Star Killer--presumably a reference to Luke Skywalker's original surname. And Ben plays with his flashlight like a lightsaber after putting on a gas mask. And the robotic scanner resembles the one outside Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi. There's a sled reference to Citizen Kane. A newspaper headline that references the events of Gremlins. Another references Twilight Zone: The Movie. The dreamscape looks like Tron. Wolfgang quotes Poltergeist's "They're here." Ben quotes Star Trek's "where no man has gone before." The county where the film takes places I named for a planet in Not of This Earth. Not to mention all the movies and TV shows that Wak and Neek reference in act three.

And, I think after all these years, or maybe already when I first saw Explorers on the big screen 34 years ago, my brain is a bit like the aliens' brains in this film, full of movie quotes and references and everything I do or say is influenced by all that. And, the thing is I'm cheating by putting this film on the fixture list because we never even had it on video. But, I saw it on the big screen, we may have rented it to watch it again, and I watched it on cable more than a few times. But, more than that, its visuals and its ideas stuck with me over the years. The amalgamated pop culture on the spaceship mutated into my contention that every movie is every other movie and movies change who you are, and all of the stuff I've ever written in this blog, or said on my podcasts about movies.

Movies tell us about the time and place they were made, but they also tell us about ourselves. What kind of stories are we drawn to? What kind of characters attract us? How do we like our endings? Like Rob Gordon's iconic question: "What came first, the music or the misery?" Did I see so many movies over all these years because I loved movies, or do I love movies because I've seen so many over the years? Do I like the movies I like today because of their similarity (and dissimilarity) to ones I saw when I was a child? Did movies make me or did I make them? Not literally, of course. I made none of these movies, but echo back through this blog, all those references to Izod by way of Benesh, how you take a movie into your head and what resonates afterward is your version of the film. And each time you remember it, it changes, it lessens or it swells. It fixes itself inside you, helps hold you up and build you, or it drifts away to be replaced by something else.

It isn't just movies, of course. There's books and tv shows and games and sports and so much else. But, if you're reading this blog after all these entries, I figure movies have a special place for you like they do for me

All bundled together inside your head.

And it's your job to make something useful of it.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

this is america

In 2000, Fievel Mousekewitz was named an official icon for UNICEF for "promoting worldwide understanding and friendship among children." However much Roger might have dismissed the movie for being too depressing—
he wrote, among other complaints, "The movie has such vague ethnic grounds... that only a few children will understand or care that the Mousekewitzes are Jewish. And few of those are likely to be entertained by such a tragic, gloomy story.
—the film not only performed well—it was #2 behind Crocodile Dundee its opening weekend and #18 at the box office for all of 1986 (and it didn't come out until November)—but has also endured. A few sequels, a couple video games, a comic book, and some nice retrospective articles years after release.

Regarding the latter, for example, Dave Trumbore, who credits An American Tail as the first film he saw in a theater, writes for Collider, 21 November 2016:
What I once regarded as a darkly serious and sometimes silly tale about a young mouse separated from his family on the streets of New York City has matured into a harrowing allegory for our world's enduring evils: racism, the vilification of "the other", and the breaking of the Golden Rule.
I had to wonder yesterday if the cats were the Americans and the mice were the immigrants. Originally, there were not supposed to be any humans in the film at all, but we do see humans, but in the background—the cat and mouse story more like that of an underground society. So, while the mice do seem more distinctly (but not explicitly) varied in their origins—one on the ship to America wears a kilt and Balmoral cap, for example—the cats seem deliberately more monolithic (except for Tiger, of course). But, I think the story plays more interestingly if we look at the humans as the "Americans" and the cats and mice are just different groups of immigrants. And, they have to, as I said yesterday, compete with each other for resources because they don't have the clout to get above scraps. Or they would be human, I guess, to belabor the metaphors a bit.

If we look at them as explicitly different cultural, ethnic, or racial groups, the finale of the cats versus mouse storyline is a little problematic. The Mousekewitzes flee Russia because of an anti-Semitic pogrom (though the film does not explain this—hence Roger's "vague ethnic grounds" referenced above) but the Giant Mouse of Minsk plan is to shove all of the cats off the dock onto a ship bound for Hong Kong? What if that plan doesn't work? Is the next venture more violent? How does the metaphor extend beyond the presented story?

In passing I should note that the suitcase in which Warren T. lives has a hat sitting on top of it that looks like a human-sized version of Fievel's own Kasket cap. A specific implication about the possibilities if Fievel doesn't find his way back to his family perhaps. If he rejects them when he does later, and they do not happen along when they do, does Fievel join up with a gang, maybe a specifically Russian one, Russian and Jewish even. Does Fievel become an actual mouse version of Warren T.'s local crime boss? Not an unheard of possibility for an immigrant who finds normal life difficult upon arriving in America.

Rebecca Long, Vice, 21 November 2019:
[Director Don] Bluth contends that creating an overly romanticized version of the world is a disservice to viewers. "Now shall we manicure this and make it look like everything's wonderful in America... And people are all good to each other? That's certainly not real," he says. Bluth paraphrases a quote he remembers by actress Lillian Gish: "A movie is not an innocent thing... All you directors out there, you're changing the way people think. Be very careful that you tell the truth."
I couldn't find the original Gish line Bluth is paraphrasing, but I understand the sentiment certainly. I mean, I've said all along in this blog that every movie tells you something about the time and place it was made, it tells you about the politics, the gender relations, the values, the haves and have nots, the ins and outs, the ups and downs. Even if it doesn't try to. Even if it doesn't want to. A movie can generally give you a pretty good idea of what its writer(s) or director is trying to say. Take note for instance of where Fievel lands first arriving in America. He lands on Liberty Island, where he meets Henri, an immigrant or maybe just a visitor, but definitely not a native. Henri is quite comfortable in his own skin, and he has a vaguely optimistic philosophy about life which he explains in "Never Say Never". Henri is working on the Statue of Liberty, and just before Fievel's bottle washes up, we hear a chorus singing the familiar final lines to Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus":
Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-toast to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
And later, when Gussie Mausheimer is rallying the mouse crowd...
Money is not everything. I know, because I have money and I have everything, but what are they worth without freedom? Why did we come to America? For freedom! Why are they building that statue? What does it stand for? Freedom! So, what do we want? Freedom.
But then it gets a little problematic.
Freedom from cats. And because this is America, we can do something about them!
Problematic because by turning to violence against the cats, I think the mice kinda missed the point of "A Duo". Though I guess, technically, they didn't hear it. But, we did. And, no, a movie is not innocent. It presents its ideas in (if done well) a digestible form so we take it in, make it a part of ourselves, and become someone new by the time the credits roll. It doesn't have to be a big change, but a good film will offer some change. And, each time you think on it, think on its messages, you might become a little more of what it wanted you to be, or perhaps you might be more reactionary and turn away from it, but still, the film has fueled that change.

In the past "year" of blog entries, I have explored movies that were fixtures of my childhood. Movies that, in large ways and small, good ways and bad, helped build me into the me I was later. I've got just one movie left in that deconstruction after An American Tail, and I think I've demonstrated that not only did these movies affect me when I was young, but coming back to them, even to ones I barely remember after years of separation, the me that I am today has to measure and re-measure itself, and every movie is still not innocent, but a potentially powerful influence. And an immigrant tale like this one—if you saw this when you were young and you enjoyed it, and years later you demonize immigrants and even underprivileged natives, you, my friends, are doing it wrong. And, you should back up and give your life some measure as well...

We can hope you come out better on a second pass.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

in the family for three generations

I have not watched many kids films for this blog. Even when going through movie fixtures from my childhood, there were a few child-friendly films but few made primarily for kids. Today, though, we've got An American Tail and I do not recall the last time I watched it. Once upon a time I loved this movie and had all the lyrics to all the songs memorized.

As I wait for the first song, I get sidetracked by the history. After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, some blamed Jews, and a series of pogroms followed. The Cossacks attack the town of Shostka because there are Jewish families there. The Mousekewitzes are just one.

And, oh shit, I had forgotten that "There Are No Cats in America" begins with Papa explaining how his parents were killed.

Damn, kids movie.

And then other mice tell their sad tales in between joyful choruses. And, already I'm imagining the way a movie like this influenced me when I was just 10 years old. Refugees just looking for a place to live and the movie doesn't tell us who the Cossacks are or why they burn down houses. But, it's pretty clear the Mouskewitzes need somewhere better and maybe we know there are cats here and the streets are not paved with cheese, but immigrants have been dreaming of better lives here since before it was a country, and by 11 I knew that, but I'd also surely heard plenty of anti-immigrant talk from people at school, in church, at home. A movie like this could stand up against that kind of thing.

Fievel lands on Liberty Island alone after a storm at sea, and ends up befriended by Henri Le Pigeon, a bird with a nice positive attitude. So Fievel sets out to the New York City proper and gets caught up by Warren T. Rat and stuck in a job he doesn't want.
(We hear kids reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and it anachronistically includes "under God.")
He escapes, and teams up withTony, a streetwise kid who falls for Bridget, who is out preaching about the unfairness of cats. Then off to Tammany Hall, where Honest John is, of course, corrupt. And, openly drunk.

And, I wrote a few weeks back about babies in baskets and Fievel sleeps in a large baby basket floating in water the night he and Tanya sing "Somewhere Out There." Fievel, set adrift in that storm, sent into the city by Henri, to work by Warren T., to Tammany Hall by Bridget, he's one more lost child turned hero because despite, or because of, fate throwing so much at him. And, what kind of hero? An immigrant who just wants to be reunited with his family, but also, to be good for those around him. And he inspires the secret weapon they use against the cats.

And, his quest becomes a shrunken down version of something epic when he ventures below ground, barely survives an interaction with giant roaches and what I guess is an eel only to learn who the Shakespeare-quoting Warren T. really is.

And, then he meets Tiger. And, "A Duo" has my daughter Saer going on about how wholesome this movie is, but it's talking about different groups of immigrants forced to compete with each other for, at best, power, at worst, the freedom to just live how they want. But wrapped up in a cute package. Cute and a little depressing. Even after Fievel helps beat the cats, he's still got more travails ahead. Alone in the rain.

Except, in movies, rain is often cleansing, and the story already has mythic overtones. So, after proclaiming that he doesn't need his family anymore, he awakens to the sound of his sister calling his name, and all is well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

the new working woman

Waiter coded gay.
Fritz a condescending ass pretending he's looking out for JC's interests.
And that's where the sacrifice conversation begins. At the end of the film, JC insists she still doesn't want to make sacrifices, and yet she has already made most of the sacrifices that Fritz is talking about. She has a kid, has a house to look after, has a growing business. I don't remember if we see them, but she's got to have employees. Is she going to talk like Fritz later with her female employees?
Steven doesn't like JC dreaming about a vacation home and sex with him takes seconds and he calls it incredible when she is clearly not at all satisfied.
Feminism in the 80s still loves capitalism. JC's problem, Baby Boom would have us believe, is not her work ethic, even though 70-80 work hours a week will not fit with having a child. And JC is not satisfied with Vermont.
Hughes rejects JC ostensibly because she has a child (but really because she brought the kid to their meeting, so maybe he isn't that bad, or ineffective, yet.)
Even before she's got water troubles (the pipes and then the well) the movie doesn't show us much of her settling in.

But, I'm getting ahead of the movie now. As I pointed out yesterday, this movie stays in the city for more than half its length, making the Vermont venture a minor element. Which is strange. Because I imagine an ending in which JC doesn't say, "If The Food Chain can put Country Baby on every supermarket shelf in America, so can I." Instead she'd not need to be on every supermarket shelf in America. She's got one orchard, she's already selling her applesauce throughout Vermont...

I used to have this argument all the time with a guy I know online, used to work for the SciFi Channel, about tv ratings. The goal was always every show has to be number one in its slot with the right demographic, and that seemed like a ridiculous goal to me. A) It's science fiction, it's not going to be the most popular thing most of the time. Hell, almost never. 2) It's basic cable, so it would never hit the numbers of a network, and networks don't even get the numbers that they used to because there are more and more options for watching television all the time. And D) There is nothing wrong with coming in second, nothing wrong with making just enough profit to pay your employees well, pay your crew, your actors, buy new shows, and live to sci fi another day.
Everett sees a child in JC's office and (along with Fritz) is not happy about it. But, JC is preoccupied, spills Elizabeth's bottle on him, and is flustered, so maybe we're not supposed to be on JC's side yet, capitalism is winning.
With the interviews of potential nannies, and the first one being irresponsible, and JC panicking at the second, it seems like JC cannot trust other women (or maybe the movie doesn't want her to) anymore than she can trust men.
The straw that really breaks the camel's back at work is when JC takes a call in a meeting, when all she had to do is step out. Like none of the men there have ever had a call to take during a meeting, have never had any emergency that their wives couldn't take care of (like Fritz claims his does).
It feels like the movie is presenting men who are inadequate--I'm ahead of the film here, but the plumber in town, Boone, even--the presentation of his work estimates play like he's a country rube who doesn't know anything. His yeps and nopes present as if he's an idiot. But he clearly gets the work done. And, at the dance later, he seems to have some musical talent as well. But, at that point JC is more comfortable with Vermont so it's okay if we see another side of him.

Even his choice to take JC to Dr. Cooper when she faints is a pretty good move. There is no other Doctor nearby, so he gets her to the vet, because who knows what kind of emergency it is? The problem at Dr. Cooper's is not that he's the wrong kind of doctor but simply that JC doesn't realize it and after freaking out in front of Boone, she continues to spill out her feelings in front of this stranger and it becomes an embarrassment. That he's a veterinarian is just an extra punchline to make their future interactions more (and inappropriately) awkward.
JC spills her soda at a meeting, and it feels unrealistic to me--I've been in work meetings--that she's the only one without a good solid mug on the table. There would be drinks of all kinds, and probably bagels or donuts or something. The mess being just hers is a cheap move by the movie, except I'm not sure what the move means. Is JC bad at her job? Is her inability to keep up with a younger woman out walking because she's got a stroller an indicator that she is falling behind because of her choices and that is a bad thing? Or is she realizing that she doesn't need to keep up because there are better things in her life now? The movie should be arguing the latter but keeps insisting on the former.   
Ken does part of JC's job when she can't get to it, and 1) that's a dick move but also 2) a sign that the film is recalling pushing the idea that JC can no longer hack it. 
But, that's 80s capitalism and Fritz rewards Ken and JC quits. 
And Fritz is an asshole. Doesn't know how many grandkids he has, and he says it like he's made the right choice, work over family.
And, I'm not sure the film really disagrees. In the scene before the well discussion and JC fainting, she talks to a friend over the phone and her tone suggests things aren't going well, but the set decoration and the direction suggest to me otherwise. She's got firewood inside now; we saw her struggling to get firewood outside in the snow earlier. The place is clean. There are baby toys on the floor, sure, but that's normal, and JC is still at the point that she picks them up; she hasn't given up yet. But, the well drying up is too much.
And then there's Dr. Cooper. Stable. Calm. Immediately offering to listen to JC's problems. Not much later, he also offers to help with her research at the library. Somehow he's the positive male type in the film, but also sort of antithetical to what the film wants, or what we think it wants. JC isn't supposed to need a man, and she wants success with her applesauce. Country Baby is supposed to be ticket back to regular life...
But her regular life is not what she wants. Not anymore. That's the movie this should be. But, 80s feminism wants to reify the need for JC to keep pushing, even as the film wants to reify her need for a man in her life, and it's pushing in different directions and doesn't really work if you think about it. But if JC embraced Vermont, embraced Country Baby as a company that doesn't need to be nationwide to be successful, and could still embrace Dr. Cooper because he's a nice guy...
If he hadn't basically assaulted her by her truck when she had that flat tire. And, after she had confessed to him she hadn't been with a man in a while. I mean, back the fuck off, Jeff. She isn't interested, and no matter how much immediate dislike is twisted into attraction in every other romantic comedy (not that this was a romantic comedy for the first hour), that trope has got to go, and you need to keep your hands and mouth to yourself.
So, nevermind embracing Dr. Cooper. But, Vermont and economic comfort--that seems nice.

Monday, July 27, 2020

keeping her a little longer

Opening narration:
53% of the American workforce is female. Three generations of women that turned 1,000 years of tradition on its ear. As little girls they were told to grow up and marry doctors and lawyers. Instead they grew up and became doctors and lawyers. They moved out of the "pink ghetto" and into the executive suite. Sociologists say the new working woman is a phenomenon of our time. Take JC Wiatt, for example. Graduated first in her class at Yale, got her MBA at Harvard. Has a corner office at the corner of 58th and Park. She works five to nine, makes six figures a year, and they call her the Tiger Lady. Married to her job, she lives with an investment banker married to his. They collect African art, co-own their co-op and have separate but equal IRA accounts. One would take it for granted that a woman like this has it all. One must never take anything for granted.
Of course the narrator will not return; it's one of those openings. Plus, you know, the usual big city montage shots before we can get to our story.

But, I'm more concerned today with an idea I was trying to research before the film. Because I was sure that housewife turns homemade food item into a business (often with hilarious results, sometimes failure) was surely a thing you'd find on TV Tropes, but even with help, I couldn't prove that it ever happened anywhere but 7th Heaven. And Baby Boom, although JC Wiatt has more success with her baby food business than Annie Camden had with her muffins.
I remember this movie more for the Vermont part of it, but nearly an hour in, it's spent more time on the not-as-satirical-as-it-could-be city life with JC juggling becoming a mother with remaining in her job. But there was a whole segment where JC's boyfriend put up with having the baby when I remembering him rejecting her right away. I'd forgotten all about the adoption attempt (although as soon as I saw Mr. And Mrs. White I remembered that they wanted to rename the kid Fern, and I forgot about the nannies, but as soon as I saw Victoria Jackson, I remembered her naked behind the couch with the guy she met in that park that day, and I knew James Spader was going to get the promotion JC was supposed to get but all of this city stuff I was sure happened faster. That the film turned into the escapist Vermont countryside story earlier.

Like I was talking about plot points the other day, and now I'm wondering about this movie's plot points. Getting Elizabeth is the inciting incident, right. Plot Point One--and I forgot to check the timing on this one--was when JC decided to keep her after meeting the Whites. I'm not sure now (as JC is freaking out and scaring the plumber a bit after her well dried up) if Spader got the promotion before or after the Whites wanted to name Elizabeth Fern, but I guess JC finding out she's off the Food Chain account and on the Ferber Dog Food account is Pinch One. Moving to Vermont--that would be the midpoint. Then the movie rushed into too many apples, she's making baby food, but the pipes were corroded and then the well dried up and now she fainted and was taken to the local vet (because the nearest proper doctor was too far away)--
on TV Tropes, that's Open Heart Dentistry, by the way
--and then thinks about burning down her new house because it has no chance of being sold, and in come some yuppies to buy the baby applesauce. Pinch Two... Not quite at 62.5% of the way but close enough.

An old reference around here, Phil Dyer describes Pinch Two as
Halfway between the mid-point and the second plot point should be a major plot event that pushes the protagonist in a new direction, usually because of the revelation of new information.
JC sees how the yuppie tourists grab at her applesauce and she's off to the library for some business magazines--looking for updated market information, of course.

Then, a flat tire has her interacting with the local vet again, and yada yada yada, they kiss, and with Pinch Two so early, and a roadtrip selling montage underway, I'm not sure what Plot Point Two is going to be. And, now I'm figuring I should have read my copy of Kristin Thompson's Storytelling in the New Hollywood by now, so I could be writing around the three-act structure already, demonstrating that movies don't always follow it very well. Except, they usually hew pretty close to it, just with a second act that plays a little long, and a third act sometimes that is quite short.

Plot Point Two is supposed to be:
the worst thing that could possibly occur in the protagonist's pursuit of his external goal should happen.
We get a montage of packaging and news coverage marking success at an hour twenty-five.
This usually happens because the antagonist exposed the protagonists' internal flaw for the world to see.
But, JC is at a local dance having a great time and I'm not sure there is an antagonist in this film. At least not a visible one right now. Inevitably, this is leading back to business, back to the city, back to the place she used to work, but no inkling of that yet.
It should appear at this point that the antagonist has won the battle and that it is now impossible for the protagonist to overcome his internal flaw and achieve his external goal.
And then the protagonist is supposed to return to the real world. The "real world" of the film should be the city, but she can't return there. The "real world" could be business, but she's already back there. Or the "real world" is the nice heteronormative relationship she's starting up with Dr. Cooper, who comes to her house after the dance. And, I guess he could be the antagonist. Or in a way, all hes are the antagonists, or rather we've got bell hooks' "imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy" at it again, and JC Wiatt has to stand up against it.

Spends the night with Dr. Cooper, Elizabeth calls him daddy, and phone rings for an opportunity with the Food Chain buying Country Baby. Which circles us back to Dyer's "buildup to resolution":
The protagonist returns to his ordinary world at this point, but he should now be so changed by everything that he has gone through that he can no longer be satisfied living the way he did before.
And the film makes a nice move in filming JC from behind as she enters the place she used to work. She doesn't belong there anymore, even if she hasn't realized it yet.
The protagonist will summon all of his internal resources, often following a visit to a mentor or oracle, and make one final heroic push to accomplish his external goal. This is the real point of no return.
Her old boss Fritz is certainly patronizing and condescending at the table, and a little sarcastic laughter suggests that this meeting will not be simple. Which cinematically means it cannot end the way it was supposed to, which means JC has to say no or we wouldn't be watching this meeting happen.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

i love to dress up and pretend

Under the opening titles, as Patti LaBelle sings "Something Special" we see different women in different outfits, in blocks that never show the whole person. Parts of women, parts of outfits, earrings, eye makeup, and yesterday (because I had completely forgotten the acting class angle of Outrageous Fortune, I thought for a moment this was going to be about women working in fashion. But no.

Cut to theatrical fencing class and Lauren is, to put it mildly, overeager. And we learn that her ambition is to play Hamlet. Cut to dance class. A gay guy who asks her out "to do some serious research" and she turns him down. Cut to Lauren and friend talking about not dating actors. They find the flyer for Korzenowski's workshop. Cut to Lauren outside her parents house in need of money. And I find myself confused because she could just do her own production of Hamlet with the $5000 her father gives her. And, Lauren's idea that Sandy can't go into an audition for the workshop
without a prepared classical monologue. That means Shaw, Ibsen, Shakespeare.
feels wrong. Like the screenwriter thought the audience would only understand stage acting within an extremely narrow scope. And, I'm reminded of Shakespeare in Love when all the actors audition with the same lines from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus--"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss." But Thomas Kent grabs Shakespeare's attention to by reciting lines that are 1) different and 2) from Shakespeare's own Two Gentlemen of Verona--
What light is light? If Sylvia be not seen? What joy is joy if Sylvia be not by? Unless it be to think that she is by and feed upon the shadow of perfection. Except, I be by Sylvia in the night. There is no music in the nightingale unless I look on Sylvia in the day. There is no day for me to look upon. She is my essence and I leave to be if I be not--
And, one must wonder in the context of Shakespeare in Love if Shakespeare is enamored because she compliments his writing or because she picked something unique. Is it ego or boredom? Or maybe both.

But even Will himself wouldn't hold up Hamlet as the epitome of theater. And he would tell her to find herself some funding--or rather get some more from her father--reserve a theater, run some auctions of her own, and play Hamlet already.

And I would say, take an interest in something less obvious.

But, as Lauren and Sandy get held up by a kid with a toy gun, I get distracted wondering what was popular in theater in the late 80s and further distracted by what's called "Great Theater Massacre of 1982". In 1973, hotelier John Portman Jr. Set out to build a hotel in Times Square. Three Broadway stages and 2 movie theaters would be demolished. Portman tried to appease his detractors with a promise of a new stage inside the hotel, but there were protests, plans were delayed. Portman backed down. For a while. In 1980, he returned with the support of Mayor Ed Koch. In 1982, enter Joe Papp, producer and director, and the "Save the Theaters" campaign. Broadway/Times Square was to be designated a national historic site. But, the bill to do so didn't pass, theaters were demolished, the hotel went up.

Meanwhile, Lauren and Sandy get along like girlfriends for a moment as they hesitate to finally confront Michael, and I get stuck still on Lauren's lines from earlier. Her plan for the audition was "Ophelia's mad speech" which I'm guess she means that "what a noble mind is here o'erthrown" bit in Act III, and I figure if Leslie Dixon wanted to make a female version of a buddy copy sort of movie, maybe she shouldn't hinge it on two women being stuck on a man who lied to them both. Maybe don't aim for feminism by having Lauren want, without any further explanation, to play Hamlet. And, maybe don't have her using a monologue that reinforces the female character's subservience to the male. Obsessing about Hamlet's madness and not her own.
(I do try to find another Ophelia monologue about madness and find none.)

I mean, the idea works, generally. A couple of women get caught up in a plot far bigger than them (like many an action film, not just buddy cop movies), the men around them, whether villains or supposed heroes, just get in the way, and the women have to get shit done themselves... Until they need help from George Carlin and a truckload of Mexicans. But then Lauren gets to win the final confrontation with Michael by jumping like she did in dance class and everything is just fine. The lying man is gone. He didn't release a toxin that could kill all the vegetation in California. And, Lauren gets to play Hamlet.

I'm not sure if it's feminist or not.

But, it's a comedy that has the identification of a body hinging on genital size, a lead come after the offer of a blow job, and the final locating of Michael (in a brothel no less) by listening to him climax with a prostitute, and my conservative mother still loved it.

Go figure.