Posts Tagged ‘classic’

Casablanca (1942) – Michael Curtis (Dir.), Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson

and

Troll 2 (1990) – Claudio Fragasso (Dir.), Michael Stevenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie Young

"Come, Ilsa. Let us smush faces!"

“Come, Ilsa. Let us smush faces!”

I haven’t updated in a while. For this I apologize. It’s not that I have stopped watching movies nor is it that the font of unending opinion that is my mouth has run dry. Quite the contrary. I have managed to watch a number of movies and my mouth is still running the gamut from complete nonsense to completer nonsensier. There’s a funny about the universe. There’s this one finite resource, so fleeting and yet essential to all activity, happiness and general ability to do things and yet, depending on the time of year, its availability and accessibility fluctuate more than Anne Heche’s Kinsey score (Yay late-90s jokes!) though its temperance and abundance is rigidly constant: time. Currently, I have none of it. You know, the opposite of some. As though some little holiday elf in the shape of some kind of fucking little hair-show, present-buying, salon-running Rumple-mutherfucking-stiltskin has snuck into my goddamn time vault and pulled a full on Ocean’s 11 with of all of my temporal reserves. All moments in between have shrunk into nothingness, reduced to a general amalgam of utter, unrelenting stress, a snowball of mental frazzilty (I just made that up. That is how my brain works with no time to take breaths. True story.) Thus, I remain timeless. In the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure to watch Skyfall twice because, well, apparently drinking your weight in bourbon (due to ‘panic attack’ becoming your general state of being) isn’t the most conducive activity when considering cohesive narrative. It was very good. See it. It turns into Home Alone starring Judi Dench at the end. It’s great. Just don’t drunkenly pass out in the front row. Sometimes you drool.

However, out of all of the ridiculous films I’ve witnessed, between all THREE FUCKING HOURS of The Great Escape, the entire 19,000 hour extended Lord of the Rings (Now with twelve endings instead of only nine!) and beginning American Horror Story, a television show so unsubtle, ridiculous and tasteless it could have been in Anna Nicole Smith’s entourage (too soon? Never too soon for late-90s jokes!) I’ve decided that my return to glory shall come in the least expected form. On two separate nights, I was encouraged, nay delighted to watch two movies that seemingly have nothing whatsoever in common. However, after a good deal of consideration, soul-searching and a lethal dose of holiday-season-insanity, I have found…no links at all. How can I write an article linking the two of them? Who fucking knows? I make it up as I go! This is my blog and who the fuck is going to stop me?

Look at that man, not giving a fuck.

Look at that man, not giving a fuck.

Two movies walk into a bar. She is one of the greatest movies ever made, a love story that manages to overcome the constraints of its time and become an immutable symbol of how love can blossom, die and rekindle the light even in the harshest of environments. He is the worst piece of turd milk ever squirted across a VHS player. On two entirely separate nights, two entirely separate audiences, I sat down with two entirely separate movies. On a cold, wine-filled evening, I settled into the couch, a symbol of modern urban safety, a land where you may travel to the very edges of the universe, emotion and the very depths of the human spirit without ever even breathing anything close to danger (unless you have a carbon monoxide leak…then you have other problems. I think you might die…but then again, I’m not a doctor. Who knows? It could be something that’s good for you but ‘Big Oxygen’ keeps spreading the lie that we ‘can’t’ ‘breathe’ ‘carbon monoxide’. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you! It goes all the way to Obama!), with my girlfriend and witnessed every beautiful moment of Casablanca’s 102 minute runtime. On another evening, sober as a bludgeoned badger (which is quite sober because badgers don’t drink. Idiot.) I took to another couch, my throne of snark, surrounded by lads and ladies, knights of the round bitchslap, a quorum of ridicule, a knitting circle of abject verbal brutality, and delighted in the agonizingly dilated hour and a half presented by the crap-a-licious Troll 2.

First of all, yes, scream it out: I had never seen Casablanca (Shock! Horror! Gore! Bush! Tipper! Gipper! Reagon! sdigfhbaigbafg ifg *&^*&^#()*#&@&R$@!&#…Sorry, I think I just blacked out. All this Christmas cheer is clogging my brain arteries. I think I’m going to wake up screaming bloody ‘Rudolph’ for months to come. The horror…the horror…) It is widely regarded as one of the greatest cinematic feats of all time; it’s included on almost every film critic’s ‘Best Of’ list; if Will Shortz doesn’t reference it at least twelve times in a week in the NYT crossword, the fucking apocalypse will come. Yes, it’s a cultural touchstone and icon of how fucking amazing 1940s romance-dramas can be. Yes, it has some of the most memorable lines of all time. Yes, it has Humphrey Bogart, a man made out of so much badass that a butcher took one look at him and declared, ‘Damn, that rump just can’t be served. It’s too fucking bad” (here played by Samuel L. Jackson). I’ve had this thing built up for years, people clamoring for me to watch, to witness it’s supposed greatness and, well, I can firmly say this, in my most eloquent, erudite, verbally agile critic voice: Casablanca is the tits. It seriously is. Just…beautiful, bouncy, life-giving, motorboat-ifiable tits. In all seriousness, it is so superbly acted, shot, written, crafted and woven into a tapestry of human heartache that you want to grab Claude Rains and just kiss him on that crazy French invisible-man mouth of his.

What’s Casablanca about? It’s about Casablanca. Good? Good. Moving on.

"Frankly my dear...wait... It's Chinatown, Jack... I mean, I'm Spartacus...SHIT." ~ Bogie, not the best with lines.

“Frankly my dear…wait… It’s Chinatown, Jack… I mean, I’m Spartacus…SHIT.” ~ Bogie, not the best with lines.

Okay fiiiiiiine, I’ll do a plot summary. So, there’s this place in 1942, Casablanca (I’m sure it still exists and existed before…or maybe it didn’t…who knows?). Pretty much everyone fleeing from the scourge of Nazism in Europe, instead of being vomited out of the mine-filled, Dunkirked mouth of Europe into the UK, has, like a bad Chinese dinner, flooded south. To Africa. Casablanca is the last place held by Nazi-occupied France before refugees can hope the pond over to the US. Rick owns a bar. Everyone ends up at Rick’s. Why, you ask? Because he’s the main character? Fuck no. It’s because he’s the only man in the history of time who would win in a gravel-off against Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones and George Mutherfucking Washington. Rick, by way of a child murderer (not really, but Peter Lorre is fucking terrifying), gets a hold of some exit papers that will allow any two people to escape Africa without question. Everyone wants them. Suddenly, Ilsa shows up with her hubby and enough soft focus to make a Barbara Walters interview jealous. Here’s the thing, Rick and Ilsa used to bang like a screen door in a hurricane while both were stuck in Paris…and then it turned out her husband wasn’t dead after all. Awkward! Will Rick and Ilsa get back together? Will he give her the pass and leave her revolutionary husband to die at the hands of the Nazis? Will Rick stay in this Beckett-ian purgatory in northern Africa and let his once-true-love leave with the man she married? Will the entire cast of the Maltese Falcon show up? Will Claude Rains have the time of his fucking life? Watch the damn movie.

"For you, free." ~ The great Mustache Ride deal of '42

“For you, free.” ~ The great Mustache Ride deal of ’42

I’m not sure that there is anything particular special about any one element of Casablanca that makes it so time-honored. Rick, Humprey “I Eat Nazis for Breakfast” Bogart, is at once callous and removed and at second vulnerable and heart-broken. Ilsa, Ingred “Not Ingmar, I Make That Mistake All the Time” Bergman, is beautiful, irresistible and caught between a rock and a hard place (INSERT DICK JOKE HERE). Renault, Claude “Long Live the Stache” Rains, is slippery, funny and utterly unpredictable. The dialogue is witty and heartfelt. The tale is soaked in longing and truly does encompass the entire gamut of feelings that come with meeting a paramour once more (yay internal rhyme! Oh shit, I just fucked it up. Whatever, I’m tired. Shut up.) after doing everything in your power to strike them from the record of your heart (“This whole arterial court is out of order!” ~ My Love Lawyers). What makes it so memorable is that the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. While other films might be more dramatic, more clever, more Werner-Herzog-Waggiling-His-Penis, none can quite find the glorious center that is Casablanca. It’s a cup of hot cocoa. It’s the the first snow of winter, the silent tumble of snowflakes touching virgin earth. It’s a wool sweater still warm after pulling it from the dryer. It’s the nestle of goosebumps that titter and tapper across your skin when you wake up next to someone you love. It is challenging, sad and life-affirming all at once. It is a tale that deserves its place in the forefront of the collective imagination, an immovable node that sets the harmonious movement of our fictional lives.

That is neither the child nor the monster in the film.

That is neither the child nor the monster in the film. This is made of win.

So…with that being said, let’s turn to Troll Mutherfucking 2. How to describe Troll 2? Perhaps how you would describe the innards of that one cooler you forgot to clean out in the middle of the summer after you went strawberry picking? Perhaps the same why you’d describe changing the diaper of a child with IBS? Perhaps the same way one would describe witnessing a train wreck in slow motion. You know, the second it begins, as that first wheel lifts from the track that it will only get worse and more agonizing with each passing second. The bloody corpses of passengers begin soaring through mangled metal and gore sprays in glorious arcs of horror across the nightfall. It is grotesque and gorgeous all at once. Troll 2 is one of the strongest candidates for ‘Worst Movie of All Time’ I have ever seen. If you take the baffling incompetency of Tommy Wiseau, mix in utterly misguided hatred of vegetarians, sprinkle a dose of Ewok, a dash of Willow, a whole lot of adolescent urination and the inexplicable passion of Italian crazy people, you get Troll 2. What’s it about? Well, it’s not about a Troll, I’ll tell you that. It’s about Goblins that live in Nilbog (See what they did there? Well, apparently none of the characters do until the halfway mark *HEADDESK*). They eat people…but only after the people eat stuff that turns them into plants. Here is the brilliant thing, no amount of description can convey how baffling this film is. While Casablanca creates something great from good components, Troll 2 makes some fucking awfully, ass-sprayingly brilliant from a whole bunch of terrible. It’s not just one of those movies that’s so bad it’s good. It’s so bad it’s one of the greatest cult films of all time. There are rabid masses of fans who gather at midnight showings to celebrate the wonderfully unfortunate existence of this film.

Here is a platter of BS this film has to offer: inexplicable dance sequences, the worst reaction shot of all time, a popcorn orgy assassination, a ghost with selectively omnipotent powers, stonehenge, cheeseburgers as a climatic plot point, plant-vomit-sweat, a woman whose eyebrows deserve Oscar nominations, a general store owner more discomforting than your creepy uncle after two cognacs at Thanksgiving, and the line, “You can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!”. My friends and I couldn’t stop laughing for the entire length of this crap-tacular vegan-bash. It, like The Room, has tapped into the null space, the magical nothingness between ‘brilliance’ and ‘bullshit’. It’s the universe’s funny bone, a nerve cluster that has no right to be there and yet, every now and then, something just bad enough manages to lodge itself firm. However, again, it’s something that can’t be described (yes, even by me, a man who delights in explaining the inexplicable with broken, useless metaphors, supple peaches of explanation…shut up, I’m tired). Just gather a group of friends, a lot of alcohol, sit back and enjoy.

Apparently, one is never meant to urinate on hospitality. I urinate only on things without a tangible form.

Apparently, one is never meant to urinate on hospitality. I urinate only on things without a tangible form.

To be completely honest, I don’t want to discuss Troll 2 right now but rather its fascinating cinematic counterpart, Best Worst Movie. After the irrefutable tanking of this crud-meister of a movie hit VHS, pretty much every lead actor found themselves shit out of work. The son, who was slated to be a child star (though he spends a good deal of the run time with a face that looks halfway between breaking constipation and the worst orgasm anyone has ever had), found himself destroyed and his career over. Michael Stephenson, later in life, decided to make a documentary about making Troll 2 and what happened to the cast twenty years down the line. What ensues is a fascinating and fairly hands-off observation of the power of cult cinema, the incomparable zeal of bad-movie fans, and a critique of wash-up convention-attending celebrities. The father in Troll 2, a delightfully Alabaman man (you know, after you get past the familial abuse and all that), was played by a dentist who auditioned to be an extra. Thrust into the limelight, though magnetic in every way, the poor George Hardy can’t act his way out of paper bag with clearly marked exits. Pretty much the entire cast is just excited to be included in a cultural event, once again offered undeserved attention and adored by clamoring fans of the terrible. What is truly fascinating is the director of Troll 2. Claudio Fragasso, a man who could pass as Ron Jeremy’s European body double, is an artist who has completely detached himself from cognizant reality. When asked about the movie, he says, “It’s an important film. It’s about life, death, family.” As the runtime prattles on, you discover that Sig. Fragasso lives on a different plane of existence than the rest of us. His belief in his own work is so honest, passionate and unbreakable that it’s almost astonishing.

She looks like if Judi Dench was a stripper.

She looks like if Judi Dench was a stripper.

And I realized, while watching this man talk about the human spirit and, at the same time, remember the scene where the Goblin queen seduces the last of the boys with a popcorn explosion, that, in the end, it’s not about skill with the camera or talent. It’s about passion. We, as people, can sniff out cynicism like little truffle pigs wandering through fields of discarded film reel. So many directors for hire have pooped out films that they couldn’t have given a second shit about over the years. But Fragasso truly believes in his work. He wished to offer the world a gift, a gift of his artistic vigor. The only issue is that he has absolutely no talent. None. Like…negative talent, in that talent wanders in his direction and is gored into submission and returned from the dead, a husk of talent-flesh, a forte-zombie, the genius-undead. But it’s the passion. If this had been some kind of cynical pass at a money-making scam (*cough* Indiana Jones 4 – Kingdom of the Crystal MONEY PLEASE *cough*) it would have been a bland unwatchable piece of filmic detritus that would have long perished in the black hole of utter pointlessness. Instead, this is a man’s dream, his life goal, his soul bared plain to see. Instead, it is an eminently watchable unwatchable piece of glorious piece of filmic detritus that has crawled, puss-spewing from the maw of time-wasting to cheer, like some kind of shitty Rocky, arms high and proud, ready to wrastle its detractors one at a time.

I'll never look at grandmothers, raisins or Mickey Rourke the same way ever again.

I’ll never look at grandmothers, raisins or Mickey Rourke the same way ever again.

When my friend Jesse informed me that “life was finite”, it took a while to understand the terror of what that actually means. As my December minutes whittle away into nothingness I discover that, even though I have to find time to actually write, the activity I love most in the world (maybe second most), while at work (yes, so sue me. I work 60 hours a week. Deal with it), I have found time to watch movies. They are a constant in my life. It’s not that they’re escapes, tiny transitory bubbles of safety that pop after only an hour and a half. They’re more than that. When done correctly, they are glorious little glimpses into the giddy souls of people with more money than you. Artists of both infinite and infinitesimal ability. I don’t know what it is, but sharing in this genius is just as exciting, fulfilling and life-affirming as sharing in the absolute lack thereof. In the end, quality or not, we love passion. A gentleman like Mr. Wiseau, Mr. Fragasso, even the king of shittiness Mr. Ed Wood aren’t artists because they create works that reveal the greatness of the human spirit. But it’s their tenacity, their self-belief, their strength of character in the face of all critical adversity that moves us and reveals something else. In terms of drive, these men are on par with your Scorcesses, your Coppolas, your Wellses, your Curtises. But you don’t see them get flabby and old. You don’t get to see them break, them lose faith in humanity (Shutter Island? Transformers the Animated Movie? Everything after Godfather Part II?), they have these single sparks of brilliance, a stamp on our cultural history and nothing more.

Casablanca did something for me. It proved what a great film could be without ever knowing it was going to be. There is no doubt in my mind that this thing was going to be just another war film. But it became so much more. Troll 2 did something for me. It proved how fucking awful film can be on an almost anti-deistic level. Two ends of the spectrum that add to the same end. Once again, it goes to show that great films are to be loved, the worst films are to be loved. The art that is left by the wayside, the pointless annoying lackadaisical pieces of nothing, are those that lack any drive. The ‘meh’s. The ‘alrights’. The ‘fiiiiiiiines’. Make it big! Make it bold! And actually give a shit about what you do. Always.

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Carrie (1976) – Brian De Palma (Dir.), Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta

“I just love what Carrie’s doing with that dress. Pig’s Blood? Genius. Not even Lady Gaga has thought that one up!” ~ Ryan Seacrest, as always, not getting it.

Last, and certainly not least, we have the final winner of the Hallow-Mooney Spook-tacular Watch-a-thon 2012. This little ditty of a sexual-education-film-gone-wrong is the beginning of so many things. It was the first book to bear the moniker ‘Stephen King’ below its inscription, the first of, apparently, an infinite number of tomes. It was also Sissy “Dirty Pillows” Spacek’s first big movie. In addition, it’s the greatest origin story of an X-Man ever. I wish the new Brian Singer movies had more vaginal bleeding, bitch slaps and John Travolta before losing his hair and becoming a cult leader. This is a classic for so many reasons and, with my ladyblogger Erin at my side, the libations flowed, so did the callbacks, the witticisms and the unbridled “What the fuck???”s. Yes, this movie wins several awards in my eyes, such as “Most Educational Film for Young Boys About Periods”, “Most Travolta As the Bad Guy” (eking out the uproarious Face/Off, which, in turn, wins for ‘Most Bad Guy Impaled with a Harpoon’) and, the highly coveted, ‘Most Pig’s Blood-Themed Prom’. Holy Lord. Where to begin?

Carrie. Oh, poor, sad, delirious, confused, eye-liner-challenged Carrie. Carrie White is a girl with the mother from Hell. Ironically, other than giving into men who taste supremely of bourbon, Mrs. Margaret White (a superb and frizzy Piper “Yes, She Was in the Faculty As Well, I Had No Idea!” Laurie) happens to be a fanatic of almost Paul Ryan levels of misogyny (ELECTION BURN!). Poor little Carrie White. She doesn’t get her first period until senior year of high school and the fallout is one of perplexing proportions…in that all the other girls begin pelting her with tampons and maxipads. Then the unfortunately Farah Fawcett-ed gym teacher (badass, Betty Buckley) breaks it up. This was confusing to me. Isn’t the maxi-pad pelting an accepted moon-cycle ritual, accompanied closely by the never-ending fountain of chocolate, uncontrollable crying competitions and a sacrifice of a live goat to Artemis? (My understanding of the female reproductive system is relegated to my purely abstinence-only upbringing and my British Pagan rites. I apologize, that was redundant. Everything in England is Pagan). After winning the ‘Batshit Crazy Screaming and Offering her Secreted Uterine Lining to Other Girls’ contest, Miss Carrie receives the first bitch-slap of the film and a light explodes. Interestingly, De Palma, a man not known for either horror movies or general subtlety (Scarface, anyone?), borrows from several other classics in the horror genre, both past and future. Whenever Carrie turns into an unhinged Professor X (without the gravitas or the Star Trek ties) De Palma plays the classic Psycho sound cue. Also, I believe her period, in terms of both heft and flow, was a direct reference to the scene where the Noah’s Arc sized flood of human gore rushes out of the elevator in The Sining. I might be wrong on that one.

“JAM! I FUCKING HATE JAM!” ~ Carrie, uninformed.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. Carrie is the social pariah of the school, what with her uncomfortably pale eyelashes and a disposition more nervous than Mitt Romney at a Gay Pride Parade (ANOTHER ELECTION BURN!). Due to her indiscretion and awkwardly shaped boobs in the initial scene, the rest of the girls are punished to detention with Miss Collins. From that point on, Carrie, and the rest of the school are doomed. What entails is perhaps the most straight-forward Kingian tale ever told, a whole lot of glow-in-the-dark Jesus statues, screaming, crying, lack of mascara, frizz, pig’s blood, flipping muscle cars, split-screens, impalements, people getting repeatedly slapped and general high school hijinks. Anyone who knows anything about pop culture is perfectly aware of where the tale culminates. It’s all pretty by the numbers, with a few religiously repressed flourishes here and there (DIRTY PILLOWS, DIRTY PILLOWS, DIRTY PILLOWS. I guffawed). And, though the general plot and theme of the tale were nothing new or surprising, I discovered a number of things as the film sauntered by. Firstly: the Seventies were apparently a lawless era, a wasteland of moral depravity and emotional anarchy that it would have made even Mad Max blush. We have teachers smoking in the Principal’s office. Miss Collins repeatedly slaps one of her students. No fucking joke. The girl is giving her lip, and like a pimp, Collins just backhands the shit out of her. For a moment, I thought she’d through some leopard print fur around her shoulders, take out a bejeweled cane, walk down the line, ripping out benjamins from bra-straps and telling her students they, “be some trippin’-ass hoes”. It was that level of pimpdom. Uncomfortable for everyone.

Bitch, it’s called a diffuser. Get one.

Secondly: When a horror movie, even one as thematically basic as this one, is placed in the hands of an actual film director, some odd things occur. You care about characters. Let that sink in. I know. It’s fucked up. Usually, horror film pieces of cardboard caricatures can be filed into their absurd tropes and the timing of their death is inversely proportional to the size of their mammaries. However, when Brian “I Made Kevin Costner Palatable” De Palma, who has given the world such greats as The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, and the dithyrambic insanity that was Dionysus, gets his meaty claws on a script that is actually about the horrors of high school and the active terror most girls find in their growing bodies, we end up with something worth watching. The most interesting aspect of the script, moving past the unhinged mother and slap-happy pimp queen gym teacher, one of the main ‘Mean Girls’ actually relinquishes her duties of being a Cee U Next Tuesday and reaches out to little Miss White. Up until the ending, you aren’t clear on whether the more brunette (and therefore better person, that’s just science) girl is actually setting Carrie up for further ridicule or if she really does want to give her a night to remember with her boyfriend on Carrie’s arm. I literally began freaking out when Nancy, who is unable to attend prom without a date, leaves dinner to sprint to the event. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it…but I actually cared if this girl was evil or not. That’s a big fucking deal for me. Thank you Mr. De Palma.

And then everyone dies. Some deaths are more hilarious than others. Mostly it’s just horrifying.

Hey, dude, Fabio called. He wants his pubes back.

The question that I was forced to ask once it was all said and done was simple: is this a feminist movie? It’s a bizarre catch-22 that we find. On the one hand, it’s about the unnatural act of repressing female sexuality to the point of literal ignition (we all know those all consuming flames at the end were sex fires. You can’t pull the wool over our eyes, Mr. De Palma!). That, in essence, is feminist. On the other hand, though, what is it that is so supernatural about the female form that it has the ability to break the laws of physics in almost witch-like terms? What is one of the more compelling aspects of King’s world is that he never explains why or where the telekinesis came from. Is it heaven sent? Borne of Satan? The prequel to an extremely lucrative film franchise (ignoring Wolverine)? Though it is a tale about a girl having girl problems with other girls, it is still written by a gentleman who, though empathetic, obviously sees said issues as otherish. Perhaps it is driven home by Mr. De Palma, who isn’t really known for doing anything other than have men point penises guns at other men. A remake is going to arrive in theaters fairly soon featuring the adorable and murderous Chloe “Hit Girl” Moretz and Julianne “The Dude is so Lucky” Moore. What intrigues me is that, at the helm is the totally awesome Kimberly Pierce, famous for Boys Don’t Cry and kicking ass one of my favorite documentaries of all time: This Film is Not Yet Rated. Will we be treated to a far less-70s, far more in-depth and sympathetic view of the character? Will budgetary constraints sterilize what could be a bitchin’ brutal gore fest into a tame Twilight-era snore-a-thon? Will it simply be a whorish mess, soaking up the dollar bills so Miss Collins can waltz by and slap out a wad? Who knows?

All I can say is this: if John Travolta ever suggests dumping pig’s blood on someone, don’t do it. Get in the car, clean up the cocaine, grab the adrenaline shot for the passed-out hooker and put the pedal to the metal. You can wake the girl up later. Travolta is mutherfucking crazy.

Drive! Just get away! No good can ever come of the TRAVOLTA.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) – Alfred Hitchcock (Dir.), Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave

She didn’t vanish…she’s above the train. She’s right there, guys…

There’s a gentleman who existed once. Many years ago. He entered filmmaking, a hidden specter, pumping out films as though they were Irish babies (that’s three a year), subtly and gently redefining how we understand tension and visual storytelling. Part silhouetted shadow of night, part Winston Churchill impersonator, this man is a master of thrillers, a godfather of horror and a delight of British sensibility. I am, of course, talking about Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

We all know Hitchcock as the man who brought us Norman Bates, a fear of biplanes flying over our heads in corn fields, and James Stewart watching us get dressed from his rear window. Hitchcock’s name is synonymous with cinematic excellence and class (as well as ‘ornithophobia’, but that’s because ‘ornithophobia’ is recklessly difficult to say.). However, what you might not have known is that Hitchcock’s career spanned about forty years. Watching a movie from his earlier years (i.e. The Lady Vanishes) and one from 1960 (Psycho) would be like comparing Oliver Stone’s Platoon, a grim, well-shot, brilliantly scripted Vietnam thriller, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps a movie that thinks it’s better than the numeral ‘2’…and that Shia Lebeouf isn’t completely fucking terrible. It would be like comparing Scorcesse’s Goodfella’s to Hugo. Both good, but occupying opposing beds in the overnight train of Marty’s long career. A train fraught with gunfights, Jack Nicholson wearing a strap-on, and people demanding to know if you think they’re funny, like a fucking clown.

Speaking of trains: This movie. Hitchcock loves his trains. We have strangers meeting on them, we have people taking them North by Northwest. I’m not sure what about these locomotives endlessly fascinated the man, but every chance he gets, he cuts to a vehicle rolling by, pounding and steaming its way along. Inadequacy issues, perhaps?

Tell me I’m wrong. I dare you. Alright, that’s it, outside, after school. Gloves off.

Well, in a nutshell, this thing is about a spoiled spark-plug Iris (Margaret Lockwood, doing her best to confuse the shit out of me with a half-English/half-American garble of an accent. Which was it? IT DROVE ME CRAZY) befriending an old woman, Mrs. Froy (Dame May Witty – not sure if she was a dame or she was just badass enough to demand that it was put in the credits) on a train going through the Eastern European country of *muffled cough and change subject*. After getting hit on the head, she passes out and Mrs. Froy is gone. Nobody on the train remembers her. Everyone thinks can’t-decide-what-side-of-the-fucking-pond-she-came-from Iris is crazy. Except for famed parent of everyone famous, and Petyr Baelish look-a-like, Michael Redgrave. He had a character…I guess he played music and was writing a book…or reading a book…point is, he looks like Petyr Baelish and he is dashing as all hell. It seems that Mrs. Froy was just a pigment of Iris’ imagination, but, remember, this is Hitchcock…

While watching this classic, I decided that this was the same plot I’d seen before with a woman on a train going missing and whatnot. And then I remembered that I HAD seen it before…on stage when I was a wee little shit. About the point when they discover the magic cabinet, I had a moment of “Eureka!” And stripped down naked. My roommates don’t appreciate when I do this and I don’t appreciate them stifling me, both emotionally and artistically, so they can shut their whore mouths. Anyhoo…When I was about ten, my parents dragged my brother and myself to see a campy adaptation of this movie made for the London stage. If I remember correctly…it sucked. I never saw the second half because either I A) Fell asleep (extremely plausible) B) left in a huff because the two old women in front of us complained that my brother and I were “Eating our sweets too loudly.” Well, missies, you’re lucky you can still hear anything. As your bodies break down and the last wisps of youth flitter away into oblivion, you’ll be glad you could hear my damn sweets. Enjoy eternal nothingness. Jerks.

It was an apt translation to the stage, I discovered as the plot unfurled and the characters grew ever-more ridiculous. It’s about as campy as Ru Paul starting a musical theater company. Is this the same Hitchcock that made me fear tennis matches? That pushed Jimmy Stewart to the brink of madness? It’s almost easy to forget that Hitchcock isn’t just British, he’s as British as the bloody leg-before-wicket rule enacted at the third test match of the Ashes after a fortnight of raining cats and dogs. Or, simply, ‘British as fuck’, in American. We have these two men, Caldicott and Charters who wander from scene to scene, complaining about foreigners (their food, their language, their lack of up-to-date cricket information and their not-being-british). Now, I like to think I’m an enlightened person, an ally to the LGBTQ community…but these guys were about as gay and a sausage eating contest in a Nazi all-boys school. Like…prep school gay. Like…St. Paul airport bathroom gay. In summation: these two ‘hetero-life mates’ and their discussion of ‘cricket’ was nothing more than a prelude to good old, weepy, shameful, don’t-tell-your-mother penis-to-penis. And yet…it never comes up. Ever. Nobody mentions a word. They just accept these two confirmed bachelors climbing into bed together shirtless and don’t blink an eye. Oh the English.

“No, that’s preposterous, there’s no nob-gobbling here! We’re simply discussing the trade routes of the the Dutch-East India company’s…Caldicott, stop nibbling my earlobe!”

That aside, the whole ordeal waffled between taught political thriller and a damn pantomime. When the doctor (so obviously, gloriously malicious and yet NO ONE SUSPECTS HIM) tells Iris that Mrs. Froy “Never existed,” I had half a mind to yell “Oh, yes she did!” And he’d have turned to the camera and stated flatly, “Oh. No, she didn’t.” And I’d yell back, “Oh, yes she…” The point I’m trying to make is that pantos are fucking insufferable. They’re like strapping two toddlers to your head and dousing them in pepper. Entertaining for about six seconds until you have the sensation of a miniature foot kicking you in the temples from both sides for two hours. There was NO TENSION in the entire film. For about 20 minutes you question if Iris is just suffering from ‘crazy bitch-itis’ and this whole thing is just playing out in her head in some mental institution on the outskirts of *cough and mumble, change the subject*. But then you find out what’s going on. The second you question a motive, the motive is made clear. There is no suspense.

And then the fights scenes…oh lordy. There are two. And they are amazing. Both brilliant and horribly terrible that you stare on in utter shock. First, the fist fight. It’s like two virgins who decided they were both subs, thereby both of them are tied up, trying to dry hump each other into oblivion. And Iris stands to the side, gently kicking their bottoms. It reminded me why I’m so glad virginity is not a permanent affliction. Next: a gunfight so nonchalant, you’d think it was cucumber that was simply too cool for academics, thus it lies there, not giving a fuck. People are shooting, sort of. It’s the most painfully British shoot-out since the Queen decided that she didn’t want to go to the royal wedding and capped a few guards. I think that happened. I heard about it.

This movie didn’t seem to care. An overwhelming sense of distance hung in the air, forcing any connection with the characters into the sidelines, leaving these oddballs of British sensibilities to flounce further down the road of absurdity. This was codified for me when Charters (the tweedly named Basil Radford – I know, right? People actually have names like that) walks out of the train and gets shot in the hand. He doesn’t react. He doesn’t do anything. He just glances down and walks back inside. After getting shot. In the hand. WHAT? What’s confusing about the entire ordeal is that sometimes it exemplifies Hitchcock’s strengths: his ability to visually advance the plot, his sense of wit and character, his complex plotting…and yet the rest is a floundering mess of Anglican hilarity.

Is he shooting? Or just pointing out that there are people trying to murder them in that general direction?

It’s difficult to tell if this was intentionally a comedy or simply so soaked in goofiness that Goofie would have asked them to “cool on that shit.” (And then Goofie would knock down his sunglasses, rev his engine, look into the camera one last time and declare ‘Derrrrr. See ya later!’ He’d ride off into the night, just a light dwindling into the mountains, a ghost drifting from our lives as quickly as he had entered. We’ll miss you, Goofie. God rest his soul.) Excuse me. Sorry. To the point: Hitchcock  is a master, a genius even. Perhaps this absurdity was simply an extended piece of satire, singling out the British as completely disconnected from the international community, people who emulate their island dwelling, repelling all invaders attempting to broaden their world view. The central plot point is that there is a message that needs to get back to the Foreign Office about two major European powers joining forces. Since this was made in ’38, Hitchcock couldn’t say who it was…but let’s assume it rhymes with Shmermany and Shmussia. Perhaps he was kicking the Brits where the sun don’t shine, a very naughty place no one should mention in polite company, in order to force them into the international community on the brink of world war.

Or, perhaps, it was just really silly. Like…really, really, really silly. It’s a fascinating relic, a milestone on a career so prolific it would make Joyce Carol Oates say ‘Damn, son.’ See this movie. I laughed more during the length of its run-time than I have in a long while.