Recently Rated Movies #9: Birthday Drums but a Non-Drumstick Thanksgiving in Santa Rosa

"This is exactly the sort of music that could get me pregnant!" - J-Men Forever (1979)

Every time that I travel somewhere, whether a new city or a town which I have visited numerous times (such as Santa Rosa), and no matter what I am doing and how much I am enjoying it, my eye is always automatically drawn towards every movie theatre that I pass. We could be passing through the schlumpiest village, with no intentions on ever stopping in the accursed hole, and if I see even the most bedraggled movie-house, invariably trapped in between some antique store and some Mom and Pop Hardware Stop, my heart will immediately yearn to stop for a look-see at the joint and, if time permits, a movie. But my love for the movies doesn't merely end at viewing a film. 

I enjoy collecting visits to movie theatres nearly as much as I enjoy going to museums and zoos and the other touristy things that I tend to do on vacations. Especially older theatres from the early or middle part of the 20th century, but I even find a thrill in hitting modern cineplexes, if only to gather extra fuel on how much I continue to despise the postage stamping of the cinema (though I fully acknowledge the upsides of cineplexes, too, minor though they may be). In any hobby, collectors set their own standards: philatelists may prefer to only gather materials from a certain area or era of stamp collecting, or they can try out stamps from any and all eras, countries and types. Such is the way it is for myself and movie theatres. I wish to check out any theatre, and by proxy, any movie, anywhere that I can find one.

Unfortunately, we were so busy that we were unable to hit any theatres on this past weekend's trip up to my brother's house, especially with most of the time taken up with preparing and pulling off my nephew Aerin's (also known as Rupert or the Rupe) awesome fifth birthday party. There was talk of a visit to the Rialto in Santa Rosa to see a midnight show revival of Young Frankenstein, talk which only served to drive me mad: happily insane at first at the possibility of such an occurrence, which then switched to despondency once we discovered that the Brooks-Wilder classic had actually shown two weeks earlier. Drat... and double drat.


Despite this horrid setback, I did manage to view a near handful of DVDs while happily ensconced at The M'Otis Arms (and pick up two interesting discs on our travels into San Francisco). An inaugural viewing of The Princess Bride for the Rupe was nearly as much of an adventure as the film itself. Armed with shield and wooden sword, the self-proclaimed "fearless" five year-old found himself much tested on the field of battle. My brother Otis and I spent the majority of the film calming his anxieties regarding bad guys that start out looking like good guys, good guys that start out looking like bad guys, a hero who dresses in the garb of a masked pirate, the torture machine in the Pit of Despaiiiirrrrr, and especially, the R.O.U.S.'s in the Fire-Swamp.

Refreshingly, though not for the Rupe, the scene that was most upsetting was the savage bit of violence involving Count Rugan's throwing of the dagger into Inigo Montoya's stomach. I recalled my bad dreams after I saw Flynn's Captain Blood at an early (though slightly older) age, even though the film led me to a love for swashbucklers. Of course, despite his fears, the Rupe wouldn't let us turn off the film. And, of course, I spent the majority of the rest of the weekend being lassoed and dispatched in my new role as an avuncular R.O.U.S., though I was often joined in my monstrous service by my Brother Rodent of Unusual Size. As for the film itself, seeing it alongside a much younger pair of eyes that thrilled to its every turn of plot, reminded me of just how nearly perfect Rob Reiner got the original book's tone, and also of what a grand adventure The Princess Bride remains to this day.

Later on Thanksgiving evening came time for the adults (ha!) to watch Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Un long dimanche de fiancailles (A Very Long Engagement), which I missed in the theatres because I was too deeply involved in my move to So Cal, and which I was really pissed off about missing because I adore Audrey Tautou. Marci (my sister-in-law) said that she had heard that Ms. Tautou wasn't really the sweet thing that she portrayed in Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (also Jeunet), and that she was supposedly a twat. I answered "Precisely..." 

I enjoyed A Very Long Engagement, as much as I can enjoy a film that immerses itself in the human misery that was World War I so deeply and savagely. I get upset by war pictures (as any sane human should) in much the same way that the Rupe was upset by the dagger scene mentioned above, so much so that much of the film was extremely rough going for me. But I enjoyed the mystery in the film, there were some gorgeously filmed set pieces, and there was some well-played dark humor, as well. As with other Jeunet joints, I will definitely get my own copy at a later date.

Friday night was spent putting together an awesome drum set for the Rupe (and seeing the Keith Moonisms erupt at the party the next day -- by which I mean on the drums -- was the high point of the trip, though the music jam that took hold of the party was pretty sweet, too), but I had spent two nights swearing that Mark and I were going to stay up late some night and watch his copy of J-Men Forever, a spoof of Republic serials and conservative mores that two members of the Firesign Theatre contrived in the late '70s. It says quite proudly on the case that it was a staple of USA's Night Flight lineup throughout the '80s and, sure enough, that is exactly the last place that I saw it myself, around 20 years ago, and I was not going to leave Santa Rosa without watching the goddamn thing. So, our path was clear and, tired as we were from the day's travels and travails, we set ourselves down to view it. 

Luckily, for our sleep-deprived heads, J-Men Forever is only 75 minutes long, though Otis zonked for the last 20 minutes of it. Of course, he had already seen it several times recently. I am most happy to report that J-Men Forever holds up beautifully. Only a few of the jokes are truly dated, and most of the film had me howling with nostalgic delight. It also spawned a small civil skirmish in my brain, with one side laughing uproariously at the screen antics and the other side seeking to heroically defend the '40s serials that were being mocked. But merriment reigned supreme in this battle, and I set aside my outrage and simply enjoyed the experience.

Late Saturday night, my brother Chris, flung down from the boondocks of some wilderness village known as Seattle, joined us for a small reunion which we ended with an early a.m. viewing of a DVD from an issue of The Believer, a literary magazine much in vogue at this point in time. 6 short films of varying genre, style, attitude and length, ranging from less than a couple of minutes to over 20, all joined together at the hip in brother/sisterhood due to the fact that they are merely different from the mainstream mindset. 

Chief amongst these films for me was a hilarious short by Guy Maddin (he of The Saddest Music in the World fame) called Sombra Dolorosa, in which Mexican wrestling, voodoo and cannibalism are combined in an odd-tasting but satisfying stew (much like most of the Maddin that I have seen). The longest short, and equally satisfying as a film, was Squash, where the cutthroat business world finds its way onto a racquetball court, and everything is on the line for a much put-upon employee and his hissable villain of a superior. Ethics schmethics! The briefest film, and the one that I have been thinking about most since I viewed the disc, was Sweeter As the Years Roll By (Pt. 3). It consists of a single static shot of an escalator (it could even be from a surveillance camera), and while the escalator continues to roll ceaselessly, a hand holds a white marker down over the safety grip of the device, drawing one long white line that eventually connects once the track is played out completely. I, for one, have never considered just how much track there was in an escalator, and really have never given escalators much thought in general. That has changed.

On our trip into San Francisco to see the De Young Museum, we did take a side trip over to Haight-Ashbury, where we not only ate our fill of neo-Cuban cuisine at Cha Cha Cha's, but I also managed to hit the Giant Robot store across the street. As much as I would have liked to purchase nearly everything in the joint, I only walked out with a box which could have held any number of figures from Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai), but which turned out, happily for me, to contain Kurosawa-san himself (or, rather, a tiny plastic molded figurine of the director). He even has a change of swell hats! 

At Amoeba Records, I made off (legally) with a copy of The Archers' The Tales of Hoffman, a film which I have never seen but has consistently remained on my "To See" list for much of my life. Additionally, while at the gift shop at the De Young, I purchased, at the passionate behest of Otis, a DVD of In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger. Henry Darger was an artist of whom I have read a several retrospective articles, though I have only seen his art in those same magazines. I was even inspired enough by the little that I had seen and by his story to construct a brief poem in which he is a central figure. I am looking forward to viewing the disc given just how ecstatic both of my brothers are about it.

So, to sum up, while I didn't get to any new (or rather, old) movie theatres, I did manage to see or collect a few things on my travels.

And I am still mad about the Young Frankenstein debacle, though...


The List:

The Princess Bride (1987) DVD - 8
A Very Long Engagement (2004) DVD - 7
J-Men Forever (1979) DVD - 6
Deformer (2000) Believer DVD - 5
Is A Woman (unknown) Believer DVD - n/r
Tortured By Joy (unknown) Believer DVD - n/r
Sombra Dolorosa (2004) Believer DVD - 7
Sweeter As the Years Roll By (Pt. 3) (unknown) Believer DVD - n/r
Squash (2002) Believer DVD - 7

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