A Preparatory Indulgence, Pt. 3: Oh yeah, that's a really good one...
I was lost in a cinematic un-wilderness of my own creation, so I threw myself into senseless social networking in order to run away from the painful notion that I was not really a horror fan anymore.
And then someone brought about the added notion that perhaps I wasn't even a movie fan at all.
It wasn't intentional on the other person's part. It was merely a simple question that led me to this state: "Surely, you've seen The Last Detail?"
For those out there who have never seen The Last Detail, it is an Oscar-nominated 1973 film directed by Hal Ashby and starring Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid, in which two MPs show a naval prisoner one last good time before they escort him to prison for what they consider to be an unfair sentence.
And no, I have never actually seen it. Never more than twenty minutes or so of it, and actually, what I had seen was the ending of the film when I ran into on cable by mistake. "What's this? Oh, it's Jack Nicholson with a properly folded Gilligan hat. Must be The Last Detail." I knew of the film. I just had not seen it all the way through.
But what I said to this person was, "Oh, yeah, that's a really good one. Nicholson... Quaid... Great film!"
What I was not prepared for was their followup, which began, "Well, you know that scene where they...," at which point I blanked out, because I knew then I had committed myself to a series of nods, grunts, more mutterings of "oh yeah," and the eventual admittance that "it had really been a long time since I had seen it, so I really don't remember the details of The Last Detail that well." I then sell the wimpy pun on the title with a self-amused chuckle, and then we start to riff on further puns on the word "detail" or of a naval variety, and the moment gets lost in the haze of mid-afternoon buffoonery. I crawled out of the wreckage of poor conversation once more, but this time, there was scarring. Luckily, though, there was also a form of resolution at hand.
We have all performed this little act -- pretending to have seen something we haven't -- whether you wish to admit it or not. Ofttimes it is used to keep the conversation moving, such as when one does not wish to keep talking to that person any longer than one has to, or especially in party situations when someone has just been introduced to you, and you'd much rather move on to the cute girl over there rather than keep speaking to the boring movie ponce directly in front of you. (And, ofttimes, I am that boring movie ponce... but we all reside on both sides of this fence.) And many times, it is just used to keep the peace: "Sure, I've seen that!" Assimilation, conformity, or just getting through another spirit-crushing workday... call if what you will. But we all have done it at some time or another. No harm, no foul. Little white lies to keep the small talk small.
And experience in this area should have better prepared me for the follow-up that seems to arrive about six times out of ten, that bit with the scene in question. Despite knowing this query will arrive at some point more often than not, you think I could have a better answer in reserve than, "Oh, yeah, well, er, um, yeah... isn't that the bit where they... (throw in whatever scene you might happen to know is in the film)?"
The actual bit with The Last Detail wouldn't have bothered me so much if it hadn't come so quickly on the heels of three other inquiries (from at least two other sources in addition to the fellow above) as to whether I had seen a particular film or not. Save the Tiger, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and A Guide for the Married Man had all whacked me full in the face in the months previous to this question, and I was already smarting pretty badly. I've never gotten near seeing Save the Tiger, despite the fact that I love Jack Lemmon and it is one of his pair of Oscar-winning performances. For years, I saw a copy of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz sitting on the shelf at Video City, and just couldn't get past what I perceived to be an annoyingly pretentious title. I just passed by the cover time and again, thinking about renting it because back then Richard Dreyfuss was still interesting to watch, and then choosing something more along the lines of Hell Night or Graduation Day instead, solely because they were horror movies and there might be a good chance that I could see tits in one of those.
And A Guide for the Married Man? I ran into it on cable all the time, and I had considered watching it because of Walter Matthau, but seeing just a couple of minutes triggers my "Sixties Defense": an automatically triggered, impenetrable shield that drops down about me anytime I am confronted by what appears to be cheesiness from the '60s and early '70s. Beehive hairdos, too much fringe, gorillas on motorcycles, a preponderance of non-ironic hippie behavior, extended go-go or cocktail party sequences, pornstar-style mustaches, shag carpeting, lapels that are far too wide, Ali McGraw... these are all triggers for my Sixties Defense, though there are many more items that can do it. (I suppose it needs a better name, since that same mood -- and Ali McGraw -- also spills over the '70s.)
It's odd that this arose in me, especially given that I was born in 1964, and the last time I checked, I lived through both of those decades. Clearly, this defense mode developed out of a need to blind myself to the times in which I was raised. Perhaps it was also a side effect extending from my parents' divorce and my general unhappiness. And such a defense mode really doesn't make sense when you consider that there are so many films from those decades that I love very much. But, when you examine the films, it becomes obvious. Most of the ones I do love from that time don't take place in those times. Westerns, science fiction, historical epics; if any details from the times in which they were created slipped in, I seem to have been able to chalk it up to casual sloppiness. Hardly any films from that era outside of the aforementioned genres, though, that took place at the time of their making, show up on my "love" list, except maybe Dog Day Afternoon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
There are always exceptions to any self-imposed rule. We are all hypocrites on some level here and there. Horror movies, though, were different. I loved so many of the '70s horror films, and yes, they tended to be more modern, but the beauty was that the defense was built right into them. It didn't matter what people wore or how they did their hair or how their apartments were decorated or how many hippies showed up... they would all most likely die within the framework of the film. Perfect. Even though my love for horror began with Hammer, Universal and AIP, once I began to grow up a bit and was able to watch them, the '70s suddenly became a more interesting decade to me, but only through the horror lens.
Then again, personal evolution has always been what I am about, and it has been my major theme since I moved to California. It had been dawning on me for a while that perhaps it was time to put away some of the pastimes of childhood -- the monsters, the aliens, the gore -- for a little while, at least, and evolve just a tad more in the cinema department. And the negative obsessions as well. It was time to put away the "Sixties Defense" and finally confront all of the films from my youth that I have spent most of my life avoiding, which has only resulted in creating ego-shattering moments like the one involving The Last Detail.
My life has been filled with small attempts at expanding my horizons. Why not make a major one, and finally research all of these filmmakers from the '60s and '70s, people within the framework of my lifetime, that I have largely dismissed? Sure, I have never shied away from a Truffaut, Godard or Kurosawa film -- I have always quite liked foreign films of any type, just to make myself believe even for a moment that I was more cultured than I actually am. It's for the same reason you occasionally hit a museum and stare at paintings that you have no hope of ever understanding, at least not without a little research and practice. Despite being fully aware of your intellectual limitations, you still convince yourself of your artistic sensitivity.
As an example, I own and have read an entire biography on Rainier Werner Fassbinder, the German director who fiercely burned through the '70s like no other (or so I read), and yet I have only seen one of his films. Why have I not followed up on this? If I found his life interesting enough to read about for a whole week, why would I not seek out his films, even though they are all so readily available for rental? Why have I always had this block on pursuing avenues where I could actually learn something about quality filmmaking, and instead crawl back into my comfortable hole full of familiar demons, killers and monsters? As I said, I make small attempts at breaking out and expanding my view. Why can't I make the transition stick?
People tend to think of me as a bona fide movie nut, but sometimes, I am more sure of the nutty part and not so much on the supposed realm of my expertise. So, am I a poser?
It is a daunting question, and a hard one for people to actually ask of themselves. Who wants to expose themselves to ridicule purposefully? Isn't life hard enough to get through? Isn't dealing with other people, even your friends, family and neighbors, already enough of a mindfuck than to openly invite everyone to see that you might not be what you have served yourself up to be all along?
And isn't this what we all do on the internet now anyway?
(To be continued in A Preparatory Indulgence, Pt. 4...)