Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A night of old favorites and PYGMALION (85)

For whatever reason last night (I blame my hatred of Alexander Nevsky (87) and the sizable breakdown of a six year old girl) I ended up watching all of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory and a good chunk of Jurassic Park. In the past these have been two of my favorite films (I saw JP like five times in the theatre ... when I was ten) and watching them again shed light on a few things I just didn't realize.

These thoughts I will share with you:

- Jurassic Park has to be the only multi-million dollar making blockbuster to feature the glowing star power of, hah, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, and Sam Neill. No, I actually know that this is the only multi-million dollar film to ever star this trio of sheenless B-actors. And it's a testament to how great of an action picture this is, that it still reverberates in pop culture and has allowed Steven Spielberg to have his face power blasted over George Washington's on Mt. Rushmore. The Beard, he strikes again!

- I don't know if it's just my lifelong love for this film and dinosaurs, but I was still pretty taken up in JP's magic. I still smiled when Alan Grant (Sam Neill) stumbles across the brontosaurus, when they first land on Isla Nublar, when Dr. Sadler (Laura Dern) is geeking out over the leaves. This film touches upon some inherent child love of huge reptiles with giant teeth and I still give it a glowing four star rating. Any one who disagrees, well, obviously you didn't wait in line for four hours at Northgate Mall to sit in the front row with Austin Stickney and nearly wet yourself in fear. And perhaps those who don't love this film as a classic, also didn't have to play the "Jurassic Park Suite" on clarinet in band in 7th grade and still find themselves humming the sung, off-key at inopportune moments. Just saying.

- Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and in real life (or at least the extra features seem to say) is one cool sumbitch. Alex and I were weirdly fawning over him in his interview segment and it's inspired not only to watch all of his films again (come on, who hasn't seen See No Evil, Hear No Evil?) and to name my new plant, Genius Wilder, after him. A comic actor who truly understood the craft. My question: what ever happened to this guy?

- You know what happens to little children actors who survive the filming of Willy Wonka? Seemingly they all become horse vets and accountants. No seriously, every one of those kids, aside from Veruca Salt, is either a horse vet or an accountant. The making of that film must've scarred the shit out of them.

These things said, I still love both these movies and I'm seriously thinking about pursuing a new feature on the site, "Movies I Once Loved" to see which of my childhood favorites still hold up. But we'll talk about that after I start doing interviews, signing on new writers and watching all of Woody Allen's films. Lets set the deadline at, "near future".

Pygmalion (85) has been the second old, black and white film about romance in this Criterion Collection that I've been totally swept away by. Pygmalion (85) is based on a play by George Bernard Shaw about a bet between a linguist and a general about turning a common "bedraggled gutter snipe" in to a proper lady, just by teaching her how. You may recognize this plot from the painfully beloved Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle She's The One.

Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard (also the incredible star of the film) are renowned in Britain and if Pygmalion (85) is any indication of their talent, I can most definitely see why, this film, though slightly stage-y feeling, is a brilliant, subversive send-up of the rich and powerful. The sheer idea of using a human being as a bet is a disgusting one, and Leslie Howard (playing Dr. Higgins in the film) seems to revel in it. He's a hyper intelligent ass in the film, always one step ahead of everyone else, and you literally laugh and shudder at his treatment of Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller - of shocking resemblance to Maggie Gyllenhal).

What's brilliant about Pygmalion (85) is the way the audience never knows if you should be laughing or grimacing or just plan turned off by the way the rich folk in the film not only act but react to the newfound grace of Eliza Doolittle. Even when she's awkward the social climbers in the group can't help but jump at the chance to make acquaintances with the newest gem in the social hierarchy. What no one notices, not even Dr. Higgins, is how this experiment, this bet effects the person Eliza actually is. Higgins and Colonel Pickering make statements about protecting her best interests but at one point in the film Higgins literally buys Eliza off her father (Dr. Doolittle, seemingly a huge influence on Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow character) for five pounds, smiling all the way.

It was made in 1938 so a lot of the darker aspects of this theme of a self-fulfilling prophecy (tell someone their amazing for long enough, they'll do something amazing) fall to the wayside, but that's okay, they still exist and with a cast as strong as this, with directors as able, it's still a great, truly classic film.

On a side note, Wikipedia does a nice job of summing up the actual concept of the "pygmalion effect" as it's seen in a modern light. I'd suggest checking it out here.

Wednesday: Sigh, Alexander Nevsky (87)

1 comment:

Aaron said...

some friends and i watched JP just last night and could all remember the best lines. something we agreed we hadn't noticed before is how wonderfully skeezy jeff goldblum is!