Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Best Fun-Stupid Movie Of The Silent Era, Part One: On The Pleasures (And Necessities) Of The Fun-Stupid Movie

One of the things I like about Roger Ebert, the long-time film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, is that he can appreciate a fun, stupid Saturday night popcorn movie just like anybody. He'll judge it by its own merits and is just as likely to give a four-star rating to the latest bit of Nicolas Cage action claptrap as to an Oscar-bait art film.

Nevertheless, Ebert has professed to be amused and mystified by an exchange he had with a couple in 1973 who were thinking of going to the movies and asked what he thought about Cries And Whispers.

"I thought it was the best movie of the year," Ebert said.

"Oh," they answered, "we wouldn't want to see anything like that."

Now, don't get me wrong. I think Cries And Whispers, an Ingmar Bergman classic about a dying woman and the two sisters who care (or, more to the point, don't care) for her, is a magnificent movie. But it's also emotionally wrenching, filled with difficult to interpret symbolism and, oh, did I mention it's in Swedish?

This is not to say you should watch nothing but a steady diet of fun-stupid movies. Just as a steady diet of booze can damage your liver, destroy your family and numb you to all of life's sensations, so too can a diet of fun-stupid movies leave you incapable of enjoying the subtler pleasures a variety of movies can offer.

But there are times when you're in desperate need of a movie that does nothing but numb your brain, silence the anxious voices in your head and let you unwind enough that you can get up again on Monday morning and start worrying all over again. And any film critic who doesn't recognize that is doing his readers a grave disservice.

But the question is: wouldn't you rather see a good fun-stupid movie than a bad fun-stupid movie?

Well, anyway, I would.

I mean, it's like you can get drunk on champagne or you can drunk on sterno. Take a little care in choosing your poison. (You can also, as I found out while living in England, get drunk on absinthe, a drink made from wormwood with alleged psychoactive side-effects, but good lord, children, I wouldn't recommend it.)

So for all you fans of booze, tranquilizers and Saturday night popcorn movies, I'm hereby officially adopting what is often referred to as The Fun-Stupid Scale to recommend any given year's best fun-stupid movie—if there is one—in addition to the usual collection of high-toned, award-winning films I frequently write about.

It's a ten-point must-system (or ten point musk-melon, as my friend Bellotoot would say), just like in boxing, with 10/10 being, say, Die Hard, a very fun and stupid-in-the-best-way-possible classic from 1988, and 0/10 being Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a movie so lame, so idiotic and so devoid of the most minimal of campy pleasure that even Ed Wood would have been ashamed to make it.

Next up: The Best Fun-Stupid Movie Of The Silent Era, Part Two.


Robert Mapplethorpe said...

Hmmm; saw my favourite film of 2009 yesterday.

Story of a womanliving in poverty before WW I. Her husband beats her, cheats on her, loses his job, holds her down with a razor to her throat.
For relief, the son she tried to abort gets polio.

Husband keeps her from realizing her dreams.

In Swedish.

Everlasting Moments. Can't recommend it enough.

Not exactly a stupid-fun movie.

You can go get your eyes stabbed out, or get your fingernails pulled. Relief.

Really is the best thing I've seen. . . .

Mister Parker said...

Sounds like the mid-90s, doesn't it.

I'll put it on my list.

My movies this last week have been focused on the late 1920s/early 1930s -- London After Midnight, Night Nurse, Animal Crackers, Anna Christie, The Docks Of New York ...

I need to get a life.

Mister S. said...

"But there are times when you're in desperate need of a movie that does nothing but numb your brain, silence the anxious voices in your head and let you unwind enough that you can get up again on Monday morning and start worrying all over again."

At last, we've reached a point in this blog where I can make a meaningful contribution. Case in point: we tried to watch "Milk" on DVD the other night. After 15 minutes we rejected it in favor of "The Heartbreak Kid" (the Farrelly brothers version) which I had DVR'd from Cinemax a few months back. Reasonably fun, definitely stupid, but made for a better Saturday night. (Although I'm still trying to get the picture of that donkey out of my brain.)

And don't knock Absinthe. As Groucho Marx once said: "Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder."

Matthew Brady said...

your nephew is a genius

Mister Parker said...

You know, one thing I've noticed is how many old movies we now consider great and indispensable were dismissed as merely entertaining when they were first released, and how many movies hailed as art films and message films have deservedly been forgotten.

Maybe that explains why Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant never won Oscars.

Mister Parker said...

I'll pass your comment along, Mr. Brady.

You were a pretty nifty photographer yourself ...

Marty DiBergi said...

I can't believe you'd picture sterno in front of an alcoholic!


Mister Parker said...

I figured that might bring back some memories ...