Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Movie Love Questionnaire

My great pal, Mister Muleboy, sent me this months ago, and I answered it months ago, but am only now getting around to posting it:

I just came across "The Movie Love Questionnaire" on the Ebert movie site. Apparently, most of their reviewers have answered, and you can get a better sense of who the reviewers are [without knowing a ... thing about them, necessarily]. I'd be eager to know thy answers.

1) Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
As a kid I always assumed I was living in a Norman Rockwell painting. Only as an adult did I realize I'd grown up in a Tennessee Williams play. And where did the Mythical Monkey stage that Tennessee Williams play? Why, in Tennessee, of course!

Specifically, I grew up in a suburb of Nashville on a cul-de-sac with four members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. George Jones — who once famously drove his riding mower to the liquor store because his license had been suspended — was a hoot or a horror depending on whether he was drunk or hung over. True of many of us, I guess.

He was still married to Tammy Wynette in those days. Boy, she put up with a lot ...
(Oh, and for those playing along at home, Bobby Bare, Sr. and Hank Cochran — who wrote Patsy Cline's classic hit "I Fall To Pieces" — were the other two Hall of Famers. Bare, Jr., who belongs in some sort of hall of fame, is still a friend.)

2 ) Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?
Everybody in my family was into movies. My parents introduced me to the films of the Marx Brothers and Cary Grant, took us to see revivals of The Sound of Music and Gone With The Wind, and of course every Disney movie that came along. When I was seven, my sister and her husband took us to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. When I was ten, my big brother and his wife took us to see our first John Wayne movie, Big Jake.

My little brother and I still text movie quotes at each other.

After my dad got sick, he and I and sometimes my little brother would pass the time at the movies, classics like The Sting and forgotten not-so-classics like Damnation Alley. We saw everything ...

Like me, my family regarded movies, above all, as entertainment. It can be a comedy or a tragedy, thoughtful or mindless, realistic or a flight of pure fancy, but if it doesn't grab you and refuse to let go, it's not a good movie. And that's an attitude I carry with me to this day.

3) What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?
The first in a theater? The Ghost and Mr. Chicken at the drive-in when I was five. Scary stuff, man! But movies had been playing on the television at home since my birth. I think the surprise for me came later when I found out plenty of people don't watch movies.

4) What's the first movie that made you think, "Hey, some people made this. It didn't just exist. There's a human personality behind it."
That actually would have been television rather than the movies. I became aware pretty early that sitcoms recycled the same setups over and over. Greg Brady was not the first person to wind up with two dates to the prom.

5) What's the first movie you ever walked out of?
Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians while on a trip to visit my father's family in Salt Lake City. One of my older cousins drove us, we sat through fifteen minutes of Buffalo Bill and then moved to the auditorium next door and watched Diana Ross in Mahogany. Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire!

Years later, I saw Buffalo Bill on cable. Walked out halfway through ...

6) What's the funniest film you've ever seen?
I've seen four or five Marx Brothers movies in a theater — including a double feature of Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera when I was in college. So I'll say that. But I'll laugh at anything.

7) What's the saddest film you've ever seen?
Brian's Song. Saw it when I was ten, watched it again when I had the Big C. The scene that gets me every time: Right after Brian Piccolo's first cancer surgery, his wife Joy tries to introduce Gale Sayers to a little girl admitted to the hospital on the same day only to find she's died. Hard cut to Gale Sayers running a kickoff back for a touchdown. Moral: when you die and go to heaven, you get to watch Gale Sayers run.

By the way, just like Brian Piccolo, everybody turns me down when I ask if they want to see my scar. And they have five to choose from!

8) What's the scariest film you've ever seen?
In the theater? John Carpenter's The Thing. It's hard to get that wound up sitting in front of a television because you can always distract yourself when the going gets heavy. Generally speaking, though, horror is the one genre I don't like so I haven't seen many of them in a theater.

9) What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?
Holiday (1938). A wistful romantic comedy starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, two of my all-time favorites. I won't tell you it's the most romantic movie ever made, but it's the most romantic movie ever made — and my favorite.

10) What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?
Questions like this annoy me with the implicit assumption that "entertainment" is an inferior art form. I blame the 19th century novelist Henry James for introducing this pernicious bit of snobbery to literary criticism. I suspect he felt a need to bluff his way past the fact that his books could be as boring as anybody's.

Give me Gilligan's Island over PBS any day!

Although come to think of it, I'd take Mannix over either of them — boy, that guy gets hit over the head a lot! The Washington Post once wrote he suffered 55 concussions and was shot 17 times in eight seasons, but I'm pretty sure that's because they cheated and only watched 59 episodes. I'm amazed he can still tie his own shoelaces!

11) What book do you think about or revisit the most?
I re-read Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man once a year. I re-read all of Hemingway every couple of years or so to get into a writing mood. And F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby has become my favorite novel over the last twenty-five years or so.

12) What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?
Recording artist? The Beatles, of course. I know their work so well, I can identify alternate versions of their songs within the first note or two. Album? Probably Revolver ...

But I like all kinds of music. I have more than 13,000 songs on my computer, covering every genre, and I've put together hundreds of playlists. Add to that a subscription to SiriusXM and I wind up spending several hours every day with music on in the background. In fact, I'm listening to music right now ...

13) Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?
Schindler's List, which I've seen twice. It's a great movie, but it's so emotionally wrenching, I don't think I would voluntarily put myself through that again.

14) What movie have you seen more times than any other?
This question came up the other day. I think these are the ones I've seen at least fifty times: The Maltese Falcon, The Thing From Another World, The Thin Man, Rio Bravo, Casablanca and A Hard Day's Night. Maybe It's a Wonderful Life. Possibly Ocean's 11 (the 2001 remake).

The movie I've seen in a theater the most times is, surprisingly, Gone With The Wind. 8 times. That's 32 hours worth of Scarlett O'Hara, which is enough for any man.
I've seen 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen 4 times — the first time in 1968, the last hosted by Keir Dullea at the AFI-Silver. Saw Pulp Fiction 4 times in a theater in 1994.

15) What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?
National Lampoon's Animal House. Still a fave, still holds up after more than forty years, even if you couldn't get away with half of it now.

16) What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?
Does that mean the film itself is beautiful or that it's a film of beautiful things? I mean, The Passion of Joan of Arc is beautiful and it's just a series of close-ups of Maria Falconetti's anguished face. 2001: A Space Odyssey, particularly the "Blue Danube" docking sequence at the space station that plays like a ballet, is wonderful to look at. The Quiet Man looks great on the big screen, as does the Monument Valley scenery in The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. James Wong Howe's Manhattan location work in Sweet Smell of Success is fantastic. Take your pick.

17) Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?
Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, probably in that order. Of those still working, Tom Hanks, George Clooney. Others ...

18) Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?
Katharine Hepburn, Jane Greer, Diana Rigg. Of more recent vintage, a Mythical Monkey shout out to Jessica Chastain, a friend and client of my brother-in-law, Ron Browning!
19) Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?
Quentin Tarantino. Long, languid chat punctuated by bursts of extreme violence. Sounds like my favorite kind of lunch! I could watch his stuff all day long.

20) Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker?
Lars von Trier. A stone cold drag.

21) What film do you love that most people seem to hate?
You know, critics in 1983 hated High Road to China with Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong, but I love it. Back in the day, it was billed as Tom Selleck's consolation prize for missing out on Raiders of the Lost Ark, and was panned for falling short of that impossible standard. But on further reflection, it's Bess Armstrong's movie all the way, a pure historical adventure-romance about a woman ostensibly searching for her father but really trying to establish her relevance and independence in a world run (badly) by and for men.

Do you know the plot? [LOTS OF SPOILERS] — A flapper-heiress (Armstrong as Eve Tozer) has to find her long-lost father or lose her fortune, so she hires a drunk flying ace (Selleck as Patrick O'Malley) to squire her hither and yon, from Egypt to Afghanistan to Nepal and finally to China, dodging bombs and bullets every step of the way.
As with all good romances, the ending is bittersweet — Evie gets the money but by then doesn't care. O'Malley gets the money, too, but probably never cared. In the meantime, they've each lost the only things they ever really loved — him, his airplane; her, the fantasy of a father who would give up his thrill-seeking wanderlust if only she could make him notice her.

They damn near miss out on each other, too — a few awkward words, a pat on the knee, and the promise of a long, uphill walk back to Nepal, before a deep breath, a steeled nerve and a long-overdue declaration of intent. To allow yourself to fall in love when everyone you've ever cared about has up and flown away or spiraled nose down into the sod requires an act of courage that by comparison makes fighting warlords and German flying aces a stroll in the park.

Bonus: High Road to China features a great score by Oscar-winning composer John Barry who is best known for the early James Bond movies ...

22) What film do you hate that most people love?
Well, somebody must have loved Crash — it won the Oscar for best picture in 1995. But, boy, did I hate it. While it pretends to be deeply introspective, it's actually insufferably smug and self-congratulatory. The Academy gave it an Oscar to prove how enlightened they were on issues of race and feminism while hiring the same-old same-old and coddling the likes of Harvey Weinstein ...

23) Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget—not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.
Many, many — A Room with a View in Florence, Italy; The General at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra; Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a dorm room with a "borrowed" print and projector ...

But most recently, in 2019, Katie-Bar-The-Door and I went to see TCM's presentation of Ben-Hur in the local theater. Such a great movie that for four hours I completely forgot that the next day, a team of surgeons was going to cut me in half and staple me back together again — with literal staples!

24) What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?
The cost, I think, but not even that really. A few years ago I would have said people on their cell phones, but stadium seating seems to have solved that issue, for me at least.

25) What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?
Road show presentations of movies. They'd hand out programs and lobby cards and all kinds of souvenirs. A real event. Quentin Tarantino recreated the experience for The Hateful 8 and it was a blast. Probably the last time that'll ever happen.

26) Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?
No, not even if you love Crash and hate Casablanca. It would be like getting mad because you put ketchup on a hot dog — there's no accounting for taste and I'm not the one who has to eat it.

I grew up watching my father and big brother arguing about Nixon, and learned that two people can disagree and still love and respect each other. That's a lesson I haven't forgotten.

27) What movies have you dreamed about?
I remember dreaming about Bull Durham once. I was Kevin Costner trying to explain something to Tim Robbins, but for some reason I was wearing the bull mascot's head, couldn't see out of the eye holes, and eventually discovered I was only talking to myself ...

What would Freud make of that?

28) What concession stand item can you not live without?
I can't live without Katie-Bar-The-Door but you can't buy her at a concession stand. So popcorn.