The three major films I saw on friday and earlier today are The Producers, Animal House, and Scarface. I hadn't seen any of these before and since they are all minor classics by reputation I was looking forward to it. After viewing each of them I have to say I was surprised.
The Producers was incredibly funny (I may have seen it when I was very young on tape but I didn't remember any of it) and made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions, especially when Gene Wilder went into ultraneurotic mode and looked like he was about to explode into a pile of actuary tables. Zero Mostel was also quite impressive and though I could detect his Broadway roots in the stageyness (not a word but the best description possible) of the performance, it worked fine in a movie about Broadway producers. The movie has aged unbelievably well.
Animal House was a pleasant film to watch but it didn't make me laugh more than once and I definitely didn't think it was the incredibly untouchable classic some have made it out to be. While I understand that it has been ripped off so many times that nobody can keep count, I'm not sure if it would ever have been funny to me. There were no gags that I found particularly funny, and the characters were poorly sketched and for the most part reprehensible. To get even with a bad guy they hit his horse with some golfballs and get him dragged through a field. That was reasonably amusing. Then they take the horse into an office and scare it to death by shooting a gun loaded with blanks. I didn't find that amusing, I felt bad for the horse. Likewise when Otter seduces a girl by claiming that he's the fiance of her roomate who recently died and then abandons her friends in a club full of angry black guys, well I felt like that should have been something left to the villains of a comedy, not the heroes. Likewise the huge parade scene at the end was disappointing to me because the characters didn't just exact revenge on those who wronged them, they threw the whole city into panic and inspired gunshots on the street. There was also the subtle point about they broke apart the racial togetherness float, just as they were rather uncooth towards the African Americans in the movie. It wasn't that the movie particularly OFFENDED me (like my Sam Kinnison DVD actually managed to do) it was that it was merely so-so. That's in comparsion to Old School, one of its rip offs, where the gags are much more biting but at least the main characters are somewhat responsible and care about their friends. Compare the scene in Old School where Blue dies to the scene where the horse dies. Both try to mine comedy out of an accidential heart attack but in Animal House the innocent animal is killed during a stupid prank, while in Old School the elderly guy dies when faced with two beautiful topless co-eds in a K-Y jelly wrestling match he clearly wants to participate in. I found the former mildly disturbing and the latter hilarious. The follow-up scene where the horse is carved up and disposed of is also not as funny as Blue's funeral, and a funeral scene for a horse could have been VERY funny indeed.
That brings me to Scarface which is a movie that I can't quite come to terms with. I think I liked it, although I found the main character reprhensible. It is epic in scope and beautifully shot with a quoteable script and some very good acting but it didn't really captivate me the way, say, the Godfather part 1 did. There was something so...small about the scope of the CHARACTER of Tony Montana (he wants to become rich and powerful and fuck his sister, that's basically it) that it makes the movie feel hollow and light even at well over 2 and a half hours in length.
Most disturbing was a documentary extra on the Scarface DVD. It was about how the Hip Hop culture embraces Scarface as a movie AND tony Montana as a hero. While I don't necessarily disagree with admiration of the film (It IS a pretty good movie and it does a good job of showing the seedy underworld in all its forms) I can't understand why anybody would identify with Montana. He's not only a vicious killer and a somewhat stupid man, he's also incapable of being happy. One of the main elements of his character is that he's never satisfied at all unless he's in the process of moving up towards some goals. None of the goals are at all satisfactory for him. Take his seduction of Evie, the Michelle Pfeiffer character. He enjoys flirting with her and trying to make her his, but once he manages to do so he dislikes her and has not even a sexual desire for her presence. Heck in one scene after he's reached the top he expresses disgust at life in general and then after she leaves him tells his friend that she'll love him again after she takes a Quaalude. For Montana love is something that can be turned on and off by a pill.
Because of this lack of satisfaction and the way he dies in a blaze not so much of glory but of excess and stupidity (he's so coked out of his mind and enraged that he doesn't recognize his sister is dead and doesn't even realize when HE'S dead until finally the shotgun blast to the back pitches him into the drink.) Montana is not a redeemable character even if he refuses to kill the anti-drug guy's wife and children. He ends up breaking his code of honor to do it so in gaining morality he goes back on his word, trading one flaw for another.
The fact that the hip-hop world has embraced Montana shows a flaw of American society. Just the pursuit of something is glorified regardless of the results. In the documentary some very wealthy and influential people talk about why the character appeals and the lessons that can be learned from the film, but to be honest I couldn't help wondering how much of what they were saying was bullshit meant to poison the minds of fans and get them to buy even more into the gangster facade. It is significant that this is a film made by white people, starring a white man as a Cuban gangster and another white man as a drug lord, yet is lauded for its realism. How much clearer can a facade get?
If you want a success driven hero why not Max Bialystock from the Producers? He will do anything for money, unlike Tony Montana he actually ENJOYS the proceeds of his labor, he is smart and crafty, and though he fails in the end too, at least he only goes to Jail where he can embark on another scheme. It's also interesting to note that Zero Mostel was a blacklisted actor during the commie scare, so he had to overcome his own disadvantages to become successful. That adds a layer to the performance. I guess the answer is self evident, Tony is violent and cool while Max is rotund and a little pathetic. In our society it is much more admirable to make money by killing a drug dealer and losing one of your friends to a chainsaw attack, while almost dying yourself, than to do so by seducing little old ladies and getting them to invest in your play. Let's see, in one you take other people's lives, expose yourself to massive danger and unpleasantness, and contribute nothing to anyone, while in the other you don't hurt anybody physically, do experience unpleasantness as well, and make the old ladies at least somewhat happy. Yeah makes sense that the former would be more admirable.
As hard as I try to be tolerant I just can't respect that aspect of Hip-Hop culture. Violence and success at any price are not appropriate responses to moderate oppression. It's even less acceptable when you've made it to preach the gospel of violence and drugs to the younger generation. It doesn't matter if it's accurate, it's partially a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I know I've overdone the movies as a reflection of society thing recently, but since I've spent a lot of time thinking about movies recently and I always spend a lot of time thinking about society...well there you go. I'm thinking about getting subscriptions to a few industry magazines if they are affordable. To be honest I have no idea what I want to do with my life and 90% of what I read about the film industry repulses me, but I might as well take a gander. Couldn't hurt. I just know I don't want to drop out of school to become a starving artist. I like eating too much and I am not confident enough in myself to think that it would be worth it.
That being said, I probably should start thinking about a post-college job since most of my friends don't have one, or have one that they absolutely hate.
After I prepare for this upcoming mid-term of course.