Monday, November 7, 2016
So this is an interesting movie to review, since usually when one sees a huge age disparity between the couple in a film, it's a man romancing a woman. And in classic films, that woman was frequently Audrey Hepburn (25 years younger than Cary Grant in Charade, 30 years younger than Fred Astaire in Funny Face - guess Hollywood thought that Audrey looked like the type to go for silver foxes). But Harold and Maude really flips the script by not just having a young man interested in an older woman (well before the advent of the cougar trope), but a baby-faced guy who looks barely 17 having very sexual feelings towards a woman who is obviously elderly. Elderly people aren't supposed to be the subject of love stories, especially not sexual ones. Yet here we are, having a complete script flip, from the elderly person being the fun-loving one to the young person making a sexual pursuit of an elderly person. Maude is a prototype Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only instead of being a big-eyed waif with crazy hair, she's a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor who steals cars, poses nude, and has a giant wooden sculpture of her vulva, which Harold fingers and then licks in a scene that seems more creepy than affirming attraction between the two.
I don't know why, but while I appreciate all the subversions, I just can't find where I'm supposed to be entertained by this film. It's ranked as a "Best Comedy", but I personally didn't laugh once. Maybe because the young guy obsessed with death has been used in plenty of other things since, or maybe because I don't see inherent humor in the idea that a couple with a 61-year age difference could form. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be the joke, or if the jokes are supposed to be Harold's obsession with death and elaborate suicide attempts. I guess the juxtaposition of Harold's suicides and his mother's exasperation are somewhat humorous. But where does one really go with this? This is by far the best movie I've found for showing that humor is totally subjective. Maude teaching Harold to live every day to the fullest with semi-controlled anarchy, then killing herself because she is convinced that 80 is the proper age to die doesn't really strike me as humorous. Maude's fast talk can be witty, but over all, the movie just seems to be congratulating itself on being so subversive that they forgot to put real characterization into the leads. Harold and Maude are both conglomerate characters of everything but the kitchen sink. Harold is a hodgepodge of neglected rich boy (the most famous of this trope is the preternaturally annoying Holden Caulfield), stereotypes about depression, and what the team seems to think are jokes about sexuality. Maude is given a lot of hints that she would be more interesting in the hands of another script writer, but she's a straight-forward "subversion" of Holocaust survivors (who are presumably all miserable and consumed with the horrors of their life?) and elderly people (who have no sex drives and don't like adventures? Tell that to the exploding STI rate in seniors) who speaks in affirmations and fortune cookies. I'm not saying there's nothing here for anyone. Obviously, there's something for some people. But I just can't appreciate it properly. Maybe the film didn't age well, or maybe the leads just really need more depth. We are overdue for a film that allows a young man to show attraction for an older woman, though. Maybe then it won't be considered ridiculous to cast a 30-year-old woman opposite a 45-year-old man, so a 22-year-old is cast instead. Then again, if we try to pull that subversion, then Hollywood will probably try to pass a woman of 35 as a woman of 50.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
So... Jaws. I had avoided seeing this movie, because of all things, my deepest fear is being eaten to death. All I had seen of this movie was the opening chomps and the severed leg of the boater drifting to the bottom of the ocean - the first had caused me to flee the room (my sister was watching), and the second was while I was channel surfing. It's movies like this that give little kids complexes about things like being eaten. What 7 year old thinks about the primal dread of being eaten to death? Well, I was a weird kid in a lot of ways. But the thing that surprised me with this was how hard it was to keep my attention focused. Instead of being kept spellbound by the ramping up tension, like in Vertigo, I found myself checking my phone and wondering whether it would be tasteless to be eating pudding while watching. I decided it wasn't (Mmm, butterscotchy goodness to go with watching a shark). I think the issue here was the same problem with The Exorcist - cultural osmosis for this film is so inescapable that the "surprises" are now pretty tame. I knew Kim Novak died in Vertigo before I saw it, but I had no idea how she died or why she died or how anyone got to the state they did. I guess this comes down to a personality thing. Some people enjoy spoilers and like watching how things unfold, while people like me can't enjoy suspense movies without the suspense present. And watching Jaws just doesn't have any surprises for a person who was a kid in the 90's. Cartoons and pop culture were lousy with references.
This is a pretty standard film as far as summer monster blockbusters go, but obviously that's what makes it so influential. Monster movies where usually the B-reel, and made the kind of quality viewing that you see on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Of course the progenitor is going to seem standard, since everyone ripped it off. The soundtrack is so beyond iconic that it's joined The Ballad of Jed Clampett and The Ballad of Gilligan's Island (what was it with 60's sitcoms and calling their theme songs ballads?) as an instantly hummable wad in the American conscious. There seems so little to talk about, considering you can take a class on Jaws alone in some places. Though I did find it funny that the girl who gets eaten at the beginning is signalled as a literal garbage person. Like... she's not just the slutty girl who invites a stranger to go nude swimming and thus must be punished with horrible death (as per horror tropes). She's actually first seen sitting in a pile of trash, like Oscar the Grouch. I thought this little bit of virtue signalling was pretty heavy-handed, but odds are, it wasn't really a conscious decision. Lots of people subconsciously virtue signal... and based on descriptions of the problem-plagued production of the film, they probably just meant her to be sitting off a little ways, and the mound of trash was incidental. I overthink a lot of things. There doesn't seem to be a lot of point into getting into describing the film, because everyone knows it: shark starts eating people, police chief gets overridden about closing the beach by a bunch of bureaucrats, shark eats more people, men go out hunting shark, shark eats more people, shark explodes. An exploding shark is really the best thing you can hope for when you have a monster shark. I didn't personally care much for this film (DEAR SWEET LORD WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THERE WAS BLACKBOARD SCRATCHING!?!), but I can see why it's influential and why people enjoyed it. However, here's also the problem that the killer Great White took such a hold on the public imagination that they were hunted to the endangered list. There's a little factoid for anyone who says movies don't influence reality. This is a movie that broke barriers for summer films, for action, and for monster films. It's also a film that caused widespread damage as people became terrified of sharks. Maybe someone should make a movie about malarial mosquitoes killing a bunch of cute, rich, or likable people in Massachusetts. Maybe then we could focus on an animal that actually causes humans problems.