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Archive for Friday, September 26, 1997

MOVIES ARE SUCKER PUNCHES

September 26, 1997

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Time magazine informs us that Quentin Tarantino, a director who will never offer his version of "Snow White" unless the dwarfs are thugs, is making a movie called "Jackie Brown." It's "populated with jive-talking killers and other lowlifes." A "streetwise flight attendant" crosses up a gun-dealer despite action from an ex-con and a "stoned-out beach bunny."

The Time critic sounds ecstatic, almost as ecstatic as the Kansas City Star critic who tells us novels are no longer being written because all the talent is now working up scripts for the likes of Tarantino. Time says the "N word" is repeatedly used 10 times in the first scene alone. Tarantino offers "ultra-violence" with pop culture and "hip humor."

Tarantino gave us "Pulp Fiction" a couple of years ago. "Pulp Fiction" used up 10 minutes of my time, about the time I gave to "The Crying Game." I passed up "Trainspotting." I wasn't in the mood for something that looked tolerantly on druggies.

Of late I read reviews in these trendy magazines and in the Star (maybe even in this family journal) and wonder whether I really am still back in 1934, when Gable and Colbert hitchhiked cross country and stayed together in what were called "tourist cabins" and never kissed in the entire movie (a fact that escaped me through several viewings and was pointed out to me by a student a number of years ago.)

Dear friends, I'm not calling for censorship. Tarantino and the rest of his breed can make this stuff as much as they want to, even though most of it sounds to me a cut above porno flicks. What repels me is these critics who write about "Pulp Fiction" as though it's "Citizen Kane" or "The Grapes of Wrath."

I can handle the bad language. I've been known to use some raw words. I guess that the "N word" is the "F word," and that word has passed through my lips a time or two. I know the bad words, but I also believe they're overdone in many movies. I also don't think that the groping and grunting in the bedroom is that basic to most pictures. Yes, it's basic sometimes. I can even defend some of the movies I've seen this stuff in.

As I read about the coming epic from Tarantino I wondered whether the director is taking a position in regard to the content and characters. When we saw Frank Sinatra 40 years ago in "The Man with the Golden Arm" we knew his drug addiction was a terrible thing, and we wanted to hiss the pusher every time he arrived (there was a musical theme that brought him on scene). We saw Don Murray as the boy addicted because of injuries in Korea, and we hoped with him and his family that there'd be a happy ending.

Some new movies seem to take no such position. John Travolta has made a new career for himself out of playing slimy people. The same issue of Time that tells us about Tarantino shows Travolta playing a U.S. president in one coming up soon. Travolta? Sylvester Stallone soon? Madonna a first lady (as she was in "Evita")?

One of my tests of late has been to see what Siskel and Ebert or Bob Butler of the Star have to say. That way I know when to avoid something. (But I was amazed to read on the video cassette package that Roger Ebert liked "A Walk in the Clouds" as much as I liked it.)

When I get in these sour moods I carry my thoughts back to ancient history, 1935, say, "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," "David Copperfield," "A Tale of Two Cities," "Mutiny on the Bounty," "Captain Blood," "Les Miserables," "Ruggles of Red Gap," "The Informer," "Top Hat."

Today's movies? Well, there are good ones. Recently we saw, on cassettes, "Emma," "A Time to Kill," "Ghosts of Mississippi." In a recent column I mentioned "The Birdcage," and I concede that a movie about homosexuals wouldn't have been made in '35. Lillian Hellman's play, "The Children's Hour," came to the screen back then, but the suggested theme of homosexuality was cut right out. Yes, there are a lot of good ones, technically superior, surely, to my epics of the past. But spare me the fawning critics, the ones who love Tarantino and "the young auteur's understanding of criminals and casually realistic dialogue."

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