Monday, July 04, 2005

Weekend Video Reviews

Koyaanisqatsi (1983)

Viewed this one on Saturday night at the house of a friend who has a video projector and screen setup. I had been bugging her to let me come over and check it out, and she picked this no-dialogue classic for the demo. VHS version, so not super crisp, but it left me more rather than less interested in the whole projector concept as opposed to a giant TV.

As for the movie: "Koyaanisqatsi" was a pivotal movie for me in high school during the 1980s. I saw it probably half a dozen times on video at various friends' houses. (Once, a few of us even corraled our English literature teacher, a phlegmatic, fussy chap, over to my basement to watch it. I remember he sweetly brought with him a package of Sof'Batch cookies, the kind with the space-age polymer that keeps them perpetually soft and chewy.) It was pivotal because it was such a beautiful but searing indictment of modern society, the perfect subject matter for an adolescent finding out that the world isn't all it was cracked up to be. Also, for me and my Super-8 filmmaking partner Neil, it spawned a mania for time-lapse photography of principally (1) clouds and (2) driving down roads.

For this viewing I was surprised by how trite and commonplace the movie seemed. I guess between the first time I saw this movie back in the 1980s and today, I've seen so many searing indictments of modern society that this particular one doesn't really stand out from the others. Sort of like what happened with David Letterman. In 1982, when his show started, it was an island of irony and subtle critique of big media in an ocean of blander-than-bland TV, and Dave became my guru, my beacon. Now the ironic sensibility laced with knowing cultural critique is damn near everywhere on TV, and Letterman has become just a face in the crowd.

Freaks and Geeks, Season One (1999) Pilot and "Beers and Weirs"

Set in a large suburban high school in 1980, but everything will be recognizable to anyone who went to high school in the 1980s. Helen and I (both class of 1987) had fun trying to figure out which one of the characters was closest to how we were in high school, which ones were our friends, etc. Joe Flaherty from SCTV is hilarious as the Dad who keeps his two kids on the straight and narrow by telling them that death is the likely result of bad behavior. Pretty spot-on characterizations of the two high school groups I was most familiar with: the geeks, the studious kids who got picked on all the time, and the freaks, the partyers who were smart but not particularly into getting good grades. It looks like the first season will follow Lindsay Weir, the school's best math student, as she makes a tentative transition from the geeks to the freaks, saying at one point, "My new friends [the freaks] think I'm a goody-two-shoes and my old friends [the geeks] think I'm throwing my life away with these people." Takes me back...

Dirty Harry (1971)

My goodness this is an awesome movie. Has to be in the Top 5 movies from the "Silver Age" of Hollywood, the period of downbeat, realistic films that came out between 1967 and 1975, before "Jaws" arrived and blockbusterized US cinema, apparently forever. Here's an exchange that I would love to have the chance to employ someday:

Inspector Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry, has just been let into the office of the Mayor, who is discussing with the chief of the homicide unit a disturbing murder involving a serial killer who leaves notes demanding money or else he will kill again.

Mayor: Well, Harry, let's have it.

Harry: Have what?

Mayor: Your report on the investigation.

Harry: Well, for the past three-quarters of an hour, I've been sitting on my ass in your outer office...

A perfect encapsulation of Harry's character, and his predicament: he is angry, wants to find this killer, but is constantly running up against rules, grandstanding politicians and various other REMFs who waste his time. A great movie that by itself could form the basis of a course on moral reasoning.

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