Planes, Trains and Automobiles [1987)

When I was a kid, this was a big family favorite.

It was one of those rare times when profanity got a pass.

That second time Steve Martin goes off…on Edie McClurg (the rental car lady).

But even funnier is the first time Martin pops off…in the Braidwood Motel in Wichita, Kansas…and John Candy just takes it.

Yes, there are some priceless moments in this film.

In some ways, this film defined an era.

Trading Places was an early-decade success (1983) for John Landis.

And then Walter Hill succeeded with a similar type of story, treated in his inimitable way, in 1985 (Brewster’s Millions).

But by 1987 the decade needed summation…and this particular genre which transcended classification needed a testament.

This is that film.

Funny enough, this was the same year the Coen brothers really started hitting ’em out of the park (Raising Arizona).  That film also is a veritable classic, but it is forward-looking.  It is almost like comedy in the hands of a David Lynch.

John Hughes was seemingly retrospective with Planes, Trains and Automobiles…like the J.S. Bach of the 1980s…summing up a decade of dirigist American comedy.

Hughes had a lot of career left to go in 1987, but this was a sort of highpoint…especially if considering only his directorial efforts.

Sure…Hughes was more counterculture earlier in the decade, but he wasn’t above putting his heart into a morality play like this one.

But to paint this film as a vanilla affair is not really accurate.

Consider Steve Martin’s yuppie character…a “marketing” professional on a business trip to New York from Chicago.

Martin’s character represents everything that was wrong with America in the 1980s.

Sadly, Neal Page (Martin) represents the problem which persists in America today.

Perhaps Isidore Isou’s famous class distinction fits here.

Neal Page, marketing professional, is an intern (as opposed to externe)…a cog in the wheel of production.

The Neal Pages of today would learn their marketing from an abomination such as Marian Burk Wood’s The Marketing Plan Handbook.

The Neal Pages of corporate America read a Wood phrase such as, “For the purposes of developing a marketing plan, advertising’s two basic decisions concern the message (what content will be communicated) and the media…,” without ever thinking Marshall McLuhan.

A savvy seller of used books might file The World is Flat in “Sociology” (in addition to the more strictly-applicable “Business”) in an effort to unload what must surely be one of the most overprinted books of recent memory.

But what bookseller ever thinks to place Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man (1964) in the “Business” section…or in the Marketing/Advertising “disciplines”?

Marketers, no doubt, would have a glib answer.

But marketers rarely know more than their insular, myopic areas of pseudo-specialty.

The “right” answer…the culturally literate answer…the answer Marian Burk Wood was either too dumb to include…or too convinced that her dumbed-down readers would not get…is McLuhan’s:

“…the medium is the message.”

The first sentence of the fucking book!

Chapter 1 (also, conveniently titled, The Medium Is The Message):

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.”

But the character Neal Page wouldn’t have known that…and that’s why he gets “schooled” in business by the portly, genuine Del Griffith (John Candy).

Of course, Candy’s character wouldn’t have known this either…but at least he wouldn’t have been a venal, meretricious, entitled prick like Neal Page.

And so Neal Page didn’t really go the extra mile in business school…  He just took all the bullshit shoveled down his throat as gospel truth.

Therefore, Page wouldn’t have known this gem either…a parallel to McCluhan from just three years later (1967).

Again, the first fucking sentence of the book:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.  All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Ok, so I gave him two sentences.  Those are the words of Guy Debord from his masterpiece La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) [translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith].

Notice the similarities to McCluhan.

But, of course, Debord was referencing the big daddy of them all:

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’…”

Karl Marx.  Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1867).  Translated by Ben Fowkes.

And so today’s marketing professionals are either brain-dead (thanks to authors like Wood) or craven cynics thanks to equally worthless authors such as Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.

These last two have contributed a tome to the pseudo-discipline of “marketing” entitled A Framework for Marketing Management.

If anything has ever called for the revocation of tenure, it is the appalling lack of intellectual curiosity these two professors (from Northwestern and Dartmouth, respectively) show over the course of their overpriced bible for aspiring C-level automata.

Consider their statement, “…make low-profit customers more profitable or terminate them.”  Now do you see why America has problems?

And again, “Spend proportionately more effort on the most valuable customers.”

Thank God for the Del Griffiths of this world.

People are not statistics to be terminated.

God bless John Candy and John Hughes for poignantly reminding us of the only true value in life.

Relationships.

Not to be “leveraged”.

Just people.

Plain and simple.

As Del Griffith says, “What you see is what you get.”

Genuine.

THAT’S the marketing of the future!

And it can’t be contrived…

 

-PD

 

 

The Kid [1921)

Sometimes we don’t want to see the same thing again.

I, for example, rewatch movies before writing about them.

I want the impression fresh in my mind.

There’s always something to be said for detached distance from subject matter, but I prefer to experience the film anew if possible.

I had seen Chaplin’s The Kid long ago.  It had impressed me, but something made me a bit wary about rewatching it.

I love Chaplin, but I guess I just wasn’t in the mood.

Today has been a weird day (or “sad and lonesome day” as the Bob Dylan tune in my head has been repeating).

But I went for it.  What the heck!

And I’m glad I did.

I hope I will be able to say the same tomorrow (or sometime this week) regarding another subject.

I am always quite candid here.

I feel it’s my responsibility.  If you study the history of the novel (not that this is a novel) you will notice that writers in the West gradually started to realize the responsibility they had.  I feel that everywhere.  That’s why Facebook is too much for me.  With Facebook I am a howling wreck.  I feel the need to shout from the rooftops anything which might help my fellow humans.  Of course my judgment is not perfect.

But back to my prior allusion.  I made a decision tonight to go see my doctor about changing or adjusting my medications.

Yes, you who might snicker “this guy is crazy” are not totally off the mark.

I have suffered from anxiety my whole life.  Once I recognized it for what it was, my life improved dramatically.  Getting help was a life-changer.

I never had much depression.  Very rarely.  But the last year or so has been different.  For the first time my depression is outpacing my anxiety.

To be sure, I still have significant anxiety issues from time to time, but my depression has been like a blanket of stifling weight.  I feel like a bee drowning in honey.

And so we shall see.  Am I afraid?  Of course.  I’m afraid of change.  Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.  But I’m afraid it is broke.  Me.  I’m kinda broken.

And so I am saying this because I want other people to get help too if they are feeling the same way.  I know that help can be cost-prohibitive, but taking that first little step is a big deal.

We change.  The medicines we take have to change with us.

It’s scary.  But I am lucky.  Many people around the world have much more serious things to worry about.  They don’t even have a doctor.

And so I hope my visit to the doctor will turn out as well as this reviewing of The Kid.  It is a touching story.  Chaplin is great as always, but Jackie Coogan kind of steals the show.  He’s “the kid”.

This is a cute story which is fit for the whole family.  It just might be the best way to introduce kids to silent films.  The version in the Criterion Collection has a musical score (which makes a big difference).  The score is, of course, written by the multitalented Chaplin.  It was part of the 1971 rerelease of this film.

Thank you to my readers for bearing with me.  I hope I will be more cheerful in the future.  Best wishes to everybody!

 

-PD

The Private Eyes [1980)

This film holds a special place in my heart.

I was blessed to have wonderful parents growing up.

This is a film we enjoyed as a family on many occasions.

When our extended family got together we would also share in the laughs from this little masterpiece.

Yes, Tim Conway and Don Knotts are essentially two Jacques Clouseaux in the same movie.

Knotts is a bit more of the straight man (in comedy parlance), but both are fumbling/bumbling idiots.

And that is, of course, why we love them.

Though The Private Eyes borrows heavily from the Pink Panther series, it has a charm of its own.

Filmed at the historic Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina (the largest privately-owned mansion in the U.S.), The Private Eyes is a good-natured film full of secret passageways and “spooky” scenes which are tame enough for a young audience.  In fact, I would heartily recommend this as a Halloween movie fit for all ages.

Directed by Lang Elliott (who doesn’t even have a stub [red link] on Wikipedia), this film has aged fairly well.  The only drawback is if one is familiar with Peter Sellers’ oeuvre.  That’s the sad part about watching a plethora of films.  On the one hand you see where all the influences came from (and that, in itself, is rewarding).  On the other hand, you see where all the influences came from (and said influences might oft times be a bit too liberally lifted).

Ah, but this is the movies 🙂  Not cinema.  Not hoighty-toighty.  Hell, I don’t even know if I spelled that right.  And I’m not gonna look.  Because that’s entertainment.  You just go with it.  Comedy.  Make ’em laugh!

Special mention should go to the sultry Trisha Noble who plays the role of Phyllis Morley.  You might know her as Padmé’s mother in Revenge of the Sith.  [Sorry, I refuse to write the whole title of that atrocious Star Wars film.]

Also worth mention (in the same vein) is Suzy Mandel who plays Hilda.

John Fujioka is quite funny as the samurai chef Mr. Uwatsum.  His rapport with Tim Conway is pretty priceless.

Bernard Fox is very convincing as the insane butler Justin.

But let’s get to the point, shall we?  Grace Zabriskie is certainly perfect in the part of Nanny (very Lotte Lenya)  [not to be confused with Alotta Fagina], but…

we should dedicate this review to the late Irwin Keyes who played the role of Jock (Jacques?) the hunchback.  Such a pithy role to portray a man with no tongue.  And Irwin did it well.  Mr. Keyes passed away only a few months ago and so it is appropriate that we honor his small but important contribution to this timelessly enjoyable film.

But remember, kids…next time someone asks you why you painted a picture of Don Knotts, just tell ’em (like Enid Coleslaw in Ghost World), “Because…I just, like Don Knotts.”  Take it from Thora Birch…  She has the right idea!  And if they still don’t leave you alone, tell ’em about wookalars 🙂 [boy, oh boy, oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy…this buzzard pus is really starting to back up on me…]

-PD