What About Bob? [1991)

We all need a little therapy.

Laughter 🙂

And sometimes we need a story that hits real close to home.

For me, this one does the trick.

Multiple phobias would be an understatement.

And I can relate.

You know, it’s sometimes these types of movies which make me the most weepy-eyed.

But only temporarily.

Bill Murray really knocks it out of the park on this one.

But Richard Dreyfuss is equally essential to the “trading places” dynamic at work here.

And not least, Frank Oz directed a sort of masterpiece with this film.

Bob, the protagonist, would make an excellent spy (in some regards).

His stalking skills are world-class (bar none).

But Bob has no malice in his heart.

He just needs help.

But woe unto the genius who becomes the apple of Bob’s eye.

Yes folks, Richard Dreyfuss’ patience is tested as much as Herbert Lom’s (as Chief Inspector Dreyfus…one “s”) ever was by Peter Sellers as Clouseau.

That is very much the dynamic which is at work in our film.

Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss…”ss”) is a very bright psychiatrist.

He prominently displays his bust of Freud in his office and, while on vacation, at his lakeside home.

His son is named Sigmund.

His daughter, Anna.

And his wife looks much Jung-er than in her picture.

[I couldn’t resist]

But Bob is the kind of guy for whom the “block caller” function on your iPhone was invented.

As I said, however, Bob would make an excellent member of the intelligence community if he were not a practically-paralyzed nutbag.

Bob has problems “moving”.

But, to be frank, Bob has problems with everything.

Each and every activity which most people take for granted presents a unique hurdle for the perpetually-nervous Bob.

And I can relate.

Boy, can I!

Yet, what Bob lacks in conventional “people skills”, he makes up for with an endearing, warmhearted ease that he imparts to everyone he meets.

People love this guy.

If they take a second to get to know him.

And so we start with a patient (Bob) and a doctor (Leo).

But the lines blur early and often.

And so what director Frank Oz seems to be pointing out is something which Harvard professor Clay Christensen pointed out in his book How Will You Measure Your Life? not so long ago.

While Dr. Christensen makes clear that his former classmates at the Harvard Business School all seem to share a certain dissatisfaction with their lives (regardless of their tony jobs at McKinsey & Co., etc.), his thoughts on “disruptive innovation” occasioned an invitation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to speak on this latter phenomenon.

So what I mean to say is this:  yes, this is self-help, but it’s serious, serious stuff!

Funny enough, that seems to describe Bob quite well.

Operation Nifty Package could have been shortened by nine days (and spared the royalties to ASCAP and BMI) had a Bob Wiley merely been sent in to chat with Manuel Noriega 1989/1990.

Which is to say, Bob Wiley represents that person we all think we know:  the most annoying person in the world.

They don’t come along often.

But when they do (and we are their captive audience), it makes psychological warfare look like child’s play.

So indeed, from the perspective of Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob Wiley must have seemed like a human weapon intent on wrecking his life.

The problem was that Dr. Marvin had become more focused on accolades (Good Morning America) and money than on the excellence of his caregiving.

Dr. Leo’s kids see this quite clearly.

Kathryn Erbe is excellent as Anna.  She shows true generosity to Bob and an open heart.

Charlie Korsmo is wonderful as Sigmund.  He does the same.  He treats Bob as a person, not a patient.

But this film is therapeutic for me in that it shows (albeit in caricature) some of the very problems I go through on a daily basis.

Fear of the edge.  Ok, let’s just make this the edge.  No no, I can’t see what you’re doing from back there.

Bob has a certain bit of Forrest Gump in him.

Dumb luck.  Or serendipity.

But really, Bob is an expert on psychological problems…because he has lived them.

Mind as battlefield.  You might see it on the endcap of your local book store.

But for Bob, that’s not just a catchy title.

It’s life.

You’re in a lake…for the first time ever…because someone has just pushed you in…and you are kicking your legs, trying to get back to the pier…but you swim under the pier, because you’re nervous…and all you can say is, “Am I gonna die?”

It’s funny.  Unless you’ve lived a situation which maps neatly onto that microcosmic display.

So slowly we see Dr. Leo deteriorate.  It’s partly because Bob is so bonkers, but it’s also because Bob is succeeding where Leo is failing.

Saying a kind word.

A compliment.

A smile.

A joke.

Laughter.

Fun!

We don’t any of us hold all of the cards.

You might be beautiful, but you might be a moron.

You might be rather homely, but simultaneously brilliant.

Human talents and intelligence(s) operate on an infinite number of intersecting planes.

For each of our talents or attributes, we are weighed by the “market” of human opinion.

Illustrating that great scientific query:  “In relation to what?”

One human in the lonely crowd.

And one attribute in a body and mind full of vast potential.

Bob looks pathetic in a rain slicker at 1 a.m.

With his knee-jerk reactions to thunderclaps.

And Bob looks thoroughly bizarre with his goldfish in a jar around his neck.

But these are the humans we need.

These are the spice of life.

Some would condescend and venture “salt of the earth”.

But I am sticking with spice of life.

What really gets it is when Bob pulls a sort of witless Al Kooper and ends up on live national television via Joan Lunden.

And so we return to patience.

That virtue.

It’s a test.

And patience is its own reward.

You will find the value society places on this most essential human attribute.

Yet, this patience must be tested.  Stress tested.  Like a bank.

Over years of potentially infuriating situations.

If you make it through, relatively unscathed, there’s a good chance you picked up the tools necessary for significant patience.

But we cultivate our own patience when we recognize its priceless effect upon our own lives.

How many times would you have been up shit creek had there not been a patient person there to pull you in to shore?

If we are smart (and lovers of humanity), we emulate this patience we’ve seen in action.

We make it part of our persona.

But it will be tested!

As in a crucible!!

And so what about Bob?

Bob is the oddity which places us in just the right perspective.

A bit like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Yes friends, Dr. Leo has some issues which he is not working through.

He never saw a Bob coming.

He had no contingency for this sort of personage.

And so he is off-guard.  Mean.  Ugly.  Nasty.  Snotty.  Vile.

Dark humor doesn’t have to be that dark.

How do you deal with your fear of death?

Consider developing a fear of Tourette’s syndrome.

Et voilá!

The great Paul Laurence Dunbar understood this concept…that in helping others, we magically forget about our own pain.

One more possibility about Bob as an intel employee.  If he found a superior whom he highly respected, there would be a bond of trust which would be invaluable.

This has been Death Therapy, with your host:  Pauly Deathwish. 🙂

-PD

Twin Peaks “Checkmate” [1991)

Project Blue Book.

Of course he was familiar with it.

Just like Sean Connery knew a bit about gold.

And an overdose of bombois.

Superfluous papilla.

Suddenly…everything has changed.

But we’re stuck back in a nightmare with another St. Annie.

If you see her…please tell her thanks a lot.

If you see her…say hello.

For…Virginia!

Kindly tell me why there’s no fire on those hills.

Gettysburg.

You’re standing on J.E.B. Stuart.

A sweet love story.

It’s David Duchovny month here at paulydeathwish.com.

10cc.

Tambourine with heaps of shimmering reverb.

Fort Meade.

Maybe all he needs is a shot in the arm.

Cooper still does the right thing.

Michael Parks as Jean Renault.

Impeccable broken English with a French accent.

Like a diabolical Clouseau.

Spookiest is the woozy Kevin Shields treatment.

Periodically cutting the power as at Incirlik.

This is the genius of Giacinto Scelsi.

On one note.

Or Roland Kirk with a water hose.

Too quiet in America.

Mate on the move.

 

-PD

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne [1945)

Bresson has been slaying me recently.

First Balthazar, and now this.

They are similar.

Films which seem boring.

You watch them once.  They wash over you.  Very little effect.

And then you are stranded at the end of the world.

Just you and Górecki’s third symphony.

Yes, you pack away some life beneath your belt.

You ingest the poison trickery of the world.

Et voila!

The film comes to life.

All the Frenchies start out looking the same in black and white.

You furiously follow the subtitles.

But the film presents meaning the second time around.

First were the forms.

A donkey.  Some sluts.  Bad memory.

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is so forgettable the first time around.

All we remember is the Bois.

Conflated with some lines of Céline’s Voyage…

But this is the real deal.

Maria Casarès was like the Alida Valli of The Paradine Case here.

Indeed, it just may be that Hitchcock lifted the essence of his criminally underrated film (no pun intended) from Bresson’s minor masterpiece of two years previous.

Whatever the case may be, Casarès is absolutely diabolical as Hélène.

Revenge is a dish best served.

Simmer, reduce, garnish, and serve.

Revenge revenge revenge.

And yet we feel for Hélène.

And so in the grand mystery of the spheres we wonder, “What is God if not an impossible camera angle?”

A crumpled note.

Our hearts torn to shreds.

And always raining.

Like some goddamned B-movie with a thunder sheet in the wings.

If I didn’t hook you at first, then you’re not still with me.

HOW TO BLOG:

brevity.

The oppression of Twitter.

So we must think of the greatest tricks of all time.

The recent Microsoft Tay psyop.  To make Trump and his followers look stupid.

As if he needs any help.

But a very real conspiracy none the less.

For some events are so transparent.

And some pure whores like  Agnès (Elina Labourdette) have that bullshit detection meter straight out of The Shining.

Preternatural, if not supernatural.

We might think we’re being tricked.

Too good to be true IS.

“Deceit deceives itself.”  Guy Debord.  D.N. Smith.

It is a very delicate story.

The crystallization of immense pain.

Vanity, yes.

But also human nature.  Survival of the ego.

A hurt so deep as to propel plans.  Special plans.  Operations.

Some countries blow up their own cities.

The old “self-inflicted wound” ploy…as Clouseau would call it.

Orwell was very clear about this in 1984.  The government is firing rockets at its own people.

Because it is only natural to assume an outside enemy as culpable, the true authors slip by.

And as the narrative becomes codified and accepted…and everyone has come back to the NFL, and hockey, and soccer…then the beast can’t be disturbed.

The beast which knows not its own power.

The beast whose abuse rises from below.

The Lilliputians in charge condescend upwards.

All bark and no bite.

And the beast bites the wrong lands.

Afghanistan.  Iraq.

With each passing year the creation myth (9/11) requires inference upon inference upon inference to justify the next humanitarian bombing.

Libya.  Syria.

Very few understand the importance of replacing due process with death by Hellfire missile.

Yemen.

No wonder the video game makers consult with the Pentagon.

A seamless transition from energy drinks in mom’s basement to the joysticks of drone strikes.

Far afield.

From those ladies.

Those ladies who have been used.

Sold a false bill of goods.

A very sloppy expression.  Arcane.

Left dangling like a modifier.

And so we want to go back to a simpler time.

Before we gave up on our dreams (in the blink of an eye).

I call out to cold regions.  Cold rooms.

I call out to cold hearts.  Mixed response.

But the one true miracle is to push onwards.

No more sugar-coating the shite she dished out.

She was a real bitch.

And I was as mad as any painterly glass of absinthe ever existed.

I can’t forget.

No, never.

But I can forgive.

Not much here to steal or ruin.

A very marginal existence.

I can sleep because of a girl.

A dream of a girl.

A girl I don’t even know.

She is hope.

A sort of personification of liberty.

And when will we revolt from this life and bolt?

One step at a time.

Not hasty.

So many years piled on my shoulders.

This is, by the way, a film review.

Not caring how ridiculous I look.

Take your best shot.

World, shut your mouth.

I was no trick.

I’ve been desperate.  Money troubles.  My ethics in the gutter.

But given a second chance by the universe I made an important decision.

To be boring.

A few days longer.

Some dreams worth chasing, others are a disease.

People over profit.

Sign me up, Chomsky!

Better get right with the lord.

Or git hit in yer soul.

It’s easy.  Chomsky won’t touch 9/11.

And Alex Jones won’t touch Israel.

It’s easy.

Why?  Same team, different squads.

I don’t care.

Not being run down by no third-rate psyop.

Fuck your Godwin’s law.

This was 1945.

An odd year to be jilted.

 

-PD

#3 The Curse of Mr. Bean [1990)

Just who does Donald Trump think he is???

Answer:  Sam Walton.

It’s the big, goofy, mesh-backed baseball cap.  The ones with the plastic snaps and infinitesimally small corresponding holes.  And then the squishy, peaked frontispiece:  “Make America great again” –or– (alternately) “Wal-Mart”.

That is the Donald’s costume…out on the campaign trail.  It’s bold.  Comedic.  A bit like George H.W. Bush “shopping” for groceries out among the common folk and being dumbfounded by this whole newfangled barcode scanner.

Yes, Donald Trump:  man of the people.

And so who did Rowan Atkinson think he was with Mr. Bean?

Well, that one’s a whole lot harder to pinpoint.

We might know Chaplin.  And Sellers.

But then there’s all these other institutions which don’t quite translate outside of Britain…The Goon Show, Dudley Moore, The Goodies…

Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?

We want to think it’s all original.  And perhaps it is.

But influence is unavoidable.

And so with the third and final episode of 1990, Atkinson gave us The Curse of Mr. Bean.  [1991 would yield only one episode of the show.]

The curse…hmmm…certainly sounds like an allusion to Sellers’ Clouseau.

Whatever the case may be, Atkinson’s material is all tied together with a very cohesive theme this time:  fear.

Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).

Fear of public nudity or embarrassment (lost his trunks in the pool).

And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:

fear of movies.

It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.

For instance, the Talking Heads’ Eno-produced Fear of Music (1979).

But for Bean, the horror was more of the Freddy Krueger type.

Indeed, by December 30, 1990 (this show’s airdate), there had already been five (yes, 5ive) A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Churned out of the dream factory like diabolical cotton candy, they appeared in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989.  The series then would recommence in 1991.  Which begs the question, just what was Freddy Krueger up to in 1986?  Laying low?  Vacationing?  The Caribbean?

To wit, Bean is scared witless while on a date (yes, those things where aspiring romantics “go out”) with the absolutely adorable Matilda Ziegler.

For those of you (like me) who can’t live without pithy character names, Ziegler’s role (like my beloved Enid Coleslaw) is that of Irma Gobb.

And Bean, therefore, is the man-child…the everlasting Gobbstopper [sic].

[Which is to say, Ziegler’s character is a reoccurring one.]

Perhaps we need to look further back to find a precedent for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean…perhaps out of the world of comedy proper.  Perhaps to the Dadaists?  I can certainly imagine Mr. Bean dressed as a sort of human tampon à la Hugo Ball…with lobster claw hands.  Or maybe Bean with a lobster telephone courtesy of Dalí.  Certainly Bean would have a pet lobster to take for walks in the Bois de Boulogne with a ribbon for a leash like Gérard de Nerval.

But we perhaps perhaps perhaps need to look further.  To the wry humor of Marcel Duchamp.  To the childlike fancy and brilliance of a René Magritte or an Erik Satie.  Even, god forbid, the humor of a Mauricio Kagel.

Conductors don’t have heart attacks mid-concert?  Not according to Kagel’s Ludwig Van.

Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.

He’s never Anthony Braxton’s Quartet for Amplified Shovels.

No, Bean always remains funny.

And so, perhaps, nothing is more revolutionary than comedy.

This kind of comedy.

Absolutely scripted, miniaturist-perfect comedy worthy of Jacques Tati.

In that sense, we might say that Mr. Bean is like Peter Sellers having Charlie-Chaplin-like total control over a production.  At least that’s the way it seems.

Perhaps we would be criminally neglecting the director of these first three Bean episodes:  John Howard Davies.

But in such comedies, the thing really does speak for itself.

Rowan Atkinson fills every moment of screen time in these gems with his thoroughly inimitable charm.

 

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

[THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD

The Pink Panther Strikes Again [1976)

This is a brilliant film. And though I doubt the Quasimodo disguise kit which Clouseau just happened to have on hand prior to learning of Dreyfus’ escape was spun-off into a product tie-in, it should have been.

The problem with the prior film (The Return of the Pink Panther) is remedied here in spades with liberal experimentation. Having Dreyfus form a S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-like crime organization is as ingenious as it is utterly ridiculous. Students of German cinema may be left wondering whether Professor Fassbender is actually a reference to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. No matter: the joy of this film is how little it takes itself seriously.

Clouseau once again is buoyed by his charmed existence: like Charlie Chaplin meets Forrest Gump. The world’s top assassins (assigned to kill our beloved Inspector) are no match for Clouseau’s fateful luck–stumbling over each other like a bunch of amateurs in his wake–and he is none-the-wiser (being both detached and oblivious).  Peter Sellers was pure nitrous oxide when he was at his best. His visual humor has been near-unparalleled in the history of cinema. His performance in this film ranks with The Party as among his best.

Awkward men everywhere can exult in the clumsy attempt Clouseau makes near the end of the movie to simply get undressed (similar to his misadventures with Capucine in the original installment of the series).

Director Blake Edwards expanded on the “psychedelic” touches of The Return of the Pink Panther by having more outrageous slow-motion scream-groans in the primary karate skirmish between Cato and Clouseau. It is a truly masterful instance of surrealism.

In short, it is a viewing experience not to be missed. This is your dossier.

-PD

The Return of the Pink Panther [1975)

From the start it is a pale imitation of Topkapi.

But the film is salvaged by upping the ridiculousness of Sellers’ French accent.

The grand premise is similar to Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (1955), but the Pink Panther series had by 1975 lost that je ne sais quoi which made the first two films of the series minor masterpieces.

This film is really all about Sellers’ uncanny skill at impressions (and there are some good ones):  the phone company man, the German-speaking housekeeper and even the Tony Clifton-esque playboy.

It is interesting to note that Sellers actually did have a residence in Gstaad (one of the principal settings for this film).

Also interesting to note is that Graham Stark (who had previously played Hercule LaJoy in A Shot In The Dark (1964), the second episode in the series) plays the role of Pepi.  Pepi is actually the only other interesting character in this whole film.  There is a sort of “Signor Ugarte meets Marty Feldman’s Igor” about his performance.

The direction at least has some interesting “psychedelic” moments (I’m thinking of the two slow-motion shots of Sellers flying through the air attempting an unsuccessful karate kick).

One thing is certain:  Sellers had a comedic magic which even caused his fellow actors (Catherine Schell in this film) to visibly “crack up” during takes.  The “corpsing” (as it is known) will be familiar to viewers of Saturday Night Live.  Sellers really embodied the part (as any good purveyor of imitations would).  When true comedic genius is present, it is often hard to find a Zeppo Marx.

But what I find most fascinating about this awful film (awful aside from Sellers) is that the director Blake Edwards had just three years previous made a fantastic drama starring James Coburn called The Carey Treatment (1972).  Edwards was no slouch as a director.  That then brings into question the underrated acting skills of Coburn (Derek Flint for spy-spoof enthusiasts).

With the immense talent of Sellers and the thorough competence of Edwards, I can only surmise that (like the Bond series beginning with You Only Live Twice (1967)) the series itself became a stale constraint due to pressure from above.  The only real innovation allowed to happen was in the liberties Sellers took with the Clouseau character.  The accent is more indecipherable, yet that becomes formulaic over the course of 114 minutes as the new gag is run into the ground.  The imitations are creative and elaborate (almost like a playful take on Dr. Strangelove), but none of them seem particularly well thought-out.  Somehow there was a disconnect between the talents of Sellers and Edwards.  Had they been creating as one, this awfully good film might have been great.

 

-PD