Kingpin [1996)

The concept of the “family” movie has changed since The Sound of Music in 1965.

Wikipedia, that grand arbiter of officiality, does not primarily recognize “family” as a genre.

They opt for “children’s film”.

Nonetheless, the Wiki article lists “family film” as an alternative name for this nebulous genre.

In 1965, The Beatles were still releasing albums like Rubber Soul.

1966 saw these same alchemists get a bit edgier with Revolver.

By 1967, the whole world was tripping balls to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s important to document this sea change in pop culture by way of the personages pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s:

-Aleister Crowley

-Lenny Bruce

-William S. Burroughs

-Karl Marx

-and many others.

Just these four personalities alone made for a shocking collection on the cover of what was sonically a hippy-dippy platter.

But maketh thou no mistake:  The Beatles were self-consciously out to SHOCK!

1971.

By then, The Beatles were no more.

1968 had come and gone (violently).  And The Beatles had reached their zenith (or nadir) of angst with songs like “Helter Skelter” (from “The White Album“).

There were no new Beatles albums in 1971.

Indeed, there was never again a “new” Beatles album

But 1971 gave us Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

And so, about four years late, Hollywood managed to weave the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s into a bona fide family classic.

It took a while longer before Hollywood had another idea with legs (other than just borrowing from the great minds in rock music).

Aliens!

It is worth noting that the three original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, and 1983) were interpolated in 1982 by a cute alien named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Sure, there were classic superheroes (like Superman in 1978), but the next real wave was another coup of futuristic thinking.

Time machines.

The Back to the Future franchise raked in whopping revenue of nearly a billion dollars at the box office over the release years of 1985, 1989, and 1990.

But still, no major taboos had been broken in this fragile genre.

There was no auteur conversant in James Monaco’s theories on “exploding genres”.

Yet, two films from this same period stick out as family-proto (not proto-family).

1988:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  [ooh la la…stretching the genre like Jessica Rabbit stretched her red sequin gown]

-1989:  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [a real benchmark or signpost…perhaps not as racy a National Lampoon’s Vacation, but still edgy enough to elicit laughter during “the decline of the West” (as Oswald Spengler put it)]

Which almost brings us to the unlikely masterpiece that is Kingpin.

Randy Quaid had been counted on by the National Lampoon franchise for his peerless role of Cousin Eddie.

By 1996, he would become a priceless asset for the makers of Kingpin.

It is hard to chart how we went from The Sound of Music to Kingpin…even with the help of the inestimable Beatles.

If we are to really reach our goal (an explanation), we must follow the followers–the children of The Beatles.

-1970:  Syd Barrett was still bloody mad (and brilliant) on The Madcap Laughs [especially the song “No Good Trying”]

-The Mothers of Invention released albums titled Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh [pretty odd, edgy stuff]

-and international artists like Amon Düül II (from Germany) gave the world a whole new organic, electro-bombastic sound to attempt to decode

-1971:  The Krautrock invasion continued with CAN’s Tago Mago

-Tribal hippies Comus found the perfect sound with First Utterance

-1972:  Hawkwind released their cosmic, perpetual-motion masterpiece Doremi Fasol Latido

-1973:  Pink Floyd changed the cultural landscape with Dark Side of the Moon (perhaps presaging the space/aliens films which would preoccupy family film makers in the coming years)

-Brian Eno melted many minds with his masterpiece Here Come the Warm Jets (complete with the balding artist on the cover in drag)

But we missed something significant:

Led Zeppelin.

If the 1970s belonged to any one band, it was this one.

-their first two albums were released in 1969

-by the time of Led Zeppelin III (1970), they were competing against overt (though clownish) occultists like Black Sabbath [Jimmy Page of Zeppelin being a more covert, zealous admirer of Aleister Crowley]

Led Zeppelin IV was released in 1971

Houses of the Holy saw the light of day in 1973

Physical Graffiti dropped in 1975

But as Led Zeppelin began to peter out, another group picked up the slack and streamlined the music.  Their message was as tough as their humor was bawdy.

AC/DC slapped the world with High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), and other masterpieces which made for a loud world.

But music was just getting started in asserting its agenda for Hollywood.

Iggy Pop dropped two masterpieces in 1977.  One light and tough (Lust for Life), and the other a much darker affair (The Idiot).

But the real earthquake…the real force which rent the curtain in the temple was Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.

From this album in 1977, nothing was ever the same again.

And so the film under consideration, Kingpin, was born from many decades of broken taboos.

Some would call this “progressive” (and then proceed to solicit a donation).

Oswald Spengler might rightly have called it The Decline of the West.

But in the case of Kingpin, I can only call it funny.

I can’t pass judgement on film since 1965.

As to whether it is fit for families to view together.

But I can pass judgement on this film insofar as its most important merit.

It’s damned funny!

I was Munsoned by Cinema Paradiso.  Long ago.

I thought I had a chance.  But I was Amish.  I just didn’t know it yet.

But let’s first start by talking about the dirtbags who frame this film.

#1 is Woody Harrelson (though he starts as just a protégé).

Woody has had an interesting life.

When I was growing up in San Antonio, one of our family shows to watch after the 10 p.m. news was Cheers.  This gave us great comfort.  Great laughs.  And Woody played the character Woody Boyd.  One of the bright spots of a great television cast.

But Woody Harrelson’s dad was a hitman (in real life).  And he killed (in 1979) U.S. federal judge John H. Wood Jr. right here in my hometown:  San Antonio.

It was a drug hit.  Harrelson’s father hired for $250,000 to shoot and kill this judge outside of his home.  The drug dealer who hired Harrelson got 30 years.  Harrelson got life in jail.

Harrelson denied in court that he killed Judge Wood.  He claimed he just took credit for it so he could collect the money.

Well, all of this backstory fits quite nicely into the dirtbag saint Woody Harrelson plays in Kingpin.

#2 is Bill Murray.  Bill is an old hand (no pun intended).  Bill’s character teaches Woody a lot, but Bill’s a real bastard in this film.  Of course, this is a comedy.  So his ostentatious cruelty is worth a few snickers here and there.

At this point it is worth mentioning the twisted (gifted) minds which brought us this film: the Farrelly brothers.

Peter Farrelly (whose birthday is two day away) and his slightly-younger brother Bobby Farrelly.

You might know them from their work such as Dumb and Dumber and the Jonathan-Richman-chalked There’s Something About Mary.

[N.B.  Richman makes a great cameo in Kingpin.  We may not have Lou Reed anymore, but thank God for Jonathan!]

The action of our film shifts from Ocelot, Iowa (“Instead of a dentured ocelot on a leash…”) to hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[home of “Creepy” Joe Biden]

Randy Quaid (#MAGA) is fantastic as an Amish rube with a promising set of bowling skills.

Somewhere along the way, the opportunistic Harrelson becomes Quaid’s manager.

I got great joy out of seeing this.

Because there are few more difficult things than managing “personalities”.

I’ve done it.

Now I have an advanced degree in management.

And still, I know…it’s hard!

But back to family films.

This IS a family film.

But it is also an example of what the family film has become.

In general, this picture would not be suitable for young children to view.

That’s just my opinion.

But perhaps it’s a subgenre of family film.

It’s something which parents with high-school-aged kids MIGHT be able to enjoy with their children.

But I leave that discretion up to the parents.

Because the Farrelly brothers like to SHOCK!

It’s funny.  They’re good at it.  It has a point.  But it might be too lewd for some families.

Speaking of which, it is a quite interesting device with which the Farrellys chose to frame their film:  the Amish.

It borders on surreal, but this bawdy comedy always has the temperate presence of the Amish throughout.

In a certain way, I think it does great honor to the Amish.

From an entertainment perspective, it’s genius.

But this is also a road movie.

And we know strange things happen on the road.

I was just so impressed by Woody Harrelson’s acting.  It’s effortless.  Flawless.

And I was equally impressed by Randy Quaid’s naïveté.  Truly an acting coup!

But the film gets REALLY interesting when Vanessa Angel hops on the bandwagon!!

Remember her from Spies Like Us, emerging from that snow-covered tent in her underwear?

Yeah, that’s her.

And it turns out that she’s a very good actress!

Ah, but thank God for condoms!!!

At the end, you will feel proud of your efforts.

To walk out the door everyday into a corrupt world.

We are all sinners.

But music saves us.

“Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston is a revelation.

And makes me wistfully recall my last days as a professional musician.

“I Want Candy” is such a tough beat!  The Strangeloves!!!

“I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren is magical music at a magical moment in this film.

“Showdown” by Electric Light Orchestra is the perfect tune to pit Murray against Harrelson.

But the real eyeopener was hearing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman.

Such a magical song!

Great movie.  Great acting.  Comes from a place of reality.

-PD

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

Marketa Lazarová [1967)

The epic of Czech film.

Its reputation precedes it.

And I have much to say about this gargantuan length of film.

For when last I delved into the canon, I was greeted with a short watch.

It was pleasant.  It was complete.  Everything which needed to be said was said.

This film is in some ways the opposite.

Two hours and 42 minutes.

I have not had such trouble viewing a film since Jeanne Dielman…

And I want to say this is the equal of that Belgian gem.

Marketa Lazarová is played by the stunningly-beautiful Magda Vášáryová.

Magdaléna if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

A Slovak actress.  Who lives!

But sadly Ms. Vášáryová is in this film far too little.

When she appears, she usurps the screen with her loveliness.

She is as fleeting as a lamb…

Visions fugitives…[…]

She is our lamb we try to save.

To no avail.

My beard is invisible.  I am twice my age.

Mostly from sitting through this film.

This is the Czech Gone with the Wind.

Overlong.  Underdone.

But there is a reward in its totality.

It’s as if Buñuel greets us upon the start of Part II.

Yes, there’s an intermission of sorts.

Good God…

The internal monologue of the Almighty.

When He’s least enamored with us.

Appreciates our simplicity.  And breaks the fourth wall with a critique of our oratory skills.

So director František Vláčil did have some truly genius tricks up his sleeve.

But most of this film is bleak.  Bare.  Plodding. More ennui than boredom.

Which is to say that misery sounds more artful in French.

The misery of a convoluted story told by a mediocre bard.

And so someone didn’t do somebody justice.

František Vláčil had real facility.

Then do we find fault with novelist Vladislav Vančura?

Perhaps it was just a bad match.

But it’s not a bad film.

It’s just not the greatness which so often accrues to length.

Long doesn’t necessarily mean important.

Did Kissinger really need 912 pages to relate Diplomacy?

I’m not even a fan of Tolstoy.

There are, in fact, few behemoths behind which I can get.

The Brothers Karamazov is one.

And I would argue that Marketa Lazarová has some of that pithy, earthy grit to it.

A little witchcraft.

Some battle-axes.

Missing limbs.

But Vláčil manages to add very faint, subtle hints of psychedelia to this story.

It was, after all, 1967.

But it’s more ergot than LSD.

Ennui/boredom.

A slight différance.

 

-PD

Ordet [1955)

I’m so scared of life.

So scared of death.

And everything in between.

And so I thank the God of all religions.

My God.  Whom I do not own.  Not mine alone.

Once, an old lady in a corner taught me how to pronounce Søren Kierkegaard.  [Kierka Gourd]

And I delivered a speech of mere seconds…in Denmark…extolling Ordet.

And now we have come full circle.

What was living has died.

And in the spark of a moment is alive again.

That is the miracle of cinema which the auteur theorists captured.

It’s not just the story.  It’s how you tell it.

That spark of manipulating the mystery…the seventh art…cinema…that is authorship.

The breath of life.

Magic.

Yes.

Anything can happen in the movies.

Everything is possible.

The mutants receive new life from David Byrne and Luaka Bop captures a situation à la Yves Klein.

Johannes will often spout out nonsense.  Seemingly.  The insanity of religion.

But few times has the essence of faith been so lovingly portrayed as here.

Certainly Francesco, giullare di Dio.  Rossellini.  Five years previous.

Yes, the jester of God.

I am here for you.  For that very purpose.  My sermon.  Amen.

Now that we finally have a Pope who espouses omnism.

And there are those who would call him antichrist.

Rubbish!

Be like Peter.  Peter Peterson.  Reread the words of Jesus.

It’s all a bunch of unimportant bollocks over which we are arguing.

And meanwhile propaganda puts truth at the service of falsehood.

But I’m just a messed up kid.

I’ve studied too much.

Like Johannes.

I’m delusional.

Especially insofar as thinking I can change anything whatsoever.

What faith!  What insanity!!

No.

I merely have the heart of Mikkel.  The doubter.

And I grow into the form of Morten.  The pessimist.

But what about that magic?

That electric guitar with a lightening flash?  Perfectly synchronized.

Those behind-the-scenes meanderings of God.  A humble god.  Not drawing too much attention.

Yes, that is the sentiment of Inger (Birgitte Federspiel).

Everything we have ever loved.

Taken from us.

Goodbye.

And all the while Preben Lerdorff Rye wanders around as if in a trance.

Exactly like Nicolas de Gunzberg in Vampyr.

Exactly like Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

And exactly like the mad saints who penned the great maniacal books.

The Gospel of John (Johannes).  The Word.  Ordet.

And the Book of Revelation.  Dangerous plaything of the lonely.

Harmless psychedelia taken literally.

So obviously a bad trip.  And what a perfect exclamation of fear to finalize the canon.

And how ironic that the futurists have never heard of Giacomo Balla or Carlo Carrà or even Marinetti himself.

Yes.  Not at all ironic.

Dialectic.  Socratic method.  Devil’s advocate.

Unity of opposites.  Heraclitus.  Logos.

I say, my good man…  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Harrumph!

Is the auto-antonym flammable or inflammable?  Make up your mind!

And cleave TO or diverge like cleavage (literally)?

Which is to say, “defined by its opposite”.

Leadership><Followership.

You’ll end up hating algebra (wink wink).

iff!

(~)

ñot!  Borat.

Bathetic (!)

+ or

with black pieces, mind you:

“1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.c3 Bg4 5.Bc4 Nd7 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 Qe7 8.a4 a6 9.b4 Ba7 10.Na3 Ngf6 11.f5 c6 12.d3 h6 13.Nc2 Rd8 14.Be3 Bb8 15.O-O Nh7 16.Qg4 Qf8 17.h4 Ndf6 18.Qf3 Qe7 19.g4 d5 20.Bc5 Bd6 21.Bxd6 Qxd6 22.Bb3 O-O 23.Rad1 g5 24.Ne3 Kg7 25.h5 Rfe8 26.Rf2 Nf8 27.Rb2 b5 28.Ra2 d4 29.axb5 axb5 30.Nc2 Ra8 31.Rxa8 Rxa8 32.cxd4 exd4 33.Kg2 N8d7 34.Qf2 Nxg4 35.Qxd4+ Qxd4 36.Nxd4 Ne3+ 37.Kf3 Nxd1 38.Bxd1 Ne5+ 39.Ke3 Ra1 40.Be2 Rb1 41.Nf3 Nxf3 42.Bxf3 Rxb4 43.e5 c5 44.Bc6 Rb1 45.Ke4 b4 46.Kd5 b3 47.Kd6 b2 48.Ke7 Re1 49.f6+ Kg8 50.Be4 Rxe4 51.dxe4 b1=Q 52.Kd6 Qxe4 0–1”

Will easily lead you to a rather insignificant Rousseau.

A social contract for the turnstiles.

“the things that you’re liable/to read in the Bible”

And yet the tearstains remain on my glasses…

Like a day at the beach.

Long ago.

Salty.

I pray this that and the uttering.

The word.

If it be possible.

 

-PD

The Cat in the Hat [1971)

TV special…

“We interrupt your regularly-scheduled program to bring you a flight of fancy free.”

Dr. Seuss.  SS.  Theodor Seuss Geisel.

If the PhD proves too difficult–too stultifying, then just drop out.  Right?

David H. DePatie.  Friz [sic] Freleng.

Allan Sherman is great as the voice of the title character.  The eponymous feline.

But most interesting is the fish:  Karlos K. Krinklebein.

(!)

You can’t make this shit up.

Krinkelbein?

Perhaps it’s Carlos…

In any case, it’s Daws Butler voicing the goldfish.

Directed by Hawley Pratt (who graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn).

Again with the not making of the shit up.

But most important are the readymade, pre-reified Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Woe unto Thurl Ravenscroft for voicing merely one Thing (Thing 1, mind you!).

He was Tony the Tiger.

(!)

“They’re grrreat!”

The dumbest, most genius tagline ever.

Thou canst not maketh up such as this…on the 400th year of our laird.

The Grinch stole Christmas in 1966.  Right there on CBS.

Thurl crooned “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and became doubly immortal.

Never underestimate Tony the Tiger.

Or the Tourette’s Guy.

Danny.

Anthony L. Six.

A weird last name.

Brilliant!

And Jared.

YouTube diamond.

Back to the cat…our composer Dean Elliott.

Eleven years after composing the score for Sex Kittens Go to College, he was in the animation business (more or less).

To go from Mijanou Bardot (Brigitte’s sister) to the moss-covered three-handled family credenza.

Credenza…altar for food of the elite.  Most elite.  Papal.

With faith (belief), the food taster.  Not discriminating flavor.  Checking poison.

Mamie Van Doren and Tuesday Weld.  Back to the (sex) kittens.

It’s the real deal.  Chuck Jones.  Producer.

Indeed, Siberia.

Indeed.

Sympathy.  And Yerself is Steam.

It’s mania.  It’s depression.

Are you experienced?  (¿With backmasking)

That’s the sombrero psychedelia.

chapka in a shlyapa.

Cat matryoshka.

EmrNyisIdtdGelrMeyA

 

-PD