#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

Aaltra [2004)

Everything happens for a goddamned reason.  I wanted to type.  So I did.

It leaves me uneasy.  It’s the start of a faux writer.

But it fits this film.  If ever a film was accursed (like the archetypal poète maudit), then it is this immortal piece of cinema.

Long ago…in a messy room not so far away…I took a gamble on this Belgian film.  Because it was Belgian.

Belgium.

What is Belgium?  It’s not France.  It’s not Netherlands.  For the world of art, it exists as a sort of other Switzerland.

(At least that’s how I had it in my mind.)

I think of the great César Franck.  The great Symphony in D minor.

And I think of René Magritte.  [particularly L’Assassin menacé]

And so I jumped into this film as blindly as anyone.

What I could not have predicted was the sheer perfection which followed upon rolling tape.

There is strictly zero plot outlined on Wikipedia for this film.

Thus, you needs must only remember two names:  Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine.

These two directors blessed the world with a film equal to any of the nouvelle vague triumphs (not least because they chose to shoot in grainy black and white).

These two writers concocted a story which only Louis-Ferdinand Céline could have dreamt up.

And finally, these two actors (the same two gentlemen) schooled thespians the world over on how drama should be approached in the 21st century.

We must trust the images.

There are two handicapped spaces for rent, but a veteran from the Belgian Congo pushes them aside.

“Bwana, bwana”…like he’s in his Popemobile.

When you have lost the function of your legs, a bottle of rum is not begrudged.

The tide is high.  Now that we’ve fallen asleep.

Two heads bobbing in the water.  Wheelchairs in wet sand.

But it is sad as anything.  Two grown men.  A level of breakdown sobbing which is painful to watch.

Why me?

I can’t believe this.

The gags in this sob story (juxtaposition intended) modulate ad nauseam like Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” sung in Finnish.

Ah, Finland…

From Belgium to Finland.

Beware of pity (warned Stephan Zweig).

Maybe it’s best just to suck on the tailpipe of your Motocross dreams in Brazil.

Two crippled chaps on their way home.  Ambulance blues.  Drivers stop at a pub to shoot the shit (out in the agricultural boonies).  Two extra pints grasped at intervals by disembodied, transient hands.

Have you ever been cold and hungry?

Think about it (Jerry Lee implores).  Next time you see a beggar.  They may have the most unbelievable backstory imaginable.

Because people are nice and charitable (on average) for a maximum of about 10 minutes (if at all).  Usually nothing.

Must be a drug addict.  Doesn’t really need that wheelchair.  Probably got it at Homeless-Props-Are-Us.

When you’ve just been fired and you come home to find your wife fucking another man.  And he doesn’t even stop.

When you live in a barn and cook your miserable meals on a hotplate.

I’ve slept on that cot.  That’s why this film might be unbearable (and absolutely necessary).

Did I mention that this is a comedy?

Two blokes paralyzed and the doctor a paragon of efficiency (drumming for reflexes as they lay ridiculously side-by-side on parallel provincial hospital beds).

Meet me in my office in 30 minutes or you’re fired.

Nothing is more awkward.  Crammed in the same room to convalesce.  Enemies whose childish fight has left them forever outcasts.

Adding insult…(mugged…no money…no IDs…no passports)…to injury.

Bloody jawdropping genius.

-PD

Rich and Strange [1931)

Though the plot is relatively banal at times, this has to be one of the most bizarre cinematic concoctions ever.  The love stories which spin out from a troubled marriage are but the branches of this unwieldy tree.  Most importantly, this early Hitchcock film should not be overlooked as a superfluous, amateurish outing.

From the first moments we are thrust into the world of René Magritte.  The automata in their bowler hats rush from their clerical jobs and dutifully unfurl their umbrellas at the door before stepping onto a street in London.  All but one.  Poor old Fred (Henry Kendall) is having a rough day at the office and the roughness starts to really get going in earnest once he has clocked out.  Yes, Fred’s umbrella does not open.  On the Tube ride home he makes a series of mistakes due to poor balance.  As he reads the day’s paper with great effort he manages to give our auteur the perfect occasion to segue into the drama proper:  a headline inquiring as to the reader’s satisfaction with life.

Yes, Fred’s umbrella eventually opens…at his own doorstep!  As he enters his humble flat, having been soaked to the bone, his good wife industriously sews a new dress on a hand-cranked sewing machine.  Fred is disgusted with life.  He wants to get away.  To the sea!  Like clockwork, movie magic has a letter arrive in the post informing Fred that a relative is going to give him what’s coming to him in a will early so he can travel and see the world.  Fred and his wife Emily (Joan Barry) are set!

And so they take to the channel.  To Paris!  It becomes obvious early on that Fred has a problem with ocean travel.  For a great deal of the film (an around-the-world voyage) he will be laid up in his cabin too seasick to bat an eyelash.  Emily tries to make the best of it.  A kindly Commander Gordon (Percy Marmont) graciously keeps Emily entertained as her husband wiles away the hours in agony.  Gordon quickly begins falling for Emily.

After Fred finally gets his sea legs, his nouveau riche blindness leads him to follow after a German “princess.”  Soon Fred has far outpaced Emily in adulterous dealings.  The truth of the matter is that Emily feels guilty and doesn’t do much wrong.  Fred, on the other hand, goes head-first into playboy mode.  As the drama plays out, we feel sympathy for the continuously jilted Emily as well as for the sincere Commander Gordon.  Fred becomes more and more revolting by the day.

But this film really gets weird after we find out Fred’s “princess” is no princess at all.  After making off with 1000 pounds sterling, she hot-foots it to Rangoon.  Fred and Emily are then left to hobble back from Singapore to London on a steamer.

The steamer, apparently, crashes.  Fred and Emily are stuck in their cabin and no one hears their cries for help.  Thinking that they will go down with the ship, they are genuinely amazed to see the sun come up the next day.  They climb from their porthole and discover they are the last ones on board this floating wreck (save for a cat).

As the ship starts to take on more water a Chinese junk just happens to pull up.  As the Chinese sailors go aboard to scavenge, Fred and Emily hop on board the junk without asking or explaining (though I suppose the scene speaks for itself).  Once at sea, they witness the steamer finally sink.  All seems to be going well as the Chinese offer the two bowls of food.  Being absolutely ravenous, they forego the chopsticks and eat with their hands.  Across the ship a sailor tacks up the hide of a…what is that?  Yes, a cat.  Fred and Emily abruptly lose their appetites.

That’s about the gist of it.  Hitchcock really makes this thing fly with creative shots from many fascinating vantage points.  There is a bit aboard a moving Tube train.  The sequence in the Folies Bergère is pithy and surreal (especially the shot of the banjo player).  The Paris part in general bears a striking resemblance to the “city symphony” genre which is perhaps best remembered for Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927).  Hitchcock has his protagonist couple mechanically agog as they whip their necks back and forth during intercutting to Notre Dame and other Parisian sights.  The novelty would again show up in Strangers on a Train, but by then Hitch would have the knowing touch to add a constant (a static referent) to the mechanical motion:  the psychotic, uninterested tennis spectator Robert Walker.

…a sea-change/Into something rich and strange.  Indeed.

-PD