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April 15th, 2007


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03:05 pm - oh whatever
This weekend has brought about more than its fair share of disappointments, bad news and setbacks, including what could be a very lovely on va tous mourir, but I don't talk about such things here. No! I talk about MOVIES! And CHIMPS! And MOVIES ABOUT CHIMPS!! RIGHT UNDER THE CUT!!!1

You know what's fun? Watching Turner Classic Movies whilst playing your MMORPG of choice. It's two forms of escapism neatly wrapped into one, and often you get some very nice wallpaper media while you have your magical adventures in the Land of Elf or whatever. Some films aren't very fun if you only hear them for the most part. Some stuff, such as THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, is okay enough as much of the charm lies in the dialogue (though, okay, watching Hepburn perform an intricate love fandango with Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and John Howard is key as well) but others require a bit more attention.

I turned the game off to watch Charlie Charles Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR, which I had never fully seen, and was rewarded with some fine physical comedy and much respect for the incredible audacity that Chaplin had to make an incredible buffoon of Hitler while the dictator was very much in power and in his prime. (The story goes that Hitler immediately banned the film in every country in his clutches, but got ahold of a copy for himself. Chaplin never heard what Der Fuehrer thought of the film, though he often said he would've given anything to know.)

It is interesting to note that while the villians in the piece are Benzini Napolini of Bacteria and Chaplin's character, Adenoid Hynkel of Tomania (say the country's name out loud and consider 'bacteria' when you do) and all the other countries mentioned are fictitious as well, the targets of Hynkel's xenophobic persecution are very much Jewish. Sure, the film is a message movie which uses Chaplin's brand of physical comedy to make its point, and the insulting names and buffoonery is all very silly, but when the silly stormtroopers of the "Double Cross" march down the street, painting "JEW" on some storefronts and smashing the windows of others, suddenly it's not so silly.

And that's exactly the point.

The most famous scene of THE GREAT DICTATOR is Chaplin's lovely silent ballet sequence featuring Hynkel playing with a large inflatable globe (look closely to see Antarctica cleverly weighted so that the globe always remains North Pole up.) Hynkel tosses the toy in the air, balances it on his hand, kicks it back up with his feet, even gives it a gentle bump off the tuckus -- and the globe gracefully floats up and down as he plays with it. Then he seizes the world, grasps it firmly in both hands... and it pops.

The film's climax, which comes after a case of mistaken identity, features Chaplin staring at the camera delivering a full five-minute discourse on freedom. He wrote, he directed, okay, he gets to lecture. It's a long lecture, though, and it's basically where Charlot breaks down the fourth wall and says "Okay, kids, up until now it's been fun and games, but THIS IS REALITY. Enough with the metaphor, let's go for the literal here."

I found it fascinating, if overly preachy, but... well... you know, America kind of needed a bit of preachin' to at this point. Even though Europe was stuck with this Hitler fellow making a general mess of things (the opening titles describe this as a point in time when "...liberty took a nosedive and humanity was kicked around somewhat") America didn't come into the fray until it had been attacked itself. THE GREAT DICTATOR is Chaplin's first speaking role and after decades of silent films, he sure has a lot to say.

His best spoken joke, I think, is during a wartime scene in which Chaplin (in his second role as "A Jewish Barber") and a comrade in arms are making their escape, flying upside-down in an open-cockpit airplane. (Don't ask why they don't realize the plane is flying upside-down. You can't expect people to think when there's a war going on and all.) Chaplin takes off his safety belt because it's uncomfortable, and promptly falls out. He's saved only by grabbing the flight stick at the last second and holding on for dear life.

"Hey there!" the pilot says. "Give me that stick!"
"Impossible," Chaplin simply replies, dangling underneath the plane.

It's all in the delivery. And for a man who was mostly known for his silent jokes, I have much respect for that delivery.

Friday night I watched THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE, Disney's early 70s fluff starring Kurt Russell as a young young young man working in a TV network mail room and a chimp who picks TV hits. He (the chimp, not Kurt) can tell what show will be good by going OOK OOK OOK! happily and jumping up and down. If he doesn't like it, he goes pbbbttbhtbhthbth and gets increasingly irate until Kurt changes the channel. And wouldn't you know, every show he goes OOK OOK OOK! over becomes a hit. Of course, Kurt wishes to climb the corporate ladder, so he uses the chimp's TV picking ability to advise the Powers That Be what will be hits, and hey presto they are hits, so before you know it, the young Kurt has quickly risen to the impressive position of Vice President of the Network and has won an Emmy for "TV Man Of The Year."

Really.

Then Kurt has an attack of conscience over taking credit for the chimp's ability and tries to figure out a way to make things all better, but first Wally Cox and Joe Flynn have to try to steal the chimp and end up hanging off a 15-story building in a silly extended sequence that you know is in there merely for padding.

Once the chimp is discovered, the network honchos get extremely upset. Why, the American people would never stand for a chimp picking TV shows, they say! Even if the chimp is doing a better job than the people (ha! ha! There's the joke there, there's the statement on television!) And rather than let the chimp continue what he's doing, let the advertiser money roll in and pay for a month's supply of bananas rather than an executive's salary, they decide the chimp must go.

There's an extended coda and blah blah blah and Kurt eventually has the snot beat out of him while he screams like a cheerleader makes good with his girlfriend (who owned the chimp in the first place) and they run off to get married and whatever, the end.

Also, the movie's theme song is a catchy piece of tripe ("He's gonna make it! / He's gonna make it! / He's gonna take this cock-eyed world and shake it!") that's been stuck in my head for the entire weekend now. Damn you!

The real novelty in this film, as I mentioned to brak55, is that Kurt's girlfriend is played by Heather North, who for nearly 40 years has been paying the rent by playing the voice of Daphne in every Scooby-Doo franchise there is. Seriously. IMDB shows her last live-action role was in 1972, with the possible exception of a few Sesame Street episodes in the late 70s. Everything else for her since has been Scooby, Scooby, Scooby.

So if you ever wanted to know what the voice of Daphne looked like, well, watch this movie. Turns out she's a very pretty strawberry blonde with intense blue eyes, but her acting, well, was kinda flat. She always sounded very disappointed with something, even when she's supposed to be happy. But when she was supposed to be really happy, she was merely kind of happy, and when she was supposed to be really mad, she was only slightly angry. This may explain her finding success in voice acting and running with it, because really, Daphne's never been such a complex character in the Scooby-Doo mythos, has she?

My god, I can't believe I just used the phrase "Scooby-Doo mythos." Brain aneurysm, party of one, your table is ready.

But at least she acted better than the chimp, whose emotional range ran the gamut from OOK OOK OOK to pbbbttbhtbhthbth.

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