I know I first saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail, oh, probably some time back in the ‘80’s on VHS. I’ve probably seen it once or twice since, perhaps once on the big screen. Even the first time I saw it, so many bits were iconic that I’d heard them countless times. I greatly envy those who saw it in theaters in 1975 with none of this baggage. And yet, despite all this, despite the recognition of large portions of the film, I think I enjoyed it more than any other time I’d seen it. This film has never stopped playing. Midnight screenings have played on college campuses continuously as well as alternative houses. Though I didn’t partake due to timing issues, its even played in one or more venues locally since I’ve been writing this. A musical version ran for a significant time on Broadway and is likely still touring the country. If anyone runs across this posting and hasn’t seen this film, I’d be doing you a disservice by disseminating any further details. Be it my previously stated rule that comedy suffers by deconstruction or the fact that there’s nothing new to say about this film, I’m going to stop here. If you’ve seen it you know what I mean. If you haven’t, see it and enjoy it.
I’ve devoted a lot of space to singing the praises of Robert Altman, and Nashville is always a title cited as one of his masterpieces. It deserves the reputation. As noted, well, sometime back around six months or so ago, this was a film I first saw before I truly appreciated how much repeated viewings deepened the Altman experience, as part of a large ingestion of Altman films at a screening room at the University of Dayton. I saw it again a few years later on VHS. Altman only achieved perfection with this style a few times, most notably with this film and with Short Cuts. He took a number of stories that likely could have each been their own films and spread them across a canvas, intertwining them. Often characters with a larger story might do a walk on in someone else’s story. The reason Altman’s films often revealed more on repeated viewings is that once one knows what the basic story is, it’s easier to experience the subtle naturalistic interplay between characters. The smaller revealing moments are much more fascinating than the machinations of the plot. In recent years I’ve thought that Alabama congressman Jeff Sessions is merely a riff on Henry Gibson’s character in this film. After seeing this again, I believe I need to restate that. Gibson’s character, the preening, conservative, miniature country version of Liberace, Haven Hamilton, has a great deal more dignity. I could go on and on about this film. It stands on its own and has so many hallmarks of what was best about Altman. It has a remarkable amount of good acting. I’m not a fan of country music, but I found the music compelling, entertaining, and illustrative. And of course, there’s an undercurrent of political satire that is omnipresent and yet somewhat subtle. Thanks for steering me back to this one, George. It won’t be the last time.
Jaws is a film that is often cited as the end of the auteurist movement of this period. It, along with Star Wars, ushered in the era of the summer tent pole film. The exciting and thrilling movie that everyone wants to see and now opens on thousands of screens after being talked about endlessly spurred on by a ubiquitous media blitz. I’ve never seen this film in a theater. The first time was sometime back in the early ‘90’s on a color TV set that could only display in black and white. The next time was maybe five or more years ago on DVD. This time on a 42” plasma was likely the closest I’d ever gotten to the big screen experience. I have to say that I found this film quite enjoyable. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, Jaws lives up to the hype. The film is, of course, about a shark that surfaces on the beaches of a small New England town. The mayor wants to keep the beaches open. The sheriff(Scheider, who doesn’t like the water), wants to close them. It all ends up in a massive battle between man and shark. But the greatest moments of the film are in the character conflict. Shaw is a grizzled working class sort who thinks he’s better than everyone else, especially Dreyfuss, a spoiled rich kid who also happens to be a brilliant scientist. Scheider just came to this town because he wanted to escape the excitement of the big city and though he wants to do the right thing, probably thought this job would be a cakewalk. No doubt a big part of the concentration on character was because the special effects didn’t always work as they should. But the end result is thrilling. Often the best movie villains are those least seen as they build up in the audience’s expectation. Despite the films and the trends it would inspire, Jaws is an exciting, well crafted, and eminently watchable film.