May 19, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Movie Reviews in Retrospect

As soon as you have chosen a subject for a film, you have already made a success or a failure.

Billy Wilder

I recently purchased a satellite system. The whole thing cost $70, so I thought that I would try it. Of course, $70 is just the beginning. There is a monthly fee for which you can get a little bit or a lot of what is offered. They will also sell you things like pornographic movies for extra money. I find that I enjoy the two channels of static-free classical music as well as the easy listening stuff. I especially enjoy the old songs sung by the old singers. I am surprised that I know the words and melodies of almost all of them. I have calculated that it costs me about ten cents an hour to listen to music. It is a delight to have music without talk or commercials, I have also watched a few movies.

One evening I watched the movie Shakespeare in Love which won the Oscar for the best picture of 1998 and its star Gwyneth Paltrow the best actress award. That was the same year that Roberto Benigni got the nod for best actor. Benigni is a clown and could hardly be called an actor since he plays himself all of the time.

Shakespeare in Love was entertaining enough. Paltrow is a superbly skilled actress and she has two more clearly visible assets going for her, which those of you who saw the film may still remember and those who will see the film will be able to easily recognize.

The script was written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and they received an Oscar for best original screenplay. Original? The best parts of the movie were written by William Shakespeare. If my memory serves me, Stoppard wrote the play Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead which was also based on Shakespeare. I saw the play and remember that it said practically nothing and said it over and over and over again. It did impress some critics who gave it good reviews.

That Benigni and Shakespeare in Love got Oscars tells me that 1998 was almost a total loss as far as quality films are concerned. The previous year was also a total loss, since Titanic got the nod for best picture. I thought it one of the worst films that I have ever seen, with the best special effects. They paid exquisite attention to every detail except the script, which was schlock.

Maybe I am being to hard on the film industry, Perhaps the hacks who comprise the Motion Picture Academy can't tell the difference between a gourmet dinner and a McDonald's hamburger.

I re-watched Ship of Fools, which was as fine a film as I thought that it was when I saw it many years ago. The Good Earth was also as good as I remember it as was Gandhi .

Then I watched Charlie Chaplin's first talking picture, The Great Dictator. I first saw it when it was released. I was 15 years old at the time, and I thought that it was a fine movie with some very funny moments. TV Guide gave it four stars, so some critics also though that it was good. This time around, I not only did not think that it was a fine film, but I thought that it diminished Chaplin's stature as a film maker considerably. The master clown had crossed the line and made buffoons out of Hitler and Mussolini and the people around them. Sure, Hitler and Mussolini were crazy, but they were not funny crazy, they were evil crazy. There were critics of the film, at the time that it was released, who felt the same way as I do now. My final verdict on it was that it was an incredibly stupid movie.

Benigni's movie Life is Beautiful did not quite make the same mistake that Chaplin did, by writing a fantasy ending to his film about the holocaust. He had the good sense to have his hero killed off at the end, despite it having a typical Hollywood happy ending. Had he not done this, his film would have been as ridiculous as Chaplin's.

My suggestion to clowns is that they stick to clowning and leave the serious stuff to people who can deal with it. Humor in serious films is fine, but not the Three Stooges type of humor.

Next column

Return to the Music and Art Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page