We had the opportunity to work on our movie project for the last two evenings in a row. I like this project because it also provides me the opportunity to avoid much less pleasant tasks like folding 47 loads of laundry or cleaning the stovetop. P.S. If anyone knows a maid who works for free, like perhaps a robot maid, could you please shoot me a comment? I sure could use something like that!
In any case, the two movie experiences could not have been more different. The first was sublimely wonderful and the second sublimely atrocious. Thursday evening we had the pleasure of watching a classic that a guy from church has been after Joe to watch for literally years: The African Queen, starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. This guy from church works on the sound and podcasting with Joe and has made consistent references to this film since he first incredulously discovered Joe hadn’t seen it in the hopes that, maybe this week, Joe had finally watched it. Every week we disappointed him. But here’s the thing: you can’t find this movie anywhere. It’s not out on DVD in the US. So that was obviously a stumbling block. Joe found it in Dutch or some such nonsense (it wasn’t overdubbed, and we didn’t have to watch those crazy subtitles. Not that I’m opposed to subtitles, but people: have you ever seen Dutch? It’s the craziest looking language in the universe and makes me feel all nutso just looking at it.) And also we could only watch the disc on my computer as it would not play in our DVD player. As you can tell we’re already off to a great start.
Well, it was totally worth it. If you can find it in non-Dutch subtitled , only-viewable-via-computer format, give it a gander. It was charming and funny and everything you’d hope a Hepburn/Bogie movie to be. Apparently it was also quite controversial in its time, because through much of the film Rosie (Hepburn) and Charlie(Bogart) are on this little steamboat (The African Queen) on a river in western Africa, essentially co-habitating and they are not married. Gasp! I would think that the presence of real-live Africans would have gotten more flack from 1950s Americans, but whatever. I guess there was so much people could be outraged about at the time that making movies about anything was risky.
I don’t know if Joe enjoyed it as much as I did (he said he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop in the budding romance between Charlie and Rose) but I for one have always enjoyed these old gems and the simplicity with which they tell a story. I loved the relationship between the two characters, played by obviously middle-aged actors in the pre-Botox age, and the fact that there weren’t nail-biting scenes of dramatic angst in their development was refreshing. I think we tend to value drama way too much in our modern-day culture, and then wonder why the divorce rate is so high. I’m sure lots of people would think Joe and I are bland as beans on toast, but guess what? We’re in it for the long haul, and the peacefulness of our relationship has a lot to do with that. Our friend Brad likes to joke that we are obnoxiously functional in our disagreements and communication (at least I think he’s joking. A little?) Anyway, this wasn’t meant to become a tutorial on why my marriage works, but it was just something that struck us both about the nature of the relationship that develops in the movie.
Now on to the sublimely awful movie, entitled Manos: The Hands of Fate. Let it be noted that we watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 send-up of Manos. Side note: I love incredibly awful movies. And television too, as a matter of fact. I can’t always be expected to watch amazingly wonderful things. My brain needs rest and laughter. And woo-eee! Did we get that last night!
Previously I would have said that Plan 9 From Outer Space was clearly the worst movie ever made. Now I’d have to change my answer. Manos has the following awfulness working for it:
1. The worst acting in the history of the art form. It was seriously as though you took your most brain-dead distant relatives from a family reunion and asked them to half-memorize some lines and stumble about reciting them while trying unsuccessfully not to look at the camera. Oh, and you—the writer, director, and producer of the film—are a former fertilizer salesman with no movie-making experience whatsoever.
2. Nothing happens. After about 20 minutes of the most boring driving scenes ever, accompanied by the ca-RAZIEST soundtrack (think of the fertilizer man’s drunk aunt scat-singing endlessly for said 20 minutes) something sort of starts to happen. Basically this dumb-ass family (man, wife, small girl, and family poodle) on a road trip find it’s “getting dark” (it’s not, those quotes are ironic) and thus unknowingly wind up stuck at the mouth of hell for the night, in the guise of a freaky house with this man as caretaker:
Um, yeah. And did I mention his giant, deformed knees? Sorry I couldn’t find a picture of that. He’s got the world’s most annoying 3-note theme song that plays while he slowly gimps around. And this painting of the “master” hangs above the fireplace:
And they stayed there! In this house! Even though the wife kept saying (dispassionately, because she had the acting chops of a common housefly) she was scared and wanted to leave! So we find out over the course of the night that the “master” is basically the devil and he has this weird collection of diaphanous Grecian-robed “wives” that are dead yet somehow not. Just like “Master”. The family dog gets killed first, then the diaphanous robe wives somehow come to life after nightfall, and they wrestle in slow motion for like 20 MINUTES arguing about if the little girl will be killed along with her parents. Meanwhile, the Master shouts at everyone to shut up innumerable times, and in between lines he spreads his arms needlessly to reveal that his robe has giant hands on it! The Hands of Fate!
3. It scores an absolute zero on the scale for production values. The editing is what really makes this film a stand-out. The same shot is repeated six times, day and night are essentially interchangeable, the wife’s headscarf appears and disappears without provocation, and the sound is jarringly off. The actors constantly look at the camera. It’s so shaky and jumpy and badly shot in general that I thought I might barf. At one point when the family first arrives and meets Torgo, the caretaker, I was laughing so hard at the awful awfulness of it all that I could not breathe. I wasn’t even laughing at the MST3K guys sending it up yet; the terribleness was funny enough. But I was glad to have Tom Servo, Crow, and Joel along for the ride later on because the sheer stupidity got old after awhile and their jokes were most welcome.
So for those of you who can’t resist terrible movies and haven’t seen this, I’d recommend putting it at the top of your “to-see” list. Because really. If laughter is the best medicine, you won’t get old and you won’t ever die after watching this.