Movies have always been my Great Refuge. I went to the best film school in the world, for years I was employed by a center for motion picture study actually called the The Center for Motion Picture Study, and I continue to bash my head against the walls of the asylum of The Industry. Still, I harbor a secret shame. A secret shame of unwatched films. There are dozens of classics – beloved must sees – global cinematic touchstones – that I have never seen.
So here it is. My shame. My confession. Twenty universally beloved movies that I haven’t seen (yet):
There’s this thing floating about: Without overthinking it, tell us 20 Things About Yourself.
Here are 20 Things About Myself – and I haven’t told anyone else but you about them:
1.) I used to drink so much coffee that…well, I would sometimes get home late at night and make a pot of coffee to drink before bed.
2.) I love my iPhone as much as I’ve loved any piece of technology before with the possible exception of my first Macintosh SE
3.) When I was very small I wanted to be a garbage collector, then a paleontologist, then a rock star, then a standup comic, then I turned 7 and outgrew all that.
4.) I was crazy about a Girl In A White Hooded Coat when I was in 1st grade. I didn’t know her name or anything about her. Now I have a little girl who wears a white hooded coat who I am crazy about.
5.) I was a national champion racewalker as a teen. I could’ve gone to the Olympics, but I discovered alcohol and show business and also discovered that I had no interest in going to the Olympics
6.) One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever been paid was by a USC teacher who worked with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater company. He said: “A lot of these guys still need a lot of work. But you have got it.” I spent many years doing my best to prove him wrong.
7.) I believe that the space aliens with gray skin and big black eyes use element 115 to power their spacecraft by amplifying and directing gravity waves to compress space-time between themselves and their destinations.
8.) I believe that the U.S.A. has become a rogue nation that funds terrorism and has abandoned the rule of law and that, so far, the new administration has not changed this.
9.) I wrote and delivered long, crazy, romantic love letters to a girl when I was in 3rd and 4th grade. In junior high, she died of a brain tumor.
10.) The girl to whom I lost my virginity died in a car wreck my/our sophomore year in college. She apparently fell asleep at the wheel. In later years I also would frequently “fall asleep at the wheel”.
11.) Though I would like to say that the greatest influences on my creative life have been Shakespeare, Stanley Kubrick, and Vincent van Gogh, the truth is that the greatest influences have been Glen Larson, Gary Gygax, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
12.) I have never actually read “Hamlet” in its entirety – ashamed to say – but I have seen a lot of the movie versions.
13.) I missed my first kiss – in a game of spin the bottle (though a pen was used in place of a bottle) – because when the time came, I chickened out and ran like hell. In later years, I went out with that girl who I didn’t kiss, and then did kiss her then, so…
14.) If I hate you, you will never know it. Also if I utterly love you, you will also never know it.
15.) I was not in a rock band in high school, but wanted to be and pretended I was.
16.) I have never seen a UFO or a ghost or a bigfoot or an angel or any other paranormal manifestation, but I still believe they may exist – which is kind of idiotic, don’t you think?
17.) I visited Shakespeare’s House in Stratford on Avon and thought: “There is no one here. This is a scam. This is just an ordinary house.” This was before I’d ever heard of the Shakespeare “authorship question”.
18.) I believe that the works of Shakespeare were written primarily by Edward De Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, but am willing to accept that a number of other writers contributed with him acting as kind of a “writer-producer”.
19.) I am going to start doing Buddhist meditation soon. I have been saying this now for about 7 years.
20.) I have done thousands of “morning pages” and taken half a dozen or more, heavy-hitter Artists Way workshops. I would be hard pressed to say that they helped my creative work to any measurable degree.
21.) I have always wanted to live in London. And now I do. And I’m not quite sure how that happened really.
22.) I was not a cat person. Then my girlfriend/now wife acquired “Cheop, The Very Interesting Cat”. Now I am a cat person.
23.) I have read just about every book by Hubert Selby Jr EXCEPT “Last Exit To Brooklyn”. Why is that? I think it’s about fear of gratification, knowing that once I do, then I will have done it, and it will be over, and then I’ll be sad.
24.) I have very very powerful deja vu’s where I am convinced that I have vividly dreamed before of what is happening now. I feel confident that this means my brain needs a trip to to Jiffy Lube and that I do not have precognitive abilities. Although I do vividly remember locations from my dreams sometimes months after I’ve had the dream. I may not remember the dream itself, but the location sticks with me, as if I’ve been there.
25.) I wanted to go to art school when I graduated high school, but took the road less traveled with film school and that has made…I don’t know what difference that made. I mean, it made all the difference. It has made all the difference.
There are enemies out there. Many enemies. So many enemies.
But the most dangerous enemy is the enemy within. The Homegrown Enemy.
You know, most things that are made in the home are dangerous. Homegrown vegetables – dangerous. Homemade toys – dangerous. Homespun wisdom – very dangerous.
When the next American National Emergency comes – and it will come – we will have to act fast and act good. The first thing must be an “appeal for calm”. And an “appeal for utter silence” is even better. Because if you’re about to drive a bus off the road and over a cliff, the last thing you want is a bunch of back-seat drivers yelling for you to stop and ruining your concentration.
So when the Time of National Crisis & Sacrifice comes, I strongly suggest we neutralize the 10 journalists on the list below.
In peacetime we have indulged their extremist and radical views, but as we all learned when we studied the Bill Of Rights in school, extremist and radical views have no place in a society that lost 3880 innocent lives on September The Eleventh or whatever.
These writers are wiley – cunning – and even though recent changes to the law make it easier to deal with their kind, they often will continue to operate below our radar. Luckily, we have means.
Applying terror can be a fine way to get results. By “terror” I do not mean the use of bombs and spectacular, awesome, shocking displays of destruction and stuff like that. I mean simply good old fashioned frightening of people. So how do you frighten a gaggle of smug Cassandras who have no respect for the sanctity of the American System?
What you do is: Arrest Seymour Hersh for making secret classified material available to The Enemy in his various New Yorker pieces. Put him in jail – regretfully, sadly, without bail, but this is a national security matter and all. Mr. Hersh need not remain detained indefinitely. Only for a few months. Or for the duration of The Emergency, say – however long that is.
Also apologize repeatedly to the American people about how Judith Miller and Dan Rather got off so lightly, and make a promise that it will never happen again.
After Sy Hersh spends a little time in a Halliburton Hilton, the rest of the gang will shut up and fast. All except that damnable Gore Vidal. Who does he think he is?
So you’re probably thinking: “Well this is not a very good subject for a Top 5 List! Just how many movies about Jesus (aka Iesus, aka Yeshua, aka Josh) of Nazareth are there to choose from? Heck, there can’t be more than, like … a half a dozen Jesus flicks altogether, right? I’m afraid I shall have to set your house on fire.”
But after reading the following list of Top 5 Jesus Movies, you will be begging my forgiveness. But will I give it? Will I give my forgiveness? Maybe. Maybe not. What’s in it for me?
In no particular order:
Jesus Of Nazareth (1977) – Franco Zefferelli shoots right down the middle and scores big-time with this miniseries. This is the Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” version of the Gospels – a big-budget attempt to illustrate as faithfully as possible the traditional conception of the Jesus story. Every first-rate actor in the Western World appears in “Jesus of Nazareth” and every one gives a fine perfomance. The casting choices themselves are superb – even down to Ernest Borgnine as The Centurion who, believe it or not, works perfectly. And the Maurice Jarre score is wonderful.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – And on the other side of the coin … Martin Scorsese finally realized his dream project, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis (writer of “Zorba The Greek”), on a shoestring budget, to popular outrage. Young Marty had wanted to be a priest when he was a pale asthmatic Brooklyn kid, and the inevitability of sin has been a theme in virtually every one of his films. Despite our best intentions, our personal power, wealth, prestige – and no matter how cozy our relationship with God – we will still always go astray. The experiment behind “The Last Temptation” is, in part, to put our traditional understanding of the Jesus story on the other side of the looking glass. Up is down, black is white. The film opens with the crucifixion of a familiar-looking, bearded prophet, for whom the carpenter Jesus has fashioned a cross. This Jesus even assists in the man’s execution. And we ask: “How can THIS chap be the Anointed One?” – which might lead us to another question, “How can anyone?” The Peter Gabriel score is superb.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) – People forget what a dynamite filmmaker Norman Jewison is (“Moonstruck”, “Fiddler On The Roof”, “Rollerball”, “In The Heat Of The Night”). For my money, “Jesus Christ Superstar” manages some of the most emotionally powerful interpretations of the Jesus story in cinema. A musical – not to mention a rock musical – a rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber – can go places forbidden to straight drama. The relationship between Jesus and Judas is nicely drawn in the film. In fact, the performance by Carl Anderson – outraged, self-important, and at his core lost and frightened – may be my favorite Judas performance in film. The concluding rendition of the title song, with Judas and a host of sexy angels singing down to Jesus from the audience seats of a Roman amphitheatre, is terrific.
Jesus of Montreal (1989) – Denys Arcand’s film is a passion play about a group of Montreal actors putting on a passion play. The home run of the movie is the French-Canadian Lothaire Bluteau, as an actor named Daniel who, in the passion-play-within-a-passion-play acts the part of Jesus. He mesmerizes as the compassionate Christ, whose heart seems ever on the verge of breaking at what he sees in the world around him.
Ben-Hur (1959) – It’s iffy putting William Wyler’s super-epic in the Top 5. Jesus appears as a secondary character throughout the film, but His face is never shown us. It’s a simple, effective device, that engages our imaginations and keeps the character slightly beyond our understanding and experience. The story is about the spiritual awakening of a wealthy Jewish nobleman, whose life loosely intersects that of Jesus. So the Gospels are merely the scaffold on which the bulk of the plot hangs, but the movie is so solidly executed, that it stands out as one of the best screen depictions. Stories of well-known figures are often best told through the point of view of complimentary or antagonistic characters, (i.e., the Mozart story presented as the story of Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus”). Examining the Jesus story through the eyes of one of his less renowned contemporaries is not a bad way to go about it.
Others: Of course, I bet Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According To St. Matthew” (1964) should be on the list. Black and white, no professional actors. Must be art. But I haven’t seen it yet.
Then there is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion Of The Christ” (2004), but it is too much a mixed bag to make the Top 5. When it is good, it is genuinely revelatory, when it is not good, it’s silly.
Avoid “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965) , except for the Herod scenes directed by David Lean.
What with so many of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord Of The Rings” movies flying around like drunken nazgul on a night out, it’s easy to become bewildered and to lose all hope and fall into shadow. After all, you don’t want to watch the entire 3 hours of the theatrical release version of “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring” and then hear later on that the special extended edition is much, much better. That’s three hours of your life gone. You’re never going to get that back. And to add insult to injury, you’ve copped a resentment against the “Lord Of The Rings” movies. And you don’t want to be in a state of resentment against the “Lord Of The Rings” movies. It’s just not right.
What you need is a guide. You need your very own Gollum to guide you through the marshes of the multiple versions of “The Lord Of The Ringses”.
I could be that Gollum.
Please. Please, let me be your Gollum.
PETER JACKSON’S “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” FILMS
RATED FROM BEST TO LEAST-BEST
(in the interest of clarity, I’ve omitted “The Lord Of The Rings: ” from the beginning of each title, but note the title of “The Fellowship Of The Ring”, for example, is actually “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring”)
So, from best to not best:
“The Return Of The King”, original theatrical release (201 mins) – no, it is not too long, it’s almost perfect – almost – and after the triumph of the previous films, it has earned the right for its long, steady, really quite sad wind-down at the end; still have no idea what’s going on with that Denethor-setting-Faramir-on-fire thing, though
“The Fellowship Of The Ring”, special extended edition (208 mins) – the original theatrical release was a chase film, this extended version has more character moments and, as a result, is more engaging and so actually seems to run much faster than the theatrical release.
“The Return Of The King”, special extended edition (251 mins) – yes, it’s too long – and my apologies to Christopher Lee, but those Saruman scenes really don’t work very well; on the other hand, the Emissary Of Sauron, the shattering of Gandalf’s staff, the fiery wolf’s-head battering ram, and other elements are extraordinary.
“The Fellowship Of The Ring”, original theatrical release (178 mins) – good as it is, its story is fairly narrow – the only one of the films where you feel like you really want a little more; but as the first step in an unprecedentedly massive filmmaking enterprise, taking that cautious approach was probably a wise strategy.
“The Two Towers”, special extended edition (223 mins) – much repetition of scenes which serve the same function – i.e., Gollum’s monologue, so effective in the theatrical release, is watered down by several other, less effective monologue scenes; on the other hand, extended swordplay at Helm’s Deep can never be a bad thing.
And watch the Ralph Bakshi animated movie, “The Lord Of The Rings” (1978) which covers “The Fellowship Of The Ring” and some of “The Two Towers”.
The film’s treatment of Gollum became the iconic image of the character until the Peter Jackson movies. It’s also a more somber take than the Jackson versions – exactly what you would expect from Mr. Bakshi.
What with being a writer and artist, it has been essential to take various kinds of alternative employment from time to time.
The reason for this is not financial, of course. As any artist will tell you, the financial rewards one reaps in the creativity arts are humbling in the extreme. No, the reason for keeping a hand in with the rest of the wretched work force is RESEARCH.
Yes, RESEARCH – meaning “to search and search again and again and again”.
What the search is for is never quite clear.
I am reminded of a hydraulics company where I once did some light filing. This place sold pipes and hoses and tubes and ducts and associated paraphernalia for a wide variety of industrial applications – from cooking equipment to aircraft parts, from train engines to chemical weapons manufacturing.
All day long a trio of blue-shirted, neck-tied men sold these various parts to those in need of them. Offers were made, deals were cut, all with a kind of admirable, boisterous devotion to customer service.
The RESEARCH-worthy element of the job – and the one that made me giggle like a ten year old – was the fact that when liquids are conveyed from one place to another, when a tube is inserted into an opening so that fluids may be deposited therein, whether such a thing happens in industry or in nature, certain types of descriptive language begin to emerge.
So as one lightly filed, one would begin to hear – made with dire, blue-shirted, fluorescent lit gravity – the most hilarious turns of phrase.
Absolutely unadulterated, exactly as they came to me:
10 Product Names I Was Exposed To At A Hydraulics Supply Company
screw type coupling probe
rigid female connector
2-way hose ball bib cock
full bore ball valves
SS male plug
GH436-16 hose assy
straight male stud coupling
… and one of my favorites, but which belongs more to D&D than S&M: