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Film Feature

AMERICAN MOVIES
Digressions on popular film
by Matthew Niblock


   OK, some fundamental questions: What is the better film?

American Beauty
American Pimp
American Pie
American Movie
American Psycho
American History X
American Graffiti
American Me

   If you answered American Movie followed closely by American Pie you and I will get along just fine.



   Next question. Let's say there was this explosively talented set of brothers making rap videos. New Line Cinema gives them some money. They make a movie. It is universally praised. It makes money. It's an urban ghetto myth of a movie. It is playing mostly to black crowds. But, because of the critical ravings of Siskel, Ebert & The New York Times, you can also find it at your occasional upscale arthouse-type place. The movie's ad campaign said: "This is the truth. This is what really happens."
   You see the movie because you see everything. You see the movie because you want to know the truth, you want to know what really happens. You see the movie because you know it is an important American film. Because you are white, you see the movie at Laemmle's Multiplex in Santa Monica, one block west of the Third Street Promenade, in a theater packed to the rafters with white people. There appears to be only one black person in the entire theater and he is sitting right in front of you. The crowd is openly & vocally rapturous about the movie. Even the black guy. You hate the movie. In fact, you think it may very well be one of the two or three worst films you have ever seen. You think that perhaps Siskel, Ebert & The New York Times have completely lost their minds. A few years later, these same brothers make another movie. It is not a particularly important film. It is not about the "truth" or "what really happens." It is an armed robbery caper. It is universally panned. The critics (see above) are loathe to mention it in the same breath as Menace II Society, the filmmakers' earlier masterpiece. The movie tanks at the box office. You saw it twice. You loved it. A few years later, the brothers make a documentary. About pimps. And the street. And the life. And black people on the margins of American society. This is an important film. It is called American Pimp. And the question is: Can they pay you enough to see this movie?



   Do I dislike important films? No. Here is a list of some important films I like very much. Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, Mean Streets, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate, Nashville, Days of Heaven, All the President's Men, Raging Bull, Wings of Desire, The Doom Generation, Schindler's List, Do the Right Thing, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.




   I would like to talk about Hal Ashby for a few minutes. These are the films that Hal Ashby directed in the Seventies.

The Landlord.
Harold and Maude.
The Last Detail.
Shampoo.
Bound for Glory.
Coming Home.
Being There.

OK? Get it?



   I don't remember going to the movies much as a kid. Usually the movies came to me. My grandfather, my dad's dad, worked in the payroll department at Disney Studios, and somehow had entered into a poker-and-alcohol-sweetened deal (oh them Disney boys!) with the film vault librarian that enabled him to check out any movie he wanted anytime. The first time I saw Pinocchio projected on a bedsheet hanging on the dining room wall I was six.



   Disney films I had plenty of, but as a family, we didn't go to the movies that often. Oh sure, sometimes the Van Nuys Drive-In, with seventeen cousins and a picnic basket in the back of a pickup truck. But, those were just Disney movies anyway, and if you were in a truck you had to park way at the back of the drive-in by the concession stands, and all my cousins were evil little motherfuckers who cried & screamed & peed, and really, I would have much rather seen it on the dining room wall.



   Then, you know, I got older.



   I think I owned the first VCR in all the San Fernando Valley. OK some I'm exaggerating. But not by much. I bought my VCR in 1982, when I was sixteen. It weighed approximately 800 pounds. It was top-loading, with 2 heads and a wired (!) remote. It cost 749 dollars. There were 3 video stores in the Valley, one in North Hollywood, one in Panorama City, and one in Northridge. I rented every single movie those stores had over the course of the next year. I think I single-handedly convinced the proprietor of the Northridge store that this business was a viable one, as he went on to open a change of video emporiums across the Valley, that only recently folded in the face of Blockbuster, et al. I saw every goddamn movie ever made.



   I still see every goddamn movie ever made. I can't get enough. I don't understand it, really, and I don't care to. Also. I'm a writer. Also, I know some people who run this independent reviews website, and they said I could write some stuff about the movies if I wanted to. So I did. And so I will. We'll be talking some more about Hal Ashby. We'll be talking some more about American Movie. We'll be talking some more about lots of stuff next time out.



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