sports in the age of terrorism
#36: his girl friday (howard hawks, 1940)

what i watched last week

Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011). It came highly recommended by my daughter. It was popular with critics, and it was a big hit at the box office. It features talented actresses kicking butt in a genre usually reserved for men. And there are several set pieces that are sure to be long remembered when people think back on classic comedy scenes. All of which is my way of saying you probably liked this movie quite a bit. Me, I don’t get these comedies. I laughed once in awhile, and enjoyed the acting. But it went on too long, it turned mushy at the end, and … well, really, the only thing that matters is that I don’t get these kinds of movies. So YMMV, but 6/10.

Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1970). One of those movies I manage to watch every few years; each viewing is accompanied by a change of mind about the film. The first time I saw it, back when it was released, I played music, and I remember thinking I never wanted to play rock and roll again, because the music was clearly evil. A few years later, I went through a phase where I loved cinéma vérité, perhaps a bit too uncritically, and while I can’t remember specifically, I think I liked Gimme Shelter a lot during that period. Since then, my opinion changes depending how I feel at the time about 1) cinéma vérité and 2) Altamont. Watching it a few days ago, I found the film to be as expertly constructed as Top Gun. The conclusion, which we all know is coming, seems inevitable from the start of the movie, and everything that follows is designed to lead us to that inevitability, which lends a feeling of dread to the film. The film makers have an advantage that Top Gun’s auteurs did not: what they show us “really happened”, so it’s harder to accuse them of manipulation. It’s there, though, in an extreme form. Whatever their intentions before the movie was made, in the editing room they clearly decided this was a film about The End of the Sixties, and they chose footage to augment that theme.

I obsess about this movie so much that it gets a second paragraph! I was taken this time around with the ferocity of “Sympathy for the Devil” once the Stones restart it after yet another violent fracas. All during the Altamont footage, we see musicians trying to call on the power of their charisma to direct the crowd in a more peaceful direction (Marty Balin excepted … he puts his body where his mouth is, and ends up being knocked cold). Jagger and the Stones do the same thing, but it’s not working. They start “Sympathy” and everything goes to shit in the crowd. They stop, and Mick notes that every time they play that song, weird stuff happens. Then, they start the song all over again! It’s a terrifyingly audacious move. The version that follows is as good as any you’ll ever hear. Jagger seems to be trying to draw all of the crowd’s energy into himself, which is impossible by itself … that he attempts this by casting himself as Lucifer just makes it all the more remarkable. It doesn’t work, of course, and soon afterwards, during “Under My Thumb”, one of the Angels kills a man with a gun who is perilously close to the stage when he pulls the weapon out. There are multiple ironies in the song selection. For one, it was (is?) a longtime myth that the Stones were playing “Sympathy” when the murder happened … folks seemed to like that story. “Under My Thumb”, meanwhile, is another of the many examples of rock musicians using domination of women as a metaphor for class struggle. The irony lies in the presence of the Angels, who drip contempt for the pansy rock stars on the stage, and who have an us vs. them feel to them. In the context of the song, the Stones and the audience are the high class women, and the Angels are the men who put those women in their place.

Third paragraph! (I sometimes worry that these weekly movie posts keep me from writing longer pieces about films.) Gimme Shelter demonstrates the silliness of a rating system. The last time I saw it, I gave it 7/10. On Netflix, I’ve given it 5/5. While I was watching it this time, I was thinking 10/10. But when I made the connection to Top Gun (3/10), I wondered why I hated that movie so much for being manipulative, yet was about to reward Gimme Shelter even as I saw through it’s very different method of manipulation. So … 9/10. #706 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the Top 1000 Movies of All Time.

Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011). I really wondered how they could make that book into a movie, but it works out just fine. It may get some details wrong, but it presents the basic paradigm shift in baseball to a more statistically-minded form of analytics while still being entertaining, even for a non-fan. Brad Pitt has a lot to do with that … he is effortless in his movie-star mode. The film is too cruel to the old school (represented here by scouts and A’s manager Art Howe), never acknowledging that the best success comes not from replacing the old with the new, but by taking the best parts of the old and blending them with the best parts of the new. In Moneyball-the-movie, stats rool and scouts drool. It’s not that simple. Still, as a validation of a particular way of looking at the world of baseball, Moneyball works. And it has a gratuitous joke played at Brian Sabean’s expense. 7/10.

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