KEY TO PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF'S SUMMER OF 42 (Questions, That Is) MOVIE QUIZ, PART ONE: GENRES, ACTORS AND ANIMALS
Professor Wagstaff’s Summer of 42 (Questions, That Is) Movie Quiz was originally posted way back on July 18 of this year. I had at first intended to compile the “key” and highlight all the best, most provocative, funniest answers in a follow-up post a month or so after that date. Well, a month or so passed, I was busy as hell working for a living and posting other items, so I rationalized my own foot-dragging by saying that I was waiting for some lists to be posted that I just knew would be coming down the pipe. Then I’d wrestle this beast to the ground and post the answers. Another month passed-- we’re now on the downside of September. Those two or three lists that I’d been hoping for finally did arrive, along with a couple of others from readers who had never posted a comment before. Exciting! Now I could finally get to the answers. I spent a long evening culling the best of the best from the 47 or so posts I got in response to the summer quiz, and by the time I finished processing all that material, I had about four hours to go before it was time to get up and get ready to go to work. Yeesh. Nearly a month later, here I am, starting the writing part and hoping that I’ll finally have something for you to read before I post the Christmas vacation quiz. Believe me, I don’t have any illusions that there’s a great horde of SLIFR readers huddled over their laptops at Starbucks or holed up in their basements, lit blue by the cathode ray tube emanations and colored orange by Cheetos stains, awaiting this post. It’s strictly a kind of deadline pressure I put on myself; I planned to do the article, I announced that I would, and even though it’s about three months late, no one’s head is going to roll over its tardiness, and no one’s life is going to go unfulfilled until it does get published. But as publication on this site approaches its first anniversary, I find myself still wanting to take the pressure I put on myself seriously enough not to give myself a heart attack, but seriously enough that those who do find themselves caring about what ends up on these pages will have a sense that it really is a regular deal, somewhere they can come every other day or so and find something new, interesting, complex or straightforward, compact or long-winded and drawn-out. And I really have been putting together a list that will compile the professor’s pop Christmas quiz, so I’d better get this one in the books first. Without further ado, I now turn the program over to Professor Wagstaff…
1) Your Favorite Movie Genre, and a Prime Example Of It
The usual genre suspects were all represented, most sweepingly by bitter San Diego Padres fan Jen (“I love them all, mostly… really and truly—like music, if it’s good it’s good, be it jazz, classical, rock, punk, reggae, polka…). And film aficionado nonpareil, superb crank and faithful SLIFR reader the Mysterious Adrian Betamax said simply, “I love genre films. I preferred the Hollywood studio system when it was organized around the classic genres that don’t really exist anymore—film noir, westerns, musicals (classic pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein).”
Benaiah, a faithful reader and Dodger fan completing his senior year of college in Georgia right now, was the first reader to check in with complete answers to the Wagstaffian madness. He favored Crime/Film Noir and felt compelled to make a distinction between that genre and a subgenre of Mafia-oriented films. For him, Angels with Dirty Faces (the only example he cited) could comfortably co-exist under this genre umbrella with, say, Out of the Past or Detour, or Anthony Quinn in Across 110th Street, but not with, say, Anthony Quinn in The Don is Dead, whereas some might even make the case that Angels is more closely related, thematically, with the Mafia film (it was part of a Warners boxed set earlier this year entitled “Gangsters”) than with the presence of the heavy hand of fate that typifies film noir. I’m guessing Benaiah would draw his boundaries based more on period, and in that case I’m with him all the way.
The western was chosen by new reader Novotny, who picked The Searchers as a favorite (“The creation of nation is depicted here in some of its most important aspects… family, racism, law, the killing of a race, war, etc.”). I favored the western because of its seemingly infinite adaptability to contemporary and historical concerns while remaining an essentially conservative genre (like horror); I couldn’t argue with The Searchers as an excellent example of the form, but I chose one I’d seen recently that seemed to me nearly perfect in terms of thematic execution and storytelling prowess—Anthony Mann’s Bend of the River. SLIFR vets Virgil Hilts, Machine Gun McCain and Caption Jockey cast votes for the western too-- Virgil holds up The Magnificent Seven for high praise, while CJ likes Once Upon a Time in the West and The Wild Bunch (a choice I think Virgil could probably live with too). And Machine Gun says of Once Upon a Time in the West, “I could’ve chosen a classical choice, but I figure this sums up the entire genre in one perfect film.”
Number-one SLIFR reader and supporter Blaaagh serves up what was number two for me-- horror films—again displaying a pleasing tendency toward the classical titles: “A prime example… Jeez, which one?! Pick a decade, and I’ll give you one-- The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein (1931), The Wolf Man (1940), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973)… hmm, that brings me to the ‘80s… hmmm…”
Fellow blogger Robert, who discovered SLIFR while looking for reviews of the notorious slaves-and-sex-and violence epic Mandingo, displayed a sensibility and taste in his answers with which I could readily empathize (more on that later), and he had an interesting genre pick: black comedy. Given that genre preference, it’s not much of a leap to imagine he might have pointed to Dr. Strangelove… as a particular peak, or perhaps M*A*S*H, or perhaps even the aforementioned Mandingo (and no, I’m not kidding or going for some cheap racial joke). More interestingly, Robert’s choice is a movie many may not even remember—James Coburn in The President’s Analyst (1967), which is according to Robert, “an on-target satire of surveillance culture.” Based on Robert’s raking of my subconscious to remind me all over again about this movie, it’s become one of the hot titles on my Netflix queue.
Similarly, Rodger, who hosts the terrific Los Angeles crime-oriented blog 8763 Wonderland (which is looking for a resident film critic), narrowed the focus somewhat: “I have a passion for a particular sub-genre, namely films set in Los Angeles. (As a prime example) I think I would have to insert Billy Friedkin’s woefully underrated To Live and Die in L.A. here.” This made me think of a couple of things. I saw To Live and Die In L.A. in its original theatrical release at the (then) Mann’s Chinese in 1985, while on a visit here to see my best friend, and I remember it seeming, to someone who knew nothing of the city, simultaneously believable, absurd and terrifying. Two years later I would call Los Angeles home myself, and I still do, but I’ve not seen Friedkin’s movie in probably 15 years or more. Again, I’m grateful to Rodger for bringing it front-and-center in my awareness again, because I’m very curious as to what my reaction will be after having lived here for almost 20 years. And I had a question for Rodger as well: given your particular subgenre, have you seen Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, if you have.
Finally, leave it to Thom McGregor, love of my life, and PSaga, fine Oregon-bound friend and fellow blogger to blow up, in creative and amusing ways, of course, the whole concept of the question. Thom McG says, simply, “Independent British movies of the ‘80s”—my inside track here can inform you that such a genre would be comprised of titles like My Beautiful Laundrette (but probably not Sammy and Rosie Get Laid), No Surrender, perhaps A Private Function and most definitely Withnail & I, but probably not Eat the Rich. PSaga, on the other hand, after disqualifying herself from being able to judge westerns or martial arts movies based on relative unfamiliarity, gets nitty and gritty: “The genres I am qualified to name as favorites would have to be ‘Quirky Dramedy Types Which I Deem Brilliant’ (Down by Law) and ‘Movies That Don’t Totally Suck, In My Opinion’ (you know… movies that don’t star Brad Pitt)…”
2) Your Least Favorite Genre Movie and a Prime Example of It
Benaiah has it in for “Depressing Movies” like House of Sand and Fog-- “I hate it when people think a movie is good just because it made them sad.” (Boy, there’s a long list!--Ed.)
I felt like I had to finally cop to not being able to understand what people see in the overly emotional romantic dramas of the 50s and 60s, typified, but certainly not limited to, the films of Douglas Sirk. Virgil backs me up and calls out Lana Turner in Madame X as a particularly squishy example.
Beege, Murray (best first cousin and brother I never had), Thom McG and friend Sharon tag Blaaagh’s favorite genre, horror. Beege then admits to being frightened by the 1999 remake of The Haunting-- “Hard-core horror buffs would probably place (it) in the comedy category; it scared the piss out of me”—while Sharon sniffs, “Blood, guts, stupidity—who needs it?” Well!
The Mysterious Adrian Betamax calls out documentaries for, in general, not being unusual enough in style or approach to suit his taste, preferring narrative or experimental film. M.A.B., where do you stand on Errol Morris? (My favorite of his: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.)
Proving that one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, Rodger admits to purple hatred of any musical that isn’t a rock opera—“Just name a musical, and I undoubtedly despise its existence and would burn every print I could get my hands on.” Being a fan of musicals, M.A.B., just how well do you like Tommy?
Surprisingly, there is someone who doesn’t much care for comedies, and that someone is Novotny, who singles out Jacques Tati as a serial offender. And as a subgenre, Romantic Comedies didn’t take nearly as big a hit as I thought they might, though Caption Jockey comes through with some white-hot bile for a particular title: “The saccharine horribleness of movies like The Mirror Has Two Faces… cause me to want to injure myself.”
But Blaaagh gets the honors here for coming up with the best annoying genre: “Wealthy, attractive white couple with incredible sex life, big house on the water, adorable kid or kids, and minimally busy jobs has a problem: someone terrorizes them, one of them has an affair, or one has an addiction (it's not an official genre, but I'm sure you can come up with some examples).” Oh, I don’t know-- Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal or just about anything from oeuvre of Adrian Lyne, and what about When a Man Loves a Woman-- please, someone stop me now!
3) 7) 14) 26) 29) 32) 38) Among Those Who Cited A Preference, Here Are Those Whom You Preferred…
* In the great battle of cranky quackers, Daffy Duck, 11, pounded Donald Duck, 2 (Beege, ever the rebel, cast her vote for Rubber Ducky)
* Steve Martin put an arrow through Jim Carrey’s head, 12-1
* Vivien Leigh squeaked by Olivia De Havilland, 5-4
* Lee Marvin outcooled Steve McQueen, 9-3 (Rodger: “Marvin would back your play in a bar fight. McQueen I’m not so sure about. He might be working some angle with the crowd and watch you get your ass handed to you in a hat.”)
* It was Kim Novak over Tippi Hedren by a bleached-blonde hair, 7-6
* You gave three shits for Bela (Lugosi, that is), but the majority of those who cared shat more frequently (six times) for Karloff (Boris, that is)
* And it was Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) over Queen/Senator/Dewy Ingenue Amidala (Natalie Portman), 7-4
4) Your Favorite Alfred Hitchcock Movie
Most mentions here went to Rear Window (Benaiah, Thom McG and Jen), followed by Psycho (Blaaagh, Caption Jockey), The Birds (Virgil, Rodger) and North by Northwest (Robert, the M.A.B.), with Benaiah also providing the most idiosyncratic observation in the category, disqualifying North by Northwest from consideration based on the loftiness of Eva Marie Saint’s hairline. Other mentions for top Hitchcock honors were Shadow of a Doubt (Novotny), Vertigo (Murray), Notorious (Dennis) and Rope (Sharon).
5) The Longest You Ever Waited In Line To See A Movie (and the Name of the Movie That Inspired Such Preparation and Dedication)
For some reason, looking at some of the answers to this question made me feel very old—like when Beege says she waited three hours to see the re-release of Star Wars when she was in college. And Sharon, why did you wait in line eight hours for the same 1997 re-release? Hadn’t you seen the movie before? Couldn’t you have called Moviefone? What the hell, woman?! Thom McGregor admits a two-hour wait outside the old Egyptian Theater in Hollywood to see The Empire Strikes Back, a feat I can’t even conceive of, knowing her impatience for The Line these days. Drawing a quite different line in the sand is The Mysterious Adrian Betamax, ever cultivating his inner Mr. Wilson, who deflates all Lucasfilm line-waiters thusly: “I’m not one of those schmuck losers who waits in line for frickin’ Star Wars movies!” Rodger, who sounds like a man who would suffer even fewer inconveniences than Thom McG or the M.A.B. when it comes to movie lines, admits to a one-hour wait outside the Glendale Exchange for a sneak preview of In the Line of Fire (Rodger, you do know that George Lucas had nothing to do with that movie, don’t you?), and Blaaagh looks back to the summer of 1975 when he and his sister braved unruly crowds for two hours in the Portland, Oregon sun (yes, Portland does get sunshine in the summer) to see Jaws. But although he doesn’t specify an amount of time, I think we can infer that Robert spent much longer than the bloated running time of 1979’s Star Trek—The Motion Picture (at least three hours) queued up to see that sausage. I once spent 7 hours outside a Medford, Oregon movie palace waiting to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but I was being paid to review it and meet an ungodly deadline. Which leaves us with our champeen line waiter, Caption Jockey, who admits (boasts?) a 12-hour marathon outside the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard to be among the first to see Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. Hey, I was there that morning too, CJ, but I was working as a supervisor on a night shift, and we talked the biggest Batman nerd among us all into taking off from work early (around 3:00 a.m.) and standing in line, so the rest of us, who spent the rest of the night earning a living, could sashay up to the theater a half-hour before show time and waltz right in. Geeky enthusiasm or humiliating indentured servitude? You make the call!
6) Your Favorite Nature Documentary
The clear favorite among favorites here was Microcosmos, and since I was one of its champions (the others were Thom McG, PSaga and Jen) I will say that if you haven’t seen this one yet, you really should—it is available on DVD, so buyers and Netflixers have no excuses (except utter disinterest, I suppose).
The only other movie that got a duplicate vote was that classic for those “of a certain age,” Charlie the Lonesome Cougar, which is probably just the other side of Disney’s stirring “True-Life Adventure” The Vanishing Prairie when it comes to documentary verisimiltude. But if it’s good enough for Virgil and Blaaagh, it’s good enough for me—I remember seeing it several times and liking it quite a lot, though I think my enthusiasm, and probably Virgil and Blaaagh’s, pales next to Wesley Covey’s, whose review on IMDb is purple enough to reproduce here whole-hog (all punctuation and emphasis is Wesley’s):
”this is one of my favorite movies ever! along with casablanca and cannibal holocaust, this is near perfect cinema. rex allen narrates this wonderful tale of a cougar who just needs a little loving. contains action, adventure, suspense, comedy, and riverbed chaos! SEE THIS MOVIE IF YOU HAVE TO KILL TO DO IT!!! you will not find a better cat picture anywhere, with cat from outer space coming in as a not so close second. charlie's performance is magnificent. even includes animal cruelty and intense logging! gotta love disney, for all moral failures!”
Wow! I’m now officially shamed for not choosing it myself!
Other favorites include Robert’s provocative pick, The Hellstrom Chronicle, Blue Planet (Benaiah), Croc Files (Murray), From Conception to Childbirth (to answer your question, Beege, if it can be found on IMDb, it counts!), The Polar Bears of Churchill (I’m truncating the actual title, in case anyone would like to click on it and hazard a guess as to why Thom McG put this one down as an alternative choice), Hatari! (Nice, M.A.B., real nice), and perhaps the favorite with the most elasticity when it comes to defining the nature documentary as a genre, Deep Throat (Caption Jockey, can you confirm or deny Marlin Perkins’ association with this movie, or were those Mutual of Omaha connections just filthy rumors?)
(Next: Part 2 of Professor Wagstaff's Key, "God, Music, De Palma, Eastwood, Love, Hate and Memories")