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The Benefits of Enjoying a Not-So-Great Movie

Last episode I went boldly into the present by buying my first Blu-Ray disc. Disappointed as I was by the technology itself, I at least had the pleasure of seeing a pretty good movie, "Rio Bravo" (1959), directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Dean Martin, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and Angie Dickinson.

As usual John Wayne did not interest me. The Dmitri Tiomkin score was a disappointment. But Dean Martin's acting was surprisingly good! Then of course, there was the wonderful Walter Brennan. I think he is my role model as a cranky tough old goat. Give me a couple more years.

Male sexist pigs will be able to tolerate Angie Dickinson, then in her twenties. Next to Brennan, she was my favorite character. Here is a photo as she appeared in character, at the end of the movie:

It was so refreshing to see a beautiful female character who doesn't take herself so seriously. She was no fool; she knew the effect she had on men. But she had a nonchalant sense of humor about it. Normally, everybody around such a woman seems obsessed with her, which causes me to dislike them and her. Here that didn't happen. She acted a bit like a girl who grew up with four brothers, and who knew how to talk back to them, and smack 'em around if they needed it. 

As I watched and enjoyed this movie, I realized I was no longer bothered by stories that didn't interest me, or by dialogue that was flat. It's as if I were decomposing the movie into its component parts, and shrugging off the components that were losers, while consciously dwelling on the good components. (Extra credit points to any reader who can supply the pertinent parable from Ben Franklin's Autobiography-- something about a good leg and a shriveled leg.)

This is an idea that everybody thinks about from time to time. For some people, decomposition is an entrenched habit. They derive great benefits from it. Do they even think about what they are doing, or do they just do it automatically, because of their temperament? Or maybe they are unconsciously imitating somebody else. 

But for some people like me, decomposition is not a really strong habit. On top of that, it is inherently difficult to decompose people, jobs and other important situations into good and bad components, and shrug off the bad if there isn't anything to do about it right away.  These big and important problems can seem like one gigantic monolithic block that impedes our way.  We get angry at the mighty Monolith, and charge into it, as if we can conquer it just by butting heads with it. Instead, we should have learned to sneak around it, or erode it with water and chemicals, or find a crack in the Monolith and tap at this crack until it easily breaks.

In contrast, it is pretty easy to decompose a movie. Sometimes an intellectual or philosophical idea, no matter how obvious it is or how much we agree with it, just doesn't alter our behavior. We benefit from a visual representation of the idea. 


XXXXX said…
It surely is fun to decompose a movie. I do it all the time. I especially like the one-liners that remain undeveloped or the pregnant-with-meaning facial expressions that only leaves one guessing.
I don't know if I agree with you about Angie Dickinson's "innocence" although I suppose you just mean the role she played in that particular movie. In real life, she was quite adept at exploiting her charms.
The problem with decomposition in any form is the tendency to project ourselves into it. Of course, that's quite interesting if one just looks at it that way.....i.e., what does this impression I'm having say about me?
Interesting post.
I particularly liked Dean Martin in "The Young Lions".
I have a hard time relating to young actors. They seem so often to be superficial, flat and false. I must be getting old.
sooperedd said…
Last week I replaced an old DVD player with one that upscales to almost Blu Ray quality. The old DVD player wouldn't play many of the newer DVDs. I don't buy many DVDs and when I do I always buy them used; they are almost always like new. I have started a collection of old Westerns, including all John Wayne movies. Yesterday I picked up Rooster Cogburn for $2.99 and it was amazing how the new DVD player upscaled the quality of the picture.

I also generally find JW a little boring as he plays the same character in all his movies with just some slight variation, and I also focus on the acting of Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, Maureen O' Hara, or Montgomery Clift. I really like Ben Johnson too. Wayne did work with a incredible amount of really good actors and it made his movies better.
George, I guess I didn't make it clear in the paragraph about Angie Dickinson: I was describing the character she played.

Never saw the Young Lions. Off to I go...

I'm sure there are good young actors with plenty of talent, but modern movies seem so dominated by CGI, special effects, and explosions, that I am turned off.
Sooper Edd, yes, John Wayne is boring because he played the same character, but I did love him in "True Grit."

Maureen O'Hara: hubba...hubba... Don't even get me started on her.

Ben Johnson had the most wonderful (authentic?) accent, which is something most actors don't get right. I loved him in "Shane". I wish he had had more screen time.
XXXXX said…
I honestly don't know what I'm missing for surely there must be tremendous talent out there. Maybe it is the special effects and explosions which mask their talent. One of my favorite actors is/was Montgomery Clift. He is in the Young Lions as well but his performance in The Nuremberg Trials, as a mentally challenged man who had been sterilized by the Nazis, was fantastic and so were other performances. A man torn by inner conflict....does this help make great acting? I always wonder. When you engage in deconstructing a movie, do you consider how the actor performs and how this might relate to their personal life? After all, is it possible to act out something if one does not feel it inside/relate to it in some meaningful way and this is the knowledge/intuition that brings out the performance?
Speaking of John Wayne, I did not care for him until the last few years before his death when his roles became more meaningful. Can't remember the name of the movie he made with Lauren Bacall....the old gunfighter about to die....coming to terms with it.....but that was his best in my opinion. In his own life, I believe he was doing the same.
Never saw a movie with Montgomery Clift.

Actually I never think much about the actor's personal life. I assume it is just about loose sex, divorce, adultery, booze, and drugs. Let's leave that to them.

Are you referring to the "Shootist" at the end of John Wayne's career? I have at least begun to appreciate some of his taglines, such as, "I was born ready," or " 'Sorry' don't get it done," or " 'Tryin' don't get it done."
sooperedd said…
I must say Jeff Bridges in the new True Grit gave a commendable performance; he sure made me forget about John Wayne, but True Grit was one of John Wayne's best performances.