Steeling myself for another viewing of Zodiac, David Fincher's 160 minute ode to Pakula and investigative futility, got me thinking about other celebrated movies I try not to watch if I can help it.
8 1/2 - The most inspired feat of onanism in cinema history. It expanded our visual vocabulary tenfold (more profoundly than any film at that point since Citizen Kane - this is arguable, sure, but not unreasonable), and the medium would indeed be poorer without it, but it is a cold, strangely joyless work that was improved upon, at least as a piece of entertainment, by Bob Fosse with All That Jazz. I'm told this is a fun movie by people who are older than me. I expect to receive similar expressions of puzzlement from my nephew in thirty years when I extol the post-modern, kinda sorta faux-autobiographical brilliance of Adaptation - which, coincidentally, I haven't revisited since its initial theatrical run.
Raging Bull - To be fair, I do throw this on from time to time to behold two magnificent sequences (e.g. the Mascagni-scored opening credits or LaMotta's penance courtesy of Sugar Ray Robinson's fists), but watch the whole thing start to finish when, for all of Scorsese's reverent craft, it amounts to so little thematically or spiritually? I'll never forget checking out a matinee at New York City's Film Forum (my first experience with RB on the big screen), and walking out into the harsh daylight two hours later promising to never do that to myself again (a promise broken only once to date). On the way home, I actually had to duck into the Spring Lounge* for a few pints just to wash the bile out of my mouth.
Dead Ringers - David Cronenberg made back-to-back masterpieces in the 1980s, and it's to his credit that I don't look forward to re-watching either. At least The Fly has those cheap monster movie thrills going for it; Dead Ringers, on the other hand, is a steady downward spiral into emotional oblivion that'll ruin your day but good. Okay, okay... the bastard in me has vowed to one day end a doomed relationship by recommending this as a date movie just so I can leap out of my seat during the infamous operation-in-red sequence where Beverly unveils his new instruments for "mutant women" and scream (like I'm in a Times Square theater circa 1980), "Ooh, he's gonna tear that bitch up good!". But until that day, on the dustiest part of my DVD shelf Dead Ringers shall stay.
Any Ingmar Bergman Movie Not Called Smiles of a Summer Night or Fanny and Alexander (TV Version) - Though there are still a few Bergman works I've yet to see (Winter Light being the most significant), most of his movies are finely tuned instruments from which the same droning melody issues again and again with no possibility of an adventurous solo that could either throw the whole performance out of whack or, best case, transcend the composition's self-imposed limitations. Look, Bergman was (is, I suppose) a master; he conveys precisely what is on his mind every time out with a flawless blending of austere imagery and carefully selected classical music, and he's also inspired classic films from some of my favorite directors (most notably, Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors). I just wish he took more risks. The cited titles get a pass because they surprised and genuinely entertained me. (Of course, Smiles of a Summer Night is an unabashed farce while Fanny and Alexander frequently takes a beating for being unduly sentimental, so maybe I'm just exposing myself as a sap. Wouldn't be the first time.)
Some Like It Hot - Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond are so in love with their cross-dressing premise that they settle for a surprising number of easy laughs and telegraph the punch lines for the jokes that should work. Aside from the game efforts of Marilyn Monroe and Joe E. Brown, the movie's generally too impressed with its own cleverness to ever be any fun. Hey, I'm no contrarian, and I love Wilder when his cynicism is demolishing worthwhile targets (e.g. Double Indemnity, Ace in the Hole and The Apartment), but this is one of maybe three "inarguable" classics that just doesn't earn its reputation. Never mind that Wilder is insanely overvalued in Hollywood when you consider that most people in this town couldn't identify more than one film directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Hell, if Wilder were still alive today, he'd probably agree. I'm going to stop now.
*I haven't visited my old local since moving out of NYC at the end of '01. I wonder if it's changed much.