Here we have G-rated films by David Lynch and David Mamet. In any other
year this would count as a big surprise, but of course 1999 also brought
us Pokémon: The First Movie, which earned a hard R for its
lesbian scene between Misty Waterflower and Jessie from Team Rocket, not
to mention the monologue in which Pikachu screams "FUCK!" over and over
again for five straight minutes.
The Straight Story
John Roach, Mary Sweeney, and David Lynch, 1999
#10, 1999 Skandies
Alvin Straight: "When my kids were young I played a game with them. I'd
give each of them a stick. One for each of 'em, and I'd tell them to break
it. They'd do that easy. Then I'd tell them to make one bundle of all the
sticks and try to break that. A' course they couldn't. I used to say that
was family, that bundle."
Elizabeth, watching the movie with me: "That's not much of a game."
Me: "'...we played it so menneh tahms...'"
Of course, the thing about Alvin's homespun wisdom is that his game seems
not to have borne the desired fruit, in that only one of his kids seems
willing to have anything to do with him and he hasn't spoken to his brother
in ten years. makes a good case that the whole idea behind this movie
is that Alvin Straight never comes out with the straight story of the title —
that we're supposed to put together the hints he sprinkles through his little
homilies and figure out that through his interstate lawnmower journey he's
trying to atone for a tragedy he once caused. I'm getting a little tired of
stories whose whole point is to make you figure out the shapes of icebergs by
showing you the tips, but whatever.
What most interested me about this movie was its setting. I've had a soft
spot for Iowa ever since I passed through the state back in '05 —
I was only there very briefly but my experience was uniformly positive.
Everyone I encountered was almost shockingly nice — it struck me
in a way that hasn't been the case in other supposedly nice places (the rest
of the Midwest, say, or Canada). I had a much better dinner than I expected
(really, the only decent meal between Holyoke and Salt Lake City), and the
roads seemed to be well-maintained, with free wi-fi at the rest stops. I've
read that Iowa schools are among the best in the nation, and of course the
state made headlines a while back for helping to lead the way in marriage
equality. But then we have this. David Lynch has basically made a career,
or half a career anyway, out of caricaturing small-town America, then peeling
back the exaggeratedly kitschy façade to reveal sobbing rapists and
possessed child molesters lurking within. Here we don't get the second part
(though with Alvin Straight we might come close, if Kreider is correct) but
we do get the first. Lynch's Iowa is a flat, featureless land populated by
well-meaning but slow people, most of whom are getting up there in years,
taking drags on cigarettes and munching on German meat products. Somewhat
The Winslow Boy
Terence Rattigan and David Mamet, 1999
#14, 1999 Skandies
Has some nice moments (the early exchanges with the guy who looks like Pete
Townshend, and the cross-examination in Sir Robert's office) but also a lot
of tedious stretches.
One thing I did find interesting was that the movie and the play on which
it's based move the events of the story forward in time; the real incident
on which it's based took place in 1908 (with a 1910 trial), but in the movie
those dates are 1911 and 1913 respectively. I have to think that this has
something to do with the fact that the real Winslow boy died at the First
Battle of Ypres in 1914. I wonder whether Rattigan thought audiences would
be more invested in the story if it concerned a boy too young to inevitably
die in WWI.
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