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. Tim Krieder 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 less appealing.

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.

Return to the Calendar page!