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Friday, May 14, 2004

HE SPEAKS! 

First of all, missy, let's get one thing straight: I didn't promise jack. But now that you've overturned my rock, I guess it's movie review time. So here goes.

My weekend of film began with repeated viewings of The Shining and The Exorcist. Repetition was facilitated by the extreme abridgement of the particular versions I watched: 30 seconds each. Oh, and another thing--these versions are performed by animated bunnies. Intrigued? I thought so. Here and there. See you in a minute.

Welcome back. ("Danny's not here, Mrs. Torrance.")

The weekend ended around 3:00 Monday morning when I couldn't sleep and turned on Turner Classic Movies to discover The Unknown. It's a silent movie from 1927 that tells the familiar, age-old story of a man (Lon Chaney) with three thumbs who joins a circus where he pretends to be a man with no arms and falls in love with a fellow performer (a very young Joan Crawford) who has a pathological fear of male hands before blackmailing a surgeon to amputate his arms for real and meeting his demise under the stampeding hooves of a horse that's on the verge of pulling off the left arm of another circus performer.

In case you thought I could make up something like that, here's corroboration.

Turns out The Unknown was directed by Tod Browning, who is more famous for the original, Bela Lugosi version of Dracula and another circus-themed movie, the cult favorite Freaks. His colorful life includes this anecdote about his cousin, which I can't resist passing on (from the IMDb):
Grew up in Louisville with his cousin, "Old" Pete Browning, a 3 time batting champ, who stole 103 bases in 1887. Pete's commissioning of a bat provided the start of the Hillerich & Bradsby bat company, famous for their Louisville Slugger model. The eccentric Pete drank heavily, apparently due to a chronic mastoid infection, and his catchphrase was "I can't hit the ball, unless I hit the bottle."
The Unknown appears to be well regarded--"a modern masterpiece for the current century," says one--but I was underwhelmed. Call me stodgy, but it just doesn't seem like a real movie to me unless it's got the normal complement of human appendages. Chaney spends much of his screen time on gimmicks like drinking wine and lighting cigarettes with his feet (actually, a stand-in handled--er, footled?--a lot of this), and Crawford spends much of hers wearing skimpy outfits and gazing wistfully--you know, in that distinctive way that hand-haters have. I kept wondering: did the 1927 movie-going public take this seriously? Well, even if they did, I couldn't.

Between the bunnies on the Internet and the limbs on the tee-vee I made a visit to an actual movie theater to a see an actual first-run movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I liked a lot. If you want a synposis or an extended review, go here. I'll just say that if you enjoyed Being John Malkovich, which like Eternal Sunshine was written by Charlie Kaufman, you'll enjoy this. And that I've never seen a movie do a more convincing job of portraying dream states. And that Jim Carrey, whose fuse usually burns down to enough already! almost as fast as Robin Williams', gives a superbly understated performance.

That is all. Back to my rock.

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