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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Escape from “escape”

September 1st, 2003

BY DAN PETERSON

Before I address the question of whether or not any movie ever affected my life in any way, I just have to get this down for the record: movies today are absolute crap compared to films of past generations. Examples abound but I would indicate The Mexican as a case in point. I have not paid to see a movie in thirty years but I do reluctantly sit through them on intercontinental flights… or flip them off and sleep.

The problem is that there are no good ideas and no good stories. A movie should tell a story — a great story — but that’s not the way it is today. Today it’s “escape.” Of course, that’s more crap.

Buildings exploding. Has anyone ever heard of a building exploding in real life — except for 9/11? Cars flipping. Has anyone ever seen a case of this? I watch films of real chases and I have never once seen a car flip over.

Where is the criminal hiding? He is, nine times out of ten, “Holed up in an abandoned warehouse.” As if cities were full of handy abandoned warehouses.

Entering a dark room. Forget being killed. Who would do such a thing in real life? No one. We all feel around for the light switch, turn it on, and then look around, without stubbing a toe, breaking a leg, or tipping over the furniture.

So any film that reaches me had better have two things: a story and reality. Like everyone else, I love Casablanca. Hell, I love Humphrey Bogart. That film was pure genius. Last scene, loading the plane in the background. They had no huge budget and shot it in a studio. To make the loaders look farther away, they had midgets play those extra parts and load tiny suitcases onto a miniature plane. I appreciate that.

I’m no fan of Woody Allen, who makes the same film, over and over and over again. But I have respected him ever since he gave an interview on his favorite film of all time. Shock of all shocks, he picked Shane. He described Jack Palance as “the personification of evil.” If I were Jack Palance, I would value that tribute from a real genius more than any damned Golden Globe or Oscar they could give me.

I used to be a basketball coach, so I like movies with an example of what people can do. In Hoosiers, cut out every scene with Barbara Hershey. Out. Gene Hackman was OK but not perfect casting. Still, the reality was great, and it was based on a real story, when Milan upset Muncie Central in the 1954 Indiana State Tournament.

They say Elvis saw Rebel Without a Cause a dozen times and memorized lines from it. That’s a case of a film influencing you. Me? I liked Sahara, with Humphrey Bogart. The shot I liked: when Rex Ingram, who plays Tambul, the Sudanese corporal, says to Joe Gunn (Bogart): “Yes… Sergeant,” after looking to identify his rank. That was real. What a real person would do. I like Zulu on the Battle of Roarke’s Drift.

I recently saw, on cable, the original The Thief of Baghdad, with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. My God, what an athlete.

But my all-time masterpiece is The Manchurian Candidate, with Frank Sinatra and a superb cast in a film that presaged the assassination of JFK in a way that can only be described as eerie.

Did these films change my life? Did I base my life on them? No, not at all. But I take something away from them. That’s enough. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Movie Issue, Peterson | Link to this Entry

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