Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Only Other Movie I've Ever Walked Out On

I don’t want to lose my posting streak here, so I’m rushing to complete this before the end of the day.

First things first. I got a new job today. I’ll be working on taxonomy at eBay. It’s a contract for now, but could well lead to something full-time. I start (probably) next week, and am really looking forward to it.

Secondly, today is (for 66 more minutes, anyway) my birthday, and I was touched – deeply and sincerely touched – to get so many well wishes from my Facebook friends. (And, no, none of them said “I wish you would fall down a well.” [h/t Frank Muir]) My profoundest thanks to all of you – even those who accused me of curmudgeonliness. I don’t know where I got that reputation.

The late Frank Muir. (He of "My Word!" and "My Music.")

But that’s not why you called.

In our last meeting, I talked about The Only Movie I’ve Ever Walked Out On (or “Out of Which I’ve Walked,” to get all Churchillian about it). Some of you guessed what that movie was, but I ain’t talkin’. You wanna see it? Do the legwork. At least one of you figured it out in a FB message.

I thought I’d deal today with the other movie I’ve “walked out on,” which actually means “turned off and taken out of the DVD player.”

That booby prize goes to “Broken Flowers,” a 2005 effort written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Bill Murray as a man who (and I had to look this up on the IMDb, since I’ve managed to block the movie out), in the wake of his latest break-up, and after receiving a letter telling him he has a 19-year-old son, sets out to see which of his exes is the mother of the child and where his previous romances had gone wrong.

I know many, many people love Bill Murray. I used to be among that number. His early pictures are wonderful and funny and lively, but starting about 1999, he began to sleepwalk his way through his movies, relying more on his reputation than his talent to get by. (He’s rather like Steve Martin in that regard; in that he substitutes the stored-up regard the public has for him for actual content in his movies.)

 He's this lively throughout.

But “Broken Flowers” really took the cake for me. It’s as dull as dishwater and about as creative as that cliché. It starts slow and somehow manages to get even slower and less interesting. About 30 minutes in, I’d had enough, literally yelled “Be interesting!” at the screen, and turned the damn thing off. In the eight years or so since “Broken Flowers” came out, I’ve attempted to watch some of Murray’s movies, but all of them have been equally coma-inducing. The guy has just burned me too many times.

So, I didn’t “walk out” on it, but, rather, walked over to the DVD player and sent the disc on its way.

Live theatre, though, is a different story. I’ve seen plenty of bad theatre in my time. Anyone in this business has. In almost every case, though, I’ve found some element to watch, even if it’s just curiosity as to whether any particular moment was the nadir or if there’s worse to come. (I’ll talk about my own experience on the other side of the footlights in this sort of show tomorrow.) I particularly remember a production of “Annie.” The director had neglected to inject any energy into their cast, so the whole affair was a block hole or theatricality; anything that was potentially of even the most minor interest (with the exception of two actors – those playing Miss Hannigan and Lily St. Regis) was sucked dry of theatricality. It was as though a vampire were in charge.

I particularly remember the “Hooverville” number (“We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover”). It should be full of characters who are angry and determined to let their bile and bitterness toward Hoover show in an entertaining and peppy way. This version may just have striving for how beaten down people were in the Depression, as they were the most enervated cast I have ever seen. It was like watching a reenactment of the Bataan Death March.

NOT from THAT production. I just wanted to insert a photo.

The one saving grace in the production was unintentional. Early in the show, Annie’s dog, Sandy, is taken to the pound by a city dogcatcher. (Side note: has anyone every actually voted for a dogcatcher? That’s always the standard for a bad politician.) This particular dogcatcher was pushing a cart with the words “New York City Pound” painted proudly and prominently on the side. Later, in the “N.Y.C.” number, the same cart reappeared, only this time it was supposed to be a hot dog cart. (I could tell this because a small sign reading “Hot Dogs, 5 Cents” was attached precariously to the side. I am nothing if not observant.) The problem was, the sign was far smaller than the pound slogan underneath, leading to the impression that the pound was selling dogs to a local butcher to make up his frankfurter supply. It was one of the few laughs in the show, and it was (unfortunately) unintentional.

It's not from this one, either.

There have been three productions, though, that I came close to walking out on. “Annie” was not one of them. That should indicate how bad the others were. They were, in chronological order, Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in, I’d guess, about 1985, the Stratford Festival Production of “King Lear” that played the Doolittle/Huntington Hartford Theatre in Los Angeles in about 1986, and “The Lily’s Revenge” at the Magic Theatre in 2011. I could go into them now, but it will take many more words than I have time for, so it must wait until tomorrow.

Suffice it to say, these multi-parters seem to be popular with my readers, so you have a treat in store.

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