Friday, November 29, 2002

The Movie I Watched Last Night XLIV
Alice's Restaurant
I try to watch this movie every Thanksgiving. Set in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and based on true events in Arlo Guthrie's life in 1967, the movie is a wonderful look at Guthrie's life, music, and setting. Positioning Guthrie as an oppressed activist musician -- his encounters with authority figures are extremely cartoony and occasionally quizzical in terms of just how it is that he's rebelling or being repressed -- who's extremely moral -- he, in several chaste steps, refuses the advances of a 14-year-old fan, an aging nightclub manager who just lent him $80, and Alice herself (although that's a scene slightly better handled). The movie highlights the importance of friends and family, the need for a creative community, the value of having a place of your own, and the dangers of being too tightly interdependent in such a place-based community. In many ways, Alice's Restaurant is a fitting epitaph to the '60s, complete with a meandering commentary on how movements wax and wane (delivered by the aging nightclub manager, perhaps played by Alice Brock herself?) and the film's ending, in which Arlo -- the new generation -- drives away in his VW van and Alice -- the preceding generation -- stands still and solitary on the steps of her church as nightfall comes. One of the only Thanksgiving movies I'm aware of, and well worth revisiting every year.

The Dark Crystal
Mike popped this in to show-off his widescreen HDTV. And it's a movie worth watching large, to be sure. Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, this is a darker take on the worlds presented in their Muppets and Fraggle Rock work, perhaps in part to capitalize on the opportunities presented by teenage fantasies such as the Never-Ending Story. Yet it is Brian Froud's work as conceptual designer that makes this movie important. Froud's early character and setting designs are terribly innovative -- offering several interesting, fantastic, and usually horrible creatures and environments. While the story is a pretty straight-forward heroic quest tale in which a young Gelfling has to heal the dark crystal with a shard before the conjunction of three suns, the takeaway of the movie is unclear. Other than the eye candy -- and delicious it is, visually -- what do children take away from this? There's little moral message, and the death of two rabbit-camel land striders goes unnoticed and unmourned even though they just helped Jen and Kira get to the Skekses' palace. Add to that a steady sexual undercurrent (draining people's essence, the phallic nature of the crystal itself, and Jen and Kira's arguably incestuous opportunity to save the gelfling race), and it's not a movie to ask questions about... just to watch and enjoy.

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