Our double dose of MOVIE DIARY 2018 this week continues! Today we've got my favorite and yours, Tessa Strain, who now takes the crown as the special guest with the most appearances on MOVIE DIARY 2018. She's brought us a good one, and it's the perfect way to send us charging into MOVIE DIARY 2018 Q3!
Where The Boys Are (1960)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: TESSA STRAIN
I would rather be dead than on a plane pretty much 100% of the time, but even I have to admit that in flight entertainment is the only part of air travel that has improved in the last 20 years, and that is how I found myself watching Where the Boys Are, a film that, based on its description, seemed as though it had been created in a lab for my specific enjoyment but ultimtely turned out to be something more sinister (wow...the literal plot of Frankenstein). We’ve come along way from a partially obscured six-inch screen four rows in front of you playing the latest highly edited for content Ron Howard-directed Oscar contender from last year!
Where the Boys Are is adapted from a book titled Unholy Spring, which is a more apt title, and it also had a section where the characters raise money to ship arms to Fidel Castro for the Cuban Revolution (unbelievable that we would have to wait for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights in 2004 for the teen romance set against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution we all so richly deserved!!). I get why it didn’t make the cut, however, because this is ultimately a film about changing sexual mores and a youth culture in transition, a theme that would later be more fully developed in the 2005 classic, Spring Break Shark Attack.
Four college girls set off from their frozen midwestern campus for spring break in Florida (the titular Where where the titular Boys Are), picking up a cute boy on the way because he is standing at the side of the road looking pitiful and holding a sign that says “Ft. Lauderdale or I’ll kill myself” and what turns out to be the first of an entire wardrobe of eccentric hats (heavy played by Jim Hutton, and his name is T.V. Thompson, and I love him). Merritt is the smart one (she mouths off in class about sexual freedom for women and her IQ comes up twice, the second time as a flirt...why), Tuggle is the tall one (played by Paula Prentiss of Stepford Wives fame eight he same sardonic energy that makes what happens to her in Stepford Wives extra fucked up!), Angie is the desperate one (played by a Connie Francis, conveying said desperation with less dignity than she does in song), and Melanie is the naive one.
The arrive in a Ft. Lauderdale, where hijinks ensue. They sleep ten to a room! Order hot water at a lunch counter and smuggle in tea bags to save money! Flirt with a young George Hamilton by drawing question marks in the sand (yes)! Listen to a “dialectical jazz” band fronted by Frank Gorshin! Nearly drown in a tank at a supper club where a woman is performaing as a “sea nymph” in the underwater floor show! Attempt to navigate the turbulent waters of being openly horny but conflicted about whether they should have sex before marriage!
On that last point, Where the Boys Are comes down firmly in the negative. Melanie, influenced by Merritt’s liberated talk (which turns out to be more talk than anything else), is the only one of the four to actually experiment with sex on the trip, and the film punishes her with a fate more Splendor in the Grassthan Beach Blanket Bingo. (although I guess it’s worth remembering that the origin of the Beach Party films is Annette Funicello sabotaging a sexy weekend planned by Frankie Avalon by inviting literally all their friends to join them at the Beach, and then a few movies later they meet a mermaid). Did I expect a pointlessly cruel ruined woman narrative to emerge out of what I believed would be a frivolous vacation romp? NO, and guess what, I’m mad about it (Camille Paglia - lol - was not, and believed the film portrayed the fraught sexual dynamic between men and women with pragmatic realism - also lol, also eat me). This is a spring break movie, not Mary McCarthy’s The Group! I thought! We were all! Here! To have fun!
Which brings me to my final point: how in the everloving hell did this movie end up on JetBlue’s inflight entertainment menu? It’s neither current nor a beloved classic (slots into which nearly every other film available to watch fitted neatly) - I’ve known the song for years but had no idea it was connected with a movie at all. What it actually reminded me of was the early days of Netflix streaming where there were legitimately odd, old movies available to watch and an interface that actually let you find them, and NO, I will never stop whining about this. The experience of surprise and discovery has been so leeched from movie watching that I’m actually grateful to have been so discombobulated by the third act of a movie from 1960 that I had never heard of while housing a bag of Cheez-Itz purchased for approximately one thousand dollars at LAX.
Tessa Strain is a writer living in Geoff’s apartment. Her work has appeared in Bright Wall/Dark Room and The Comics Journal. She is @tessastrain on Twitter, where she does a pretty good job, and on Instragram, where she does a bad one.
The Conversation (1974)
Really not what I was expecting, but I loved it. I loved that this just kind of starts as like a barrage of sounds that you have to make sense of and our main dude Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is doing the same thing. That seems to be like a cool hallmark of paranoid 1970s thrillers, that feeling of not knowing what’s even happening for the first half hour of the movie and having to figure it out along with the protagonist. It’s super satisfying too, to figure out the mystery of what’s even happening and what Harry Caul is up to. It’s one of those movies where you truly have no idea about high up any of this goes, you have no idea who to trust, and on top of all of that you’ve got young Harrison Ford stalking around uncomfortably in a suit threatening you around every corner. And I know everyone makes a big deal about the sound design and the editing with this movie, but yeah, they’re right to! It’s doing so much heavy lifting, really making you feel like these snippets of sound that Harry’s recorded are weighing heavy over him and his thoughts, forcing him into this moral conundrum. (Or is it ethics?)
One of the things I love in movies is when someone is really good at their job, and The Conversation is a movie that is about exactly that. I loved the parts that happen at the surveillance convention where everyone recognizes Harry Caul as a legend in the surveillance game, I loved how after the convention they all go out to party and that one guy pulls his sneaky surveillance trick on Harry and he gets all pissed about it, I just love when a movie presents a very specific world and it’s even better when that specific world is populated by people who are experts, I love being lost in jargon that means little to me but everything to them, I love that shit!
American Psycho (2000)
I love this movie, and I can’t think of a single thing wrong with it, aside from that odd group of people who seem to have totally misunderstood that Patrick Bateman is not cool and you shouldn’t want to be him, though I guess that’s in keeping with the grand tradition of work like The Great Gatsby (book and movies), Scarface (1983), Mad Men, The Sopranos. Here’s a question: have there ever been women characters that have been misinterpreted like this? Have there been women characters who are meant to embody a societal ill but are instead lauded by people who are completely missing the subtext? There must be, right? Maybe Daenerys Targaryen? Though I do feel that the Game of Thrones TV show also doesn’t understand that character so it’s not entirely on the shoulders of its fandom. Anyway, back to American Psycho, sorry.
American Psycho explores the comedy and eventual tragedy in the interchangeability of these high powered finance types. They’re all the same white guy with similar haircuts in the same Wall Street power suit and they’re all Vice Presidents of their company, it’s kind of like Black Hawk Down (2001) where everyone is styled the same for the effect of interchangeability/disposability. Patrick believes that he’s worked so hard to fit into this elite society that he no longer exists as a person, he’s just an idea of one, which is fitting as throughout the movie Patrick keeps getting mistaken for some other unspecial rich white guy. He uses this to his advantage by getting Jared Leto to take a meeting with him, then murdering him, but eventually we see that this idea that Patrick Bateman is less a tangible person and more an idea of one is his own prison. His increasingly violent and audacious murders are a cry for help, he wants someone to stop him, but even when he outright confesses every single thing to his own lawyer he won’t believe him because he’s mistaken him for someone else. Furthermore, his lawyer thinks it’s some sort of joke because he thinks he’s had lunch with one of Patrick’s victims back in London, which I see as a statement that it isn’t just Patrick, it’s everyone in this world that’s non distinct, interchangeable, and disposable.
I just learned that some people theorize that none of these murders are actually happening and it’s all in Patrick’s head, which I don’t know, I see where that’s coming from, but I guess I find that a less interesting story. Like, ok it was all in his head, great, it’s a story about how the pressures of fitting in have driven a man insane and everyone around him is fine, the end. But the idea that the murders are actually happening is so much more compelling to me because it’s still a story about how the pressures of fitting into society have pushed a man to psychotic behavior, but it’s also a story about the unchecked power of the elite and how dangerous any yuppie moron is allowed to be when they have money and power.