Film #1: What’s New, Pussycat?

29 May

What's New Pussycat

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, Capucine, Woody Allen, and Ursula Andress

Writer: Woody Allen, based upon an idea by Warren Beatty

Director: Clive Donner

Music By: Burt Bacharach, performed by the likes of Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, and Manfred Mann.

The Concept, in Recipe Form: Mix one part Shakespearean comedy with three parts low-brow sex romp. Add liberal amounts of Woody Allen shtick, to taste.

The Film’s Claim to Fame: While not many of us remember the film, almost everyone is aware of the film’s theme.

Line of the Film: “When a man’s life goes down the drain, you are there.” – Michael, referring to Carol’s innate ability to catch him awkward situations.

The Backstory: Believe it or not, the original concept of the film was loosely based upon the life of then up-and-coming star Warren Beatty. Beatty was ready to play Michael (aka “himself”), but left the project after Allen lessened his character.

The Characters:

  • Michael James (Peter O’Toole): A high-powered editor for a fashion magazine who has the ability to woo pretty much any woman — or “pussycat,” as he calls them — he meets. The story behind this ability is unknown, but James believes it has to do with his looks. (“When you look at me in the right light, I do appear to be quite handsome,” he states at the beginning of the film.) He also believes that couples should “sleep around,” then “live together” before they even think of getting married. According to him, this sort of thing is nothing more than “a person seeing everything that life has to offer.” Despite his “reluctant” free-willing bachelor lifestyle, Michael only desires to be one woman: His longtime girlfriend Carol (Romy Schneider). The thought of marriage is constantly with him, but he just can’t bring himself to say the words.
  • Dr. Fritz Fassbender (Peter Sellers) – A suicidal, sexually frustrated psychologist that wants nothing more than to “bed” a pretty young woman. He tries desperately to woo women like Michael but his “over enthusiasm” tends scare off his potential mates. (Judging by Fassbender’s actions throughout the film, what was politely referred to “over enthusiasm” in 1965 would easily be called “attempted rape” in 2010.) It gets so bad that even a self-described nymphomaniac (Renée Lefebvre, played by Capucine) wants nothing to do with him. He blames his horrible luck with the ladies on his “monster” of a wife Anna (Erda Gale) and their several “horrible” children. He secretly hopes that some of Michael’s charms will “rub off” on him.
  • Victor Shakapopulis (Woody Allen) – A … Let’s call a spade a spade here: The character is the quintessential Woody Allen character only with a longer last name. He’s shy, intelligent, and extremely self deprecating, yet somehow ends with some of the best lines/gags in the film.

The Plot: Does it really matter? It all comes down to sex.

The Film, In a Nutshell: Sex! And more sex! Then, for no reason, Peter O’Toole stares longingly into the camera for what seems to be hours at time. Director Clive Donner to trying to portray him as “innocent, yet sexy,” but to me, he just looks like David Bowie. In the midst of the sexual misadventures and big doe eyes, something oddly wacky would happen. These scenes include, but are not limited to:

  • Victor going to a sauna in a full suit.
  • Victor celebrating his (and coincidentally, Woody Allen’s) 29th birthday eating a fancy meal alone on a pier.
  • Victor helping a stripper put on a suit of armor.
  • Victor “accidentally” stopping  Dr. Fassbender’s Viking-like suicide by asking for free psychological advice.
  • Victor driving a phallic-looking sports cars on the sidewalks of Paris.
  • Victor trying to impress his date by lip-syncing to opera.
  • Victor … I think you get the point.

The Climax: For reasons unknown by this viewer, everyone (save for Carol, who shows up later) ends up booking a room at the same resort hotel. Michael, who wants to  use the weekend to both unwind and get some work done, ends up getting accosted by pretty much every woman he encountered throughout the film. Victor, meanwhile, is bound and determined to consummate his latest relationship, no matter what kind of craziness is happening around them. As for Dr. Fassbender … Let’s just say he’s up to his old scumbag rapist “over eager” ways and leave it like that. Within a few minutes however, the scene turns into a giant Benny Hill outtake, complete with crazy music and a convoluted chase scene involving go-karts. There’s even a man with a stereotypical black bomb running around. In the end, Michael and Carol do get married. Their marriage doesn’t even last thirty seconds before Carol claims that Michael is “looking at other women” again.

The Point: If you truly love someone, you’ll grow a pair and marry them. If you don’t, oodles of crazy crap will happen at random intervals.

My Thoughts: I want to say it was terrible, but I can’t. Sure, it was crass, goofy, and made entirely no sense, but at least the parts with Victor made me laugh. And really that’s all I can ask for.

Can I Relate?: To Victor, maybe. Everyone else … No, not really. Like Michael, there are some who can open doors (and remove undergarments) with just a smile. I am not one of those people.

Does It Hold Up?: In a word, no. While Michael’s thoughts on cohabitation and premarital sex might have been edgy and taboo in 1965, it is rather commonplace now. The other main problem this film has is with the its climax. By keeping the third act intact, the film morphs from the quintessential “Judd Apatow” experience — a “dirty little movie” with a wholesome moral — to a nonsensical barrage of eye pokes, chase scenes, and go-kart rides.

Is It Worth Watching?: No. If you want to see a crazy sex comedy, go rent The 40 Year-Old Virgin instead. Not only is it funnier, more coherent, and completely go-kart free, its subject matter is more relevant to modern times.

Addendum: If this movie is anything close to real life, Warren Beatty was a grade-A jackass in 1965.

…And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this review of What’s New Pussycat? Our next film will be picture the Woody Allen “dubbed” spy film What’s Up, Tiger Lilly? Hope to see you then.

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The Set Up (You Need This)

26 May

Hello and welcome to the Great Film Experiment. In the interest of time, allow me to skip the formalities and jump straight to the “question and answer” portion of this post:

Q: What exactly is the “Great Film Experiment?”
A: In the Great Film Experiment, I will watch the films of four of Hollywood’s preeminent creative minds — Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Albert Brooks, and Hal Ashby. All of the films will be watched in the order that they were released.

Q: But why them? Why not go with Orson Welles or Francis Ford Coppola or Robert Altman?
A: The point here is not just to watch classic films. The idea is to watch films that resonate with a certain audience.

Q: That makes no sense.
A: …And that wasn’t a question.

Q: Fine, I’ll rephrase then. Could you please explain further?
A: Of course. Every generation (or two) has a form of entertainment that speaks directly to them. This form of entertainment uses their language, their sensibilities, and their overall outlook on life to tell a story that is relevant to their lives. It also tends to deal with these issues in a way that might make the previous generation shake their heads in confusion. Who cares if the “old folks” don’t “get it.” It’s not made for them.

The first major filmmaker to do this for my generation (X/Y) was John Hughes. I was five when Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out, but it doesn’t matter. That film speaks to the “Y” portion of the generational mish-mash just as much as it speaks to the “X.” I, like many people my age, can still repeat whole lines from that film. My mother, on the other hand, just doesn’t understand the appeal. “That movie isn’t funny in the least,” I remember her telling me once. “It’s almost as bad as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and True Shi — I mean True Grit.” As the years went on, the “Gen X/Y” sub-genre began to grow. What was once a home for just John Hughes now contained the likes of Danny Boyle, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, and Seth Rogen. Like Hughes, these four creative minds (and others) tend to make films that speak to the current generation. They also make films that I would not show to my parents under any circumstances. (Come on … They don’t “get” Ferris Bueller. Things like Trainspotting or Chasing Amy would make their heads explode.)

Still, there is an inherent phenomenon attached to “generational entertainment:” Some of the initial appeal is lost over time. Take classical composer Franz Liszt for example. For those unaware, he was to 1830’s musical elite what Marylin Manson was when I was in high school. He took major liberties with the tempo of the music in question, would improvise whenever the mood struck him (even when playing Beethoven), and actually showed emotion while playing. The press hated it, but the audiences, especially women, couldn’t get enough. This phenomenon was even given a name — Lisztomania. We, on the other hand, know not of the screaming women, tempo fluctuations, and pointed concert reviews. To many of us, Franz Liszt is simply just another composer whose music fills the void between NPR newscasts and the latest edition of Ask Dr. Science on public radio. When most people hear the term “Lisztomania,” they either think of that dreadful Roger Daltrey/Ken Russell film from the 1970’s or of the delightful pop song by French rock band Phoenix. In short, Liszt is just another great composer to us. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that we are horrible people or are somehow brain dead morons just because we don’t appreciate the finer points of Lisztomania. It’s not that we won’t; it’s that we can’t. Liszt’s performances and overall sense of style was tailored to that particular generation of people. As that generation aged and new ideas began to rear their heads, the impact made by Liszt became less and less. The same thing goes with films. As much as I don’t want to admit it, my grandchildren will not understand Mallrats on the same level that my generation does. Yes, the themes presented within the movie are universal, but the wrapping surrounding those themes will be completely foreign. Another example is the Paddy Chayefsky classic Marty. Even to this day, most of us can identify with the plight of “nice guy everyman” Marty Piletti. But the specific set of problems that Marty is faced with throughout the film — his mother’s insecurities, the constant fear of losing his butcher shop to one of those new-fangled “A&P supermarkets,” the fact he has basically “given up” on love even though he’s only 34– are completely outdated. It’s still a damn fine movie, but unless you’re an Italian-American butcher from the Bronx that lives with his mother, I seriously doubt that anyone can completely identify with protagonist.

All of that said, the immediate impact of “generational entertainment” doesn’t disappear overnight. The next generation can still enjoy that entertainment almost to the level of the previous generation. Sure, not everything is going to make perfect sense, but there is still enough there in order to make a profound impact. My mother can watch Marty without the anachronisms detracting from the main story. The same thing goes with me and the directors listed above. Some of the most influential films of my parent’s generation — The Graduate, Annie Hall, Broadcast News, Harold and Maude — are on my proverbial “play list.” So how will these “world changing” films affect me? We are about to find out.

Q: Oh … You’re a “film guy,” aren’t you?
A: Nope. Not even close. I’m a writer to be sure, but I barely know anything about “film theory.” I just want to be entertained.

Q: Are you going to watch all of the DVD features and the like?
A: Heaven’s no. While I will do a little research to fill people in on the film’s back story, I won’t go crazy. I’m watching these movies for the movies, not for the behind-the-scenes details. Besides, I don’t have that kind of time.

…And there you have it. Come back in the next day or two for film number one, What’s New Pussycat,” aka “the life of Warren Beatty as written by Woody Allen.” Until then, I bid thee a fond adieu.