Movies on the brain

Russell Baker

March 28, 1991|By Russell Baker

THE ACADEMY Awards this week put me in mind of movies. Here are some thoughts that movies put me in mind of while watching them, usually on a VCR years after everybody else has seen them:

"Death in Venice" -- This is a pretty movie and it's doing a nice job of creating the funereal air of Thomas Mann's novel. But it is long. Long, long. Long. When did movRussellBakeries start lasting forever?

Venice full of plague! Hey, I'd forgotten this: Dirk Bogarde is suffering. Long. The audience is suffering.

"Paths of Glory," one of the best ever, takes less than 90 minutes.

"The Maltese Falcon," another super job, is only slightly longer. Nowadays two hours and a half is routine . . .

Idea for horror-flick: The usual weird aliens infect Hollywood with a monstrous endless-movie plague so all America will doze while invaders from . . .

"Driving Miss Daisy" -- This movie scares me. I'm afraid to have an opinion. If I like it I'm probably a racist who enjoys seeing a black man work as a servant. If I don't like it I'm probably a white supremacist who hates to see a white woman treating a black man as a human being. Why do I let myself get trapped into seeing movies like this?

"Tin Men" -- Love this! It's pure Baltimore. The betrayed husband throwing all his wife's clothes out the window: pure Baltimore. Why has it taken America so long to discover Baltimore? Just as well, though. Imagine best-seller lists choked with dense, solemn tomes about lacrosse. George Will, Tom Boswell, David Halberstam all explaining lacrosse's incredible subtleties, difficulties, tensions, toil.

"Kindergarten Cop" -- Movies like this make me ashamed. I know I shouldn't be having a good time, but I am anyhow. It's like drinking martinis. Gin destroys your liver, Schwarzenegger destroys your mind. I know that, yet here I am, enjoying it. Guilt, guilt, guilt! What'll I tell people: Keep mum about seeing this movie or try for regular-guy bonus points by confessing I like Schwarzenegger? Oh-oh, Arnold is going to hit that lousy husband! Ooh! Well, he deserved it.

"Field of Dreams" -- I know I'm supposed to find profound meaning in baseball nowadays, and I'm trying, I'm trying. These dead baseball players hang out back there in the tall corn, eh? Stop yawning. Everybody says this movie is sensitive and deep; it's insensitive to yawn. OK, dead baseball players in the tall corn. Yes, that's deep, deep. Rhymes with sleep, sleep.

Why don't video shops carry those un-profound, unspiritual 1930s baseball movies that starred Joe E. Brown? Where do the dead baseball players hang out after the autumn corn harvest? What's a great actor like James Earl Jones doing in a movie like this? Not in a class with those elegant Yellow Pages commercials of his: "This is the book that got Bubba cooked." Tells the story effectively, economically. That's movie-making. Back in the corn, eh?

"The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" -- It's depressing to realize I'm watching this without getting sick. I'll never go to a movie again.

"Night of the Iguana" -- Am I really thinking this? I can't be. But I am. I can't stop it. It's going to pop out: Richard Burton was a terrible actor. There, I've thought it! Richard Burton was a terrible actor, a really terrible actor!

"And Then There Were None" -- OK, so 10 people unknown to each other are so desperate for company that they accept an invitation from a complete stranger to come to dinner at his place on this remote island, and as they are murdered, one by one, little Indian figurines painstakingly hand-carved apparently by the murderer . . . I can't believe I'm looking at this. Let's check out Arsenio Hall.

"Last Exit to Brooklyn" -- It's probably called something like "post-neo-realism." Maybe it's plain old German expressionism. What in the world are these people supposed to be doing? Maybe it's post-modern German expressionism. This is Brooklyn? No wonder Manhattan people never go over there. What's a nice actor like Stephen Lang doing in this nutty Teutonic Brooklyn? Wait a minute: it's probably Brechtian. That's it, I'll bet: neo-Brechtianism.

"Hairspray" -- Baltimore again. A really funny movie! John Waters' Baltimore this time. Waters shows us that what's popularly thought to be beauty is really grotesque, but he's amused by this, not disposed to indict American society for appalling taste. Reminds me: Must soon write another column indicting American society. Keeps the franchise.

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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