The simple art of cinema criticism

August 08, 1999|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder/Tribune

AS A NOTED FILM critic, I assume that you are eager to read my impressions of "Eyes Wide Shut," the controversial much-discussed final film in the "oeuvre" of Stanley Kubrick, or, as he was known to those of us who considered him a close personal friend before he died, "Stan."

What is one to make of "Eyes Wide Shut"? Is this the "chef doeuvre," the "piece de resistance," if you will, of this legendary cinematic "auteur"? Does it possess the penultimate exigency, the insouciant "escargot," the "frisson de voiture" of Stan's earlier work? Or does it succumb to the inevitable "bouillabaisse en route" that every great "roman a clef" experiences when he reaches the point that the great French director Renault Citroen once, in a moment of "pique," described as "fromage de la parapluie" (literally, "umbrella cheese")?

These are, indeed, some questions. And if one is to truly address them, one has an obligation, as a noted cultural commentator as well as a human being, to have some direct knowledge of the film in question. Thus it was that this critic -- reluctantly pausing in his continuing project of reading the complete unabridged works of Marcel Proust in the original French handwriting in a drafty room with poor lighting -- went to the cinematic theater for a personal first-hand viewing of "Eyes Wide Shut."

This critic will not, as the great Italian director Ronzoni Sono Buoni used to say, "beat around amongst the shrubbery." This critic will come right out -- at risk of violating the First Rule of serious cinematic criticism ("Avoid clear sentences") -- and tell you exactly what "Eyes Wide Shut" is about: It is about two-and-a-half hours long. That is frankly more time than this critic can afford to spend in a cinema, because at this critic's current rate of cinema- concession-snack consumption (CCSC), which is one box of Goobers per 45 minutes of film viewing, this critic would soon develop what the great German director Audi Porsche Messerschmitt referred to as "ahugengrossenbiggenfattenheinie." After two-and-a-half hours, it would take a construction crane to hoist this critic back out of his seat.

And so this critic elected to instead view another film playing at the same theater, "Lake Placid," which is about half as long as "Eyes Wide Shut," but involves even less actual viewing time if you, like this critic, close your eyes tight shut for certain scenes, such as the one at the beginning where a scuba diver is swimming in the lake and something grabs him from underwater, so his friend tries to rescue him by pulling him back into the boat, and the only really positive thing you can say about the diver at that point is that, if he had survived, he would never again have had to worry about finding pants in his size, if you get this critic's drift.

"Lake Placid" explores a classic literary theme -- a theme that has fascinated artists from Homer to Shakespeare to Milton to Milton's younger brother, Arnold, namely: What happens when an Asian crocodile swims over from Asia and winds up in a secluded lake in Maine, where it grows to a length of 30 feet?

The answer is: some serious chomping. Because naturally, after the crocodile eats half of the diver in the opening scene, more people immediately show up and insist on swimming in the lake with their legs dangling down invitingly like big fat corn dogs with feet.

And so the audience of "Lake Placid" can only sit helplessly as the crocodile eats various minor characters, not to mention a bear, a moose and part of a helicopter.

This sets the stage for the film's climactic scene, in which -- this critic is not making this scene up -- the heroes lure the crocodile into a trap by flying the injured helicopter over the lake and dangling from it, in a sling at the end of a long cable, a live cow.

In conclusion, "Lake Placid" is a worthy addition to the cinematic genre of Movies Where Body Parts Frequently Wash Ashore. As for "Eyes Wide Shut": Although this critic has not seen it personally, cinematic sources say that it has a certain "je ne sais quoi" (literally, "movie stars naked"). So this critic is giving both films two thumbs up. That's a total of four thumbs up. So it's good that spares are washing ashore.

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