SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA (1987)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on September 11th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

Best_SpaldingGray
Directed by Jonathan Demme, written & performed by the late great Spalding Gray.

A few false starts notwithstanding, it has been 5 years since The Lunch Movie has been a regularly scheduled ritual of salvation at 24 frames per second. In my previous talent agency jobs in Los Angeles we screened movies in the conference room every day during our lunch hour. We watched movies that many of my younger coworkers felt remiss for having gotten through college in general, or film school in particular, without having seen. We fostered a climate that rejected “How can you work in the movie business without seeing (fill in the blank)?!” elitism in favor of “Here’s your chance to share this experience with friends” inclusiveness. And then it ended when I left those jobs and moved across the country.

In the interim, The Lunch Movie has become a blog that is part film criticism and part autobiography. Some films, the ones that move me to write, have impacted my life as much as family or close friends or personal heroes. Some films introduce me to personal heroes … but let’s come back to that in a moment. Through this blog I met as many international movie fans as my former legion of conference room coworkers, including the coolest pen-pal a nerd could ever hope for, Craig Jamison from The GullCottage/Sandlot and the driving force behind The Grindhouse With Craig & Jim podcast. In my current job in the Visual & Media Arts Department at Boston’s Emerson College, we have spent the past few summers testing the waters for returning to my old ritual, swimmingtocambodia-03during what is typically the slowest work period for academia. This summer, these seeds have taken root: this fall semester we will test drive the return of The Lunch Movie on Mondays & Fridays.

This Friday, September 12th, we will begin watching the movie that was responsible for my enrolling in Emerson in the summer of 1988: Jonathan Demme‘s SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA. This is Demme’s record of Spalding Gray‘s stage performance wherein Gray discusses his experiences in Thailand acting in Roland Joffe‘s 1984 film THE KILLING FIELDS. Joffe’s film told the true story of New York Times reporters investigating covert American operations in Vietnam who become swept up in the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I expected SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA to be a predominately making-of documentary, with Gray talking about the day to day process behind Joffe’s Oscar winning production. My expectation turned out to be the frame around a much larger picture. Gray ponders everything from CIA black-ops, swimmingtocambodia-05to his own misadventures everywhere from Manhattan to Bangkok, to the legacy of the Khmer Rouge and imperialist sexual tourism, to the search for “a prefect moment” where all of these experiences might crystallize into a moment of clarity.

I saw SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA at the Cedar Lee Theater, alone, because it wasn’t something any high school classmates were interested in. I was driven purely by the respect I felt for THE KILLING FIELDS and a strong recommendation from the Wall St. Journal’s Julie Salamon, paired with a manic version of The Journal’s pointillism portraits featuring Gray in the throws of what looked like an epileptic fit. Within the first few minutes I was grateful that I was alone. Demme’s coverage and Gray’s monologue style are so intimate and confessional that at times I felt like I was watching Gray live in SoHo’s Performance Garage. I was immediately fascinated by him; I imagined the difference between my high school teachers and college professors would be that higher education would expose me to faculty with Gray’s lucid perspective, emotional honesty, intellectual inquisitiveness, and command of both the subjects that he knows as well as the questions that he pursues.

The year after I saw SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA, I was enrolled in and weeks away from attending Ohio State University, when my Dad accepted a new job that would move our family from Cleveland to Boston. article01My Mom asked if I wanted to look at Boston area schools so I could study closer to home, which is when I discovered Spalding Gray’s alma mater Emerson College. Roger Ebert‘s review provided me, way before I realized it, a glimpse at why Spalding Gray is the quintessential Emersonian. From a liberal arts school with concentrations in literature, theater, film, performance, and communication disorders comes a man who wrote monologues, essays and novels, performed them in theaters around the world, acted in film and on stage, and whose work in all media reflected and chronicled a lifelong struggle with depression and a family history of suicide.

The first time Maria & I saw Gray live was at Emerson’s then newly acquired Majestic Theater with his MONSTER IN A BOX monologue. Since then I saw him perform on stage and hold literary readings nearly a dozen times in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. Usually Maria was with me, but even when I went alone, I didn’t feel alone. That is a power and a skill possessed by a rare breed of performers. Spalding’s own passing occurred within weeks of my Dad’s; the two are somewhat synonymous in my mind. Spalding Gray literally altered the direction of my life, and for better or worse (personally, I feel for the better) helped me become the person I decided to be. To watch Spalding Gray perform is to become aware of the lies you tell yourself to get by one more day, the truth that is busting to be released from you, and the power that both have to change your life and the lives of everyone you touch. To distill that powerful a potion into an 85 minute film is a testament to the artistic symbiosis between Gray & Demme.Swimming-Cambodia

Share
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on January 23rd, 2011 by Jim Delaney


From Friday, March 7, 2008

Written & Directed by Billy Wilder, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell and Evelyn Keyes.

Richard Sherman (Ewell) is your average family man living in Manhattan with his wife and son. He spends his days either working for a paperback press, where he daydreams himself into the stories he publishes, or in his psychiatrist’s office where he tries to make sense of his fantasies. Sherman’s daydreams become reality when his wife and son leave town for summer vacation and Marilyn Monroe rents the apartment upstairs.

George Axelrod‘s Broadway comedy THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH generated most of its laughs through jokes about adultery. Billy Wilder knew that a story could get away with that on Broadway, but not in Hollywood in the 1950’s. Wilder and Axelrod altered the screenplay so that the seductions occur mostly in Sherman’s imagination rather than in his apartment. This change had the dual benefit of side-stepping the censors and enabling the film to poke more exaggerated fun at the male psyche than the play was able to. The film seems tame and cute by today’s standards, but in 1955 representatives from the Hays Code office and the Catholic Legion of Decency routinely appeared on set trying to rein in the fun. Thank God they were, for the most part, unsuccessful!

It’ll finish Tuesday.
Love, Jim
TRAILER

AFTER THOUGHT from 1.23.11
Two of the strongest elements of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH are illustrated through the scenes of seduction: first, how creative and fun the script is, and second, what a unique actress and screen presence was Marilyn Monroe. Eight years before Fellini explored the sexual psyche of a man who had the means to fulfill many of his dreams, Wilder and Axelrod and Ewell play hysterically with a man in no position at all to act upon his fantasies. Richard Sherman is content with his imagination, too dutiful a husband and father to cheat on his family, and too decent to take advantage of The Girl upstairs. He has the desire, and for a time he is amused to simply imagine the possibilities, but his decency also forces him to imagine the ramifications. He does not simply imagine himself a Walter Mitty styled hero, or a lothario on the order of Guido Anselmi; he also imagines the shame of hurting his family. We are even treated to Sherman’s paranoia that The Girl might use her position as a performer in live television commercials to alert every woman in the tri-state area to his raging animal lust.

The amazingly sexy reality of Marilyn Monroe’s performance is that she never actively tries to entice Tom Ewell. Sure, she does in his waking dreams, but those moments are outrageous enough that they are more comic than sexy. Monroe is at her most attractive, and to Sherman her most irresistible, when she is sweetly naive of his intentions. She was 28 when THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH was filmed, but she manages to pull off an innocence more befitting a friendly and trusting young lady than the stereotypical dumb blonde. She walks an impossibly fine line here, succeeding in turning what could have been a one-note character into an emotionally and physically nuanced comedic performance worthy of Chaplin.

Share
Tags: , , , , , ,

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on November 13th, 2009 by Jim Delaney


From June 17, 2008

Directed by Rob Reiner, written by Nora Ephron, starring Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, and photographed by — who knew? — Barry Sonnenfeld.

Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) share an awkward road trip from the University of Chicago to New York City.  Virtual strangers at the beginning of the trip, they become less-than-fond acquaintances by the time they arrive.  A series of coincidences or fate continues to re-introduce them to each other over the next 10 years.  As their reluctant friendship grows, they face the age old question of whether or not a man and woman can be friends without sex getting in the way.

It’ll finish Tuesday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from November 13, 2009
I loved this movie when I first saw it in college, until my classmate Preston pointed out that it’s like Woody Allen’s Greatest Hits, without Woody. Not long after Preston made me aware of this, Premiere magazine backed him up with a table/flowchart sorta comparison. They cited roughly a dozen scenes in WHEN HARRY MET SALLLY in one column, and in adjacent columns they cited a Woody Allen title and a particular scene from that movie, making the case that Reiner-n-Ephron-n-Co. had come up wit a derivative movie.

Y’know what? I don’t care anymore. I don’t care, partly because in this day and age we have an emerging DJ-ethos to filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino is not unique in making a career of mashing up elements different movies that he loves, but he is unique and that he acknowledges it. But I also don’t care, because movies have always been this way. When I was enraptured by an amazing new movie called STAR WARS, my parents and everyone else their age were amused, but no where near as impressed as I was — they felt they had seen it already when it was called FLASH GORDON. Not only that, George Lucas himself admits on Criterion’s DVD of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS that he lifted his basic plot line and several character relationships directly from Kurosawa’s 1958 samurai tale.

SO … lifting scenes and inspiration is nothing new. I think a more important concern is: “How well do they do it?” Tarantino? Pretty damn well. Lucas? Even better. And 20 years after WHEN HARRY MET SALLY was knocked down several pegs for me, I am prepared to hoist it back up. It is a great big hug of a movie with a few classic moments all of its own. I’m not just referring to the Katz’s Deli-gasm either. I am hard pressed to think of any romantic comedy, by Woody or anyone else, with as show-stopping a speech as Harry’s New Years Eve plea to Sally. Go ahead — try to top that moment! You can’t!!

Share
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,