Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: My Fair Lady & Patton

Kris Jenson, with whom I've had the best discussions of my life, is an old friend of mine from Boston. We had been talking about the American Film Institute's Top 100 when he got a job at Dig Boston, writing about just that. Instead of letting the conversation end just because he's a big, fancy writer now, I'm going to write responses to his articles. I can't keep up with his movie watching, so I'm only responding to the ones I've seen.

I held off on "My Fair Lady" two weeks ago, so I could do a compare/contrast this week. As ridiculous as that sounds, I'm going to pull it off. Both these movies are classic pieces that nail a specific period of time. Both are anchored by screen legends. Both are on my Dad's list of best movies of all time, and I find both to be resoundingly eh.

I won't deny these movies are classics. Both movies were dropped from the 10th Anniversary list, and I don't think the list suffered. If it means more space for a Buster Keaton, another Kubrick, another Spielburg, D.W. Griffith's last ditch effort to convince the world he's not a racist, and "The Shawshank Redemption," I say, let them go. I won't, however, let that diminish how good these movies are, even though they really didn't do that much for me personally.

To get into what's special about these movies, I e-mailed my father. Just by getting him talking about these movies side-by-side, he put together that they're both about preparing for and ultimately achieving a magnificent victory. As a person who's in a near constant state of preparing for the next thing, he gets a lot of joy out of watching people meticulously put together what they need to succeed.

As a great lover of musical theatre, the songs in "My Fair Lady" are some of his all time favorites. Considering the sheer number of songs, it's almost like an opera, with even the most basic dialogue sung. Seen as the culmination of Higgins struggle to turn Eliza around, "I Could Have Danced All Night," is such a cathartic moment in the movie. All Higgins' hard work pays off, and since it's a musical, it can pay off in the most cinematic and grand way possible.

As far as "Patton," he points to Patton's wisdom as what makes the movie stick. Patton's line, "Rommel, you magnificent bastard. I read your book," turns out to be a line he uses pretty regularly. The movie helped him realize, and helps him even today to communicate, the idea that the best way to resolve a conflict is to study up on your adversary. People have repeated the cliche, "Know thine enemy," to death, but there is something about the way this film presents the same information that makes it so much easier to understand.

Realizing this, "Patton" has become a more important movie in my life than I thought. Anyone who knows me knows that's precisely how I try to resolve conflict. When things get heated, I always try to encourage everyone to see the other side. It frustrates the hell out of people when it seems I'm trying to play both sides, but in talking to my Dad about this movie, it turns out this whole time I've been echoing the wisdom of General Patton.

Knowing all this, why do I find these movies so forgettable, despite their obvious quality? I think for "My Fair Lady," it's pretty easy to figure out. I just don't love Audrey Hepburn. She's oh so adorable and glamorous, but she's simply not a very good actor. I liked her enough in "Charade" and "Wait Until Dark," but other than that, she can be pretty painful to watch. We're all supposed to fall in love with her along with Higgins, but how? She's awful. On the other hand, George C. Scott is a treat to watch. Kris nailed it. I could watch him brush his teeth, in character or not. He's so gruff and off-putting, but somehow he's just so damned likable. I don't really like History Channel documentaries either, so maybe that's it.

Love them or hate them, this is why classic movies are so much fun to discuss. A good movie so easily stands out from regular ones. Even though I'm not in love with these movies, I can see why someone would be. One person sees himself in the characters, but someone else just enjoys the tongue-in-cheek way a movie deals with a bombing. Kris re-discovered his love of musicals and found a way to fill his History Channel void. Me, I just found an excuse to talk to my Dad.

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