Monday, August 20, 2012

The Last Movie I Watched

I finally caved to all the friends who said I needed to get Netflix, and signed up for the streaming version over the weekend. The first thing I watched was Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou, because I wanted to see how the process worked, and that was only fifteen minutes long. Following that I spent a couple of hours going through their various menus and compiling a queue of about 200 or so titles, ranging from several documentaries on African-American history (which I'm teaching as of next week) to a bunch of obscure films noir to some classic foreign stuff from the fifties and sixties to... well, you get the idea.  I was slightly disappointed that some movies I've long dreamed of seeing were not available (Wim Wenders' early works, for example), but there were some in that category, including the first feature I watched: Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Two Girls, which came out almost fifteen years ago, but which I never saw playing in any theater nor in any video format I had access to.  But there it was on Netflix, so I jumped at the chance to finally see it.

Forsyth is a Scottish director who made some of my favorite movies of the eighties, including Local Hero which is probably one of my top three or four all-time favorite movies.  The only one of his films that I didn't think was very good was Being Human, which had snatches of Forsyth's signature charm, but ultimately was undermined (I think) by an all-too-common cloying Robin Williams performance (I remember thinking at the time that Williams' presence-- an uncommon big star in a Forsyth film-- may have led to greater studio interference than was evident in the director's earlier work).  Then, Forsyth seemed to vanish.  It's possible that Gregory's Two Girls (a sequel to his breakthrough film Gregory's Girl from 1980) was never even released in this country, and I only knew of it from a reference I stumbled across in the Internet Movie Database some years after it was made.  Needless to say, I was excited to finally get a chance to see it.

The movie does not attain the heights of Forsyth's best work, but it is a much better swan song (if it proves to be his last film-- he's done no others since this one) than Being Human.  As a sequel, I expected it to be a similar kind of offbeat romantic comedy like it's predecessor, but that's only a jumping off point.  All of Forsyth's films, to one degree or another revolve around an almost playful conflict between realism and fantasy.  Not the kind of fantasy one associates with unicorns or outer space or comic book super-heroics, but rather the kind that motivates almost all of us to imagine a life more simple, more enriching (however defined), or just better.  Gregory represented that in his first appearance, when as a gawky high school student he developed a severe crush on the female star of the school's soccer team, a girl well out of his league which all of his mates recognized long before he did.  In the later film, Gregory is now an only somewhat less gawky English teacher in the same high school, and has a crush on one his students (who also plays soccer), while he is pursued by one of his female colleagues.  But the real heart of the film (into which his romantic fantasies are integrated) revolves around his being compelled to act on the lessons he tries to instill in his students to question authority and actively resist the blandishments of an exploitive consumer, corporatist society.  It's a political dimension that Forsyth never really engaged before, and one can question if he successfully pulls it off here. For example, the "bad" guy in the story is really only bad in an abstract sense-- as a character interacting with others he seems mostly a pretty decent guy.  It's hard to know if that is a consequence of Forsyth's basic humanity or a pointed comment on how insidiously the "machine" operates to win us over.  But even acknowledging such shortcomings, this is an entertaining flick , especially if you're in tune with Forsyth's sensibility (I admit, not everyone is) and can appreciate the melancholy inevitability that even the most mild-mannered of fantasies can rarely be realized even when they seem to come true.           


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