Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Movie Orgy (1968-ish)

I've been wrapped up in work lately so I didn't have a chance to write about the grand finale of the Joe Dante series at the New Beverly last week, his 1968 4-1/2 hour program The Movie Orgy, which is nothing less than a deep warm bath in cinephilia. Dennis Cozzalio interviewed Dante and got the best description of how The Movie Orgy came to be. He also goes into great detail about the structure and workings of the 'film'. For me, it was nothing less than pure pleasure, enlightened escapism. I don't think there's any realm of moviedom that I have more fondness for than the sci-fi and horror movies of the 1950s and early '60s, the era of atomic mutants and killer robots in cardboard suits, of Ray Harryhausen and Edward D. Wood Jr., and Dante's film was a near-perfect gratification of that part of my mindbrain. The most satisfying aspect of the whole experience is the occasional recurrence of clips from the 1959 film Speed Crazy, in which a James Dean-ish young rebel, who also happens to be something of a psychopath, constantly repeats the phrase "Don't crowd me, man" as his rallying cry against '50s conformity. Spread out over the course of the film with expert timing, Dante turns schlocky screenwriting and acting into comedy perfection.

At the same time, the whole thing isn't just an exercise in nostalgia (or for people like me, fake nostalgia, since I'm a full generation out of touch) because of Dante's satiric, distanced perspective on the more ridiculous aspects of the clips presented. For every warm embrace of a clip from The Lone Ranger or Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, there's the bitter mockery of a clip from Andy's Gang, an early kids' show starring the raspy-voiced Andy Devine featuring the Lord's Prayer accompanied by the torturous, hallucinatory appearance of a cat and hamster playing a keyboard and drums; or Nixon's "Checkers" speech, bitter fruit to the 1968 generation indeed. The film gives us the kind of experience that I find really valuable: it celebrates both the best and the worst of the Baby Boomer era, giving us the schlock and the cultural detritus and fully embracing it, not with condesenscion when regarding the more problematic aspects of war, racism, sexism, and stupidity, but merely with a sort of detached amazement - this is who we were, and who we are, when showing something like a clip from Dick Clark's American Bandstand - the initial response is to laugh at these geeky white teens, awkwardly hurling their bodies across the dance floor, but Dante holds long enough for us to really look at these youngsters, today at retirement age, and think about the distance of time. I guess Joe Dante probably wasn't intending for someone to have these thoughts, forty years ago when he started putting his clips together, but I guess he didn't need to - when you've got 4-1/2 hours of footage, it's easy to find elements that speak to you.

10 comments:

John M said...

This is a great post.

Any idea if Joe Dante has any movies in the works? Has he sorta moved on?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jeff, John: Here's some good news.

Thanks for the plug, Jeff, and for the fine write-up of what was, for me, perhaps the most fun I've had in a movie theater in five years. I'm still reeling over it a week later. I hope to run into you at the New Beverly someday. (I look EXACTLY like the portrait of me you see attached to this comment!)

Jeff McMahon said...

Thanks, John.
Dennis, I couldn't follow the link you attached there, I assume it's news about a new Joe Dante movie? I did a little googling and the only thing I could find was about a remake of a '70s horror movie called "Thirst" which I've never seen - let us know what information you've got.

There's a slew, at this point, of people I only know from online that I'd like to meet someday - yourself, Christian Divine, Craig Kennedy, etc. Alas that the only blogger I actually have met is the awful Jeff Wells.

I ordered a copy of Speed Crazy which should be arriving in the mail sometime soon.

Craig Kennedy said...

The degree to which I suck for missing this will not fit on the average computer monitor so I will leave it unspoken.

Thanks Jeff for painting it like I was there anyway.

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