Saturday, August 30, 2008

One-Hit Wonders

If Pier Paolo Pasolini made one good movie during his lifetime, it would have to be Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. I'm not saying it's actually a good movie -- I'm just saying it's the closest thing to a good movie he ever made. Of course, that's a pretty indefensible position for me to take, considering I've only seen one or two of his other movies. But I think most people will agree that Salo is probably his most famous, as well as his most infamous, movie.

In case you never saw it, here's the story in a nutshell: Around the end of World War II, a group of Italian Fascists assemble a group of children and young adults and take them to a remote villa, where they torture them, humiliate them, sexually abuse them, and eventually kill them.

The reason I'm thinking about this is that I happened to notice a small ad in the latest New Yorker announcing that Salo is being released to DVD by The Criterion Collection. That surprised me, since I wouldn't have thought there was much of a market for this particular movie. I'm not planning on buying it, unless it turns out I have an extra $30 or so that I desperately need to spend on something I don't really want, but when I saw the ad, it reminded me of my experiences when I saw the movie.

The first time I saw it sometime in the early '80s, I was overwhelmed. The violence wasn't particularly explicit for the most part, but the overarching cruelty in the film made me feel dirty when I left the theater. I couldn't stop thinking about it for days.

Since the move was shown very rarely and only at revival theaters, the second time I saw it was probably a few years later. I was prepared for it this time, so I was able to look past the violence and cruelty and see the underlying poetic structure. Don't ask me what I mean by that, because I won't be able to tell you. All I can say is that when I saw the movie the second time, I remember thinking there was an underlying poetic structure.

The third time I saw it was probably in the late '80s. I shouldn't even count this because I watched the movie on what was possibly the worst film to VHS transfer of all time. Not only were the video and audio quality below all reasonable standards, there were actually gaps in the tape where they changed the film reels. So it was hardly the ideal viewing situation, but this time I was able to look past the violence and cruelty, and I was able to look past the underlying poetic structure as well. As a matter of fact, all I was able to see was that the movie was pointless and stupid.

I may be judging Salo too harshly, of course. I'm sure there are deeper meanings to the film that I probably missed, and maybe if I'd seen a better copy of it the last time I wouldn't have ended up with such a low opinion of it. So I should probably buy the DVD, just so I can give the movie a fourth chance. Maybe if one day I bump my head and can't think straight or something, I'll break down and get a copy. But it's not exactly a top priority item on my list of things to do.

While we're on the subject of people who may have made only one good movie, I have to mention Alejandro Jodorowsky. If Jodorowsky made one good movie during his career, it would have to be El Topo. Unlike Pasolini, Jodorowsky is still alive, so there's a chance that he might make a better film someday, but I'm not holding my breath. I've seen a lot of Jodorowsky's films, and they're all heavy-handed, pretentious, and overwrought with mysticism and religious symbolism.

That's true of El Topo as well -- as a matter of fact, it may be more true of El Topo than with other Jodorowsky films, but at least El Topo is engaging and fun to watch. I don't even know how many times I've seen it. It used to get shown in theaters every now and then, and whenever it did, some friends and I would invariably drive out to see it. It wasn't available on Region-1 DVD for a long time, apparently due to some legal battles and personal feuds, but when it was finally available, I picked up a copy. Unfortunately, it's only available as a boxed set, so you're forced to buy a few not-so-great Jodorowsky films, as well as some soundtrack CDs that aren't worth listening to, but that's the way things go.

One of the interesting things about El Topo is that back in the days of double features, it often got shown with Greaser's Palace, probably because they're both religious allegories of one sort or another. Greaser's Palace, by the way, may be the only good movie that Robert Downey ever made. And I'm not talking about the actor Robert Downey, Jr. -- I'm talking about his father, the director Robert Downey (who these days, to avoid any confusion resulting from his son's successful career, goes by the name Robert Downey, Sr.). Greaser's Palace wasn't his most famous movie -- that distinction would probably have to go to Putney Swope, which in my opinion wasn't nearly as good. As a matter of fact, of all the Robert Downey films I've ever seen, Greaser's Palace is the only one I've seen more than once. I have the DVD as well. It's a classic. I almost feel like I should be watching it instead of writing this post.

So that's about it. I don't know how to end this post, so I'll just jump abruptly to another topic. As I mentioned, a while ago, I injured my back recently. I went to see my orthopedist a couple of times and when I went to settle the bill, I noticed that printed on the bottom of the credit card receipt was the message, "Thank you! Come again!"

I don't know about you, but I think this is the wrong message to be giving your patients. It's sort of like saying, "Stay sick! Don't get better!" Maybe I'm the only person who reads the messages on credit card receipts, but I much prefer the message on the receipts I get from the physical therapy place I've been going to. It's just a simple unambiguous "Thank you!" to which my only response is always "You're welcome!"