Doodad Kind of Town

My Rainy Weekend: Making a Dent in the DVR Queue
March 9, 2009, 12:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

As I write this, I’m sorta/kinda watching Cecil DeMille’s last silent film “The Godless Girl.”

I gave up attentive viewing about a half hour ago, but the good part of the movie was actually over and done within the first ten minutes. At that point, it was still an overheated cautionary tale about the corrupting influence of “Young Atheist Societies” on the God-fearing high school students of America, circa 1929. It all looked like good, campy fun, with ominous close-ups of the Young Atheist’s flyers (“Kill the Bible!”) followed by some wildly flirtatious banter between the saucy brunette vixen who heads up the society (Lina Baqsuette) and the handsome Christian youth leader (Tom Keene) who clearly adores her, if not her principles.

I don’t know what the Christian kids do at their meetings, but the atheist kids are a barrel of laughs. Their “swearing in” ceremony (depicted above) involves taking an oath with one hand on the head of Koko the chimp. “Don’t high hat him,” Basquette warns. “He’s your cousin!”

But then, just when you’re thinking “This looks like fun!” (in a corny, “Reefer Madness” kind of way),it goes all soggy and serious. The Christians break into an atheists’ meeting and pelt them with rotten eggs. Which leads to an all-out brawl. Which then leads to the death of a Young Atheist who falls over a stair railing and plummets to her death. And not just any atheist, but the one with the long, Mary Pickford curls and the haunted, innocent eyes who’s obviously being duped into a non-belief she’s not quite ready to embrace; you can see her deathbed conversion coming from a mile away.

So the two leads are sent up to reform school on manslaughter charges. Basquette befriends a tart-tongued Marion Davies lookalike, and Keene gets tortured by a brutal guard. Then they escape together on a stolen milk wagon. Then they fall in love. They they get caught. By the time I started writing this, Basquette was back at reform school and handcuffed to a wall, while the school catches on fire. And all the while, Basquette is moving closer to becoming a Christian, while Keene finds his faith severely tested. You know when they’re thinking about God, because “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” or “What Wondrous Love Is This” cranks up on the soundtrack at those moments. They think about God a lot – I’m already thoroughly sick of “O Sacred Head…” and we’re less than a week into Lent.

“The Godless Girl” is one of those movies I stumble onto by browsing through several days worth of TCM’s onscreen program listings at a pop, searching for classics I’ve missed or lesser known oddities. I stockpile them in the DVR queue – at any given time, there are 15 or 20 films in there, waiting to be watched – and tell myself I’ll get to them some rainy weekend.

Well this was that rainy weekend. And here’s what else I watched:

“All Night Long” sets the plot of “Othello” in an after-hours South London jazz club presided over by Richard Attenborough. Patrick McGoohan has the Iago role, this time imagined as a drummer named Johnny Cousins. He’s looking to break up the marriage of jazz pianist Aurelious Rex (Paul Harris) and his singer wife Delia (Marti Stevens).

It’s an intriguing premise, not terribly well executed. Save for McGoohan, (and Betsy Blair as his sad-faced, mistreated wife) the performances are largely wooden. Neither Harris nor Stevens has much personality, and although Stevens was a cabaret singer in real life, her musical numbers have a curious lack of passion.

But it’s almost worth watching for the cameo appearances by jazz greats like Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, and John Dankworth. They all get featured musical moments, which is good; unfortunately, they also all make awkward entrances accompanied by stilted dialogue from Attenborough (“Dave, so glad to see. We didn’t think you’d make it.” “John, lovely to see you. So sorry Cleo (Laine) couldn’t make it.”) Honestly it would have been much cooler just to have the camera just find these guys at the party, doing their thing.

Finally, I got around to seeing “Easy Rider.” And all I have to say is “Well, now I can say I’ve seen ‘Easy Rider’.” It was one to check off the Unseen list, not much more. And I’d love to know how much pharmacological fortification Dennis Hopper needed to direct it- however much it was, it shows.

Whatever landmark qualities “Easy Rider”once had are lost on me, not least because its grooviness is so male-defined. Only men like Hopper and Peter Fonda get to abandon all responsibility and hit the open road in search of meaning; the women are just there to provide their menfolk with hot sex and home cooking. That’s not countercultural -that’s status quo.

5 Comments so far
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A fine batch of concise summary reviews, Pat. I enjoyed reading this a great deal.Not to try to convert you or anything, but I wrote a review of Easy Rider back when my blog was a mere infant. It is an admittedly male-centric film.

Comment by Alexander Coleman

Thanks, Alexander.I know I’m probably unfairly dismissing “Easy Rider” – I’m certainly aware of its cultural significance. But, from a women’s point of view, it contains a significant amount of bullshit. I did enjoy reading your review.

Comment by Pat

And this is why I adore you…”But, from a woman’s point of view, it contains a significant amount of bullshit.”My thoughts on ER EXACTLY.Enough all ready…

Comment by Miranda Wilding

Miranda-Amen,Sister!I hate the way “Easy Rider” pushes women to the margins and objectifies them. And the scene in the cafe with those young teenage girls ogling Nicholson, Hopper and Fonda(while the men make crude surreptitious sexual comments about them)was just out-and-out offensive.

Comment by Pat

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.Ruth

Comment by Conrad

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