Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!
There is no other year that has such a wealth of movies to choose from than the year 1980. I could fill the whole post just with movie titles, but I will give you only a short list to start from: Raging Bull. The Empire Strikes Back. The Shining. Airplane!. The Blues Brothers. Berlin Alexanderplatz. Ordinary People. Breaker Morant. Altered States. Coal Miner’s Daughter. Atlantic City. Friday the 13th. Used Cars. Shogun Assassin. Little Lord Fauntleroy. Le Dernier Mètro. Fame. Private Benjamin. American Gigolo. ffolkes. La Boum. And of course the immortal classic Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.
Let me be clear. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are great cinema, and they deserve all the accolades they get. But they’re the kind of movies I appreciate rather than enjoy. Watching Raging Bull yesterday, for the second or third time, I was struck less by the virtuoso cinematography and editing, by Martin Scorsese’s effective use of music (yet again), or by the performances, than by the sheer masochism in the movie. LaMotta’s masochism, where especially the later fights are extended bouts of self-punishment for his dimly understood sins. De Niro’s masochism, putting on 60 pounds for the role. But there’s also an element of masochism in sitting through this masterpiece. Paul Schrader (probably more so than Scorsese) writes the most effective guilt trips, but it’s difficult not to flinch and despair a little more at mankind (it’s really the men who come off looking worst in the guilt stakes) when LaMotta punches the walls of his prison cell or when he does his “I coulda been a contender” speech, or when Travis Bickle puts a finger dripping with blood to his temple and mimes blowing his head off.
On a less masochist note: last night’s episode of House, M.D. (“Que Sera, Sera”) featured a remarkably controlled performance by both Pruitt Taylor Vince and his fat suit, transforming him into a 600-lb patient. While the episode was far from perfect, kudos ought to go to the House team for an astute handling of what could have been eminently tasteless TV.