Friday, February 15, 2013

"Uncomfortable Outcomes"

I must be going through a “Righteous Indignation” phase, because here comes another morality-based tirade, hopefully my last for a while, because, at a certain age, getting seriously exorcized can be a big drain of my available energy which I need to take care of a wide range of responsibilities, the most imminent one being the completion of this sentence. 

Good.  I made it.  And I have enough left to keep going.  Hopefully, to the end, but I am making no promises.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, during “Awards Season”, members of the Writers Guild are sent free “screeners” of movies, DVD’s delivered to my house, often by the same strikingly beautiful UPS employee named Natasha, in hopes that they will influence my vote for the Writers’ Guild Awards, which will, in turn, influence the voting for the Oscars.  

I have not voted for a Writers’ Guild Award since I was nominated, the last time, I believe, being in the early nineties.  But I appreciate the “screeners”, which, until we recently – and I mean like a month ago – learned how to use our DVD machine, I would inevitably give away.

Recently, I screened the film Arbitrage, where Richard Gere plays a Wall Street embezzler with a mistress who dies in a car accident with Richard Gere driving the car.  I am not wasting my righteous indignation on either of those issues.  Nor will I squander precious “Pique Time” on the fact that, at the climax of the movie, the “screener” pixilated into kaleidoscopic fragments, refused to proceed forward, and died, as if whoever was providing the gratis DVD were saying, “What did you want for nothing, the whole movie?”  

I mentioned the fact that I was unable to see the end of Arbitrage to my step son-in-law Tim, to whom I had loaned the movie, and who’d been able to successfully see the thing all the way through.  Tim informed me of how it turned out.

“He got away with it.”


“The money.  Leaving the scene of the accident.  The whole thing.”

It turns out there were consequences in his marriage, but two out of three, Richard Gere totally beat the rap.

And there you have it.  A movie where crime pays.

I really

Do not care for that.

From the beginning of moviemaking, because it’s what the audience wanted and later, because it was required by the Movie Code, every action picture ended with the Bad Guy apprehended or shot down or electrocuted, one way or another suffering grievously for their crimes. 

This did not mean, however, that since the “comeuppance” ending was guaranteed, the movies of that era were necessarily boring.  I recently watched an English film called The League Of Gentlemen (1960), starring Jack Hawkins, which was clever and funny and sophisticated and tense.  The “gentlemen” got caught in the end, but that in no way inhibited my enjoyment of the picture.  The pleasure was in the journey, not the outcome, which in 1960, remained inevitable.

Then came the 60’s and all bets were off. 

Since they lied to us about the Viet Nam War – I believe they told us we were winning when we weren’t – the audience became cynical, and the movies of that era reflected their mood.

One movie taboo fell after the other.  Clothing, that used to remain on the actors, now lay crumpled on the floor, the film’s characters engaging in formerly censorable activities under the sheets.  (This was less a result of cynicism than with competition from foreign films, where the budgets were so miniscule, they could apparently not afford to clothe the actors at all.  Not really.  The “imports” were simply more “adult.”)

The next casualty was heroes.  After passionately believing in good triumphing over evil and daring last-minute rescues, the audience, especially the movie-loving younger contingent, suddenly stopped.  The result was that, during the sixties (and early seventies), the protagonist in virtually every movie was blown away in a hail of bullets.  Bonnie and Clyde – dead.  Easy Rider – dead.  Cool Hand Luke­ – dead.  The Parallax View – dead.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – freeze-framed, sepia-colored, “Fuego!” and dead. 

The “clothing optional” stuff I could handle.  The insistent massacres of the characters I was rooting for sickened me, but I endured.  And then came the third casualty in the triumvirate of cinematic certainties – “the Bad Guys get caught.”  

I never saw it coming. 

Since I loved Butch Cassidy, written by William Goldman, I hungrily awaited his follow-up, called The Hot Rock (1972.)  The Hot Rock was a “caper picture”, a team of quirky but capable specialists assembling to pull off a big score.  The “caper” genre was a classic movie format.  I was eager to see how Goldman, who had excelled in reinventing the western with “Butch”, would handle it.

I cannot today recall whether my disappointment stemmed from the whole movie or just the ending, but I know that the ending definitely didn’t help.

The storyline proceeded as expected.  The “Team of Experts” was recruited, they rehearsed their meticulous preparations, they committed the crime, and in the end…

They got away with it. 

I could barely believe my movie-going eyes!

This was the first movie I had ever seen where the Bad Guys pulled it off.  It felt creepy.  And, for me at least, unsatisfying.  More than unsatisfying. 

It felt wrong! 

I am no film buff, but I imagine in the 80’s, during the Reagan era, a conservative strain returned, bringing with it once again criminals getting what they deserved.  In fact, it seems, overall, as if “movie justice” has been restored.  This is understandable.  Even “Bad Guys getting away with it” endings get tired after a while.  With the only alternative being, “They don’t” – an option I personally prefer – the tide has turned back to endings consistent with retributional wish fulfillment.  Not to mention God’s Law. 

I mean, imagine Argo, where, instead of escaping, the American diplomats wind up hanging upside-down in an Iranian marketplace.  That’s not as good, don’t you think?

Arbitrage demonstrates that both endings are now available, which I guess is okay, nobody wants enforced endings.  The good news is, my Guardian Angel messed up my DVD, so I didn’t have to watch it.


YEKIMI said...

Wow. You could have provided a Spoiler Alert about what happened at the end of the movie for those of US who haven't seen it. {But then again, I probably wouldn't pay money to watch a Richard Gere movie anyway...unless it involved him and a gerbil which I have heard so much about.....urban myth or not.}

Keith said...

A good comparison of films that really get at the heart of the "bad guys getting away with it" are Woody Allen's "Crimes & Misdemeanors" and the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man". Both taking on the subject through Judaism.

If the eyes of God see all of our sins, then does he simply not care or is he pissed off and coming for you?

I find both movies very satisfying, although I can see why some aren't by "A Serious Man" simply because the theme and resolution were implied.

Dave Arnott said...

Earl, The Hot Rock was an adaptation of Donald E. Westlake's book of the same name. It's the first in a series of comic crime novels about a hapless thief named Dortmunder... and while not all the books in the series are perfect, they're pretty great.

(Westlake also wrote a non-comic crime series about a thief named Parker - latest movie adaptation currently in theaters starring Jason Statham - under the pseudonym Richard Stark).

While I don't share your, uh... indignation for downer, amoral endings (though they can be, at times, incredibly unsatisfying), I'm surprised this would bother you just as much from a comedy as from a drama. The Hot Rock is clearly a comedy, so... wouldn't that buy it a little leeway here?

ATrueModerateUnlikeEP said...

Oh, Lord. All right I'm beginning to think that you and are poles apart in just about every conceivable area, Earl: Politics, literature, music, and now... motion picture morality.

THE GETAWAY would not have worked half as well (and it worked BRILLIANTLY) had McQueen and McCraw been caught or killed in the final reel... and God knows the wonderful BODY HEAT wouldn't have resonated as it did if Bill Hurt and the lithesome Kathleen Turner had BOTH been arrested before the end credits.

And I suppose you won't be recommending the first two GODFATHER movies (magnificent) and the peerless CHINATOWN and ROSEMARY'S BABY anytime soon, either.



But you definitely know a thing or two about sitcom writing, Earl, and I still look forward to your future insights on that subject.