With the 2013 Academy Award winners freshly announced, I have decided to blog about a cult movie instead. Mainly because I've only seen two Oscar worthy films, Argo and Life of Pi. Argo helped to erase Ben Affleck's frightening performance in Shakespeare in Love, among the many movies he's afflicted. Life of Pi, on the other hand, wasn't a movie; it was a spiritual experience that I'm still digesting. One got best movie. The other best director. So maybe I don't have to see any of the others.
Not that I don't have an opinion about the nominees and winners I haven't seen. For instance, here's a picture from the Onion's hilarious review of Les Miserables, which will keep me from spending a single dollar on this film. [UPDATE: I saw it for free and it wasn't worth what I paid.] Amour is French, enough said. And Zero Dark Thirty may be too dark to sit through. So I haven't. I can't even name the others.
But I digress. For the uninitiated, my definition of a true cult movie is one that probably disappointed at the box office and left the critics shaking their heads. Or the critics loved it, and despite their glowing reviews, nobody went to see it. Ironically, many of these same films often manage to eke out an Oscar nod or two. Usually for second tier awards like sound design, costumes, makeup, or best craft table.
Then fate steps in. Something beyond a film's failure to launch or make money emerges to capture a fanatically devoted audience -- the kind that will memorize the dialog, wear silly clothes, have commemorative weekends, throw food at the screen, and make soap sculpture likenesses of the stars. And so a cult is born.
Rocky Horror Picture Show may be the best example of cult hit celluloid, described by Wikipedia as "Still in limited release nearly 38 years after its premiere." Even as we speak it's playing at midnight on weekends near me.
Harold and Maude, Spinal Tap and Office Space would also make my cult list and usually rank pretty high on others. You might also choose A Clockwork Orange, a film that always makes me cringe or Clerks, which will never fail to put me to sleep.
One obscure cult film that didn't make Entertainment Weekly's Top 50, but still makes mine is Phantom of the Paradise. It's a terrible Brian DePalma attempt at satire, which I could probably say about any movie he's ever made. Regardless, I was still happy it made at least one list I found, since I once spent up and close and personal time at Second City with Gerrit Graham, who plays the movie's unanimous cult favorite, "Beef".
For my own foray into the world of cult movies, I watched Somewhere In Time again -- a triumph of hope over experience. It's been twenty years since I first rented the Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, Christopher Plummer vehicle. Like any good cult flick, it tanked at the box office, got horrible reviews, and didn't catch on until cable was invented. No doubt, because there was nothing else to watch.
Since its original release in 1980, this movie has spawned a website, a 20-page quarterly newsletter, a CD of John Tesh arrangements, and a costumed weekend every October at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, where the movie was shot. But that's not all!! Coming this spring to a stage in Portland, Oregon will be Somewhere In Time -- THE MUSICAL.
According to the International Newsletter for Somewhere In Time Enthusiasts [INSITE] there exists a huge rock on Mackinac Island with a plaque to commemorate the exact spot where Richard [Reeve] and Elise [Seymour] first meet each other. It's also the location where Elise speaks one of the movie's two memorable lines, the mysterious, "Is it you?"
According to her interview on the DVD, Jane Seymour claims that what she actually said sounded more like, "Is it a Jew?" So they had to re-record [loop/ADR] her voice to fix it. The other famous line is at the outset, when the actress who plays the elderly Elise character approaches Richard [Reeve] and hands him a watch he doesn't know is his. She says to him, also very mysteriously, "Come back to me." More on the rest of that moment between them, later.
As I said, the flick totally tanked at the box office. And most of the reviewers held their noses to avoid the stench of treacle. Critic Vincent Canby couldn't contain himself. To paraphrase his 1981 review -- "Somewhere In Time did to romance what the Hindenburg did to dirigibles."
First the good news about this movie. John Barry's score is terrific. He's still making money on the backend, since he wisely decided to defer his fee to insure that the movie got made. His music, along with Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini, No. 18, is not only inspired, but arguably the best part of the movie.
Jane Seymour never embarrasses herself. She's gorgeous as usual. Her clothes are stunning throughout. Sadly, one of the $30,000 beaded gowns she wore was heisted before the film wrapped. She and Christopher Plummer are both trained, bonafide actors. They manage to speak their lines with convincing believability.
The time travel story, from the novel with the tortured Shakespearean title, "Bid TIme Return," is actually rather intriguing. Oprah would appreciate its many full circle plot conceits. In fact, a European physicist tracked down the director to say that the film was the first to do a passable exposition of Einstein's time and space theories.
Now for the bad news. Which brings me to Chris Reeve.
First, let's agree on a couple of things -- Christopher Reeve was taller and better looking than any man has a right to be -- 6'4", with dark hair, chiseled features, and piercing blue eyes. Never has a combination of nose, eyes, mouth, chin, hair, and body type conspired to look so good. Even more annoying, he was smart and athletic, as well as an accomplished pilot, sailor, musician and horseman. He also got to marry his wife, Dana, a woman he loved at first sight. To Dana's credit, she wasn't quite so sure how she felt about the Cornell grad, who completed his degree with a year at Juilliard. By all accounts, he was a good guy, self-deprecating, fun to be around, and a fighter for worthy causes, using his celebrity and connections to raise money to cure paralyzing injuries after his own horrific injury several years later.
Despite all that, my second viewing of SIT did not start well. I was barely five minutes into the movie when I burst out laughing. And not in a good way.
To set the stage for this disaster, we are in the present, as Reeve's character enjoys the adulation of his friends, following the successful staging of a play he has written.
The camera follows an elderly woman from behind, as she slowly approaches him, gently putting her hand on Reeve's back to get his attention. We never see her face during all this. When he turns around to look at her, instead of smiling in surprise or wonder, he assumes a look of abject terror, making us think she's been maimed or deformed or suffered some other catastrophic disfigurement. Nope. She looks just fine, thank you. Reeve was just A-C-T-I-N-G. Later, in a picnic on the floor with Seymour, after their night of love, Reeve's acting is mannered and awkward, almost embarrassing to watch.
In his favor, I have the feeling that the director may have been the problem, but later in the DVD, a producer suggests that Reeve wasn't chosen for his acting ability; he was picked for his Victorian good looks. And, at that, he excels. On the other hand, he plays some scenes like he was still Clark Kent in Superman, the film he had just finished. SPOILER ALERT: Perhaps Reeve's most notable acting travesty in SIT was his death scene at the end of the movie. It was, in a word, deathly. However, he seemed to manage a real tear before succumbing to his fate.
The movie stumbles around, changing tone, unable to decide whether it's a French farce or a time travel romance doomed to crash and burn. Is it a love story between an old fashioned Juliet and her modern day Romeo? Or Superman in a Mack Sennett comedy?
Perhaps Somewhere In TIme became a cult staple because the handsome and otherwise gifted Reeve had his career shortchanged when he became a quadriplegic. Maybe, like Candice Bergen, who flailed in her early film attempts. he might have gone on to become a iconic TV character. Or win an Academy Award like George Clooney, who spent years as a journeyman actor.
For now he lives on as a revered cult icon in this nostalgic homage to his former self -- a truly terrible film -- starring a once and perfect young man, who might have been king.