Rear Projections

Recent adventures in the video store:

 

About two weeks ago I was wandering round the local viddy emporium when I overheard a couple on the next row trying to figure out what to watch that night. “I’ve heard he’s supposed to be good,” the guy was saying in a lost-at-sea tone of voice, as if he were talking about a long-forgotten actor or obscure foreign director. But when I looked over the rack at them I saw two kids – a guy and a girl – who couldn’t have been more than 19, that the actor in question was Jack Nicholson, and that the movie under consideration was that signature Nicholson opus Anger Management. I butted in – who wouldn’t given the circumstances? – and told them if they were going to rent a Nicholson, it should be…it should be…But damn if I could think of an unqualifiedly good Nicholson picture to recommend. I wanted to name something that both contained a good Nicholson performance and was actually worthwhile from beginning to end – you know, a good movie – but Chinatown, a certifiable Big Deal, slipped my mind while nearly all the films he built his reputation on either haven’t aged very well or were wrong from the start. Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, Carnal Knowledge, The Last Detail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Postman Always Rings Twice…That’s quite a lineup and Nicholson was sensational in several of them (as Eugene O’Neill his acidic, melancholy leering at Diane Keaton makes even Reds worth sitting through), but who’d watch a one of them today given the chance to watch something better? Some that were among the most famous movies of their era are flat-out embarrassments today: Jules Feiffer’s pseudo-sophisticated take on misogyny founders on the same unbridgeable chasm between drama and dark satire that his Little Murders plunged into, while Five Easy Pieces is relentlessly unlikable in the way it posits Nicholson’s tortured piano player as more truthful and heroic than such challenging foils as a big-haired girlfriend, oil-field hardhats, a harassed coffee shop waitress, and a pack of curdled intellectuals. In the cold light of day it’s plain to me that I shouldn’t have worried so much: 19-year olds probably have to lap up Cuckoo’s Nest before finding their way to Chinatown, an idea given credence by the fact that when I pointed out that Easy Rider was the movie that made him famous, the girl immediately jumped on it – “I’ve always wanted to see that!” – and they ran off looking for it.

 

And then last night I was in the video store again and overheard, not from an aisle away but from way the hell across the store, a man’s agonized voice crying out in an almost Jose Jimenez Spanish accent “Da-veed LEENCH! Da-veed LEENCH! Where are you Da-veed LEENCH!?” A couple minutes later I heard the same voice crying “Da-veed LEENCH! Da-veed LEENCH! Where are you?,” only this time much closer to me. It turned out to be not a Latino at all but a pasty white gringo in his mid-20s done up as cholo, right down to the wrap-around shades and flannel shirt with only the top button buttoned. His girlfriend was mostly babbling about Mulholland Drive but the guy was absolutely infatuated with Lost Highway, all in the same pitifully bad accent. It turned out they hadn’t seen Blue Velvet, though, and when I said, “If you liked Mulholland Drive, this thing’ll make your hair fall out,” the guy knew what he wanted. “All right,” he said, “we’re going to get that motherfucker!” I can’t help but think maybe what this guy doesn’t need is a little more David Lynch in his life…

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