Don’t Throw a Coin to Your Hitcher!: Short movie notes

Don’t Throw a Coin to Your Hitcher!: Short movie notes February 3, 2021

In the order in which I saw them, so pretty random.

The Pajama Game: Beautiful ice-cream frocks! Early Fosse choreography (especially pleasurable in “Steam Heat”)! A bizarre and disturbing attempt to wring a rom-com out of industrial labor compromise! This frequently-charming musical about a corporate manager who falls in love with a union officer made me think of that Jacobin article, “The Romance of American Clintonism,” where You’ve Got Mail is a Valentine’s card to antipolitics, a big chocolate box tied with a bow and left on Jeff Bezos’s doorstep.

There are two scenes that really sum up the politics of this unsettling confection. The union picnic is simultaneously carnival, and reminder that carnival is fleeting and most of your life will be work work work. It’s a union picnic but it sure is not a Saturnalia, since their actual boss, the boss responsible for the Taylorist speed-up which is the subject of this musical’s second song-and-dance number (???), is also there at THE UNION PICNIC to make a speech about how belts have to be tightened and they’ve all gotta hit those targets! No wonder the workers lose their actual minds and roll around in the dirt like they’re nuclear mutants in a candy-colored version of Population: 1!

The other scene is the one where 1. Doris Day convinces the other workers not to hold out for their stolen back wages (she doesn’t know they’re stolen but I think if you watch you’ll agree that her immediate capitulation here is something her character should’ve known was a mistake) and then 2. they all calculate the riches they’ll be able to afford on their 7 1/2-cent per hour raise. I think this is supposed to take place a couple decades before it was made, which is too bad because I had a joke (?) all lined up about how after 20 years they’d have made an extra three thousand dollars… or twenty-two cents in 1977 money. You’re gonna buy your own pajama factory? In what country? Anyway go ahead and read the lyrics yourselves, think about what you pay in rent, and cry.

Stromboli: This was suggested by the same friend I mentioned in my most recent newsletter, as a stunning example of prayer in cinema. Gosh he was right. In this movie a couple meet in a Displaced Persons camp after WWII, then marry and move back to the husband’s godforsaken (OR IS IT) volcanic island home. It’s Rossellini, my own favorite Italian director (Pasolini is me but Rossellini is… good), and it builds somewhat slowly as we watch the wife hate her new home and writhe in the bonds of wedlock. Slowly, but steadily: There’s a riveting early scene with the village priest, and then once you hit the fishing-horror scene, it is pretty much all unforgettable until the shattering ending on the black slopes of the volcano. “Merciful God!”

The Little Things: This is a movie that will leave you wondering, “What was the point of that movie?” It clearly has a point. It is trying to do something! But what and why?

The story begins with many a serial-killer cliche. Lol I don’t actually remember them, and I wasn’t writing them down because I didn’t think I’d review this, but you’ll groan at multiple overfamiliar lines and beats. Denzel Washington is fine, if somewhat in need of caffeine, as semi-disgraced cop Joe Deacon. Rami Malek is serviceably tormented as the newcomer he takes under his wing as they make one last desperate attempt to solve the case which has haunted Deacon for years. Jared Leto is good, unstable but not to the point of caricature, as their main suspect. The direction is workmanlike, inoffensive. Etc etc etc. Oh wait, I remembered one thing, which could’ve been homage but just feels like a cheap reference: the girl singing along to her car radio, oblivious to the fact that a serial killer has marked her for death. It’s the thing where you keep the iconic moment but strip out its original nuances (the girl’s plump face, “American Girl”) and don’t add any undercurrents of your own.

But then the plot begins to twist! And I ended up thinking that the point, the thing the movie was trying to do, was to tell a police story to a contemporary (imagined) audience who are much more skeptical of “copaganda” than in times past. I do not think this movie is well-done. But I’ve seen people wondering, “Are we supposed to think the cops are still good people? What’s the message here?” And I’m sympathetic to a movie that is trying not to play into that awful cops-and-robbers game of good people vs. bad people. I think this movie is about a public-health approach to violence (as described very well here, with the occasional moral relativism or managerialism mostly flensed), but applying those insights to cops rather than to e.g. gang members. Violence and dishonesty spread like an infection. The cops think they’re doctors, but they’re really sick carriers.

Other cop stories have done similar work: The Wire obviously, but also the many cops-are-criminals mirrorings of HEART EMOJI Miami Vice HEART EMOJI. But I reluctantly admit that it’s still an interesting thing to do.

The Hitcher: This 1986 thriller about a kid who picks up a mysterious stranger on a Texas highway is a silly movie. But not a stupid one.

There’s a lot to like about this odd film, which will keep you in suspense even against your will. The fairy-tale quality of the setup, I’m off through the woods to Grandma’s house but Mother says I mustn’t speak to anyone I meet on the way! The glowing sunsets and sunrises as the days drag on down the endless highway: what Cormac McCarthy called “the evening redness in the West,” in the land without help. The unsavory attention the Hitcher (Rutger Hauer!) fixes on his prey, and the moments when the prey shows a feral, febrile responsiveness of his own. The sudden swerve into bats crazy action-movie mayhem, just cop cars rollin’ and explodin’ from sea to shining sea. I liked all of that. But what makes the film, I think, is Hauer’s soulful eyes. You feel like he’s saying, “The thing they never tell you about being the Devil is how tired and sad you’ll get.”

Meanwhile the thing the kid is thinking is just, “People say that you can’t shoot Death itself but… maybe they just need to try a bigger gun?”

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