Local movie critic Arch Campbell did a television spot about Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in this week’s “The Dark Knight” and he asked three local critics what we thought. You can see me here (briefly) with my friends Tim Gordon and Jay Carr. Click where it says “Arch at the Movies” and don’t blink!
The setting was almost too perfect. In order to get to the ceremony for the donation of X-Files artifacts and memorabilia I had to go into the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History through the “staff health center” entrance inside the parking lot and be escorted to the event by an intern who took me through eerily empty exhibition halls, all the items disassembled and covered with plastic sheets. What would Mulder and Scully say? Is the truth out there?
The museum is closed to the public for renovations (or so they say…) but the donation of this important collection was an event, and I was lucky enough to be invited. The people behind The X-Files television series and movies were there to donate artifacts from the show to the museum’s permanent collection. The nine-season television show, with its second feature film to be released next week, starred David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Mulder and Scully, caught up in a series of mysteries and conspiracies relating to the normal and the paranormal.
The donated items include a “maquette” (model) of an alien used as a reference point in the first X-Files movie, a stiletto used by characters to exterminate aliens masquerading as people, an “I Want to Believe” poster that appeared in Mulder’s office on the show and is signed by Carter and stars David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson, the annotated script from the very first episode with a page of storyboards, prop FBI badges and business cards, a photograph of Mulder’s sister, Samantha, whose abduction by aliens is the motivation for his work, and the crucifix necklace worn by Agent Scully that symbolized her commitment to her faith.
“We are in the forever business,” said Melinda Machado, director of the museum’s Office of Public Affairs. They were delighted to make these items a part of the Smithsonian’s “forever” collection of over 6000 artifacts from the world of entertainment, including Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” and Mr. Rogers’ sweater. Curator Dwight Blocker Bowers spoke about the way that the show reflected the ambivalence of contemporary society with its dark themes, ironic humor, and balance between skepticism and hope.
The creator of the series, Chris Cooper, said, “my love is telling suspense thrillers with smart people and interesting subjects.” He was especially proud of staying with the show throughout its nine years, citing Robert Graves: “one of the hardest energies to find and sustain is maintenance energy,” and remained committed to “creating it anew every week.” He said that one of the best pieces of advice he received was from a production designer who read the original script and told him, “Don’t show them anything. Keep it in the shadows. You will have no time and no money and what they don’t see is scarier than what they do see.”
Carter, who recently completed a three-month fellowship in theoretical physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said he liked to create scripts that began with hard science and then asked “what if?” The students there knew of the show but had not seen it and he realized there was a new audience to be introduced to these stories and characters. He assured us that the new movie will satisfy the non-fans and the casual fans, and “will not insult the hard-core fans.”
We want to believe!
The Film Society of Lincoln Center completes its salute today to one of my favorite movie stars, William Holden. Michael Atkinson writes on the Museum of the Moving Image’s wonderful Moving Image Source site that Holden was:
on the surface one of the Hollywood century’s typical all-purpose leading men, but beneath it the keeper of poisoned secrets, and a living embodiment of America’s postwar self-doubt and idealistic failure. He seethed with disappointment as a persona, and we all knew what he meant. Holden was the anti-Duke, an avatar of hopelessness, shrouded in the smiling physique of an all-American boyo. For every high school football star turned pot-bellied gym teacher, every prom queen turned food-stamp mom, and every good-hearted B student turned Cracker Barrel waiter, Holden was the walking, talking, growling truth, in a sea of showbiz lies.
Holden was terrific as a romantic leading man in early movies like “Dear Ruth” and tweaking that role slightly for “Sabrina,” where he was the irresponsible younger brother to Humphrey Bogart’s wealthy businessman, both attracted to the chauffeur’s daughter played by Audrey Hepburn. He was a good choice for a character who is the essence of America, George Gibbs in Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town.” But Holden was at his best showing the complexity, insecurity, and disappointment of the post-WWII era. Sometimes his character triumphed over it; sometimes not. In “Executive Suite,” his idealistic executive competes against a green-eyeshade number-cruncher (Frederic March) for the top corporate job. In “Picnic” he had one of his most memorable roles as a college football star who had lost his way. He arrives in town to meet up with a wealthy friend from school and tries to pretend that he has been as successful as everyone expected. In this scene, one of the most famous moments ever put on film, a dance with his friend’s girlfriend, the prettiest girl in town (Kim Novak) has an intimacy that changes both of their lives.
I am a big fan of “Born Yesterday,” where Holden played a Washington journalist hired by a thuggish businessman to “educate” the businessman’s former showgirl significant other (Judy Holliday). In “Sunset Boulevard” he was a struggling screenwriter who is corrupted by a demented former star. Holden won an Oscar for “Stalag 17,” playing a prisoner of war, and he was nominated for another for his performance in “Network” as a television news producer. In these roles and others what made him so compelling was that he showed the tension between his characters’ cynicism and idealism in a way that expressed part of the essence of the American spirit.
And this is for you, Alicia! Holden’s appearance in my very favorite episode of “I Love Lucy!”
What bugs me the most about this movie is not that it is cynical, synthetic, exploitative, and lazy, though it is all of those things. It is not that it alternates being dull with being both painful and dull, though it is both of those things. What bugs me the most is that it has no idea who its audience is and does not seem to care.