Saturday, March 27, 2010
CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS (1967, CZECHOSLOVOKIA)
Georgia State University
Phil always sat behind me in class. But that was fine with me, as he was one of those happy people who seemed to always be in a good mood. In fact, I don’t ever remember seeing him without a grin or offering up a cheerful hello. Phil was in row three, seat two. As the power of deduction might lead you, I sat in row two, seat two, so I was always in earshot of anything he had to say.
Phil: Hey, Chris did you see the movie The Night the Bridge Fell on TV last night?
Chris: (mystified). Are you kidding?. I watched the last episode of M*A*S*H. I assumed everyone else did too!
Phil: (laughing) M*A*S*H isn’t really my kind of humor, but I admit there probably weren’t too many of us out there that watched The Night the Bridge Fell.
Chris: Well did it?
Phil: Did it what?
Chris: The Bridge. Did it fall?
Phil: Oh, yeah. It fell all right. I wouldn’t think you could have a movie called The Night the Bridge Fell without the bridge actually falling!
Chris: If a bridge falls on network television and nobody watches does anyone hear it?
Phil: Uh, I’m not sure. I do know that it had that guy Desi Arnaz in it.
Chris: Junior or Senior?
Phil: Hmm. I guess I’m not really sure.
(Phil and Chris have a moment of uncomfortable silence.)
Phil: Anyway, we still got a lot to plow through in this book. I mean why do we have to go through all this on Czech and Swedish movies?
Chris: Well, the Swedish section would include Ingmar Bergman, one of the great filmmakers of all time and the Czechs apparently made a lot of important films in the 60’s, though I confess I haven’t seen any yet. But let us not complain, my friend. You can’t beat watching movies and getting credit for it.
Phil: I’ve liked some of them. Like that John Wayne movie.
Chris: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon? Oh, did you know John Wayne played a Roman soldier at Christ’s crucifixion in The Greatest Story Ever Told?
Phil: That’s not right.
Chris: No really, he did.
Phil: I know and I’m saying that’s not right.
(Chris and Phil laugh)
Phil: I wasn’t too sure about that French film we saw.
Chris: Oh, Rules of the Game. That’s one that might be better placed under the ‘may improve with additional viewings’ column.
Phil: Maybe. By the way, you think the bookstore will take our textbook back after this class is over?
Chris: This course is offered every year; you might be able to get a couple of bucks for it. Still think I’m going to hold onto my copy. I might want to refer to it from time to time. You never know when I might want to see a movie from the Czech renaissance. In fact, I wrote down a few notes on that subject for the test.
Phil: And you’re going to share it with me I take it.
Chris: Of course. Listen to this. (clears throat)
A Short History of Movies by Gerald Mast. Third Edition. 1981. Page 355.
Jifi Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains.
“Despite It’s Wartime Setting, the film seems to be a sex comedy, concentrating on the sexual inadequacies, failures and fears of the inexperienced boy, who is a clumsy apprentice at love as well as at work…but beneath the sexual comedy are darker elements…the ultimate seriousness is the film’s climax…we realize in this strange variation on the familiar Buildungsroman…the result of the boy’s ultimate and final coitus is the mammoth orgasm of the exploding train…the long comic apprenticeship produces a period of maturity that is strikingly and tragically brief.” I like it.
(Phil politely pretends to be interested and nods his head in agreement)
Chris: (Noticing that Phil’s interest isn’t genuine) But I guess after The Night the Bridge Fell everything must be anti-climactic.
(Phil laughs, flashing that trademark smile of his one last time.)
Twenty-five years later:
· I still have my copy of A Short History of the Movies, Third Edition and still refer to it on occasion, though many of the pages are falling out.
· Sadly, author Gerald Mast died of AIDS in 1988 at the age of 48. Many subsequent editions of A Short History of the Movies have been published without him.
· Through repeated viewings, Rules of the Game has indeed become one of my favorite films.
· I never saw Phil after the class ended. But I wish him well, I’m guessing he’s still a happy guy.
· I finally watched Closely Watched Trains!
· But as of this date, I still haven’t seen The Night the Bridge Fell.