Sunday, March 25, 2012

Film # 77: Mon oncle d'Amerique (1980)

Title for us English-speaking Types: My Uncle from America

Director: Alain Resnais

Initial Release Country: France

Times Previously Seen: none

Teaser Summary (No spoilers.)

In 1970s France, three people’s lives intertwine in ways that give each of them anger, joy, confusion, frustration, and depression. Not all in that order.

Extended Summary (Longer plot synopsis)

In 1977 France, Rene Ragueneau (Gerard Depardieu) is a manager of an agricultural company, which is a subsidiary of a larger corporation. He was raised on a farm, but studied hard and broke away from his conservative, close-minded family. He is married with two daughters. One day, his corporation informs him that he will be observed and assisted by someone from the corporate office. This new supervisor watches Rene like a hawk, criticizing the many outdated methods that his factory and warehouse use. The criticism leads to anxiety and ulcers for Rene. The main corporation decides to move Rene to a different branch of the company, one that will create ready-to-wear fashions and be far away from his family. With little choice, he must move away from them and pursue this field in which he has no experience.

Rene, frustrated by his family's conservative, narrow-mindedness, vents his frustration before he leaves them for good.

In Paris, Jean Le Gall (Roger Pierre) leads his life as the head of the news branch of the government. Raised by stern, educated and driven parents, Jean is quite successful and has plans to climb further up the political ladder and run for office. He is married to a passionate and devoted wife, though his own passion for her has waned. He coldly leaves his wife one day to begin an affair with Janine Garnier (Nicole Garcia).

Janine is somewhat younger than Jean, and she is from a very different background. Raised by parents with strong communist leanings, she eventually had yearnings for the stage. She got a break and performed the lead role in a hit play, which is how she met Jean. She and Jean continue their affair for a short time, though Jean has bouts of crippling kidney stones. Eventually, Jean’s wife shows up at Janine’s apartment and demands that she allow Jean to return home to his family. Janine relents and has Jean leave, though her complete reasons are not totally clear.

Two years pass. Jean takes a brief trip to a small island that his family owns, just off the French coast. He runs into none other than Janine. In catching up, we learn that Jean’s wife had told Janine that she was deathly ill, in order to get Janine to let Jean go. Janine embraces Jean, at first hoping to renew their passion, but leaves frustrated when Jean does not return the sentiment.

Jean and Janine, two years after their initial tryst. Janine attempts to rekindle the flame, but is snubbed.

Not far away, two years into his “new” position, Rene is once again in a bit of a bind. While he has had some success in the fashion branch of his corporation, he is flagging a bit. Two corporate executives come to see him, one of them being none other than Janine, who has found a steady job in fashion after leaving the stage. Rene is informed that his management has been lacking and that his responsibilities will be lessened. Taking this as a great insult, Rene storms off into his room and attempts suicide.

Just after Rene’s suicide attempt, Janine races off to confront Jean’s wife about her lie. In finding her, it doesn’t take long for Janine to realize that she has no great argument, as Jean’s wife did what was necessary to keep her family together. Still frustrated, she runs off and finds Jean. He, too, agrees that his wife did the right thing, which leads to more helpless agitation from Janine. Jean and Janine begin to grapple in a wrestling match of frustration.

Back in a hospital room, Rene recovers to find his wife and children there. His wife embraces him, merely glad that he is alive.

Spanning the entire course of the stories of Rene, Jean, and Janine, is the running commentary of real-life behavioral psychologist Professor Henri Laborit. Through exposition and interspersed visual experiments, he describes evolutionary psychology in ways that are exhibited by the three main characters’ stories.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Done before any further research on the movie)

I had to sleep on this one a bit.

After watching Mon oncle d’Amerique and then sleeping through the night, allowing the film and its many facets to sink in, I realize that I think it to be excellent. If you were to simply read the plot summary, it would probably seem rather boring. One could see the three interweaving stories of Rene, Janine, and Jean as such, but it is the telling of the tale through the cinematic medium that is the wonder of the film.

Firstly, the three stories of the main characters are actually plenty engaging. Rene’s struggles to maintain his family and self worth, Janine’s attempts at following her youthful passion and attempts at rebellion, and Jean’s quest for social renown and sexual satisfaction are all very real and human dramas. These dramas are portrayed brilliantly by the actors, so that every bit of their pain, happiness, and confusion comes through.

The dutiful and loving Rene, suffering from ulcers. His physical and emotional pains, along with those of the other two main characters, are cast into a scientific light within the context of the film.

However, this film’s revolutionary power comes from things far beyond the personal dramas and acting. The entire framework and telling of the tale gives this movie a highly intellectual quality that may turn off many viewers, but which others will find incredibly absorbing. The movie starts with short, still images of abstract shapes from nature, such as rocks, bricks, and water. A narrator introduces the three main characters, giving brief biographies of each of them, starting from the circumstances of their births while beginning to explain certain basic evolutionary principles of the natural world. These initial minutes seem like the absolute worst and most pretentious aspects of the type of snooty, pretentious European movie that many audiences love to ridicule and parody. But, if you hang in there, a brilliant structure beings to emerge.

Within about 20 minutes, we have a solid understanding of Rene’s, Jean’s, and Janine’s backgrounds and see some of the seminal moments in their lives. As this goes on, the narrator beings to add more general, modern discoveries about human psychology, citing experiments with lab mice and their reactions to pleasure and pain stimuli. When you start to pay close attention, the behaviors exhibited by the mice can be seen in the behaviors of Rene, Jean, and Janine during the two year period that consists of the bulk of the movie. And the similarities between the tiny rodents and the humans grow clearer.

Once the primary tale is in full swing, the psychologist/narrator steps back quite a bit, and we are allowed to immerse ourselves in the three protagonists’ lives. Their interactions further demonstrate that, as complex as the human mind is, there are still some very basic mechanisms at work. Now, some might write it all off as very reductionist, and this argument may have merit, but it doesn’t make the movie any less interesting to me.

Regularly throughout the movie, we see experiments with mice, looking upon how they react to pain stimuli. It's not hard to see the correlation with the reactions of Rene, Jean, and Janine.

In watching the movie, two films in particular came to mind. The first was a predecessor, the 1966 Ingmar Bergman film, Persona. In construction and themes, Mon oncle d’Amerique seems to borrow from Bergman’s very personal tale about people’s basic mental states feeding into and off of one another. Persona also opened and closed his movie with choppy, vague visuals that only make more sense once the entire film is viewed. The other film that came to mind is the much more modern Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufmann and directed by Spike Jonze. This is another film that creatively and artistically draws connections between the fundamental rules of natural order and the most basic human physical and psychological needs and desires.

Comparing and contrasting these three similar films is an interesting exercise. The earliest, Persona, is dead serious in its presentation. It was an exorcism of pain and frustration by Ingmar Bergman, and it comes across as such. Adaptation, on the other hand, is as much comedy as human drama. Its message is still deep and heartfelt, but there are plenty of great laughs along the way. Mon oncle d’Amerique splits the difference a bit, leaning much more towards the serious end. There are, however, several great humorous moments and visuals, including scenes in which human-sized mice re-enact some of the actions of Rene, Janine and Jean, even wearing their clothes at times. These little moments do take the edge off a bit, and prevent the movie from becoming too overbearing.

One of several surreal and blessedly funny depictions of the human characters as their rodent counterparts in the lab experiment. The only thing is, the lab is actually their lives. 

I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys thoughtful, somewhat challenging films that can hold your attention and make you think deeply. If you go in realizing that you will see something akin to a documentary, you will be well-served. Mon oncle d’Amerique is fiction, but it does something that really cannot be done in reality – an observational study of the most key moments in the lives of a few people.

Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (Done after some further research.)

Somewhat unsurprisingly, there’s not a ton of analysis to be found out there in the World Wide Web. Even though this film has been roundly praised by critics ever since its release (it won the Grand Prix at Cannes), we over here in U.S. tend not to embrace high-minded French movies that don’t follow standard film conventions. At least, most of us don’t. So, it’s not surprising to find that, not only is this movie not available on Netflix, but it is also out of DVD print and relatively difficult to get. For all of these reasons, very few people have even heard of it. It’s a shame, really.

Of course, we can rely on professional film critics to be up on any film of note. As I often do, I found a solid write-up done by Roger Ebert at his site here. He brings up some of the things that I noticed, and of course points out several things that I either missed or did not include in my review. The interesting thing is that, in the middle sections of his review, Ebert himself almost gets lost in the grander philosophies and ideas in the movie. This is a good thing. Ebert knows this is a good thing, and credits the film with inspiring such cogitations.

I have to say that, like very few movies in the world, Mon oncle d’Amerique is one whose merits are best observed and not merely read about. One can grasp the basic academic themes from reading reviews like this one, but until the movie is seen, it is all but impossible to see just how skillfully the different parts link together. Just heed this caveat: if you do not like high-minded films that force you to think far beyond the human drama tale that plays out on-screen, you probably won’t enjoy this one. If you’re into somewhat demanding films that will stay with you for days, months, and probably years afterwards, you will not be disappointed with this one.

That’s a wrap. 77 shows down. 28 to go.

Coming Soon: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
This one will take a while. It was a made-for-TV adaptation of a rather large novel. The thing is over FIFTEEN HOURS LONG!! By the time I actually post this review, I hope to be a good ways into it, so come on back in a week or so to see what I make of it.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Film # 76: Star Wars (1977)

Director: George Lucas

Initial Release Country: United States

Times Previously Seen: No idea for sure, but easily 25 times. (Last time – about 3 years ago)

Teaser Summary (No spoilers)

Backwater planet yokel gets swept up in intergalactic war. Learns spirituality and how to use a magic wand.

Extended Summary (More detailed plot synopsis, spoilers included. Fair warning.)

Note: OK. I’m going to assume that virtually everyone reading this has seen Star Wars. If not, first of all, you should probably have your United States citizenship revoked. Second of all, I’m going to make this relatively brief. Third of all, if you really need a blow-by-blow of the narrative, check it out at imdb’s site here, where some detail-obsessed Star Wars nerd has gone way overboard (right down to the make and model of all of the machinery and droids).

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, on the fringe desert planet of Tatooine, young farmer Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) buys a couple of droids for his aunt and uncle’s farm. Little does he know that these droids, C-3PO and R2-D2 by name, were sent by Princess Leia Organa of the planet Alderaan (Carrie Fisher) to abscond with technical blueprints for the Galactic Empire’s massive, planet-destroying space station known as the Death Star. Leia is part of a rebellion against the Empire, which rules the known galaxy with an iron fist. Leia had just been captured by Lord Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), an imposing, black-clad prime figure within the Empire. She sent the droids away in a desperate attempt at assistance.

Following Leia’s orders, R2-D2 leads C-3PO and Luke deep into the desert, to the hermit Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, who had long before been a Jedi Knight, an order of peace-keeping warrior monks. Obi-Wan seems to know something of Luke’s history, and after they retrieve Leia’s plea for help from R2-D2, they set out to help. Luke is reluctant at first, but his resolve is solidified when he discovers his aunt and uncle have been killed in his absence by the Empire, who are pursuing the droids. Obi-Wan also begins training Luke in the use of “The Force”, which is an energy field that binds all life and can be harnessed through concentration and discipline. It was this that Jedi used as their source of power, until they were all but wiped out by Darth Vader and the Empire.

In the desert wastes of Tatooine, the ever-patient Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi guides the whiny C-3PO and naive Luke Skywalker towards their destinies in the skies.

In the nearby space station of Mos Eisley, Luke, the droids and Obi-Wan hire the mercenary rogue pilot Han Solo and his companion Chewbacca, a towering, fur-covered alien with expertise in machinery and fighting. The sextet narrowly escape capture in Solo’s spacecraft, the Millennium Falcon. They head toward Leia’s home planet of Alderaan, only to find that it has been destroyed by the Death Star. They also find a massive Imperial “Star Destroyer” battleship, which captures the Millennium Falcon.

Through several tricks and some good luck, the six companions avoid capture on the Star Destroyer and rescue Princess Leia, though not without some help from Leia herself. Unfortunately, they also watch as Obi-Wan, after an extended light saber battle with his former pupil Darth Vader, is cut down and seemingly dissipates into thin air.

The remaining five companions and Princess Leia flee the Star Destroyer, though they have been, in effect, allowed to escape so that the Empire can follow them to the Rebellion’s secret base. Leia and the Rebellion use the Death Star blueprints to find a weak point, though it will require a highly risky and daring aerial assault. Luke, hungry to make a difference, immediately signs on. The self-serving Han Solo, on the other hand, takes the reward that he has been promised and leaves the Rebellion to its fate.

Luke, Leia, and Han Solo in the midst of their daring escape from the Star Destroyer. Leia insults Solo at every turn, but I think her hand in this still shot tells us everything.

With the Death Star approaching an attack window that will allow it to obliterate the rebel base, the rebel fighter squadrons attack. After an intense battle, Luke and his two wing men make a last-ditch attempt to hit the Death Star’s minuscule weak spot. With his wing men both shot down, and none other than ace pilot Darth Vader himself positioning his cross-hairs on Luke’s fighter craft, Han Solo swoops in and scatters the pursuing Imperial fighters. Luke, listening to the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan, turns off his targeting computer and uses The Force by relying on his instincts. Doing so, he hits the target and the Death Star is destroyed, saving the rebel base and fending off the Empire. At least for a time…

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Done after this most recent viewing, before any further research.)

What does one of my generation say about this movie? In short, it’s still damn good, though some viewer maturity and the benefit of hindsight cast much more light on its shortcomings.

Star Wars is arguably the greatest pop culture phenomenon in history. Very few, if any, single entity, individual, or fictional realm in entertainment has become so famous, so widespread, and so embraced by so much of the world. Having seen this movie dozens of times, starting at age 4, it’s impossible for me to view it with fresh eyes. Yet try, I did. (Sorry, Yoda.)

It had been a few years since I’ve watched the movie (this time, I watched the original, theatrical version), and I am now 36 years old. This being the case, I can be slightly more objective than I would have been fifteen or even ten years ago. Please keep in mind that I am fully aware of the deconstruction of the Star Wars movies into their basic elements, and the fact that Lucas “borrowed” heavily from several major sources. Still…

Honestly, who wouldn't want to find out what these four chaps were up to?

Star Wars is still a lot of fun to watch, and I’m still impressed by the magic of the formula that George Lucas concocted. Until this movie, there had been absolutely nothing like it in movies. Sure, there were some highly innovative, creative, intelligent, and even visually stunning science fiction movies. However, there was nothing on Star Wars’ scale, in terms of epic storytelling and breadth of captivating elements.

True to the spirit of classic adventure movies, Star Wars tells a pretty gripping tale of a damsel in distress (though Leia is hardly helpless), fighting against tyrannical powers. The entire universe is a mystery in the beginning, but from that very first moment that you see the pursuit of Leia’s spacecraft by a gargantuan Star Destroyer, you want to know more. With every passing scene, we are given hints at a universe that is as much fantasy as science fiction. This mythical quality is given to us right away with the now-iconic phrase, “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” With these words, high-tech is no longer equivalent to “futuristic”. Already, the tale has our minds expanding a bit.

The true trick of Lucas’s Star Wars galaxy was just how he blended the elements. There are cool gadgets and star ships for the techie, science fiction types. There is the mysticism and philosophy of The Force, the Jedi, and the Sith for the dreamier, more spiritual types. Most importantly for its mass appeal, though, is that there are all of the elements of a rip-roaring adventure story, complete with daring escapes and rescues, gun fights, and aerial battles. And of course, the light sabers. My cousin believes that it is the lightsaber that truly makes Star Wars what it is, and he has a point. If you take out those stately, blazing, “elegant weapons”, as Obi-Wan refers to them, then the Star Wars galaxy gets significantly blander.

The first lightsaber battle in the entire Star Wars movie franchise. These would become the hallmark ending of every single one of the six films in the series. One could argue that the lightsaber is the single most iconic prop in the history of film.

The main characters that everyone knows are almost all on display in this first film, save Yoda, who first appears in The Empire Strikes Back. Basically everyone on Earth is familiar with at least a few of the eight main characters in Star Wars. Oddly enough, in watching it this most recent time, I found Luke to be more annoying than anything else. He is rather whiny, but it’s easy to dismiss this, as he is basically a redneck farm boy who has no idea just what he’s stuck his dusty little toes into.

As much if not more than the characters, though, is simply the spectacle of the entire thing. From highly-functioning robots to bizarre species of creatures like the Jawas, Bantas, to the entire motley crew in Mos Eisley space station, so many things in the movie capture the eye and the imagination. I do have to say, also, that this is where the original, untouched theatrical release needs to be cherished. Lucas’s attempts to go back and give his own films facelifts met with harsh criticism from purists, and I wholeheartedly agree. There was absolutely nothing wrong with anything in the originals, in terms of the visuals. Simply using makeup and costumes, without the benefits of computer generated imaging, always makes those characters more tangible to me. Computer graphics are incredible these days, but let’s face it – we can always tell when they’re computer graphics. Not using these high-tech methods helps us suspend our disbelief a little more easily, in my opinion, and the original Star Wars was and is testament to this.

One thing that does not hold up over the years, or at least has become a more obvious weakness, is the dialogue in the movie. Now that most of us have seen the other George Lucas-penned scripts in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, it’s even easier to see that the man was simply atrocious at writing dialogue. While Star Wars isn’t nearly as bad as Episodes I or II, it’s far from good. There’s a lot of hokum and very hackneyed attempts at humor. Probably the main reason that it doesn’t stand out as much is that the actors are talented enough to gloss it over. Hamill, Ford, Fisher, Guinness, and Jones are much stronger presences than Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, and the discrepancy in their abilities to sell lame dialogue shows it. The cast of the original Star Wars was, three-fingered hands down, far superior.

Even hungover with horrendous bed-head, Alec Guinness could out-act anyone else in the Star Wars series. He needed all of his skill to overcome the oft-lame dialogue.

So upon watching it this time, the movie is still great fun to watch. Perhaps I can’t really look at it with total objectivity since it captured a place in my heart at the time when all of our hearts are so impressionable – those magic years between ages three and ten when fantastic stories and movies can imprint themselves on our very beings. I suppose an older viewer who watches Star Wars for the first time may be a tad disappointed, considering just how massive the entire franchise has become. All the same, I think anyone can marvel at just how unique a potion George Lucas mixed up for us, and I know that I’ll never tire of the original trilogy.

Take 2: Further Thoughts (Based on the context of the entire Star Wars series & random factoids.)

Did you notice how, on the “All-TIME 100 Films” list, certain film series are put together and counted as one movie? Namely, The Apu Trilogy, The Godfather Parts I and II, and The Lord of the Rings? Notice how Star Wars sits alone, without either of its immediate sequels, The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi? Did you notice that? I did. So, why do you think it is?

My guess is that, while the original trilogy was just that, Star Wars can actually stand alone and separate from the latter two films, which rely on the other two. When any Star Wars dork is asked which of the six films in the series is the best, the answer is almost overwhelmingly The Empire Strikes Back, and I agree. I suppose that this movie wasn’t included because, unlike Star Wars, it did not end with any sense of closure. It was therefore connected to the slightly inferior Return of the Jedi (only made weaker by those silly little Disney puppets, the Ewoks). With the choice of either putting only Star Wars on the list or having to include the entire trilogy, I guess the list compilers went with the former option. It makes sense to me.

That's right, fellas. Your respectable series just got down-graded to pre-kindergarten levels. Don't worry in the back there, Luke. In a little while, you'll have an awesome lightsaber fight with your pops...

So, in light of Episodes I, II and III, what do I think? Basically, Episode I is nearly putrid. I remember how, back in 1999, as a 23-year old who was unspeakably excited about the new films, I was bafflingly disappointed. Like many of my ilk, the entire Jar-Jar Binks character was insulting to my intelligence (and, I assume, the intelligence of anyone over the age of four). Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor were fine, but Jake Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker was dreadful (I checked imdb and he hasn’t had an acting gig since then. Small wonder.) The film is only watchable because of the pod races and the three-way light saber battle at the end between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul. Aside from these few things, The Phantom Menace was a flashy mess.

After that debacle, things got a tad better with Episode II, and even closer to tolerable with Episode III. Still, none of these prequels could hold a Yoda-levitated candle to any of the original three, not even its weakest link, Return of the Jedi. To me, the reason is simple. George Lucas got too crazy trying to use modern movie magic to try and please every fan. Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back did things using special effects to greatly enhance an engaging, if simple, adventure story. When he went back and did the prequels, it was almost as if the effects became the story.

After Episode II, Attack of the Clones, came out, a friend of mine was disgruntled with it and told me that it seemed like George Lucas had basically read a bunch of fan emails and tried to satisfy every fanboy’s wildest fantasies. You want to see more of Boba Fett? Well, here’s his daddy, Jango Fett! You want to see Yoda use a light saber? Well, here’s Yoda bouncing around with a light saber! It continued in Episode III, but not as egregiously.

Yoda getting his game on in Attack of the Clones. One of several elements Lucas put in seemingly to appease many fans' daydream desires. Personally, I liked it better when Yoda's martial prowess was merely implied and never revealed.

When I go back and watch Episodes IV and V, I absolutely love how scaled down the effects are and how the tale itself is the dominating force. There are many things that are hinted at, but never completely explained. How did Obi-Wan and Luke end up in the Tatooine desert? How did Yoda end up in the swamps of Dagobah? What pushed Darth Vader to the dark side of the force? In truth, I didn’t really need to know the answers to these questions, though I wanted to. Now that I do know, I basically wish that Lucas hadn’t even bothered with the prequels and simple left it all up to our imaginations. It would have saved me a lot of disappointment and would have left Episodes IV, V and VI to stand on their own, something they can do quite well.

Now that nearly three decades have passed since Return of the Jedi was originally released, there has been no end of study done of the Star Wars phenomenon. By now, many people are aware that its tremendous success was no accident. In conceiving his “science fiction soap opera”, George Lucas consulted the renowned cultural anthropologist Joseph Campbell on just what constituted the ultimate story. In a thoughtful (some cynics might say Machiavellian) approach, Lucas used what he learned about popular myths to construct the overall drama of the Skywalkers. The archetypical protagonist that is universal to the greatest of human mythology became Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader – the flawed hero who falls from grace, then redeems himself in his waning hours.

We also learned long ago that the filming of the original Star Wars itself was far from original. In basic narrative and even in shot composition, George Lucas “borrowed” (many say “stole”) from Akira Kurosawa’s classic adventure tale The Hidden Fortress. Despite these borrowed elements, Lucas was one of the earliest to depict a science fiction universe that was used up and grungy, unlike nearly all of the sleek, polished looks of sci-fi TV shows and films that had come previously. Sort of like what Sergio Leone did to the Western picture.

A shot from Akira Kurosawa's 1958 samurai movie, The Hidden Fortress. In this shot, you see the "inspirations" for Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2. Lucas also used the settings and locations in his first Star Wars movie.

Out of the countless other oddities and peculiarities about this series, there are two about the cast that have always intrigued me. Perhaps not surprisingly, they both deal with actors who were talented and professional, but didn’t really think much of their roles.

The first is Harrison Ford. He basically thought Han Solo was an idiot. And you know what? After watching the Star Wars movies as an adult, it’s obvious that Han Solo was not the sharpest tool in the shed. He was brave and funny, and he was an amusing rogue, but mostly he was a dolt. Harrison Ford has always said that he would always play Indiana Jones as often as possible because he liked the character, but that he would never play Han Solo again because he was a dunce. In fact, Ford tried to convince George Lucas to have Solo killed off at the end of either Empire or Jedi, to no avail.

The other is Alec Guinness. Anyone who has seen Alec Guinness in his film roles between the 1940s and 1970s knows that he was incredible. Whether it was as Fagan in Oliver Twist, his multitude of roles in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai, or any others, you know that he was an actor of incredible range and skill. As Obi-Wan Kenobi, he absolutely nailed the part as the wizened old knight who could quietly harness supernatural powers while mentoring the clueless young Luke. Guinness himself, however, seriously disliked certain things about playing Kenobi. One was that he found the dialogue to be atrocious, and could barely stomach delivering such hokey lines. He even succeeded where Harrison Ford failed – he convinced George Lucas to kill off Kenobi, ostensibly because he felt it strengthened Kenobi as a character (which it does). Later, though, Guinness admitted that it was also because he wanted to get out of reading dialogue that he found horrendous. More nuisance was to come in the succeeding years, as Star Wars mania grew to epic proportions. Guinness, a man of staggering accomplishment on both stage and film long before Star Wars, would forever after be known as “Obi-Wan Kenobi”.

In very limited screen time, Guinness played Kenobi so well that it became his blessing and his curse. This "silly role with terrible lines" overshadowed his previous decades of outstanding work. Oh well. At least he made serious cash out of it.

I used to feel sorry for Alec Guinness in that last respect. That was until I found out that he did something that showed great foresight. Unlike nearly everyone else involved with the original Star Wars movie, he thought that it would be highly successful. He therefore negotiated a contract that would pay him percentage royalties rather than a flat fee. As you can imagine, this ultimately led him to live very comfortably for the rest of his days. I guess in the end, it was a decent enough trade-off for him. Leave it to the Brit to show some foresight and do the responsible thing.

I could, like nearly any fan of science fiction and films, go on forever about the Star Wars franchise. Suffice it to say that it’s an incredible world that Lucas constructed, and it’s fun to go back into that world from time to time. These days, people can do it through novels, video games, role playing games, comic books, and myriad other sources. Still, there’s nothing quite like going right back to where it all started – with that massive, groundbreaking film in 1977 that set new standards for wondrous adventure movies. I’ll be shocked and amazed if the phenomenon of Star Wars dies out in my lifetime, and I know that I’ll go back and watch those original three every few years for as long as I live.

That’s a wrap. 76 shows down. 29 to go.

Coming Soon: Mon oncle d’amerique (1980)

This is one of the few “modern” movies that I know absolutely nothing about. It’s French and Gerard Depardieau is in it. That’s all I’ve got. Come on back in a week or so to find out what I think of it.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.