Last week, Boing Boing presented a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. We are extending the series for several additional days. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series. -- Mark
[Video Link]To date, the most mind-blowing film I've ever seen was 1980's The Stunt Man, directed by Richard Rush. This movie truly had exactly that sort of effect on me, through scene after scene, until the very end.
And by "the very end" I don't mean "the end of the movie." I mean "the very end of the VHS cassette I first saw it on." I sat there in my chair, staring blankly at the screen with this fixed, open-mouth grin on my face after the credits rolled and the screen went to black. There was some blinking. No drooling as far as I can recall, but otherwise, I spent those several minutes staring at a black screen and trying to process what I'd just seen. What blew my mind wasn't the story itself so much as how it'd been told. As I reviewed the experience, I started to appreciate that The Stunt Man is possibly the finest magic trick I'd ever seen. The trick is over, it gratefully releases its grip on your sense of free will and independent observation, and you start to appreciate just how skilled the magician was.
This happy mental state was only broken by the THUNK of the tape stopping at the end of the leader and then auto-rewinding in the VHS deck.
But I'm precluded from choosing and discussing The Stunt Man for a couple of reasons.
First, while it's a movie I love to recommend to people, I adamantly believe that you should watch The Stunt Man knowing only two things in advance:
1) Peter O'Toole is in it;
2) Peter O'Toole is good in anything.
(Before you skip down to the bottom of the page to click a button and post a snarky reply: yes, I have seen Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage, as a matter of fact. And yes, Peter O'Toole was good in that, as well.)
When I sat down to see the movie for the first time, I didn't know anything about The Stunt Man other than it was a Peter O'Toole film that I had never seen. Two hours and ten minutes later, while the film was rewinding and just before I gave it an immediate second viewing, I intuitively understood that if I'd known that it was a comedy (or a drama) (or an action movie) (or a thriller with a twist ending) (or no twist ending), or that Peter O'Toole was the focus of the whole story (or that his role was barely of any consequence)... no, it wouldn't have been the same experience.
You have to watch it as a blank slate. It's a mind blowing movie. You have to allow "The Stunt Man" to pursue its own agenda with you, on its own timetable. It's ruined if you're two thirds of the way through and suddenly think of a scene from the trailer that you hasn't appeared yet. And the effect is certainly going to be ruined if I explain in advance why I think it's a mind-blowing movie.
The second reason I shouldn't talk about The Stunt Man is because it wasn't, in fact, the first thing that came to mind when I started thinking about "Mind blowing movies (or TV shows or whatever)."
It's actually a little bit embarrassing.
It was The Curse Of Mr. Bean.
(And now you're tabbing back into your Netflix queue and deleting The Stunt Man from your list. I know. But I please reconsider.)
In the second sketch of that episode, Mr. Bean is in his Mini trying to figure out how to leave a commercial parking garage without either smashing through a barrier or, worse, paying the £16 parking fee. He's stymied at every turn. Cars enter and leave, and his clear shot to the street is always closed off at the last frustrating second.
Finally... the blue Reliant Robin makes an appearance.
All fans of "Mr. Bean" smile and settle in for the joke that's coming. We all know that however Mr. Bean solves the puzzle and gets out of the parking garage, it's going to involve him doing something reckless and making the three-wheeled car tip over. That's what always happens to the Reliant in episodes of "Mr. Bean."
But this episode was different:
Mr. Bean knew it, too. There was an extra gleam of excitement in his eyes when he spotted the car and he was energized with a new sense of purpose. He clearly understood the rules of the fictional world he lived in: successfully exiting the garage (and the comedy sketch) must somehow involve capsizing this ridiculous blue car.
It was like that moment at the end of A Shot In The Dark -- surely improvised on the spot by Peter Sellers -- in which Inspector Clouseau's dramatic interrogation of a roomful of suspects has gone wretchedly awry. Instead of the unknown culprit cracking under the pressure and confessing to the murder, every one of the suspects got into a heated argument and start levying new, incriminating testimony and accusations at each other. Clouseau, physically shoved outside the escalating rhubarb for the third time, wheels around, glares into the camera as if to say "Can you believe any of this?!?" and then returns to the scene.
Movie watching is, at its core, the only kind of eavesdropping where there's no chance of getting caught. Which is why you drop your guard and enjoy. These little moments of self-awareness in movie or television characters always get me, even for just a fraction of a second. For that brief moment, I'm worried that they're going to hold me accountable for everything this movie or TV show put them through for the sake of my entertainment.
Andy Ihnatko writes about technology for The Chicago Sun-Times. Links to the writing and podcasting projects that people pay him for, as well as the writing and photography that no sensible publisher wants any part of, can be found at Ihnatko.com.
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