At the Kuersten house over the holidays we had, as usual, just the four of us -- my similarly childless brother (and hulking gun nut) Fred, my Orson Wellsian dad and Hitchcokian ice queen blonde mom. We're always celebrating the lack of rugrats with salty language and there's always lots of movies to keep the focus away from our own shock at how each other is turning out. Our choices are always unusual and worth documenting, especially now that dad has Tivo and is more likely to not subject us to endless rounds of college and NFL football.
AMAZONS (dir. Alejandro Sessa )
Made with the same cast and on the same day as BARBARIAN QUEEN! For Roger Corman! In Argentina! Crappy old horror/sci fi/fantassy movies have been a Kuersten staple since I was a child, and I cut my wit's teeth doing MSTK3-style quip-a-thons with dad over afternoon creature features, as I'm sure did a lot of current horror fans. I was grateful that there were so many hot naked blonde chicks in this movie, because my panic attacks at being stranded in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina, were very bad and cute Nordic blonde chicks in furs really ease the pain. This was the first and last "bad" movie of the entire trip though, as my dad declared a moratorium (AMAZONS was actually my DVD gift to him from the previous Xmas, along with ASTRO-ZOMBIES, as yet unopened). Despite the general air of amateur theater, I dug AMAZONS and tried to convince my family that something this profound needed to be seen twice.
BIGGER THAN LIFE (dir. Nicholas Ray)
When you come from a lineage with Swedish, German and old school Colonial-American genes, you can bet there's going to be streaks of chemical addiction a mile wide and what better family fun film to celebrate the holidays can there be than the realization that there's a lot of violence and megalomania that we missed out on, making us a pretty cool family after all? James Mason is great as the dad who shouldn't, as my dad explained several times during the film, have had to pay for his steroids since he's taking them as part of a clinical trial. Also, he doesn't regulate his own dosage and is soon torturing his family through various self-aggrandizing educational schemes as the drugs catch his ego unawares and launch him into full-blown psychosis, eventually even trying to sacrifice his boy via scissors and a bible. We all loved squirming under the lash of Mason's "too close to home" insanity, but we didn't like squirming over the happy cop-out ending. Angry and disgruntled, we gave it three stars, same as Leonard Maltin, our patron saint.
EL DORADO (dir. Howard Hawks)
Westerns are a big favorite with the family Kuersten, and Howard Hawks always goes down smooth. This one starts out being a rowdy and rousing story of Wayne's hired gun getting caught up in a range war, with Robert Mitchum as his old pal the sheriff and Ed Asner (!) as the bad guy. Somewhere along the line, Hawks turns it into a Rio Bravo remake, but so what? Hawks was always stealing from himself. It's part of his auteur-ness, I don't know why I'm even defending him! There's no need. Plus, our family can certainly relate, with me ten years sober in AA, and my dad and brother already on their third brace of martinis. Mom kept talking over some of the best dialogue, but at least dad was quiet and reverent.
THE MAGIC FLUTE (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
I sprung this on pops as a late night surprise, knowing he'd dig that I dug Mozart, (my ex-Swiss mistress turned me onto this back at an old Film Forum screening). Ulrich Kold (pictured at top) reminds me a lot of my dad too, so I was into it, except my dad fell into his late night "suffused with transcendental love and reverence" phase and you couldn't hear the music since he was so busy waxing rhapsodic over it. Whatever, I love the man, and Ulrich Kold too!
M*A*S*H (dir. Robert Altman)
This was a last minute gift from me to pops, who is a former market research analyst for a reputable pharmaceutical corporation and never lets you forget it! Having only seen this on pan and scan video, usually with drunken townies in the room, I was pleased to find my dad providing me a new angle through which to percieve and enjoy the film, not only as a great example of 1970's sexually liberated earthiness and un-PC good-natured anarchy, but the spiritual overtones that place doctors and nurses as the atheistic equivalent of angels and Christ figures.
OUT OF THE PAST (dir. Jacues Tourneur)
Too much talking to really sink into this one, but we've all seen it before. Being stuck in NC, where the only pretty girl for miles around is my mom, I really fell in love with Rhonda Fleming, as the "good" girl who competes with Jane Greer's puffy-lipped double crosser. She's sooo gorgeous! Why, I wondered, why can't she see that Mitchum is no good for her and she should reach across the sea of time and take my hand? My dad actually started waxing on about the amazing time machine effect of old movies, that these actors are all old or dead yet here they are, younger than we are, and we're aging while they stay young, as if we are their Doiran Gray oil paintings in reverse. I told him, "I've been blogging about that idea for years," but he couldn't hear me, through the veils of time... and highballs.. and all the other tricks by which fathers outpace their sons.
CASINO ROYALE (dir. Martin Campbell )
THis was the third time I'd seen this, and this time I really hated Vesper (Eva Green, pictured below), the British double crosser who won't give Bond the other five million pounds to bet with. What a bitch! What did Bond see in her? My dad blamed her lack of appeal on her lack of cleavage, and it was up to me to labor (in vain) to convince him this was not the case, as evinced in THE DREAMERS. Why were her breasts then not made more prominent in the film? He had me there. At any rate, we all loved Daniel Craig and I made sure to point out to my NRA-card-carrying brother that seeing Craig rise out of the blue waves with his hairless muscly body dripping slow motion drops was a fascinating subtextual gender-reversal mirror to Halle Berry doing the same in the previous Bond film (which in turn mirrored Ursula Andress in DR. NO).
That Vesper, how dare she snow Bond so thoroughly? I can't believe how in love with her I was after seeing ROYALE for the first time. Xmas, for me, is a time to look back on all the relationships I've had over the decades, the girls I brought home for the holidays, and so forth, and to shudder in my alienated lonesome doveliness, knowing the warmth of my family creates a "safe place" for such torturous self-examination and moping to occur. Oh Vesper, all is forgiven! Come on home!