Desert Island Question Time: If you were only allowed to watch one genre of film for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
For me there’s no contest.
Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels is one of the great “movie movies,” a madcap romp through depression-era America that in part inspired the Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? (which is the name of the film that the lead character in ST – a movie director – wants to make). If you love film and haven’t seen ST (or any other Sturges’ picture) then you are doing yourself a serious disservice, so go forth and rent it.
ST concerns successful comedy movie director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) who decides that he wants to make a dramatic film about the struggles of the common man – of which, his friends point out, he knows absolutely nothing. He’s rich, handsome and successful in every way. But Sullivan is determined to make a movie that will make a difference rather than simply entertain. With help from the costume and makeup departments of his studio he pretends to be a hobo and tries to “slum it,” which of course goes very wrong, often hilariously.
Along the way he picks up Veronica Lake (arguably the most desirable woman in film history) and eventually – 67 year-old movie spoiler alert – ends up in prison. The prisoners are shown a Disney cartoon (Playful Pluto) and Sullivan learns that while laughter may not solve any of the world’s great problems, it does help people survive them.
Very true. Quick – name a serious piece of film fiction that has changed the world…tick tick tick…I’m waiting…
Right. So. Fast forward a few decades to one of the great cinema experiences of my life – South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. My then-girlfriend (and future wife) and I saw this at what was then the Sony Loewe’s Theater on 3rd Ave. & 11th St. in NYC, and not since There’s Something About Mary had we heard a real audience – not a premiere, preview or special screening audience – laugh and cheer and have so great a time as this audience had.
We saw it again a few days later with a friend – a friend who had just been sentenced to a three-year prison term which he would soon start serving. Really truly. He was a South Park newbie, but man… when Satan hit his high note at the end of “Up There” he lost it – cheers, laughs, excitment, joy. 90 minutes of joy in the face of what for most of us would be an unimaginably horrific ordeal. It was Sullivan’s Travels come to life.
At the end of the day, Comedy is king.