Welcome to my new regular column, The Devin’s Advocate. This column will appear at least on Tuesdays from here on out and may show up on other days as well – this is now sort of the umbrella for all my random editorials. There’s also going to be content that’s best described as bloggy; one of the things that I want to have in the impending CHUD revamp is a blog, where I can write about things that are funny or interesting but not exactly news worthy. This column (and the eventual blog) will, of course, be mostly film-related, but I’m not going to only talk about movies or entertainment. Be warned that this column will contain thoughts and opinions on just about anything – it’s not that different from my usual opinionated news writing, but I won’t always be finding a cinematic pretext to discuss stuff.
That said, I’m going to launch this with a piece that’s film-related (but still sort of bloggy). Last night the Hot Fuzztival rolled into New York City’s Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, and the bonus cop movie was the 1973 movie Electra Glide in Blue. I had never seen the film before (and I sort of still haven’t – they showed a pan & scan 16mm print. Blech), but I can understand why Edgar Wright has called it one of his favorite cop movies. Electra Glide is offbeat and unique, a character movie that’s quirky and gripping and also features one of the wilder chase scenes. It’s a pretty fantastic film, and you can buy it on DVD here, and I can’t recommend it enough. The cost of the movie is entirely worth it just for Robert Blake’s amazing performance, one that’s almost good enough to make you forget that he murdered his wife.
Anyway, it occurred to me that this sort of film doesn’t get made anymore, and not just because the slow, talky, open space movie isn’t exactly in favor these days – Electra Glide has a very nihilistic ending, and that’s just not permissible. I wonder what test screening audiences recruited in Pasadena would say about the gorgeous but depressing final shot of this film. Probably that they hated it.
What’s funny is that last night I reacted to the film like a test screening audience member. I found myself so wrapped up in Robert Blake’s diminutive motorcycle cop with dreams that the ending of the movie felt excessive to me; running into Edgar Wright after the screening I told him the film maybe had one nihilistic finale too many. He looked at me like I had just shit on his shoes, and he was right. That last shot of Electra Glide in Blue is almost the whole movie encapsulated (and I understand that I didn’t get the full effect of it from the murky print I saw), and isn’t just there as a ‘Hey, it’s the 70s, let’s be totally dour’ kind of thing but that a point was being made. I wasn’t supposed to ‘like’ the ending when watching it.
And that’s one of the problems with test screening audiences. I have spoken to directors who tell stories about test screening audiences rating the villain of a film very poorly, or singling out a scene where something bad happens to the hero as one they didn’t like. Well, of course you’re not supposed to like the villain or the bad thing happening to the hero – that’s the point! The fact that the audiences were upset about the bad thing happening to the hero means that the art worked, just as my initial reaction to the end of Electra Glide meant that the film worked.
The sticky aspect of this is that test screenings aren’t inherently bad. Judd Apatow uses extensive test screenings on his comedies to figure out which jokes play best, and standing in the back of a theater full of people reacting to a film is more illuminating that spending days in an editing room. And watching the audience is more illuminating than forcing them to try and intellectualize their reactions in the form of response cards at the end – ask someone for something they didn’t like in a movie and they’ll sure enough find something to not like, even if their honest reaction would be to walk out of the theater saying how much they enjoyed the movie.
By the way, last night was my third time seeing Hot Fuzz, and my first with a ‘real’ audience and getting a chance to see how they react to the movie. The first time I saw it, way back in January, was in one of the smallest screening rooms in New York City, a room that maybe seats thirty or forty. The next time I saw it was in another tiny screening room, except in London. The seats were more comfortable, and I had two good people with me to give that great vibe you want when watching a comedy, but the rest of the crowd were journalists. The packed theater last night was electric with audience reaction, and while I loved the movie just as much the third time as the first (it’s really an incredible film, and I don’t regret giving it a 10 out of 10 at all), the audience’s enthusiasm just added to everything. It’s nice to see a movie like this with a crowd that gets the in-jokes and references to Shaun of the Dead. Also, the Hot Fuzz boys attract a fairly decent looking audience – as a survivor of many of these specialty/Q&A screenings, I have seen that some filmmaker’s fanbases seem like escapees from the Ghoulies franchise.
To wrap up this rambling entry, I want to say three quick things:
- See Hot Fuzz on April 20th. Even if you saw it at one of the Hot Fuzztival screenings – the movie pays off on repeat viewings in a huge way.
- Buy Electra Glide in Blue and approach it with an open mind.
- Thanks to the people who stopped me last night and said nice things. When I finish watching Jason Goes to Hell tonight it will be your words of support that will keep me from chewing through my arm like a wolf caught in a trap.