Thursday, July 16, 2009

Misnomer: The Rise of Trevor Benton

On Monday night, I was taking my break from baseball by watching more baseball. Not only did I watch the Home Run Derby from start to finish, but then I watched them recap it on Sportscenter. This was all background to other stuff I was doing, but it still struck me as funny that I didn't use my three-day respite for any of the other pastimes I find compelling. A sad commentary on my enslavement to the sport.

I believe it was during Sportscenter that they played one of those interstitial messages -- you know, "Sportscenter is brought to you by such-and-such." In this case, it was "Sportscenter is brought to you by G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra."

I chuckled. And as I always do in situations like this, I thought of Trevor Benton.

If you're less anal than I am, you may not have noticed anything wrong with what the announcer said. But I did. He added an extra "the" that does not actually appear in the title. The true title is G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, without the second "the." And though it shouldn't make that much difference, those of us who are anal grammarians know that it does. Without the definite article, "Cobra" signifies what it's supposed to signify: the name of an evil organization bent on world domination, led by Cobra Commander, Destro and some laboratory Frankenstein supervillain whose name I can't remember. With the definite article, however, "the Cobra" sounds like some kind of giant snake -- and since cobras are actually capable of elevating the front halves of their bodies, "rise" has a humorously literal meaning.

So where does Trevor Benton come into all this?

Well, Trevor Benton is a kid I went to school with. That's not his real name, but it's close enough. Although I haven't seen him in almost 20 years, I really liked Trevor Benton -- he was a funny and genuinely nice guy. And he therefore does not deserve to be made fun of, as I'm about to do.

But a single incident involving Trevor Benton caused him to live on in infamy in my group of friends. It was a totally innocuous incident, you'll agree, but as totally innocuous incidents often do, it stuck to him.

So what did Trevor do?

He got the name of a movie wrong.

I remember the morning quite well. For the fall of my freshman year in high school, I used to start each morning in the cafeteria of a building on campus called D House. For some reason (I really don't recall) I was arriving at school a half-hour or so before my first class, and I would sit in the cafeteria with Trevor and this guy named Bill. We shot the shit, like freshmen in high school did at the time.

One morning, Trevor said, "I really want to see that movie Push Momma Off the Train."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Needless to say, I recounted this story to a number of other friends. And it took hold. If you got the name of a movie wrong, it came to be known as an act of Bentonizing.

In the nearly 22 years since Throw Momma From the Train hit theaters, I have certainly heard numerous other Bentonizations of movie titles. Sadly, old age now prevents me from remembering many of them. I do remember a time when an airline pilot (the perfect guy to make a Bentonization) said we would be seeing Bridget Jones Diary 2: The Edge of Reasoning (actual title: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). I also remember when my friend Pres once referred to the movie as Trainspotters. That gave me a good laugh -- though not to his face. I kept it private and then shared it with like-minded friends later on. (And in the retelling with one particular friend, the story has become apocryphal -- we now say that Pres called it Carspotters instead of Trainspotters).

Is the difference between Trainspotting and Trainspotters really that important? Of course it isn't. Which is why Pres is no more an idiot for his slip of the tongue than poor Trevor was for his. (And that's probably why we had to change the story to make it more obviously wrong and more obviously humorous.)

But there is something undeniably funny about it. It's like that old game Operator, where you whisper a phrase in your friend's ear, then he/she whispers to his/her neighbor, and so on, and so forth, until it gets back to the start of the circle, and the phrase has transmogrified into something totally different. It's a failure to properly assimilate information given to you -- even if you mostly got it right.

The reason why it strikes a film buff like me as funny is precisely because movies are as important to me as they are. Titles imprint themselves on my brain when I first hear them, often because I know that they will later on mean something to me. But that doesn't mean I'm perfect, either -- just maybe that I don't "try out" a title in conversation until I've got it down. When I first saw the trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, I'm pretty sure I did not remember the exact adjectives or nouns in the title. And I probably used some approximation of the title just to indicate which movie I was talking about -- the same way Trevor knew that someone's mother was being hurled off a locomotive, but did not remember the exact form that hurling took.

Heck, just earlier this year at the Super Bowl party I attended, I referred to Angels & Demons as Gods & Monsters -- though I was pretty drunk at the time. And then there are movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, whose title was often intentionally botched even by those who knew the correct sequence of the words, simply as a means of critiquing what they considered to be a needlessly complicated title.

But the point in this whole thing is not to be superior, even though I do admit, from time to time, to indulging in some unjustified superiority over titles and their accuracy. The point is that getting a movie title wrong can simply be funny in and of itself, in a vacuum, without context. It was for this reason that friends and I brainstormed other potential Bentonizations, even if they never really existed. One of them was, "I really want to see that movie Gigantic," referring to the film about the sinking ship starring Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. I suppose it's not that far removed from the kind of critique of old people we deliver when we say things like "I'm going to go look it up on the worldwide interwebs," or when Marge Simpson talks about "Bill Crosby and David Letterson." The joke is, "Here is what someone who is clueless would say."

I don't want to pick on Trevor or Pres or any other civilian (including myself) who gets a movie title wrong. But, conversely, it is really fun to pick on professionals, people in and around the movie business, who are guilty of the same thing. Either they should know better, or if it's a prerecorded piece, as in the Rise of the Cobra sponsorship spot, they should do enough research to make sure they have it right.

And so it was that I let out a loud howl as I was driving past the cheap movie theater a couple miles from my house earlier this year. I've told you about this theater before -- this theater is king of the Bentonizations. It's where we saw Autralia (the S was dropped on the ticket stub) and where I saw Baby's Mama.

So what was playing on this particular night when I drove by?

He Is Just Not That Into You.

Trevor Benton would be proud.

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