Friday, September 24, 2010
A really hard Eight
Remind me never again to try to introduce my wife to Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight with noisy gardeners and barking dogs outside, a fussy baby in her arms and in the swing, and a talkative grandmother making regular and weird observations about the movie.
That's a joke, because Monday's specific set of circumstances will never come up again. But neither will the opportunity to introduce her to Hard Eight. That's already been ruined.
I have sometimes called Hard Eight, Anderson's first feature, my favorite Anderson film. That was almost certainly excess praise, especially since I'd seen it only once at the time I made the claim. I haven't repeated that assertion since seeing There Will Be Blood, but I obviously did make that assertion in the post Boogie Nights and Magnolia era -- since I saw both before I saw Hard Eight. My second viewing reminded me that it's a small but very good film.
However, I don't know how anyone else present could have possibly reached that conclusion, with all the hubbub in our environment, some of which they themselves were creating. Which is a shame, because my wife is a huge Anderson fan -- this was his only film she hadn't seen.
First it was the gardeners. Our landlord hires a team of gardeners to come shred up the property at least once a week. I say "shred" because I don't think they're actually trained gardeners with a genuine aptitude for horticulture. They just know how to operate the equipment -- the louder, the better. They leave the things they trim looking raw and exposed, maiming them with their brutish ways. The thing that galls me most, however, is that this one guy finishes the experience by making a call on his cell phone and just aimlessly spraying the lawn with his hose for the length of the call, leaving the place a boggy marsh and wasting tons of water.
So yeah, they were leaf-blowing and tree-mangling for the film's first 45 minutes.
Then it was my son Jasper's turn to become all fussy. He wouldn't quiet down. We'd put him in the swing, but he wasn't allowing himself to be soothed by it. So my wife would go over and tend to him, but tell us not to pause the movie, even if she weren't looking at the screen for two or three minutes at a time. And here's where my wife and I have a philosophical impasse. I get stressed out if she doesn't look at the screen enough, thereby missing crucial visual information, of which there is plenty communicated in Hard Eight -- but she gets stressed out if she asks me not to pause the movie, but I insist on pausing it because I don't want her viewing compromised. So I basically had to check my instincts and allow her to be as distracted by our son as she wanted to be, even if it meant her appreciation of the film was being fatally damaged.
Then it was the neighbors' dogs turn to be spooked by anything and everything in their environment. They are famous for standing at the fence, staring out at the street, begging anyone or anything to give them an excuse to create a ruckus. Usually this is when their owners aren't home, which was almost certainly the case this past Monday. So they would woof it up for 15 to 20 seconds, and then stop. And then just when you thought they had become placid and contained, something else would stimulate them and they'd get going again. This was all the more stressful for me because by this point, I had my son in my arms and was standing behind my mother, bouncing him as much as I could to contain his fussing. As the only one who had already seen the movie, I didn't care about whether I had an uninterrupted viewing, but I wanted everyone else to see in it what I saw in it, and that was rapidly seeming impossible.
The final obstacle was my mom herself. This being the first movie she and I watched together on the trip, it reminded me that she will one day make an excellent example of the senior citizen who goes to the theater and theorizes aloud to her viewing companion, irrespective of who it may or may not be bothering. She wasn't talking constantly, and she did seem to pick her moments. But the comments she made were bizarre indeed. One joke my wife and I have had on this trip is how she's fixated by the idea that she doesn't like John C. Reilly because she thinks he's ugly. She made at least one reference to that. Then she made a handful of what I would consider fairly obvious interpretations of what was happening, the kind that would prompt a son who was feeling snotty to say something like "Duh." But the weirdest was that she kept failing to understand that the action was taking place in Reno, which a title card early in the film had announced. First she said "I guess this is the kind of thing that happens in Vegas." I quickly corrected with "Reno," but I don't think she heard because later on, when Philip Baker Hall's character is trying to suggest a location where Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow should go on the run, my mom decided to join in the conversation. "How about Vegas?" Reilly asks, and Hall immediately rejoins with "No, God no, don't go to Vegas." "Reno!" my mom suggested, as if the actors might hear her suggestion. I just bit my tongue this time, and probably rolled my eyes.
Both my wife and my mother said they enjoyed the movie. I wasn't particularly concerned with what my mother thought. We had a weird argument the next day about the next film we watched -- Kissing Jessica Stein, a favorite from my collection -- which essentially caused me to write off her ability to interpret even the simplest films correctly.
But I would have really liked it if my wife could have embraced this film, the way I know she would have without the gardeners, dogs, baby and mother-in-law.
Oh well. It's just one film. You can't win 'em all. Onward and upward.