Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The fight to finish a movie you've already seen

When I started Moulin Rouge, the second in my Monday night double feature, at 11:19 p.m., I knew there wasn't a very good chance I'd finish it before I went to bed. The movie is over two hours long, and even though I wasn't going in to work until 9:30 on Tuesday, sleep should overtake me long before the movie ended, even if I wasn't driven to bed by a practical need to wake up in the morning.

When I'd finished less than half (allowing for pauses) by 12:30 a.m., I reasoned there was some chance I wouldn't finish watching before the movie was due back the next night at 8. My Tuesday working hours would be 9:30 to 6, but I had to go to an event almost right after work.

Fortunately, my body clock is such that I was up by 7:45 the next morning, even though I didn't need to leave until 9:15. So I watched most of the rest of Moulin Rouge over my coffee and frozen waffles, with more pauses for things like showering and preparing the waffles.

But I still had around 20 minutes left when it was time to leave for work.

Game over? Not hardly.

At lunch time I drove to the library, and sat under a tree to watch the final act of the movie on my portable DVD player. The day had been busy enough that I was cutting it close, leaving only 40 minutes to drive to the library, watch the end of Moulin Rouge, and get back before my only other co-worker sitting on the help desk (we were operating two people down) would reach the end of his workday at 2:30. For my efforts, I was actually bombarded by one of the tree's acorns, right at a particularly tense moment of the action at the end.

You'd think a person would only go to this trouble if he'd never seen the movie before. But this was my third time seeing Moulin Rouge, first since 2002 or 2003.

It may seem silly. I mean, I know how the movie ends. There would have been worse things than missing the end on my third viewing, having certainly gotten the gist of the movie and seen my favorite parts already.

But not me. I'm a completist. When I watch a movie, I want to watch the whole thing. No matter how many times I've seen it.

Would you have done the same? Or would you have just returned it after the opening number of the terrifically named production of "Spectacular Spectacular," knowing that Christian changes into the costume of the narcoleptic Argentinian, throws a wad of cash at the presumably deceitful Satine, realizes that she was just trying to save him from being killed, dodges a couple assassination attempts and ultimately weeps over the body of his perished love?

Watching Moulin Rouge again confirmed a casually held opinion I have of it: It's one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen. Yes, I know that means I'm ignoring decades of cinema leading up to its 2001 release, and places me somewhat dubiously in a category I hate: People who think the movies began when they started watching them. But I have to be honest and say that how romantic I find a movie has to do with how much I was swept up in its spell. There may have been exceptionally romantic movies in the 1930s (Gone With the Wind is one), but if I wasn't specifically transported by their sense of romance, it's harder for me to recognize them as such, and that's just the God's honest truth.

But sweep me up Moulin Rouge did when I first saw it, and did again on Monday night/Tuesday morning/Tuesday afternoon. Its reappropriation of pop songs, its terrific chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, its kinetic sense of whimsy, its lush set of an imaginary Paris in 1900, and its storybook bending of reality ... it's all just a delirious delight.

One reason I wanted to watch it again, however, was that I'd gotten a couple of its songs in my head from watching this season of American Idol. I wrote about American Idol a few weeks back, but was cagey about which contestant was the one my wife knew. Now I'll come forward with that info: It was Casey Abrams, voted off two weeks ago -- at least a week or two too early. But I'll save for later the discussion of how difficult it is to overcome Idol's vast network of country music voters.

Not only does my wife know Casey (his mother much better), but we ended up really liking his jazzy stylings, his stage presence, his ability to play almost any instrument, his playfulness, and the many things he could do with his voice. It was always possible that we'd like the guy but not his act. Fortunately, this was not the case.

One thing I noticed a couple weeks ago is that Casey must have an affinity for Moulin Rouge. In consecutive weeks he sang "Your Song" for Elton John Week and "Nature Boy" for Movie Week. "Your Song" is memorably tackled by McGregor's Christian atop the elephant-shaped building where Satine lives (love that set design) in my favorite scene from the movie, and "Nature Boy" is pretty much the movie's theme song, as a line from the song is the movie's mantra, repeated several times: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return." For the record, Casey said he was singing Nat King Cole's original version of the song from The Boy With Green Hair, and no mention of Moulin Rouge was ever made.

Having already made the connection with those two songs, I was surprised upon watching Moulin Rouge this time that a third Casey song also appears. That's right, the song that probably got Casey the most attention, though possibly for the wrong reasons, makes an appearance in the beginning of Moulin Rouge as well: Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Two songs could have been a coincidence -- a third is something more than that.

Casey was noted for his unpredictability, but I guess he was a little more predictable than we all thought. (No less love for him, mind you.)

Maybe if he'd stayed on another week or two he would have tackled Jim Broadbent's version of "Like a Virgin."


Nicholas Prigge said...

I'd admire your tenacity. This reminds me of Sarah Vowell writing about how in college she used to watch "The Godfather" repeatedly all the way through but only in brief increments when no one was around because she didn't want anyone to know she was so obsessed with it.

Vancetastic said...

That's hilarious. (And sorry for the delayed response.) I totally get where Sarah Vowell is coming from. With anything you want to watch, you have to kind of justify why you're watching it to anyone else who might be around. "I am watching The Godfather for the 97th time today" is not the kind of thing you can admit publicly -- people would look at you funny.

It's for this reason that I waited until my wife was out of town to watch Crank: High Voltage a second (and probably last) time. If my wife knew I'd already watched it once, what explanation could there before the second viewing? "Sorry honey, I just like movies that celebrate sex, violence and other trash in ways that for some reason I find kind of fun."