Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Too much/little respect for Scent of a Woman

Ever have one of those movies that keeps coming up in your life, even though it isn't new and in most other ways is totally random?

For me recently it's been Martin Brest's Scent of a Woman.

Scent of a Woman is one of those movies we all basically liked at the time it came out. It seemed like an appropriate enough Oscar nominee in the year 1992. But over time, it's come to be seen as hovering somewhere between simplistic and manipulative. Now, it seems average at best, and many people scoff at it when it comes up in film discussion. If it ever comes up. In my mind, I liken it to a movie like As Good as it Gets.

However, I don't think it's really deserving of the potshot I read over the weekend.

Since Thursday, the local NPR station, KCRW, has been involved in its twice-annual pledge drive. Once in January and once in August, this pledge drive breaks in on programming from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, cutting that programming at least in half for the nine days of the drive. (Used to be 11.) In the past, I used to roll my eyes each time this pledge drive came on, because it meant I was deprived of most of Morning Edition and All Things Considered for the seemingly interminable time the drive was going on. However, when I first donated, that all changed -- I felt a sense of ownership of what was going on. It took a big step forward when I started volunteering as a pledge taker for two shifts each drive back in January of 2009.

I took a break for the last two drives, when my son was on the verge of being born and when he was still young enough that my wife couldn't spare me, but I returned to my volunteer capacity this August. My two shifts this year were an 8:10 to midnight beast on Thursday, then last night's slightly more reasonable 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. Then again, it was last night that I really grew bored. In fact, so bored that I reached the end of the questions on the volunteer trivia game -- one of the only ways you can entertain yourself on your computer, which doesn't have an internet connection, and one of the only ways you can entertain yourself period unless you brought something to read. (I'd brought three things to read, but I was tired and I couldn't be bothered.)

Most of the questions in this trivia game are straightforward trivia questions. They may have been culled in a rather random way -- in fact, the only question about the NFL is "Which team won the 1989 Super Bowl?" -- but at least they are mostly straightforward.

Except this one:

"Which actor won an Oscar in 1992 for incessantly shouting 'hoo-ah!'?"

The answer, of course, is Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. A couple of Pacino's contemporaries, such as Jack Nicholson, filled out the other three choices.

What's hilarious is how much of a stance this question takes against both Pacino and the movie. I'm not sure if "shouting" was the correct gerund -- it might have been "claiming." But I know that "incessantly" was the correct adverb.

Even if Pacino's performance is reducible to a single vocal flourish like shouting out the military's abbreviation of "Heard Understood Acknowledged" over and over again, I'd hardly think this trivia game should be taking that kind of stance. Especially since the question stands out in such stark relief against the other questions, like "Which element is most common in the Earth's atmosphere?" and "In which year was KCRW founded?" I guess they figured Mr. Pacino would not be taking a shift in the phone bank.

Now, I mentioned that there was also a "too much respect" aspect of Scent of a Woman's recent appearances in my life.

I told you in my earlier post on watching the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski that I had started listening to a film podcast called Filmspotting, based out of Chicago and hosted by Adam Kempenaar and Matt "Matty Ballgame" Robinson. The Filmspotting guys are really intelligent about film and their tastes can run pretty elitist, although that's certainly not always the case -- Robinson goes on record saying that his favorite two films are Major League and Revenge of the Nerds. (However, just so you don't dismiss him out of hand, I should point out that he also called The Tree of Life possibly the most important film so far in the 21st century.)

Every week they open their show with two movie quotes. The second, I just learned, is a quote from The Graduate. Or rather, a brief exchange between a man and a woman:

"You're not interested in art?"
"Now look, we're going to do this thing, we're going to have a conversation."

The first -- otherwise why would I bring it up -- is from Scent of a Woman:

"What kind of a show are you guys putting on here today?"

In the movie, the line of dialogue refers to the farcical ceremony Pacino accuses Chris O'Donnell's school of putting on in trying to discipline him. Since it features the word "show," the line works out of context as an introduction to their show.

But is it really the first foot they want to put forward? Here's a film podcast where they incessantly (there's that word again) sing the praises of directors like Kelly Reichardt and Ramin Bahrani, yet the first voice you hear every week is Al Pacino, from a role that many consider to be clownish -- in one of those few moments when he isn't "incessantly shouting 'hoo-ah.'" Couldn't they have found another relevant movie quote that got across the same point, that wasn't from Scent of a Woman?

As discussed at the beginning, the truth about Scent of a Woman is probably somewhere in between KCRW's implied hatred for it and Filmspotting's implied affection for it.

And if Adam and Matty were reading this, they'd probably say "Dude, the quote just had the right words." And then cleanse themselves with a viewing of Old Joy.


Nicholas Prigge said...

I have to be honest, I've never seen "Scent of a Woman." Which I'm ashamed of only because I often find myself quoting "Hoo-ah!" and it makes me feel like phony.

Vancetastic said...

It's funny to suggest this, Nicholas, but there's validity to seeing a movie just to make your references more complete. I eventually had to see Freddy Got Fingered just so I could be sure I knew what I was talking about every time I used it as a "Bad Movie Needed to Make a Generic Example About Bad Movies." (For the record, it was pretty bad, but it was also difficult to look away from, giving it some value.)

Thaddeus said...

Well, I look at it this way: instead of him constantly using the famous army shout, I pretend that he loves Busta Rhymes and is saying "Woo-ha!" which is just freaking awesome.

There are some nice elements to this movie, but this was not a great film; it was a nice drama that experiments with being a mis-matched buddy road picture, with a bit romantic comedy thrown in too. I think the big reason to rag on this movie - despite the fact that freaking Pacino makes you think he's half-deaf as well as all-blind, is that Pacino SHOULD have won the Oscar that year for Best Support in Glen Garry Glen Ross. In fact, I can't think of a finer Pacino performance after the 1980's... It's true he was "due" for an oscar (that's a bs concept, but fine), yet it's ridiculous to see him win the bigger award for the obviously worse performance...

Vancetastic said...

Thaddeus, I could not agree more, as GGR is just outside my top 10 films of all time. I'm not sure if there is a finer example of ensemble acting in any movie, even with Alan Arkin not quite pulling his weight.

Kind of reminds me of the year when Dennis Hopper got nominated for Hoosiers instead of Blue Velvet.