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Post"Mrs Doubtfire" at 25 (David Duggan, USA, 02/01/18 3:39 pm)
As WAISers who have read my book, Glimpses of Grace, Reflections of a Life in Christ, may recall, I grew up with Robin Williams (at least for a portion of his somewhat peripatetic life), and what some may view as his best movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, turns 25.
I was a non-custodial parent when I saw the movie with my son and parents, and there was a great deal of poignancy to that movie about a non-custodial parent trying to keep connected to his children. The San Francisco Chronicle just published a piece claiming that Mrs. Doubtfire was Robin's best work, and I was cued to the article by a San Francisco-based high school classmate. Here's the link for those interested: ‘Mrs. Doubtfire' at 25: Is it the best Robin Williams film?
I can understand how San Francisco residents would view Mrs. Doubtfire as Robin's best work, just as I can understand how Boston residents would view Good Will Hunting as his best (for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar). But for my money, Dead Poets' Society was his best and in support I offer that: 1) while no doubt comedy is harder than tragedy, comedy too often devolves into schtick and Mrs. Doubtfire falls prey to that (the restaurant scene); 2) while I can see several other actors performing the role in Mrs. Doubtfire (Billy Crystal, Michael Keaton), I can envision no other actors conveying both the gravitas and the sense of absurdity [of literary criticism] as Robin conveyed them in Dead Poets; and 3) while the other movies had "all-star cast" members (Sally Field, Matt Damon, Pierce Brosnan), Robin and Robin alone carried Dead Poets. The ability to carry a movie I think is the hallmark of a great actor, and Robin truly was great.
Robin lived for about five years of his too-short life in Lake Forest, Illinois, and I knew him in grades 6-8. We sang in the same church boys' choir (Church of the Holy Spirit), were in the same Boy Scout troop (46), and were in the same 8th grade drama class (Deerpath School). While I would never say that I was Robin's equal in dramatic presentation (he won our 8th grade poetry recitation contest by coming out of the wings in a pith helmet and mufti reciting "Gunga Din" in a Cockney accent), I could hold my own at least in the class.
When he died about the time of his 63d birthday (August 2014), I was contacted by local media and cued them into these connections. He also inspired one of my devotionals.
JE comments: It's sobering when films that came out "not long ago" turn 25! Another great and "recent" film from 1993: Schindler's List.
Though I haven't seen it in more than a decade, Mrs Doubtfire strikes me as aging extremely well. The topics are more timely than ever: father-as-nurturer, co-parenting, and even gender fluidity. A few years back, Aldona, Martin and I took a packaged "movie tour" of San Francisco. Of course the Doubtfire house is one of the stops. In 2016 this handsome Victorian went on the market for $4.5 million. Photo below.
San Francisco Films and Robin Williams; from Ric Mauricio
(John Eipper, USA
02/03/18 4:44 AM)
Ric Mauricio responds to David Duggan (1 February):
Oh, yes, we San Franciscans love the movies made here. And Mrs. Doubtfire is one of our favorites, especially since Robin Williams is one of our own (his home was at 540 El Camino del Mar before he moved to Tiburon across the Golden Gate Bridge). But I have to agree with David, Dead Poets Society was his best.
But getting back to San Francisco films, my favorite, of course is Bullitt, since Steve McQueen was my favorite actor hero before Bruce Lee. I've often driven the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway from Daly City to Brisbane across the San Bruno Mountain. This road has since been widened from the days of the Bullitt film. I have to control myself, as I want to go really fast on this road. But I know the cops have to be waiting for me. Oh, well, one can dream.
And there are other great movies made in San Francisco. From the Maltese Falcon to Hitchcock's Vertigo to Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry series, they have provided us with a sense of pride in our great city (despite the crazy politics). What is funny, though, is to those of us who know the city streets intimately, we watch as cars make a turn from one district to another that do not make sense. Turn left from the Mission and voilà, you are instantly in North Beach (The Laughing Policeman).
JE comments: Hagerty magazine (produced by an insurance company for classic/vintage cars) recently ran a piece on the rediscovery of Steve McQueen's 1968 Bullitt Mustang (one of the two identical 'Stangs used in the film--the other was destroyed during the filming). It had been "missing" in a private garage for several decades:
Ric Mauricio mentions the failure of outsiders to understand the streets of San Francisco. I've recently been filling my commute with an audio version of Detroit, a Biography (Scott Martelle, 2012). The otherwise excellent history can be irritating for a local, as the narrator frequently mispronounces names and places.
How would you say the following: Gratiot (Ave), Ecorse, Dequindre (Road), Macomb (County)? For starters, forget your French with the first one: It's GRASS-shit (really), not GRAH-show.
- "Groundhog Day" at 25: Film as Cultural Metaphor (David Duggan, USA 02/03/18 5:19 AM)
A friend to whom I forwarded my Dead Poets' Society WAIS post reminded me that Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andy McDowell came out in 1993.
My friend claimed it was that year's best movie (though obviously Schindler's List took the Oscar). But how many movies have become metaphors? None other come to mind. Not quite as significantly, it established Wilmette native Bill Murray as a dramatic actor after his Second City-fueled stints in Caddyshack and Stripes. Not a bad second act for a Second City alum, perhaps the only one who has made the leap (I don't think Dan Ackroyd's cameo in Driving Miss Daisy counts).
JE comments: Groundhog Day debuted on February 12th, 1993. How did they miss the actual Groundhog day? To my mind, GD is culturally and artistically significant without being all that good. David Duggan pinpoints one of the reasons for its importance--the film is now a metaphor for the plus ça change tedium of our daily lives.
Other Film Titles as Metaphors? How about The Manchurian Candidate, Sophie's Choice, Fight Club? The Matrix is used as a metaphor by many, including on WAIS, although I never quite understood the point of The Matrix. Granted, most of the above are books as well as films, and its unclear which inspired the metaphor. We could say the same thing about Catch-22.
Deja-Vu, Plus Ca Change, and Groundhog Day
(David Duggan, USA
02/04/18 7:32 AM)
I don't mean to quibble with my fellow Romance language enthusiast and editor, but I believe the proper French expression for what Groundhog Day is conveying is "déjà vu," not "plus ça change."
The idea of the movie was that this misanthropic newscaster was condemned to repeat his doomed existence of reporting on Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating rodent, for the rest of his life. Phil Connor, the newscaster, is able to realize the endless and unbreakable loop of his existence, and to alter his behavior, if not that of those around him. In that respect, the only change was to Phil's attitude.
And as to movies becoming metaphors, I'm not sure that The Manchurian Candidate, Sophie's Choice, Fight Club or The Matrix qualify. The metaphorical beauty of Groundhog Day is that the ridiculous holiday has developed a secondary meaning of repeating your life again and again, and just about anyone can relate to that. Matrix is simply another word for a web from which there is no escape; the Manchurian Candidate is simply a Trojan Horse in a business suit (anyone born in Manchuria would be ineligible to be president under the Constitution); Sophie's Choice is a life-or-death decision by a parent to decide which of two children should live faced with a concentration camp, which I hope nobody has to make; and Fight Club was a dystopian underground demimonde, the first rule of which was that you do not talk about it. Like Catch-22, they were all novels before being made into films; Groundhog Day was sui generis. High Noon comes close: nothing in the title itself suggests an hour of decision on a dusty street under the sun's relentless glare.
As to Groundhog Day's release date of Feb. 12 twenty-five years ago, of course that was for the Valentine's Day weekend. As a "rom-com," the movie needed to peg itself to some sort of date-night which I'm happy to say, Groundhog Day has not become. One thing which I neglected, however, and which bears mentioning is that Groundhog Day was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, the county seat of McHenry County, some 70 miles northwest of Chicago. With its own opera house where Orson Welles first learned his craft as a high school student, Woodstock is the epitome of small-town America.
JE comments: Mea culpa and fait accompli. You're absolutely right, David. Déjà vu it is. As for the filming of Groundhog Day, I assumed it was in Punxsutawney (Pennsylvania), the spelling of which I checked. Twice. There's a book to be written on how stand-in cities are selected for film projects. (I recall a Sylvester Stallone film from the 1970s, F. I. S. T., which was set in Cleveland but filmed in Dubuque, Iowa, because it "looked more like Cleveland in the 1930s.") Presently, tax incentives may be the most decisive factor.
- "Groundhog Day" at 25: Film as Cultural Metaphor (David Duggan, USA 02/03/18 5:19 AM)