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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

I watched "Forest Gump" last night, the first time I'd ever seen it. What an insulting mess. I suppose it is supposed to be some sort of a statement about the American journey and the American character-- it can't have just been about a sweet dimwit could it?

It occurred to me that what they might have been trying for was a sort of Candide story, but Candide went from catastrophe to disaster to cataclysm and was continually rocked by each. Gump emerges triumphant from everything, so that can't be it. Perhaps we don't want that kind of story anymore-- the Dickens sort of "just when everything looks like it is working out it gets suddenly much worse" sort of narrative, or maybe that's the effect that Gump was striving for by featuring the all the assassinations and the Vietnam war. The thing is, he is untouched by these things: his affectless demeanor actually works to diminish everything that happens around him.

I was also struck by the fact that the filmmaker had a nearly absolute lack of faith in his medium, something that is particularly notable in a movie that relies so heavily on CGI for its impact. The damn thing is almost all voice-over narration, which almost always means that the story isn't being told cinematically. The story is rubbish, but if had been shown instead of told it might have worked better. Come to think of it, that would have made it "Zelig", sort of. "Zelig" only not very funny.

Hanks got Best Actor, I suppose because playing a mentally handicapped man is a good way to win an Oscar. Zemeckis won Best Director, and the damn thing won four others, including, of course, Best Picture. The other nominees that year were "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Quiz Show", "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Pulp Fiction". If we break it down we can see how the Academy got there: "Four Weddings" is the English "Big Chill", "Quiz Show" is about how the 50's sucked. "Shawshank" could have been a contender, but the 60's nostalgia of "Gump" mowed it down, and it had been a box office disapointment. "Pulp Fiction"? You know, in a lot of ways it is still too far out there, even though it is clearly the best thing on the list. Ah, 1994.

| Comments:
I'd have voted for Shawshank which I loved and, even after I'd seen it once, still liked it the second time when I knew the ending.

Meanwhile, I just spent our last two gloomy, rainy, cold weeks reading "Pillars of the Earth" and its sequel "World Without End". Neither of these is great literature but they sure are a good read. What made me think of them was your reference to plots where things go from bad to worse with evil doers and natural catastrophes keeping things rolling along. As I read them, I was strongly reminded of soap operas which do that, too. I learned a bit about the 12th and 14th Centuries, architecture and engineering from them, though and it passed the time pleasantly into our now beginnings of Spring. Still cold but sunny with flocks of robins everywhere.
 

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