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Sep-09-2009 23:33printcomments

Falling Down

The psychology of ”Falling Down” is the story of so much of America today. If ignorance is bliss, why are so many Republicans angry?

Image from Falling Down
Image from Falling Down
Courtesy: redstaplerchronicles.com

(CALGARY, Alberta) - Every once in awhile, I’ll remember a line from a movie that’s only an elusive, tantalizing fragment. I don’t remember who said it, or even the movie. It happened a few days ago when I was writing “Whither, America?”

I’ve always been a great movie fan, but not obsessive. Because it’s been about 15 years since I’ve watched any TV, I don’t see the runners for new movies. I get my movie news from newspapers I read online. So, there are lots of movies released that I’ve never even heard of.

I also have a counter-watching mode. I have never, for example, seen “Jaws” or “Saturday Night Fever”. In the mid-60s “The Sound of Music” ran in a theatre here for about a year. Again, I never saw it then, or since.

On the other hand, I saw “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman at least 14 times when it was in theatres. I don’t believe I’ve seen it since on video.

In the 1991 movie "Grand Canyon", Steve Martin plays a movie producer whose best friend is immigration lawyer Kevin Kline. At one point he says to Kline: "You know what your problem is? You haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies." I think there is substantial truth in that saying. Seventy five years ago, people read more. And not just magazines and newspapers. They read more books. In the nonfiction field, each book was a story that could teach something to the reader by showing them another world.

Even today, with the Second Great Depression well underway, I think it would be rare to find a person under about 40 who has read John Steinbeck's 1939 classic Grapes of Wrath. Set during the First Great Depression, the book focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers, driven from their home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry. Other than some details, there are millions of Joads across America today.

Movies, today, are the equivalent of the books of 75 years ago. And, just like books, they mirror our society. There are outstanding books, like Grapes of Wrath; excellent books like Michael Crichton’s Timeline; and trashy books like…well you get the picture. It’s the same with movies. They tell their own stories, high-brow and low-brow.

I can’t talk about movies without mentioning porn. I’ve seen my small share of porn in years past but I can’t remember the last one I saw or how many years ago it was. This is for the simple reason that they are so asinine. They have one plot and one mode of action. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, which reminds me of a South Park episode, “The Return Of The Lord Of The Rings To The Two Towers”.

Randy rents “Lord of the Rings” and asks the kids to take it over to Butters’ house. Once they’re gone, he reveals to Sharon that he had also rented “a porno” The two retire to the bedroom to watch it and it turns out that he had sent the wrong movie over to Butters’ house. As “The Lord of the Rings” starts, Randy says, “I hate it when pornos try to have a story,” and a moment later Sharon comments on the movie’s high production values. (You probably won’t have noticed, but I took a break here and watched it again.)

Which brings me to “Deep Throat” starring Linda Lovelace. This is the 1972 movie which essentially launched the porn industry. These were the days before video cassettes, so I never had a chance to see it.

Then, one day about ten years ago, I was at a friend’s house and noticed he had a bunch of cassettes stacked up beside his stereo. I looked through them and, lo and behold, there was “Deep Throat”. I borrowed it and my assessment was: It was the stupidest movie I had ever seen. (To answer the question above, that’s probably the last porno I saw.)

Which reminds me of a joke.

A man is trying to make his living as a composer and one day is approached to compose the soundtrack to a porno. A job is a job in a lean field, so he does it. Being a conscientious person he does the best job he can, hands over the music and gets paid.

A few months later he’s in New York, wandering through Times Square where all the seedy establishments are established, and notices the film’s name on a movie house marquee. Naturally wondering how his work turned out, he buys a ticket and goes in. The movie, it turns out, is one of the raunchier ones. It has everything—men, women, animals—every variation on every variation you can imagine.

The movie ends and the lights come up. He turns to the couple sitting behind him and asks, “say, what did you think of the music in that movie?”

The man replies: “What do we know about music. We just came to see our dog.” Ba da boom.

But, to return to my question at the beginning. I remembered a movie where a man was being arrested outside a bank for protesting that the bank wouldn’t help him because he was “not economically viable”. NEV is the 51st state to which increasing numbers of Americans have relocated. I tugged and tugged on the line in my mind, until finally I could see the face of the actor. Enter the IMDB (Internet Movie Database). He was a supporting type actor so his name was completely unknown.

But, with a face, I could remember other movies he had been in. So, I looked one of them up, found the character he had played and got his name. I followed the link to the list of his movies. There it was: “Falling Down” starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall. (Tuesday Weld played Duvall’s wife. I haven’t seen her in anything since the 1960s when she played a masked woman in one episode of “Route 66”. I didn’t even know she was still alive. But who’s still alive is another column). The NEV man was played by Vondie Curtis-Hall.

Released in 1993, “Falling Down” is a movie for today. Michael Douglas is a laid off engineer in the defense industry whose life “falls down” from his stable and admirable employment to his mounting crack-up as he travels across Los Angeles encountering increasing levels of harassment which he deals with by acquiring more and more weapons (starting with a baseball bat and finally a bazooka—it’s all entirely plausible). I highly recommend this movie and won’t say anything more about it in case you haven’t already seen it. The scene in the Whammy Burger is priceless.

The psychology of ”Falling Down” is the story of so much of America today. If ignorance is bliss, why are so many Republicans angry?

For ongoing commentary on this and other stories, visit my blog at: daniel-at-salem-news.blogspot.com


Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which explains why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class—a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue, although a lot of his views could be described as left-wing. He understands that who he is, is largely defined by where he came from. The focus for Daniel’s writing came in 1972. After a trip to Europe he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Alberta, and Calgary in particular, was extremely conservative Bible Belt country, more like Houston than any other Canadian city (a direct influence of the oil industry). Two successive Premiers of the province, from 1935 to 1971, had been Baptist evangelicals with their own weekly Sunday radio program—Back to the Bible Hour, while in office. In Alberta everything was distorted by religion.

Although he had published a few pieces (unpaid) in the local daily, the Calgary Herald, it was not until 1975 that he could actually make a living from journalism when, from 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman (1979-1993), Canada’s top business writer (notably a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting with the CBC. You can write to Daniel at: Salem-News@gravityshadow.com

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Fishing November 17, 2009 4:34 pm (Pacific time)

Thats very good to know... thanks

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