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The Princess Bride: a needed film

A lot of people who saw The Princess Bride last night needed, I think, to see The Princess Bride.

And lots of others needed to see the film but who didn’t get to the screening, I’m sure; but with the film well-represented on DVD, that’s easily remedied. As it should be.

Lately, lots of my friends and acquaintances haven’t quite experienced a Tsunami of Suck, but they’ve weathered rough seas: work woes, out-of-work woes, accidents, break-ups, and other draining events. 2007 was lousy (in both senses of the word) with ’em; 2008’s had plenty of ’em, too.

So whatever efforts Cort and Fatboy undertook to dig up a 20-year-old print of The Princess Bride – a print that looked almost waterstained in places (pink?!) – were worth it, especially at this time. It’s a crowd-pleaser, all right, and it crowd-pleases while defying expectations. A pirate turns out to be a good guy; a henchman played by probably the best-known wrestling villain of the Eighties is also a good guy; unexpected deaths happen; unexpected fleeing occurs; the fights are delightfully civilized, with the fighters eloquently discussing technique while they attack; the main bad guy is stopped not by death but by the threat of humiliation, as threatened by a man about to collapse from weakness (but who has strength when it counts); and it’s all being narrated by the seen-it-all tones of Peter Falk and the I’ll-act-like-I’ve-seen-it-all tones of teenaged Fred Savage. (“See? I told you she wouldn’t marry that Prince Humperdinck.” “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”)

All that is one hell of a storytelling trick, wrapped up in William Goldman’s very clever screenplay (and his original book, which is wonderful and if you haven’t read it, YOU SHOULD). Which is part of why The Princess Bride was marketed so badly back in 1987 and did only OK in theaters – like last year’s Stardust, it was a “fairy tale that won’t behave,” and that’s hard to sell to modern viewers – and only found its audience later through catching-up did you see this? word of mouth. But now it’s a classic, fun film that filled the Bagdad nearly to capacity last night.

For this late-night movie, I showed up at 6:30, almost as early as the DJs did, because I didn’t want to be too far back in line and because I wanted to visit with people. Because Cort and Fatboy A) know me and B) aren’t scared by me, they let me hang back in the lobby during a few segments of their radio show, so I could listen that way. (Usually on their screening nights, I’ll listen to the start of their show at home then make my way to the theater.) Dinner and visiting with Mike Russell followed – he and I have remarkably similar taste in women, it turns out – at which time I bestowed upon him a DVD of the aforementioned Stardust, which he’d missed. (I described it to him as “The Princess Bride with higher stakes and a higher body count,” which is smart-assed but which still has truth to it.)

Then Russell left (he couldn’t stay for the film), and I wandered around near the theater, and within minutes I got mistaken for him. A young man (who turned out to be Cort and Fatboy’s “Listener Paul”) and a young woman at the front of the ticket line looked at me; the young man extended his hand and said “Mike Russell!” I said “Um…an acquaintance…” and then introduced myself as myself. “You kind of sound like him,” he explained, which kind of threw me, too. (But hey, I have tried to imitate Mike…and his reviewing style is a lot like the style I was developing when I was a reviewer…but I’m digressing…)

Those in line – outside the Bagdad waiting to buy tickets, then inside waiting to buy food and drink (I had pizza, the Terminator Stout chocolate milkshake, and Skittles) – were engaged and conversational and amused and amusing. We were somewhat damp from the drizzle before the film; we got drenched later, leaving the theater at 1 a.m.; but the dampness was physical, not temperamental.

It was a nicely interactive screening – not to a Rocky Horror or Sing-Along Sound of Music extent, but our audience was engaged. As The Princess Bride is insanely quotable, it was well-recited by our crowd, including very precise recitations of what the clergyman with the speech impediment said or what the old crone booed. (Digression: when is there ever a young crone?) Cheers erupted plentifully, all the way to the end credits. It was a happy crowd; Fatboy later remarked how good a crowd it had been. (My one gripe: a couple of times, a couple of yellers yelled “SLUT!!!” at poor Princess Buttercup. An ugly word! The film doesn’t deserve it! Buttercup doesn’t deserve it! It’s pointless to yell it! Argh! Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you dissed my on-screen crush, prepare to die…)

The Princess Bride is a happy film, even with all of its death and skullduggery. It’s a comforting experience that’s still tinged with a modern wryness; it gives us a Happy Ending while gently pointing out that happy endings don’t always happen (which is stressed even more in the original novel). Heck, maybe someone should compare The Princess Bride to The Shawshank Redemption; both films show more darkness than you might expect, but both films reach A Good Place, and both films earn that Good Place. Crowd pleasers can come from unexpected sources. I’m so glad people know The Princess Bride is a crowd-pleaser.

Closing with bullet points:

* April’s KUFO Midnight Movie (Friday, April 4th) will be 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Finally, the right time and place for me to finally see it!

* There are a lot of shots with characters far away from the camera – Vizzini, Inigo and Fezzik on the road, Roberts on the cliff – and finally on a big screen I could see that the actors’ lips could be seen moving (and matching the dialogue!), which I couldn’t tell on video.

* Cary Elwes is a pretty man, even when he’s the farm boy, but he might be the most obviously Eighties-styled person in the film. Kind of like how Nineties-styled Leonardo DeCaprio looked in Titanic, which is distracting…but not enough to distract me from Kate Winslet…excuse me…

* Didn’t Terry Gilliam turn down directing this film? Even as a longtime fan of his, I can’t quite picture what Gilliam’s Princess Bride would’ve looked like.

* At the screening, I spotted, but didn’t say hi to, a woman wearing a LiveJournal T-shirt. I should’ve said hi.

* It was nice to meet you and visit with you, K.J. and Janelle!

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
stagger_lee77
Mar. 9th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
i must be a weirdo because i didn't like TPB?

Edited at 2008-03-09 02:36 am (UTC)
chris_walsh
Mar. 9th, 2008 04:56 am (UTC)
Acknowledged.

Part of me wants to go into film-analysis mode and ask "What about it didn't work for you?," but that would be overdoing it (I'm an English major; I'm very good at overthinking stuff) and unfair to you. The film didn't work for you; sometimes in my zealousness I forget that's an option.

Screenings like that aren't designed for people who dislike, or are indifferent to, whatever film's being shown; it's self-selecting that way. I certainly loved the energy of being with hundreds of people who loved the movie. You probably would've loved the energy of the GoodFellas screening last October.

It still might be worth it (if you haven't before) to read the original novel from 1972. It's rather more stark than the film. (And the famous line "Never get involved in a land war in Asia" was from the book, written when we were still in Vietnam.) It's an interesting approach, at least to English-major me: Goldman wrote the novel pretending that he was abridging this 1,000-page doorstop of a book, so he could jump past parts of the story and add editorial comments. (Its full title is "The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventure: the "Good Parts" version, abridged by William Goldman, author of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.")
supremegoddess1
Mar. 10th, 2008 04:52 am (UTC)
stagger_lee77 had never seen The Princess Bride until I made her watch it. She didn't like it. :( I fear for our relationship...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )