When it comes to movies, I have always been fine with being told what to think. As a kid, I’d watch squabbling film critics Siskel & Ebert on their syndicated TV series, and I’d be utterly swayed by the simple certitude of their thumb-based pronouncements. In fact, whenever they gave a movie two thumbs up, I’d dutifully put the title on my list of movies to see, whether or not the cast or subject matter interested me.
I figured Gene and Roger were in charge here so I should fall in line. I had my marching orders:
Ours is not to cheer or boo; Ours is but to watch Speed 2.
In later adolescence, I switched my allegiances to Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic because he was more hoity-toity and therefore seemed more authoritative. Kauffmann’s movie recommendations then became the basis of my self-assigned film syllabus, even though few of his picks ever came to the Razorback Cinema in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
You should have heard me try to say “Abbas Kiarostami.”
I still keep a movies-to-watch list even now. It’s compiled from the various film recommendations I encounter in my reading. I keep the list on my computer desktop in a folder containing other lists: books to read, TV shows to watch, notable quotations similar to what a 19th-century schoolmarm would copy into her commonplace book. That sort of thing.
I used to try, whenever possible, to watch recommended movies on the big screen because that’s supposed to be the ideal medium for them and, as we have established, I do what I’m told. But since the plague shut down all the theaters, I’m working through my list by streaming what I call a Weekend Wind-Down Movie every Sunday night.
At the film’s midway point, I give myself an intermission and pop a bag of Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn, which I eat from a metal mixing bowl while watching the movie’s second half. To tell you the truth, I often enjoy the popcorn ritual more than the movie, especially when I have a LaCroix sparkling water to bring some cool fizz to Orville’s warm, buttery goodness. That didn’t come out right.
Last Sunday’s Weekend Wind-Down Movie was Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads concert film from 1984. It made my need-to-watch list because of a positive remark I recently read in a Mojo magazine article.
My favorite thing about the movie was the dancing of lead singer David Byrne—a nerd icon on par with Orville Redenbacher. Byrne’s awkward moves bear a remarkable resemblance to the ones I bust out while listening to music by myself at home, though I rarely, if ever, wear a giant suit.
In his original review of Stop Making Sense, Ebert praised the film for its “enormous energy” and the impression it gives “of life being lived at a joyous high.” I can’t find a record online of what Siskel or Kauffmann thought of the movie. The latter probably skipped it; I seem to recall the critic complaining that rock music split his head.
As it happens, I did, however, find a clip of Siskel & Ebert eulogizing Orville Redenbacher at the end of a 1995 episode in which the duo reviews, among other works, the “sleazo, stupido” Showgirls (two thumbs down) and the “needlessly grotesque, and I mean that as a compliment” Seven (two thumbs up).
I have taken the liberty of transcribing the Redenbacher segment in full.
EBERT: And finally, we note with sadness the death this week of Orville Redenbacher, a man who took popcorn seriously—as seriously as we take the movies—and we’re going to miss him.
SISKEL: Well, he actually was more than just a cute, cuddly advertising figure. He actually was a scientist who came up with a new strain of popcorn that really kept that whole industry alive.
EBERT: It popped twice as big—
EBERT: —as the popcorn every place.
SISKEL: That’s a real contribution. Next week, we’ll be back with reviews of more new movies, including Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington as a Los Angeles private eye, and To Die For with Nicole Kidman as a cable TV weather girl who dreams of stardom.