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February 17, 2014

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Jhoffman

It's possible that the comments to this post might become a list of what, as Glenn terrifically puts it, envelops us in a virtually amniotic warmth. So I'll throw my hat in the ring and say that the sound of the late Peter Jennings' voice discussing men like Eduard Shevardnadze is my Madeleine par-dessus tout.

Tom Block

I remain deeply skeptical about all the affection being heaped on "IAMMMMW", if not as puzzled as I am by the rehab job "Heaven's Gate" has somehow pulled out of its own ass. In the case of both movies I can't help wonder what their current reception would look like if the new releases had been standard ones issued without any fanfare instead of these dishy editions bearing Criterion's imprimatur, and which all but demand a different critical verdict from history. In fact, MGM issued a Blu-Ray of "Mad World" as recently as 2012 without one person saying boo about it, much less claiming it as a cure for our post-assassination blues.

Which it wasn't. I *do* remember seeing it as a kid, and even then, at age nine, I understood that it was more hyperactive than actually funny, a judgment that still seems just to me despite all the intervening years. (My most recent views of it have been confined to stray clips on YouTube, but I truly don't think adding another 192 minutes of "context" would make me find all the yelling and running around any funnier.) I can state for a fact that the movie went into the cultural dustbin almost as soon as it was released, and I know that everyone here is old enough to remember what that meant back then, before all these movie sites which chum for clicks by recasting the glop of five years ago as a masterpiece that only today's moviegoers are subtle enough to appreciate. Back then it meant that after a very brief note-comparison phase it disappeared as a topic of cocktail-party chatter, and was never--as in never, ever, ever--held out as a standard of comedy gold. If anything, it was the dead opposite, more a byword for "movie that didn't work at all" or even "a huge pain in the ass". And I *promise* you that "IAMMMMW" didn't soothe so much as 1% of the pain that my mom and her friends felt from Kennedy's assassination. That one's simply a non-starter.

That all said, I like and respect Michael Schlesinger, and your line about the commentary--"suffused with a subtextual yearning for an ostensibly less complicated time, and the kind of movie-love expressed by these fine fellows"--has actually made me want to hear some of it. How I can do that without watching the movie, though...that part's going to be tricky.

Robert Cashill

As someone (just) a few years younger than our host, I can say that the movie resonates with me because of its annual or so airings on CBS, which I always looked forward to. Didn't know a thing about pan/scanning then, or what was cut to get it to fit into a commercial-laden three-hour slot, a period of time that in itself was exciting. (Staying up until 11pm on a school night, oh boy!) I bet the movie falls into the sweet spot for a lot of viewers of a certain age because of those telecasts. It helped us through the horror of the Ford admininstration. :)

It's never held quite the same appeal for me uncut and widescreen, and the extended version, like so many extended versions, feels like a sandbagging of my memories rather than an enhancement. Roadshow viewers may disagree, though I have a feeling most people prefer the trimmed cut. The new Blu-ray is however a treasure, like the LD of 20-odd years ago, which had the fine "Something a Little Less Serious" doc, compiled when many of the main stars were still alive. Only Mickey Rooney remains.

For them, I'll always like the movie, and I always smile when I recall my grandmother calling Sid Caesar "Julius" Caesar when he first turns up. And there is that lovely scene, late in the game, when the blessedly sane (but still sexy) Dorothy Provine confides her dream of finding the money to Spencer Tracy, and he looks at her wistfully, before slipping into the abyss as the Big W yields its treasure. "Well, it was a nice dream anyway, if only for a couple of minutes..."

mw

Interesting topic. I periodically wonder whether those types of movies from that era are really as bad as I remember them or if someday I'll come to understand what actually makes them great. I mean, I initially didn't see merit in much of the art that I've ended up liking the longest, the Velvet Underground being a prime example. Of course my early memory of "IAMMMMW" and similar is from watching them on TV as a kid and liking them. It was just as I grew older and developed some a more modern sense that I've found them excremental. But I can see how a discussion of how they fit in the cultural context of their time could be interesting. It wasn't just the Kennedy assassination. Don't forget cold war, duck and cover, the red scare, and early reports out of Vietnam. It was a mad mmmmmm world.

Regarding the plank thing, if you're going to walk it, I trust you'll have something new to feed the sharks or you won't go there. As far as I've seen, it's all been redundancy for awhile now. Interesting story though at higher levels. Two incredibly powerful narratives (Dylan Farrow and Robert Wiede). Whatever the truth, DF is a tragic victim and either Allen or Mia Farrow is a monster. Likely (imo), Kristof, too. Plenty of interesting subtexts.

TVMCCA

Wondering what commenters (and Mr. Kenny) think about a later, relatively minimalist variant on IAMMMMW, 1967's WHO'S MINDING THE MINT?

Robert Cashill

MINT is good fun, then and now, a movie we were shown in fifth or sixth grade. Easily the best (and the shortest) of the movies inspired by MAD WORLD, a fairly piddling lot. (THE GREAT RACE and ...FLYING MACHINES don't have much going for them today besides period production design, though the Edwardsphiles will scoff. MINT and MAD WORLD co-star Provine steals a scene in RACE as a I recall.)

Petey

"I bet the movie falls into the sweet spot for a lot of viewers of a certain age because of those telecasts."

Indeed. Watching that movie on the teevee at 7yo or so is my first really VIVID filmwatching memory. And, of course, I loved it.

I caught a cinema screening of it as a young adult, and while I could then see some of its problematic aspects, I still dug it.

Pete Apruzzese

The film was a big success during its release; the Roadshow, which opened in November 1963, played for 52 weeks in Manhattan and for over 14 months in LA. The general release began slowly in the summer of '64 and continued into '65. The film also had a nationwide re-release in 1970.

Like Bob above, I became aware of the film via the TV showings on CBS and then later with 16mm and 35mm from my fellow film collectors. Among those viewers, the film had always been held in high regard as a benchmark for the "mammoth comedy" sub genre. I know my parents and others of that age all remembered the film fondly.

The Criterion release is spectacular, ditto your thoughts on the commentary. Easily one of the best I've ever listened to.

partisan

I'm an AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS revisionist myself, and a Rex Harrison fan in CLEOPATRA.

rdmtimp

Glenn, I'm curious as to why you think the idea that the Beatles emergence played some role in lifting the post-JFK assassination gloom is such a "reach". I can't really speak to it personally (my 3rd birthday was the day JFK was killed) but my older relatives and friends have always seen the Fab Four's American arrival as at least a step towards some sort of recovery.

Cadavra

Glenn, thanks so much for the kind words. And yes, you are absolutely spot-on about what I call the "comfort food" vibe the movie has for us "slightly older" folks. There are places in the film, such as when Charles Lane pops up, or the scenes in the tower with Reiner, Ford, et al, where I almost feel like I'm inside the movie with these beloved folks (a la SHERLOCK, JR.), many of whom gave the best feature-film performances of their careers. And yes, it does make me yearn for that time in my childhood when we were truly a great nation that built things and were looked up to, and the concept of some maniac walking into a school and opening fire on children was simply beyond our comprehension. So yeah, we all wish we could go back to that era, but we can't, so we worship this talisman of a happier time as a respite from what we've become.

Plus it's a goddamn funny movie. So there!

Mike S.

Petey

"Glenn, I'm curious as to why you think the idea that the Beatles emergence played some role in lifting the post-JFK assassination gloom is such a "reach".

Agreed.

I mean, it should be noted that Don Cheadle (or the Grammy writers) didn't invent this out of whole cloth a few months ago.

It's been part of the MAINSTREAM cultural narrative as long as I've been sentient. Now, that certainly doesn't necessarily make it TRUE, but given just how widely accepted the notion has been over 50 years, I'd say it requires a rather thorough debunking, not just an offhand claim that it's a reach.

Petey

Also, should we take this entire post as a heavily coded admission that Glenn has reconsidered and decided that American Hustle is the Best Picture of 2013? (For the literal minded, this is a non-serious comment.)

Kurzleg

I don't recall when I first saw IAMMMMW. I was born 4 years after it's release, so it may have been on TV. Whatever the case, I recall liking it from virtually the first scene onward. And yes, it IS goddamn funny. At least to me it is. The airfield and flying scenes, especially Jim Backus, always have me rolling. Even the sillier stuff seems like a sort of time capsule of the period's comic sensibility. In general, I just love the tone of the film.

And on the question at hand, I wasn't around and have no first-hand recollections. But Pete A's info, if accurate, seems persuasive.

Oliver_C

It's a lot, lot, lot, lot of rear projection.

Titch

Saw it as a twelve year old at the Fox Drive-In on Thika road outside Nairobi, Kenya in 1979. One of the formative cinema experiences of my life, crammed with my Mum and two adult friends into an old black diesel Mercedes Benz , tinny little speaker hitched up to the window. I remember advertisements for Abba's Voulez-Vouz and one for Old Spice, The Original Men's Cologne. There was a trailer for "Conduct Unbecoming". The print of IAMMMMW must have been a shambles but I wasn't noticing. The old Mercedes rocked with our hysterics. Wet my pants laughing when Terry Thomas asked "Someone you know?". Last week, I phoned up one of the friends who was with us when I saw the Criterion and she asked me how it held up. Not to be ungrateful, but I wouldn't mind going back in time to that tatty drive-in.

plkerpius

I was born in 1979 and saw Mad World for the first time on a double-VHS edition sometime in the mid-'90s with my father. That was prime adolescent snide-time, you know, when I actively wanted to not want to like or laugh at anything my dad did. I remember stifling laughter to the point of near aneurysm until Buddy Hackett turned to Mickey Rooney in the airplane and said, "What am I, the hostess?" And that was basically it. (That didn't mean my dad was excepted from snotty contempt for at least the next 5-7 years, but I understood that if this movie was ever on in our dual presence any tacit pact of psychological cruelty I had toward him was off and mirthful tears flowed plentiful.) I didn't know any of the comedians then, and while I understand now that the movie speaks of a certain nostalgia for the generation before me who came up with those guys as regular fixtures on TV/the silver screen/Broadway, without any introduction or history lesson I got how funny it was.

Maybe it comes down to one's taste for slapstick. I mean, Buster Keaton, the Great Stone Face himself gets a cameo in homage to the method. It's a super slapsticky picture. My mom, for example, never liked slapstick and would sigh, "Oh, God" whenever dad would watch The Three Stooges (although in my opinion, that's a lame-brain comparison to Mad World), and she definitely didn't wait to roll her eyes and leave the room when dad would put on Mad World, "Your father and this movie..."

Anyway, I'm with Mike S. It's a goddamn funny movie.

mark s.

Never thought I'd EVER see 'It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' and 'Satantango' mentioned in the same breath. This avid cinephilia is what keeps me visiting your blog, Glenn.

george

" ... the gist of which was that John F. Kennedy's assassination in late-ish November of 1963 cast a pall over the United States that was only lifted when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964."

This has become conventional wisdom, but it's revisionist thinking. People didn't talk about the Beatles saving America from its post-JFK gloom in the actual 1960s. It's just baby boomer nostalgia.

jbryant

george: Baby boomer nostalgia or historical perspective? I don't know the answer, but it's not that hard to imagine that there was a subconscious effect for a lot of people. The national gloom would've been quite apparent even to kids, and the joyous "Yeah, yeah, yeahs" of the moptops must have seemed like a welcome respite. Whether it was as extreme as "lifting the pall" may be debatable, but I do think there's a tendency now among later generations to downplay the Beatles' effect and influence, even though much of it is objectively apparent, and dismiss it as "baby boomer nostalgia."

Petey

"...the gist of which was that John F. Kennedy's assassination in late-ish November of 1963 cast a pall over the United States that was only lifted when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964."

Try the causation the other way, and it becomes pretty much inarguable:

The gloom of the JFK assassination made possible the overwhelming nature of the initial Beatle-maina in the US.

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