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Liberty without learning
is always in peril;
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– John F. Kennedy
Not too old to throw popcorn at bad film
by Stephen Morris
I've been under stress and isolated. "You need to have some fun," my partner told me in HER low, silken voice. "Think of a time when you were completely happy."
I'm sure there have been happy times in between, but I immediately flashed back to Saturday afternoons when I was 10 at the Strand Theater in Quincy, Mass., when they offered an all-cartoon matinee.
The lights would dim, the soundtrack for Looney Tunes would come on (da-daddledundundun ...), and bedlam. The pent-up excitement and sugar-fueled energy of hundreds of kids was unleashed. We'd yell at the screen, laugh hysterically when Wiley Coyote ran into the canyon wall, throw popcorn, and when the popcorn was gone, flatten the box into a makeshift Frisbee that could sail right across the screen.
At some point the screen would go dark, the house lights would come up, and some exasperated assistant manager would come out to say that we were behaving badly. We knew that. And we let him know that he would be powerless to stop it. Finally, he would stalk off and restart the projector, reasoning that if he couldn't stop the bad behavior, his best defense was to get it over with as soon as possible.
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Yeah, bad behavior. That was fun. That's when I was completely happy. Inspired by this memory I formed the Silverback Film Society, dedicated to watching films of "no redeeming social value" within an environment of "bad behavior." We might have outgrown cartoons, but thanks to the miracle of Netflix and the ability of Hollywood to never underestimate the poor taste of the American public, there is a limitless supply of viewing material.
A "silverback" is an aging, but still dominant gorilla, entirely capable of chest-thumping, although his back hair has taken on a patina of silver.
The first meeting was to set the ground rules. I invited four fellow silverbacks and told them each to bring lots of beer. The first issue ... would women be allowed to attend? We were unanimous. ... Sure, so long as they not only tolerated bad behavior, but were also capable of initiating it. Hurt feelings would not be allowed, and political correctness, in any form, would be cause for immediate expulsion, regardless of gender.
Two ... what does it mean "to behave badly?" This was a bit of a stumper. No one wanted to clean up thrown popcorn or to have objects thrown at their plasma screens. We finally settled on boisterous language and rude comments, augmented by assorted body noises all falling into the category as appropriate.
Our charter established, we plugged in our first video, Raquel Welch in "One Million Years B.C." Five guys grabbed beers and settled in to watch Raquel in push-up bra and loin cloth, grunt and scream through two hours of natural disasters and horrifying monsters that looked suspiciously like turtles and lizards filmed in close up. We guffawed, we mimicked the attempts at primitive language, then afterwards we discussed whether or not the film was appropriate to our fledgling society.
The consensus was "no." How could any film with a nearly naked Raquel onscreen be deemed of "of no redeeming social value?" End of discussion. We got it right the second time. We watched "Swept Away" featuring Madonna as spoiled wealthy woman who ends up on a deserted island with a very hairy servant. This is a film that has it all – unlikable characters, poor performances, predictable plot and even bad music. It inspired two solid hours of rude comments and mean-spirited wisecracks about Madonna's self-indulgence.
There were uninhibited belches and plenty of cold beer. It don't get no better than this. We immediately made this film the first inductee to the Silverback Hall of Shame.
A week later I received an unexpected phone call. "Uh, hello, you don't know me, but I live in Northfield, and I heard about the Silverback Film Society from one of your members, and I was wondering, ummm-m, if I could start a, you know, branch or franchise up here."
"Sure," I replied, then a week later there was a similar call from Woodstock, then one from Hardwick.
This kept on and pretty soon Silverback Film Societies were sprouting like chervil on the roadside in June. Ralph Lauren, the clothing designer, called to ask about licensing a clothing line. His idea for a long-sleeved T-shirt with a gray, furry strip down the back struck me as cheesy, but I now wear mine to every screening. I guess that's why he is the world famous fashion designer and I am film society impresario. I like the royalties, however.
Not all is peaches and cream with the Silverback Film Society. I had to tell both Jay Craven and John O'Brien that their films were not of Silverback caliber. "John," I said to the crestfallen O'Brien, "I don't like to be the one to tell you this, but 'Man With a Plan' was actually pretty good." To toss them an olive branch, I invited them to our next meeting, a showing of "Bedtime for Bonzo" starring Ronald Reagan.
Warren Beatty called to ask why his film "Ishtar" had not been inducted to the Hall of Shame. "This film is on everyone's list as one of the worst films ever made," he whined. I conceded that this movie was one of the least funny comedies ever made, but "without redeeming social value?" Our group didn't think so. We thought Ishtar was a classic of its genre.
"And what genre would that be?" asked Beatty.
"Films conceived on the back of a napkin over a three martini lunch at La Strada," I said. I was going to add "by pretentious morons," but discretion prevailed. He called back the next day to see if a large payment of cash would make a difference. He was wasting my time. "Stop your blubbering," I said and would have slammed the phone down, but these days you just push the "off" button.
It doesn't stop here. Tom Hanks called to get an option on the rights to my life story. Pamela Anderson called to say she had just broken up with Kid Rock. And our annual awards show will be on prime time TV next Sunday night. In it, we honor "the complete absence of any achievement" as voted on by the Academy of the Silverbacks. Winners are given the coveted fuzzy gorilla, nicknamed the "knuckle-dragger," or simply the "Knuckie."
Meanwhile, winters in Vermont seem a little shorter and less cold, and it has nothing to do with global warming.
Gotta go ... Tom Cruise on the phone.
Stephen Morris (Stephen@thepublicpress.com) is the editor/publisher of Green Living Magazine (greenlivingjournal.com), and the founding father of the Silverback Film Society.
Published February 11, 2007
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