6 Stupid Misconceptions That Ruin Classic Movies
Great movies tend to collect in the pool of pop culture's subconscious, available to be referenced and paid homage to for years to come. And, in some cases, identifiable elements of them will become more prevalent than the movies themselves. You don't have to see The Godfather to know that a guy made some really sweet offers in it. Charles Foster Kane was super fucking into his sled. Arnold Schwarzeneggar will be back, in a chopper, sans tumor.
In the case of the six movies below, what made them famous can also be kind of distracting, whether it be due to misguided expectations, the tropes of modern day filmmaking, or a hype for them that eclipses anything that the movie could ever possibly be. Pop culture has been the Flavor Flav to these movies' Public Enemy, and, as much as it pains me to say this, we could do without you sometimes, Flav.
Deliverance Is Not All Banjos and Hillbilly Rape
Deliverance has quite a few themes to chew on beyond being a simple survivalist tale. First, it kind of refutes a lot of the "Manifest Destiny" ideology that America has held strongly to since we got the place. We'd always imagined, as "civilized" folk, that since we had God and fire (or, in 1972's case, Burt Reynolds and fire), we could handle all the problems provided to us by "uncivilized" wilderness with ease.
"We are smart and trees are dumb." -- America, 1776 to Forever.
Deliverance lets us know that just because we have a wild hair up our ass to go canoeing and thrive in nature instead of playing golf and getting sick of our aging wives for a weekend, it doesn't mean that we are fit for it. Eventually, mankind does "beat" nature in Deliverance, as the valley is flooded to make a reservoir. But for the most part, despite all of our book-learnin' and highfalutin displays of mental superiority when faced with mountain men, we are powerless. We survive, but only because we push ourselves past the limit of "civility." To put it simply, you can't handshake your way out of an arrow in the side. That will be engraved on my tombstone.
Well, either that or my last words, "Shake on this, motherfuckers!"
Now, I totally understand that "Paddle faster. I hear banjo music!" looks ways better on a whitewater rafting gift shop t-shirt than "You've gotten soft, old man. You are no conqueror." But the parts of Deliverance that deal heavily in stringed instruments and sodomy have overtaken any importance that the driving themes might have in the lexicon of pop culture. Thanks to ceaseless parody and overexposure, Deliverance has transformed into a kind of gentler version of The Hills Have Eyes. And the only thing that's ever longed for that position was called The Hills Have Eyes Part 2. Oooh, need some aloe vera for that burn, 1985 Wes Craven?
This guy knows what I'm talking about. Now stop talking about this guy.
People are almost let down to find out that it isn't a horror show, and that you'll spend far more time watching Ned Beatty explore his diminished sense of masculinity than engage in bow and arrow murders. It's bizarre to write that viewers expect 100 minutes of the guy who voiced Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear getting violated, but they've repeatedly heard memorable plot points and dialogue from the movie, and then projected that into their wishes for it. And when you've spent your whole life knowing next to nothing about a movie except that Ronny Cox duels musically with an inbred kid, it's only natural that the proceeding 85 percent of it is disappointing.
The Silence of the Lambs Can't Be Mixed With Hannibal
Until NBC and Mads Mikkelsen's smoldering eyes and the way that he plays with my hair as he tells me that I deserve someone who really appreciates me proved otherwise, Hannibal Lecter was best enjoyed in short spurts. Hannibal Rising makes you long for the valid, subtle origin story found in Rob Zombie's Halloween. Red Dragon includes Anthony Hopkin's best attempt at a tenth-grade theater monologue. And if your fraternity didn't find enough moments to yell "OOOOOOOHHHHHHH!" during its annual viewing of The Silence of the Lambs, then you'll be pleased to know that Hannibal is full of Hannibal Lecter being awesome at the expense of his own character. And you'll be displeased to know that, despite the logic of it, fraternities usually don't gather together to excitedly watch adaptations of Thomas Harris novels. Prudes.
"Alright, bros, we're all set to watch Black Sunday!"
The only two pieces of media where Hannibal Lecter is a fully formed character are the NBC series and The Silence of the Lambs, and he's a sort of enigmatic god character in the latter. The cell is his Olympus, and he mainly serves to watch everyone scurry around him, dropping hints when it amuses him or when people have proven themselves to him. There are a few "You're so fucking rad, Hannibal!" moments in Silence, but none that transform him into the pseudo-superhero that he becomes in subsequent movies.
Hannibal and Red Dragon (but mostly Hannibal. Oh god, Hannibal), play him as a cannibalistic Jason Bourne, who is one step ahead of redheads and the police because it'd be lame if he wasn't. Anthony Hopkins is 64; he doesn't need to be having an action sequence that involves giant man-eating pigs, regardless of whether it was in the books or not. In the first draft of Hannibal, I wouldn't be surprised to see a line where Lecter says "I knew I hated bacon!" before using Gary Oldman's disfigured character as a makeshift skateboard to roll off the back of one of the pigs with.
"Looks like he's got something on his mind! I guess I'll just have to pick his brain!"
Eventually, most horror villains become a Freddy Krueger, because the people behind the series try to escalate the intensity and the body count and "evolve" the villain to match that escalation. Sadly, this compensation often involves cramming the character with puns and quips and actions that betray the original intentions behind their creation. It's weird to go back to The Silence of the Lambs after you've seen Hannibal and His Amazing Friends because Lecter is barely the same character. If Hannibal Hannibal was in Silence, he'd have invented a bed that shoots a missile through prison walls and gone on to wrestle with Buffalo Bill while "Smack My Bitch Up" plays. And under different circumstances, I'd be very into seeing that.
Alfred Hitchcock Isn't a Genre
Alfred Hitchcock was a pioneer, not just because his filmography includes some of the fucking best movies of all time, but because he made himself into a recognizable figure. He became a brand name in the public eye, and his character was that of a rotund, sardonic man who forwent the obvious route of making machine gun umbrellas, and instead decided to deliver a consistent stream of suspense. So whenever you see someone like Quentin Tarantino getting attention for wildly ejaculating into the air because he's just seen a previously hidden three-hour cut of Five Fingers of Death, know that it was Hitchcock who helped to make the idea of a guy with a primarily behind-the-scenes role thrusting his own personality into the spotlight a little more palatable.
And there was a lot he found palatable.
It actually doesn't help his legacy that -- along with allegations that he couldn't keep his hands off of his actresses and would be revealed as a giant spider if his potato salad costume had gotten a hole torn in it -- the two movies of his that are most well-remembered by general audiences are his most simple, and are of a different genre than the rest of his filmography. Psycho is a slasher film that just happens to be directed by the esteemed Hitchcock, and The Birds is about birds with a grudge. And I'm convinced that it's because of these two films and their dichotomy with the rest of Hitchcock's movies that the "Thriller or Horror" genre debate is so stupidly widespread.
"Sharknado: Thrills or Chills?" is a debate that's raged across many a film festival panel.
It's easy to argue about whether a movie is in the "horror" or "thriller" genre when you have literally nothing else going well for you in your whole life. Calling a movie a "thriller" started as a way to classify crime films that had a little more running and hiding in them than usual, and has moved on to encompass horror movies that your parents like. I've watched people explain their case that Jaws is actually a thriller, when the crux of that movie is a giant shark that is smart enough to dismantle a boat and turn the members of its crew against each other. That might be pushing things a bit, but I'm among the few that consider the three Jaws sequels to be totally canon, as they are documentaries of a world where marine life hates Roy Scheider and everything that he fucking stands for.
And I consider the three Psycho sequels documentaries of a world where life hates Anthony Perkins.
Just because Psycho is very clearly a horror film doesn't mean that it is separate from other shit like Notorious or The 39 Steps. But by taking it and trying to force a genre on it so that it fits neatly in the same Best Buy section as his other films is foolish. You're almost assured of seeing Psycho before you die, and odds are it'll probably be your introduction to the William Taft of the macabre, but trying to turn it into a "thriller" is just going to make a second-time Hitchcock watcher put in Spellbound, expect shower stabberies, and receive nothing but disenchantment.
Scanners Is Not Just a GIF
For the GIF elves, Scanners is a present from heaven. No longer will they have to work overtime to find a perfectly fitting GIF to illustrate a person's mind being blown. They'll never have to sprinkle magic editing dust on endless movie clips because a paying customer needed to let the world know that they couldn't mentally grasp something. The GIF elves can retire early, because when they saw that man's head explode, they knew that ten years of trying to illustrate just how far out a Tumblr user's theory about Pokemon was could now be done in an instant. How are GIFs made? Am I getting warmer?
There's a factory involved, right?
When the most acknowledged part of a movie comes from literally shooting at a fake head with a shotgun, it's easy to assume that the rest of the movie will uphold that standard. But Scanners is not your average movie. There are only two grand displays of practical gore effects, and in between them is an espionage plot. David Cronenberg became famous due to his "body horror" films like The Fly and Videodrome, which are full of metaphors about disease and the media, respectively. But only in Scanners does it feel like he decided to shove an entirely different movie into Act Two. It's not a bad choice, because I'd watch a movie about Michael Ironside shopping for rugs, but it is glaring in its contrast to the eye bleeding that borders it on both sides.
Here's the requisite image of the thing we're talking about but, like, a slightly earlier frame of it for variety.
I apologize to all of the people who just wanted a way to scan documents, only to find that they were ACTUALLY searching for the insides of Louis Del Grande's head. When you're searching for images from a certain movie, it should be very telling of the contents when the second and third things that come up are "GIF" and "Head Explosion." It would be way more accurate for people who have seen Scanners before if they were "mysterious backstory" and "confused expressions from both of the protagonists." As awesome as that fake head being Gallagher'd is, it sells Scanners short for that to be only thing the movie is known for today.
The Elephant Man Could Not Be Made Today
A good biopic balances the celebration of an important life with a solid performance. Too often, though, all that's focused on is the "Oooh, an able-bodied actor playing a person IN A WHEELCHAIR. WHAT COURAGE!" This leads to many biopics being depressing slogs, because you obviously can't have light moments when someone is trying to win an Oscar. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hates jokes, and can hardly be bothered to respond to anything that isn't someone's droll trudge towards enlightenment. If you asked a member of the Academy "Why did the chicken cross the road?" their first response would be, "I'm sure that The Lego Movie was very entertaining, but it just doesn't have the impact of something like American Sniper." And while we're on that note, American Sniper deserves an Academy Award in the same way that a kid fits into his dad's blazer. Maybe when it grows up a bit, it can come and sit at the adult table.
You'll be a fake man one day, fake baby.
In today's climate, The Elephant Man would seem out of place and daring to the point of almost seeming insulting. It's a tragic movie, with beautiful moments and great prosthetics, but it's also dreamlike. David Lynch is not obsessed with perfect historical accuracy, and winds up with something that is sentimental and borderline fantasy. In a time where 100 percent factuality is lauded, even when it would mean sacrificing the compassion necessary to make the film more than one man's life of near constant misery, The Elephant Man sticks out. The film opens with an obviously surreal scene of Joseph Merrick's mother getting attacked by elephants, very clearly taking liberties with Merrick's beginnings. Today, something like this is virtually unheard of. Starting what "should be" a deeply depressing affair with a pachyderm illusion would be lambasted as unnecessary.
This should always be necessary.
At its darkest moments, The Elephant Man becomes a nightmare, which turns the final scene of the titular character dying while being soothed by a vision of his mother into the least cynical thing possible. David Lynch isn't concerned with the "correct" way to satisfy an audience, nor does he feel absolutely compelled to deliver "what really happened." In his own way, he gives us an emotionally satisfying story that, despite his tweaks to it, never betrays what made the Elephant Man's life so moving. And with so many recent biopics screaming to be seen as legitimate, The Elephant Man is almost antiquated in this regard.
The Master Is About L. Ron Hubbard, But Not Really
In pop culture and most of culture culture, Scientology is seen less as a religious organization and more as a cult that celebrities join when they become too rich for their own brains. I don't know what switch gets flipped that makes an actor say, "You know, I don't think my interviews are NEARLY as batshit as they need to be. Scientology should provide the proper intervention for my own likability," but it happens at a baffling frequency.
So, when Paul "Sweet Tea" Anderson announced that he'd be making a movie about something similar to Scientology, viewers went nuts, because P. T. Anderson would be making a movie entirely about Scientology. This was the guy who had previously done an incredible film about Mark Wahlberg owning a cock of Lovecraftian proportions. There was no way that he was going to not deliver the telling account of Hubbard's descent from science fiction author to creator of a self-help system that could cure coughing and homosexuality.
A descent that involves more quickie bathroom handies than you would've anticipated.
There was also no way that this was going to be a film about Joaquin Phoenix humping a boob'd sandcastle, drinking paint thinner, and riding off on a motorcycle into the desert. We'd dreamed for so long about a biopic that would, while telling the narrative of Hubbard's life, also stick it to those nutso Scientologists, whose practices could be seen as crazy at best and illegal and crazy at worst. And Anderson sort of did that.
Out of context, this is a really filthy movie.
The biggest question that concerns critics of Scientology is "What the hell?" And Anderson created a movie that explored what made cults work, but only used Scientology as a jumping point for it. Creating the movie that many people wanted would be petty. Anderson was much more interested in the bigger picture, crafting a plot that many found to be lackluster, because it made no attempt at retelling, and promptly shitting on history. Many clamored for a movie that had the moral of "L. Ron Hubbard was crazy, and so are you, John Travolta." But that would've been way too easy.
Daniel is indifferent to your pretty mouth, but would love to talk to you about Hitchcock on his Twitter.
For more from Daniel, check out 5 Reasons the '60s Batman TV Show Is Better Than You Think and 5 Reasons Great Directors Eventually Make a Bad Movie.
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