July 6, 2004

Accidental Movie: What, No Horses?

Horses.bmpIt is a truly strange and rare phenomenon - seeing a great movie without actually meaning to. Seattle Maggie has only happened upon this a few times, usually in a film festival-ish setting (let's face it - watching movies at a film festival is like picking chocolates out of a box blindfolded on a moonless night) but when it happens, it is truly a wonderful event. The last movie SM can remember this happening with outside the SIFF was an out-of-the-blue screening of When Brendan Met Trudy with our good friend CC, of which neither of us can remember exactly why we went to in the first place. There is something about watching a movie knowing nothing about it and letting the story surprise and entertain you without the benefit of previews, reviews or directional Thumbs that makes it so much better, thus elevating it from a good movie to a great experience, a happy accidental discovery of the unknown. This is all understandable, as it is rare that someone will pay good money to rent or walk into a film without the slightest assurance that it will not be a complete waste of time. However, it was my good fortune to discover They Shoot Horses, Don't They? on video this weekend, completely by accident.

First, some background - Ye Olde Boyfriend Todd has recently become quite good friends with local Seattle jazz legend Hadley Caliman. When Mr. Caliman mentioned that in his youth he was hired to be in a band for a movie, YOBT promptly ran out and rented it. However, as YOBT has no TV or VCR, Seattle Maggie was cajoled into watching it on her TV and VCR. Hence, the "by accident" part. (By the way, if anyone is interested, Mr. Caliman is the 2nd saxophonist from the left in the front row - apparently he had sported a magnificent Afro back in the day and was asked to cut it for the film.)

While YOBT promptly proceeded to doze off, as he is wont to do during late-night video watching, Seattle Maggie was captivated by the film's powerful, almost brutal story. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? takes place during a Depression-era dance marathon, at which that SM immediately showed her pop-culture saturation by exclaiming over and over, "It's just like that episode of Gilmore Girls!" Er, sort of. Instead of a 24 hour charity event, the dance marathons of yore were grueling affairs that would go on literally for weeks and even months, with the contestants trying to be the last ones standing in order to win a cash prize. With the Depression knocking on everyone's door, this might mean the difference between eating and starving. Presiding over all is Rocky, the emcee, who is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to keep the audience rolling in. Jane Fonda plays the tough, brooding Gloria, a girl with nothing left to lose, who is paired with wide-eyed innocent Robert, Michael Sarrazin, who has wandered into the marathon on chance. As the contestants become more and more disheveled and desperate, you are drawn in by the inhuman lengths at which they push themselves - swollen limbs, 15 minute rest breaks, the endless hours of monotony - and as Gloria becomes more and more disillusioned by what is going on around her, you feel that the movie can only end in tragedy.

Interestingly, we could not help noticing similar this event is to the influx of Reality TV that we have today. SM is known to take in an episode of Fear Factor every now and then, and we admit to the guilty pleasure of watching others compete and win for our entertainment, rooting for those we deem "good" and booing those we deem "sucky". However, a few minutes of choking down horse rectum is nothing compared to the hellish 10 minute Derby Sprints endured by the hapless dance marathon contestants - all those reality show tax accountants and bartenders would have departed crying to their respective mommies in an instant. At the end of the day, the Fear Factor folks go back to their 9 to 5's with a few scrapes, while the only thing that faces the marathoners is unemployment, homelessness and starvation. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? shows facets of the human condition that we often do not consider in this day and age, and it was enlightening, frightening, depressing, and a really good film. But don't take my word for it. Check it out yourself, hopefully by accident.

Posted by seattle maggie at July 6, 2004 11:09 PM