Monday, November 27, 2006

I Know Who You Are and What You Are















This year I kept with my usual cheery tradition of seeing a Thanksgiving movie -- I generally try to see something happy like The Accused (nothing like a graphic depiction of gang rape to ring in the holiday season) and this year I saw The Last King of Scotland, a movie about a naive Scottish doctor who gets involved with Idi Amin, easily one of the most horrific and charismatic of the dictators of the last century (Amin left power in Uganda in 1979 after his regime killed around 300,000 of his own people). Forest Whitaker plays Amin with a subtle sociopathic intensity that scared the devil out of or into me (I had nightmares from this one). I've always been a fan of Forest W. -- he's one of those actors that's so good that he fades into role after role and hasn't been given proper notice. My dear friend Hank introduced me to his work in the film Ghost Dog, and not for the first time, I was sad that Hank wasn't alive. That happens when someone dies -- you keep seeing things that you wish he or she could have seen, would have loved, been able to explain to you and the list goes on. Forest as Idi will most certainly get notice if not a well-deserved Oscar, and I will not forget this performance although it's not a date movie or something you want to go see or rent on family night unless your family was like mine.

The important question for me in the movie hit me well after I was outside, fumbling for my coat and walking into the night. How does a movie keep such a taut attention with virtually no suspense? The character of the young Scottish doctor (Nicolas Garrigan played to great effect by James McAvoy) comes to us within the first five minutes of the film -- he's bored with Scotland, he longs for adventure in a foreign place, he's no stranger to booze and pot, and he has a weakness for married women. Once in Uganda, he finds himself caught up as Stevie Wonder might sing, with things he doesn't understand, but he's entranced. As viewers, we know with certainty what will probably happen, and it ain't good. Even so, my attention did not wander once and a few scenes sent my hand flying to my mouth to cover it. The key is the substitution of anxiety for mystery and the power of the rendering of setting. I know very little about Africa in the 70s, even less about Uganda in particular, and there I was somewhere both exotic and familiar (Amin's bedroom with its animal heads looked like Elvis' bedroom at Graceland and Deep Throat plays from an old-fashioned film projecter and outside there were guns and jungle and armed guards everywhere). As for anxiety, well, that's the brilliance of this movie. I've heard anxiety described as godlessness, as the root of sickness, as the disease of the modern age. For me, anxiety means you see more than the person you're watching (even and especially if that person is you) and you're afraid because you can imagine the worse outcome and you also understand that what you have imagined isn't probably as bad as it can get. During an interview, Forest Whitaker says that people in Uganda freaked out a little when he showed up for the first time dressed as Amin at the hospital where they were doing the filming. No doubt they did. Some of them had been around in Amin's time and others had heard of his horrible legend. They knew the ending, and they knew Whitaker was an actor. Still, it didn't keep them from fear. They had reason to know that you're never safe.


Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Your death, I think, will be the first real thing that happens to you." The Last King of Scotland

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: A Love Supreme John Coltrane

Maledictions and Benedictions

Since Christmas is nearing, I'd like to ask my readers -- any creative gift suggestions? Feel free to chime in on the comment board all week about gift ideas. Also, if anyone wants to tell about great gifts they've given or received in the past, please do!

19 comments:

Putty in your hands said...

Don't do this to me, baby.

Special D said...

"Creamy one." Time itself is so ironic.--Anonymous.

noidea said...

Never made it past the great pic... more like this one in the future

Oscar winner said...

That's one of the best movie reviews I ever read, Michelle. It's so good I really don't want to see the film. Your review is filled with sincere and authentic responses that make me want to be a better, more receptive and appreciative movie viewer in general. It's a holiday gift from you to me. One of the best I've ever gotten. Thanks.

short bus said...

Whitaker look like a good yoga teacher.

The Quotist said...

Today's "Quote of the Day": We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.--R.D.Laing

A. Sax said...

Saxophone suggestion: Take in Bob Berg's "Short Stories" album. Bob isn't Coltrane(who is?)but he's very, very good, especially in the track "Kalimba" on this album.

Anonymous said...

Sweet, Michelle! Thanks for the comment. You're too kind. How did you find me? -Jill

Laura said...

My after Thanksgiving movie tradition is more classic. I always watch Irving Berlin's White Christmas. It always gets me into the Holiday spirit and prepares me for putting up all those holiday decorations.

paul said...

Cajun Q i'm speechless
Mighty Isis, Shazzammmmmmmmmmmmmm
MightymightyFoxyyyyyyyyyyyy
R2 C2!!!!!

Tim said...

Sounds like a very intense movie, I'll have to see it. I think Forest has gotten more and more polished as an actor as he's gotten older.

I'll have to throw my vote in with the rest of the male population on your picture... very nice.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding rude, I wonder what would happen if you didn't post a hot pic of yourself with each erudite observation on life. Not that I mind looking at a sexy woman, but it just strikes me interesting that you put forward some pretty interesting observations are are rewarded by.."creamy one" and "never made it past the great pic".

Well, now that I've pissed everyone off...lemme just comment on the post. I thought Forest Whittaker was astonishing. He is a man of terrific depth, but his career has been a succession of horrible and confusing choices. Consider his past performances in such films as "The Crying Game" and "Bird", and then compare these gems to his self conscious appearances in "Blown Away" and the wretched "Battlefield Earth".

One hopes that his talent in this last effort will pay off in an Academy Award and hopefully that will help him maintain the status he rightfully deserves.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Oscar Winner--great review. Haven't seen this movie yet, but now that I've read your post I really want to.

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle, today's view and post are delightful. As I have suggested before, you are the ideal poster girl for Catholics and writers and poets and other wayward souls in need of consolation. As always, you are completely charming and well deserving of champagne toasts caviar dreams and a mighty Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jesus -- I have seen the light. Sign me up.

Anonymous said...

Its amazing how tied we are into the Middle East when there is one tragedy after another in Africa.

Is it race? Is it economic status? I sat in front of Hotel Rwanda for over a week, never watching it. I was afraid of the horrors I would find inside. I wasn't prepared to have my life changed by the anxiety of knowing how needlessly others are dying.

Wichita-Lineman said...

I like the ending of the post. The part where an actor becomes so convincing people can not think of the individual as anyone else but the part he or she is playing. It's spooky. You either become loved or hated.
I liked the movie review. I keep telling myself I'm going to see more movies but I'm so behind in film I want to see.

The various flavors of the holiday spirt is a timeless gift that keeps on giving, be it one night, or a week, depending whose recieving.

The Walking Man said...

Mr. Sternberg, I for one was not offended by your opening remarks, and agree.

to say anything beyond that may make me sound like an asshole to Cheri, who lacks civility, so i will stop here

Anonymous said...

Wow, you sure know how to capture someones attention don't you? hehe ;o)