“Why Didn’t You Go To The Moon?”

6 Jan

In an effort to watch all the films on my ‘t0-see’ list, during 2010 (or as long as I can keep it up) I’ll be running a ‘Cult of the Week’ post. Each week I’ll watch a movie with at least a vague claim to the ‘cult’ title and review it here, in some effort to expand the horizons of movie lovers out there before the death of video rental kills the natural human impulse of curiosity.  I’ve got about 10 lined up so far but if there’s something you think I should see then let me know in the comments.

Cult of the Week 1- The Ninth Configuration

Ain't what it used to be

It’s been said that Americans have never fully embraced the farce, and The Ninth Configuration’s failure on release in 1980 doesn’t do much to dispute that. As an audience we’re used to seeing crazy British people doddering about in costumes ranting about the nature of human goodness- when they do it,it  seems quaint and charming. Replace them with ex-marines though and suddenly everyone is very worried.  Add long speeches about Hamlet and atheism and what you have is a film with no regard for how things are supposed to go.

Shot in Hungary (substituting for a castle moved brick-by-brick to the American Mid-West) and funded in part by Pespi (who put up in the money in order to invest back in their own Hungarian bottling plant) and Writer/Director William Peter Blatty, TNC is a sort of spiritual sequel to The Exorcist- the disgraced astronaut Cutshaw was intended to be the same one Regan warns of his impeding death . It has that low-budget late 1970’s look of having been filmed through a teabag, and it’s intensely and consistently weird for the entirety of its running time. While a less intelligent screenplay would’ve used the ‘crazy people are not as crazy as the people in charge’ tack as the emotional basis of the film, Blatty approaches it, and indeed everything in the film, as part of some great cosmic joke.

Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach) is a marine psychiatrist who arrives at the castle occupied by men with a variety of mental illnesses. The military in charge of the facility believe that some of the inmates are faking, and it is his job to determine who is sane. Kane decides that the best method to cure the men is to be available to them at all times, and as time goes on to allow them to live out the fantasies of their own invention- including a production of Hamlet acted out with various breeds of dog.

What could I possibly put here to make the above image funnier than it already is.

The Ninth Configuration is the best examples of a film changing genre midway through since From Dusk Til Dawn. The ridiculous costumes, pratfalls and one-liners (of which there are many) slowly bleed away, leaving a group of men who may or not be crazy themselves watch the only person who made any effort to cure them slowly destroy himself.  It’s a hallucinatory oddball that almost tries too hard to be crazy- but as Cutshaw said, sometimes you have to pretend to be crazy in order to stay sane.


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