During my long-ago university days, a friend and classmate in our journalism programme enticed me on several occasions to skip classes and spend our days in the local movie theatres. Curtailed by our austere budgets, we patronized the seedier of those—the Biltmore, the Rio, the Roxy—often getting three features, two cartoons, a newsreel, and a couple of previews for the price of admission.
After being indoors from shortly after nine in the morning until well after four in the afternoon, lunching on salted cashews and soda, I frequently saw the journey home on public transit through squinting eyes, and with a flickering headache.
Such reckless behaviour did not seriously impede our academic progress, happily. Despite our truant ways, both of us managed to graduate on schedule, thanks to the great gift of being able to write well and on deadline. I soon enrolled in a teacher-training programme, which led me to the path I followed for the next thirty-years-plus.
My friend, on the other hand, sought and gained immediate employment with a small city newspaper where, among other assigned duties, she quickly established herself as the resident movie critic. I was never sure how stringent the requirements were for that role, though, because most of the films we enjoyed had featured such luminaries as Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff, starring in such films as The House of Usher, The Raven, and Pit and the Pendulum.
Not exactly boffo hits at the box office!
On the occasion of my friend’s retirement a few years ago, I sent her a sincere note of congratulations and remembrance, hearkening back to those golden school days of yore where she had received the best training for her work as a critic from the most unlikely of sources.
And just for fun, to show her the havoc that would have ensued had I followed that same career path, I sent along my imagined synopsis of several award-winning movies from the 1920s to the 2010s, picking one from each decade. My list is reproduced below, including the names of their respective directors—
1920s The Kid (Charlie Chaplin)
A woebegone tramp, homeless and alone, finally finds happiness living in an abandoned boxcar with a baby goat.
1930’s City Lights (Charlie Chaplin)
An impoverished, old lamplighter in 1890s New York almost changes history when he tries to discourage Thomas Edison from inventing the lightbulb.
1940s All the King’s Men (Robert Rossen)
The king of a faraway land finds that neither he, nor any of his men, can repair his breakfast egg that was accidentally broken when it fell off a high wall.
1950s Twelve O’Clock High (Henry King)
Jack Kerouac writes a literary masterpiece after discovering the joy of smoking dope continuously as soon as he wakens every morning.
1960s Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder)
A young chef in the czarist court discovers that, although the czarina does not like pease porridge hot—preferring it nine days old and cold—some do.
1970s Carrie (Brian De Palma)
In a remake of Birth of a Nation (1915), the birth and early activism of Carrie, a radical member of the temperance movement, is chronicled.
1980s Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick)
In a film adaptation of the classic tale of Ivanhoe, a solitary knight in shining armor sets out on a quest to gain entry to King Arthur’s Round Table.
1990s Men in Black (Barry Sonnenfeld)
Two undertakers, known as the fishin’ morticians, enter a salmon-fishing contest, spawning a host of jokes when their prize catch is already embalmed.
2000s There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
A food critic in Los Angeles learns what else he will find on his plate when he orders his prime-rib extra-rare.
2010s Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
Two grossly-overweight friends find work in a mattress and box-spring factory, testing new products before they go to market.
Some time after sending off my note, I received a lovely reply from my old friend, assuring me of her continuing regard, but with no commentary on my list. It may be that, despite her job, she had never reviewed the films I cited, and so accepted my synopses at face value.
Or, more probably, she assumed I have taken leave of my senses.
But that’s alright. I always wanted to be her friend, but I never wanted to be a movie critic!