Gobbledygeek episode 326, “The Rocketeer / Pleasantville: Flying Colors,” is available for listening or download right here and on iTunes here.
That venerated institution, the Geek Challenge, takes to the bright blue sky with a pair of retro ‘90s flicks. First up, Paul challenges Arlo to Joe Johnston’s 1991 Billy Campbell-starring adventure The Rocketeer, a proto-First Avenger that mixes pulp fiction with ‘30s Hollywood. Then, Arlo challenges Paul to Gary Ross’ 1998 directorial debut Pleasantville, which finds Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon zapped inside the black-and-white world of a hunky dory ‘50s sitcom. These films look backward to say something about the present, and while one admittedly has a lot more on its mind than the other, the boys find both to be unsettlingly timely. From populist demagoguery to villains that no longer feel like an historical artifact, Paul and Arlo mine a lot from these goofy, decades-old movies. Plus, Arlo remembers that comics exist.
Next: after a week off, the boys return to discuss experimental arthouse feature Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, which will be of interest to only the most devout cineaste.
(Show notes for “Flying Colors.”)
THE GREAT DICTATOR: The Criterion Collection (DVD/Blu-ray)
You don’t necessarily equate Charlie Chaplin with vicious satire. But in 1940, with the U.S. still at peace with Nazi Germany, Chaplin made The Great Dictator, one of the most biting pieces of satire in cinema history. It was the first major film to take on Hitler and Nazism, and Chaplin tackled both subjects with eviscerating wit. Chaplin plays both a Jewish barber (thought by some to be the final iteration of his Little Tramp character; Chaplin had different feelings about that at different points in his life) and Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomainia. Hynkel’s impassioned speeches, in a made-up language, are hilarious, and a scene involving a giant globe is memorable. The critical community has a mixed consensus on the film’s closing monologue, addressing the film’s themes in a deadly serious fashion instead of a comic one; I can understand the frustration of some, but to me it’s stirring. After last year’s Criterion edition of Modern Times, The Great Dictator is the second Chaplin film to join the prestigious Criterion Collection; special features on both the DVD and Blu-ray include audio commentary by Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran, a Kenneth Branagh-narrated documentary entitled The Tramp and the Dictator, two visual essays, color production footage shot by Chaplin’s half-brother Sydney, a deleted scene from Chaplin’s 1919 film Sunnyside, and a theatrical trailer.