It’s been 48 years since I last reviewed a movie without first seeing it. Back then, a fellow UCLA student, Shirley Mae Follmer, and I were competing to be the film critic for the Daily Bruin. One night, passes were supposed to be left for each of us at a press screening. However, she arrived ahead of me, and she had either brought a guest along or there had simply been a glitch somewhere along the line. In any case, they wouldn’t let me in.
All I knew was the title of the movie and the name of the star, but I wasn’t about to go down without a fight. So I went home and wrote an amusing review of a musical trifle with Mario Lanza called “The Seven Hills of Rome.”
Needless to say, I got the gig. To be fair, Shirley was at a disadvantage. By the time she had sat through the movie and gone home, it was probably 11 o’clock. I had already written my review and gone beddy-bye by then.
I spent the next 13 years atoning for my minor sin by reviewing movies for the Bruin and for Los Angeles magazine. Inasmuch as those years included the entire decade of the ’60s, a terrible time for movies, I would say that, for once, the punishment far exceeded the crime.
I’m afraid that it is time for me to once again review, not just one, but two movies I have no intention of seeing. I am only doing it because people keep asking me what I think of “Munich” and “Brokeback Mountain.” I have finally decided that just because I haven’t seen them shouldn’t prevent my having an opinion. So, for the record, I don’t like them.
No doubt some of you are shaking your heads in annoyance. Where the heck do I get off panning two major motion pictures when I’ve only seen their coming attractions? Well, for one thing, I have read so much about them, both pro and con, that I feel as if I’ve seen them. For another, I have learned to trust my instincts. I have never liked a Steven Spielberg movie, and I have seen most of them. I’m willing to accept that he’s as gifted a moviemaker as his fans and flacks say, but I just didn’t care for “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” “The Color Purple,” “Saving Private Ryan” or even “Schindler’s List.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he hired two guys named Tony Kushner and Eric Roth to write the script. Kushner made his big splash with “Angels in America” and Roth won his Oscar for “Forest Gump.” The truth is, I saw both, and could barely keep my eyes open during either of them.
So when I read that in Kushner’s never humble opinion, Israel is an unfortunate blemish on the face of the earth, and I know that Spielberg has said that the seven or eight hours he spent chatting with Fidel Castro were the most important hours of his life, I had a pretty good hunch that I would not enjoy their collaborative effort. When I then read time and again that Spielberg regards Israel’s execution of Palestinian terrorists to be the moral equivalent of the butchery those Muslims committed at the Munich Olympics, I see no compelling reason to ignore my instincts and race down to the local Bijou.
This brings us to “Brokeback Mountain.” I happen to be one of those wimps who really has a live-and-let-live attitude where gays are concerned. What they do to and with one another is none of my business just so long as I don’t have to watch it. But from what I hear, this movie leaves very little to the imagination. And, frankly, when I go to a movie, I’d really rather not be reminded that I have an appointment coming up soon with my proctologist.
I have friends who have avoided the movie because they fear it might forever ruin cowboy movies for them. As I’ve never been a big fan of the genre, having only liked a handful of westerns in my entire life, I didn’t share that particular concern. Instead, I have given “Brokeback” a wide berth because I suspect most of the raves for it are coming from people who want to prove how sophisticated and broad-minded they are.
I just can’t help thinking that what Katherine Hepburn said about “Midnight Cowboy,” another over-hyped movie that neither of us liked, she might well have said about “Brokeback Mountain”: “If the movie had been about a boy and a girl, instead of two boys, everybody would have realized it was a stinker!”