THIS WEEK THE LOSER REVIEWS: A HAIRCUT IN THE WOODS

Oh, gee. What can I say? The Lesser Half and I went to the pitchers today to see Robert Redford’s new masterpiece, A Haircut in the Woods. Yes, it was that hot outside. Again. Fourth 90-plus weekend in a row.

In the first place, I’m not so big on hiking pitchers. (I briefly passed out when Reese Witherspoon yanked the nail from her own festering great toe in … whatever it was called; I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot for that other thing, the one about Allen Ginsberg chopping off his right arm in some remote desert, howling where no one could hear him.)

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In the second place, I should have known better from the marquee poster. It clearly shows the Sundance Film Festival Kid sporting the exact blow-dry he wore in The Candidate in 1972. Tousled, gilded hair — if it ever looked right on a senatorial underdog — absolutely doesn’t look right on an eighty year old grandpa with a non-motile neck, pottering out his New Hampshire senescence. (That he seems also to have taken possession of George Washington’s hand-carved wooden choppers presents an additional challenge to believability.)

I’m not naive. And in fact I am gifted with what my not-quite-English-speaking granny would have called “a sick sense.” So I knew going in — I knew — that this pitcher would probably feature a collapsing bunkbed scene. (Collapsing bunkbed scenes irritate me even more than hiking pitchers.) And I knew — I knew — that the Sundance Film Festival Kid would be almost asleep on the lower mattress when it happened. What I did not anticipate was that a 750-lb pickled slab of Nick Nolte would manage to hoist itself to the top bunk. I still can’t figure out how. An unusual crane shot, perhaps? — in which the actor, rather than the camera, was carried aloft?

Farber, with Heiner Muller and Jean-Luc Godard. Photo by Wim Wenders
Farber, with Heiner Muller and Jean-Luc Godard. Photo by Wim Wenders

Safely at home, once the sun was down and the pile had cooled off a bit, I popped Jean-Pierre Gorin’s exquisite 1986 documentary Routine Pleasures into the DVD player. Like my weekend, my nation was saved. OK, true, a Frenchman — moreover a student of Althusser, Foucault, and Lacan — did the heavy lifting as usual. But saved is saved. Routine Pleasures seems to be a pitcher about a model train club in Del Mar. Despite its nominal subject of shut-ins wearing engineer hats while buzzing toy freight lines through historic Douglas, Arizona, it in fact explores the way in which iconoclast and critic Manny Farber — hailing from, as it happens, historic Douglas, Arizona — had got his finger right smack on the pulse of American alienation.


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