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There’s something about a lot of early-90s films I can’t quite define, part 80s hangover, part unearned smugness mixed with genuine hope and celebration of human connectedness, but without much individual character. It’s an era I sort of missed, as that’s when my family moved to East Bumperfuck, the parents split up for a while, and culture was whatever came in on the two channels the aerial could pick up. Gen X was something happening in Newsweek that I couldn’t wait to be a teenager and join in on. All this to say, I go into these films expecting to feel like the prodigal son, not an alien anthropologist.

Like, Chaplin. Early Hollywood stuff is inherently great – the squirmy joy of peeking into the seediness underneath the beautiful, prim images, and the unabashed world-wise sexual appetites of actresses for whom the virgin/whore complex is just what they playact for a living. And the tragicomic transience of fame, these talented charismatic hardworking people famous throughout the world whose names barely ring a bell today…which is only piqued by the twenty years that have passed since this was made. Penelope Ann Miller, anyone? Or hell, Dan Aykroyd?

It’s well acted, and damn pretty (aside from laughable old-age make-up, like Patrick Stewart in The Inner Light bad), but they make such a hero out of their protagonist! Even his lifelong preference for squickily underage girls is couched in terms of “But he asked all of them to marry him!” Sure, the guy was an entertainment genius and politically principled (more on that later), but also a social wrecking ball, strangely miserly, and considered soap-shy in an era when weekly baths were the height of hygiene. He was human. But here he’s a Stephen King hero, recognisable because he doesn’t spit tobacco or display a sweaty fat hairy torso while being massaged by a nubile young thing or seemingly own a digestive track.

And there was that funny cultural thread, of looking back in amused horror at the McCarthy years, the blatant racism and sexism all mashed up with red-scaring, the persecution of good people whose only crime was saying it’d be neat if maybe we could all be nice to each other. And all those (sanitised) socialist demands are fine for ringing inspirational speeches, are just plain old common sense, because, after all, individualist capitalism has made all those universal-adequate-standard-of-living dreams come true.


Upton Sinclair and Ayn Rand were practically writing the same thing, if you squint, and they’d both be so happy at the way we live now!

Jump forward a decade, and it was suddenly suspect again to go on record about the collective rights of human beings, or how they’ve rarely been benevolently bestowed by the wise and compassionate powers that be. Come on, you said this was all wrapped up, dust off the hands, roll down the sleeves, job well done. There was that episode of Quantum Leap where Sam was totes ready to take a lynching for the noble black guy, and all!

So…yeah. An enjoyable film, but it made me yell at the screen.

And sort of ship Charlie and Douglas Fairbanks. Their love needs no stunt doubles!
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