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Little Murders


Mac_the_Nice
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Omigod.  Short of Gene Wilder's supremely 'over the top' performance in Mel Brooks' The Producers, what in the world of motion pictures can compare with Alan Arkin in the role of police detective, Lt. Practice in this mad (bordering on psychotic) farce? Has the lion of satire ever roared with such hilarious fury?

 

Jules Feiffer, syndicated cartoonist, hence screenwriter, whose way off-beat sense of humor often described as 'black' or more often 'sick' was always one of the best reasons to be looking forward to the next edition of the New Yorker, Esquire or Playboy: I've known about this play ever since reading notices for it, late 60s, in the Village Voice. But that's while living in Minneapolis, so fat chance of ever seeing it on stage. But then Arkin took it to the screen in '71, where due to faint recognition by critics and a youth culture all caught up in R. Crumb, the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead it just sort of slipped by without notice.

 

Dated?  Not on your life. Nothing could be more relevant to the social chaos of today, prophesied with so much daunting force, so many decades ago by this film. Don't take my word for it: have a look at some of the notices here . . .

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067350/

 

And good on Roger Ebert for getting it so right . . .

 

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/little-murders-1971

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Omigod.  Short of Gene Wilder's supremely 'over the top' performance in Mel Brooks' The Producers, what in the world of motion pictures can compare with Alan Arkin in the role of police detective, Lt. Practice in this mad (bordering on psychotic) farce? Has the lion of satire ever roared with such hilarious fury?

 

Jules Feiffer, syndicated cartoonist, hence screenwriter, whose way off-beat sense of humor often described as 'black' or more often 'sick' was always one of the best reasons to be looking forward to the next edition of the New Yorker, Esquire or Playboy: I've known about this play ever since reading notices for it, late 60s, in the Village Voice. But that's while living in Minneapolis, so fat chance of ever seeing it on stage. But then Arkin took it to the screen in '71, where due to faint recognition by critics and a youth culture all caught up in R. Crumb, the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead it just sort of slipped by without notice.

 

Dated?  Not on your life. Nothing could be more relevant to the social chaos of today, prophesied with so much daunting force, so many decades ago by this film. Don't take my word for it: have a look at some of the notices here . . .

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067350/

 

And good on Roger Ebert for getting it so right . . .

 

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/little-murders-1971

It must have gotten some notice upon release. Elliott Gould at that time was the hottest thing since sliced bread(I know that this is a mixed metaphor"). I saw it at that time, and I was not exactly an avid moviegoer in 1971.

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Gotta say Mac, I vaguely remember this movie's "presence"(I mean I've never seen it), and so with your positive write-up of it here, I've just ventured over to the IMDb website to see what others have said about it in their message board forum, and yes, most all have said they think it's a "minor masterpiece". And so with this in mind, you've succeeded in making me look forward to someday viewing it.

 

However, I must add that I can't see how your comment about it "not being dated" could be at all accurate, as one of the comments posted over there by a "jonchopwood" dated in 2003 stated the following:

 

The movie caught the mood of New York City between the latter days of Mayor Robert Wagner (succeeded by John Lindsay in 1965) and the coming of Saviour Rudi Guiliani in the early 1990s. New York City was a festering s---hole. a horrible place to live unless you were rich (I know -- I lived there in 1983-84, near the now-gentrified Lower East Side, which was about as much as the movie described NY, with a little leeway for hyperbole. 

New York, one of the richest cities on earth, went bankrupt in the mid-70s. It was crippled by crime, violence, corrupt cops (who were in cahoots with the crooks), hack politicians bent on stealing from the public treasury, etc. etc. When I lived in New Yor City, the tabloids used to have a "watch" on when the first cop would be killed, after the New Year. In 1984, they went almost a month before the day two cops were killed on different beats brought things back to "normal." 

At the 1976 world heavyweight championship fight at Yankee Stadium between Muhammad Ali & Ken Norton (in which Norton was robbed of the title by bad scoring), the cops that were there to provide security were on "strike" de factor (as they could not strike legally). Some dudes attacked and mauled a white woman in the parking lot of Yankee Stadium in front ofthe cops, and the media, and the cops did nothing (as they were on strike, in fact). 

That was New York City. It culminated in 1983, when Bernie Goetz shot those kids on the NY Subway. It was a city held hostage by criminals and a hideous police force on the take, who would rather be digesting their Bavarian Cream donuts back in their cop car on safe sidestreet than fight crime. 


The movie is spot on about a generation of New York life that is gone, but not forgotten.

 

----------------------------------

 

I suppose the reason this one poster's comments caught my eye was because my wife and I were just in NYC last week, and after not having visited the city in many many years, I was truly amazed at how well "managed" that city now seems presently and what a far cry it was the last time I ventured there back in the era "jonchopwood' had described and the era in which this film was set.

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A dance to the NYC of the early 1970s. Sure it was pretty gritty and

grimy, but it was still fun. It has been a semi-regular on FXM recently.

I always get a kick out of Gould's barely has a pulse character. This

movie turned out to be not so much a prophecy as a period piece.

 

 

And thus the reason for my earlier query to Mac about his contention that this film "is not dated".

 

And which I hope Mac will reply to, as I'd like to get his reasoning for that statement of his as I think it might be interesting.

 

(...ya out there, Mac?!!!)

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And thus the reason for my earlier query to Mac about his contention that this film "is not dated".

 

And which I hope Mac will reply to, as I'd like to get his reasoning for that statement of his as I think it might be interesting.

 

(...ya out there, Mac?!!!)

Ya, Dargo, sure.  I didn't have the city of New York in mind while making that observation, but a broader view, prompting me to put it like this: "Nothing could be more relevant to the social chaos of today . . ." It's easy enough to suppose that my decidedly dark view of contemporary society, as a world and culture in chaos, would not be in comportment with how many another person is looking at it. Not a few do see it that way, others don't.

 

By the same token, this image presented by Little Murders, of life in the New York of the early 70s would have to look pretty strange to anyone living there then without steel shutters on all their windows, quintuple locks on their doors and somebody down at the Post Office going through their mail.

 

So, I don't see that it was Feiffer's intention to present a realistic picture of 1970s New York in his play anymore than that was the intent of Eugene Ionesco to show the Paris of his day, with a vast herd of rhinoceros stampeding along the Champs Elysees. This is theater of the absurd. And that is what gives it a potential for prophetic power looking toward a future as satirically represented by a bizarre sort of Manga comic strip or cartoon image of the time during which the writer writes.

 

So that, Dargo & Vautrin is where I'm coming from, if I've managed to make myself clear, which is not always easy.

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Thanks for your reply, Mac.

 

Yes, truth be told, I did have an inkling your intent with the "not dated" comment was to suggest more of a universal thought and less a provincial one. I suppose the primary reason I pressed for an answer about this was because of what I know of Jules Feiffer and his writings and which admittedly is little, save perhaps his famous The New Yorker Magazine cartoons, he's always seemed a very "New York-centric" individual.

 

And so with this in mind, I perhaps was questioning the thought that in fact the premise for his play and movie's storyline might have primarily been inspired by the dysfunction he witnessed during the New York City of the 1960s and '70s, and less a comment more universally based and timeless in intent.

 

(...and btw, yes, I also must admit I occasionally find your text a little cryptic, however I ALWAYS find it extremely clever...and I like clever) ;)

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Thanks for your reply, Mac.

 

Yes, truth be told, I did have an inkling your intent with the "not dated" comment was to suggest more of a universal thought and less a provincial one. I suppose the primary reason I pressed for an answer about this was because of what I know of Jules Feiffer and his writings and which admittedly is little, save perhaps his famous The New Yorker Magazine cartoons, he's always seemed a very "New York-centric" individual.

 

And so with this in mind, I perhaps was questioning the thought that in fact the premise for his play and movie's storyline might have primarily been inspired by the dysfunction he witnessed during the New York City of the 1960s and '70s, and less a comment more universally based and timeless in intent.

 

(...and btw, yes, I also must admit I occasionally find your text a little cryptic, however I ALWAYS find it extremely clever...and I like clever) ;)

Thanks, Dargo. And I always find it extremely clever when true genius such as mine does not go unappreciated.

 

Like, FUN!  :) 

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I also think of the Feiffer of this period as a typical NYC guy, and

while some of the events in the movie might be absurd, they're

not so out of whack that people can't recognize that the distance

between the absurd and the actual isn't all that great. And there's

nothing wrong, per se, with a period piece. There is one fairly

long scene with a typical guru/preacher that is right out of the

late 1960s playbook, and it's fun to look back at that and smile

in recognition.

 

I don't have that dark a view of the contemporary world and the

future one. I've been listening to folks talking about the coming

disaster(s) for so long that it just doesn't mean that much anymore.

I guess if Feiffer wanted to be truly prophetic, he would have set

the play in Detroit.

Heh. Well then, clear to see, Dargo my friend, that your friend Vautrin here is still spoiling for a fight. Tsk-tsk-tsk. Shall I give it to him (or her)? Or, after the style of the Elliot Gould character in Little Murders, will I just let your pal here keep punching (while I claim to be feeling no pain) till he (or she) gets tired and . . . sits down?
 
Perhaps, for now, there is a middle ground that might be gained (in a clinch) by simply posing this question, seething from my teeth to his (or her) ear: Can a "period piece" be about (or i.e. "set in") the time contemporary to which it is being filmed?
 
Yes, for now, while I grin and bear it, I will simply leave it at that. Or, but wait! What is this?
 
"I also think of the Feiffer of this period as a typical NYC guy . . ."
 
Feiffer?  "Typical"? Omigod.  Has anyone seen his latest production, a graphic novel entitled, Kill My Mother?
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Please don't bite me with your pearly whites, Herr Nice. Yes a period

piece can be set in its present. Little Murders is, at least in many

respects, a period piece. The Marcia Rodd character sure seems like

a feminist of that time and it has an early 70s vibe. A period piece

is not necessarily a bad thing and it can still have resonance beyond

its own time and place. For the most part, I like the movie.

 

No doubt Feiffer is a highly talented guy, so I'll call him a highly

talented typical NYC guy.

"Fancy gloves though, wears old MacHeath, dear . . ."

 

No, a period piece cannot be set "in its present", whatever may be meant by that. A "period piece" is always set in some period (decade or historical era) of the past, or the term entirely loses its meaning, and has no further use in discussion of cinematic genre. No movie shot about the time contemporaneous to its shooting can be a "period piece." LOL. Come on!

 

Further, here is what was meant about Little Murders being (at least seemingly) 'prophetic' of these present times.  As Jules Feiffer himself has said (see YouTube: Backing into Forward) any such manner of thing is not conscious or intentional with him as he writes. So no, he would not have set it in Detroit--as if prophecy should have been his aim. Which it totally was not. Any such visionary quality comes serendipitously out of the content in the art, not from any intent of the artist, who only serves as amanuensis to the Muse. Or as Feiffer says, "it writes itself."

 

So I really don't know who is "biting" whom, around here, but now, Mac the Nice exits stage right, to the bath, like Gaear Grimsrud in Fargo, looking for some unguent. "I need un-guent."

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VAUTRIN: "There are two definitions of period piece that come to mind." 

If we had two definitions for all, or many of the terms that fall to our usage, the English speaking world would be living in shadow of the Tower of Babel--not the Tower of London. And nobody would know what the hell anybody was talking about. Sure, there is many a term with a connotative, alternative definition, but a scarce few I'll warrant you, that stand to contradict one another as this which you propose. Now if you can substantiate your claim by reference to any 'second definition' via a link to such a thing, I will humbly concede to your point. Short of that, I forbear to discuss it any further. It's the live horses I love to whip, my dear, not the dead ones. 

VAUTRIN: "Of course Feiffer is entitled to his views about how art, or at least his art, is created. But it is kind of funny that his art, not being intentional, and just coming by way of the muse, happens to take place in his native environment and not in a small village in Mongolia in the 12th century." 

Um . . . what? Well anyway, I'm sure you enjoyed saying that, so what manner of Puritan am I to stand in the way of someone else's pleasures? In any case, perhaps more directly to the point is this: In my former reply, I referred to a YouTube video which I mistakenly recalled to be the source for what I represented as Feiffer's modus operandi as an artist, and/or inadvertent 'prophet'. That was not the source! It's from an article in Mother Jones, as follows . . . 
-- 
MJ: Kill My Mother is a pretty wild tale. The last few chapters feel downright Shakespearean. Why this story and why this era? 

JF: I don't have a clue. I start off with a premise, and whatever direction I think it may go, it often decides to go somewhere else on its own. To write a story is often a matter of stumbling along until the story does what it wants to. I'm simply the stenographer. Sometimes I try to sharpen them up with editing, but I don't try to edit at all while I'm writing, I just let them go. Kill My Mother was going all kinds of different places in my head and in my notes than where it ended up. 

http://www.motherjones.com/media/2014/05/interview-cartoonist-jules-feiffer-kill-my-mother

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A film that is set in the present and concerns themes from that present, such as feminism . . .

Now as to your contention that "Patsy Newquist," the Marcia Rodd character (delightful performance) was some sort of like, 'period feminist' or something, I could not more painfully disagree. She is anything but--unless your ideal for perfection in feminism would be that of a full bore, leather clad, 60s style Street Fightin' Bi-Gal-in-a-Elvis-Haircut, the likes of the ever so blessed and lovely, Camille Paglia. But, you know, fat chance among the rank and file for that! You kidding? 

 

The primary aim of feminists in the post Paglia 70s was emasculation of men, was putting a bullet in the guts of Andy Warhol to establish the deification of like, Gloria Steinem. 'Patsy' holds no part in any of that! Hell, no. Her entire aim is in one thing: to make a man of her man. She wants to man him, not un-man him--she wants him to fight back. 

 

When is the last time you heard any feminist, let alone one from among the Andrea Dworkin and Eleanor Smeal ilk of the 70s, demanding MORE violence from men, rather than less? Had I thought 'Patsy' were nothing more than another Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I would have been in the bathroom gagging, barfing my guts out over the toilet, rather than giggling with glee over her every red-blooded, Bronx-born, good ol' Blue or Brown-Eyed American Woman's style of gracelessly lovely, working class cant. 

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There are two definitions of period piece that come to mind when it

comes to movies. One is a film set in a different time from the one

in which it was made, say a Bette Davis movie from the 1940s that

is set in the 1840s. The second is a film set in its own time which

deals with that time and certain themes from that time. That's what,

at least to a certain degree, Little Murders is. A film that is set in

the present and concerns themes from that present, such as feminism,

the high crime rate and urban decay of NYC and the anxiety it causes.

Of course it's often easier to see a period piece in retrospect. Little Murders

is an early 1970s period piece, though to a lesser degree than all those campus

revolutionist flicks of the same time period.

 

Of course Feiffer is entitled to his views about how art, or at least his

art, is created. But it is kind of funny that his art, not being intentional,

and just coming by way of the muse, happens to take place in his native

environment and not in a small village in Mongolia in the 12th century.

I doubt that Orwell or Huxley would look at some of their works in the

same manner, they being merely a transmitter for what the muse wants

to transmit, but that's simply a matter of disagreement among writers.

 

At first I really didn't see how one can say a movie set in its own time can be called a period film since all films set in their own time reflect that time to some degree,  but I believe you mean where the storyline really goes out of its way to refect trends and events at the time the film was made.

 

Would The Best Years of our Lives be a 'period film in its own time' movie?

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At first I really didn't see how one can say a movie set in its own time can be called a period film since all films set in their own time reflect that time to some degree,  but I believe you mean where the storyline really goes out of its way to refect trends and events at the time the film was made.

 

Would The Best Years of our Lives be a 'period film in its own time' movie?

Oh, come off it, James. In that case, every film that ever does a really impressive job of representing its time becomes a "period piece"?  Then The Pawnbroker is a "period piece" along with Odds Against Tomorrow and The Blackboard Jungle, The Asphalt Jungle, and Jungle Jim Meets the Big Monkeys of Kilimanjaro. Enabling such capricious assaults upon the sense of film vocabulary is ill advised. Soon nobody will know what anybody is talking about around here. Good Night!

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Oh, come off it, James. In that case, every film that ever does a really impressive job of representing its time becomes a "period piece"?  Then The Pawnbroker is a "period piece" along with Odds Against Tomorrow and The Blackboard Jungle, The Asphalt Jungle, and Jungle Jim Meets the Big Monkeys of Kilimanjaro. Enabling such capricious assaults upon the sense of film vocabulary is ill advised. Soon nobody will know what anybody is talking about around here. Good Night!

 

Hey,  I tend to agree with you but I wasn't the one that put out the concept of a period film being set it the current time period,  Vautrin did.

 

My post and example of TBYOOL was to see if I understood his POV.       So I'm interesting in seeing how Vautrin defends what you call a capricious assault upon the sence of film vocabulary.    (BTW, I just LOVE that statement of yours!).

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Hey,  I tend to agree with you but I wasn't the one that put out the concept of a period film being set it the current time period,  Vautrin did.

 

My post and example of TBYOOL was to see if I understood his POV.       So I'm interesting in seeing how Vautrin defends what you call a capricious assault upon the sence of film vocabulary.    (BTW, I just LOVE that statement of yours!).

:)  What? You mean Vautrin is NOT a mademoiselle?  :(

That just ruins all my fun.

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:)  What? You mean Vautrin is NOT a mademoiselle?  :(

That just ruins all my fun.

 

I like your sense of humor.   Hey,  the other day I got to play with a real jazz pro; Elaine Miles.  You can Google her.  I'm trying to play jazz with a classical piano player.    So Elaine was helping him get a jazz feel.   It isn't easy to get the right vibe.    Anyhow it was nice to play with a pro.

 

She has a new recording she has been working on for years that should be released soon. She played some tracks for us and it was great.   Nice original tunes with a great feel and the guitar player really is great.    

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Hee hee hee.

 

I just KNEW I could stir-up a spirited debate(and overall a fascinatingly well worded and well reasoned set of replies by all) IF I could but get Mac here to reply to my original query to him!!! LOL ;)

 

(...although I gotta say I AM kind'a sad to see there's been no more references to Bertolt Brecht's lyrics from anyone in the last few posts...I kind'a miss that!!!) 

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