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February 15, 2007

In which our heroine learns to appreciate the definite article.

I address myself to the remarks previously made before this council, by my esteemed colleague and darling baby sister Professor Snoqualmie, regarding some pitfalls of madly and indiscriminately adding movies to oneâs Netflix queue according to whatever fad one happens to be in the grip of at the time. I reopen this matter because I have just discovered an important corollary to the Snoqualmie Complaint, and wish to bring it to the attention of others, that you may not also fall victim to what I will term the Incas Emergency.

In brief, the Snoqualmie Complaint consisted largely of the observation that, when one engages in the above-referenced compulsive and faddish Netflixing behavior, one tends to end up with an imbalanced queue; to wit, one may receive 20 noir films in a row, and one may not want to watch 20 noir films in a row. At our last meeting, in response to this problem, the distinguished Dr. Molten-Boron proffered a timely and elegant solution, in the form of a macro designed to randomize the items in a Netflix queue and thus restore some element of balance. However, the macro crashed my computer every time I tried to run it. I therefore attempted my own fix, which, due to my inability to perform even the most basic operations on a computer, was psychological rather than technical: by slamming my fingers sharply in the mailbox every time I found 3 near-identical movies in it, I slowly trained myself to go into my queue after every compulsive genre-based adding spree, and distribute the movies I had just added into my existing queue. If I had added, for example, 25 bank-heist movies, I would go into the queue, and for each of those 25 new movies I would assign it a new number, starting with 7, then 14, then whatever comes after that in the sequence, adding 7 each time, or sometimes 5 or 6 if I couldnât figure out what x + 7 would be.

I am almost ashamed to admit before this distinguished body that therein, or possibly thereabouts, lay the rub. Because the difficulty of adding 7 to numbers already containing 2 or more digits was so great, I began to pay more attention to re-stacking my queue than to what I was adding to it. Sadly, the pressure of the upcoming mathematical performance began to weigh so heavily indeed upon my mind that, even while engaged in an orgy of movie-selection, I would find that fully two-thirds, or perhaps even as much as four-sevenths, of my mental energy would be devoted to trying to pre-add all these numbers in my head.* In short, I was no longer paying close enough attention to the movies I was selecting.

But happily, it is often the case that great discoveries are born of mistakes, and this is how I stumbled into the Incas Emergency. For you see, during that recent heist-movie spree, I attempted to Netflix the 2001 Edward Norton/Robert DeNiro museum-heist flick The Score, and as I discovered when I opened the mail today, what I actually rented was Radley Metzgerâs 1973 softcore arthouse paean to shag carpeting, amyl nitrite, and bisexual spouse-swapping, Score. This happy accident is the reason that I am able to present you with a comparative review of both movies today.

Since I did not actually manage to rent The Score, I can only offer the dimmest recollection of what it was about or why I wanted to see it again, except that I remember genuinely enjoying it. Thus, if there are any spoilers ahead, they are few, slight, and only by lucky guess. Robert DeNiro is a con trying to [make good?] but he gets talked into, of course, one last heist, which turns out to be a big [something] that heâs supposed to steal from [somewhere]. High-tech gadgetry is involved. The thing I recall particularly enjoying about this movie was Edward Norton, whom I almost always really like, and who here played the inside man who worked at the [museum? bank?] and was pretending to be mentally retarded so that no one would suspect him. It was fun to see him go back and forth between being sweetly disabled and a real dick. Also, there was a lot of action, and [some item or items] [may or may not be] [stolen]. Altogether a satisfactory and satisfying heist flick. But to return to the world of mathematics and quantify my dim recollections of this movie, and also according to the titular theme of both movies, I will âscoreâ (ahaha) each on a series of elements, each element measured on a scale of 1 to that pesky 7. Thus, for The Score:

Plot factor: 5
Action factor: 6
âActionâ factor (if you know what I mean): 0 that I remember, and besides, if this is the one Iâm thinking of where Marlon Brando shows up as an old guy who either does or doesnât want DeNiro to do the heist, then itâs so surprising to see him, and heâs so old and run-down that it would pretty much kill the sexy, even if Norton or DeNiro or whoever else is in the film normally does it for you like that.
Aesthetic factor: 3 (for unoriginality within my viewing experience)
Memorability factor: 2-3, as we can see from my synopsis, above.

I now address my most ascerbic attention to the (quite literally) unexpected gem Score. There are certainly spoilers here, although they run little risk of ruining anything which might be genuinely surprising, especially since the first two things IMDB will tell you about this film are: 1, that the tagline was âA Man and a Woman and a Woman and a Man and a Man and a Woman etc., etc.â; and 2, that the plot outline can be given as âLiberated '70s couple seduce another couple into experimentation with bisexuality and group-sex.â Perhaps even less surprisingly, the only one of the principle actors who went on to do much beyond dying quite young was Lynn Lowry, who played the wide-eyed innocent here and also enjoyed quite a career as a â70s horror queen in such treats as I Drink Your Blood (evidently a film about Satanic hippies), George Romeroâs The Crazies, and David Cronenbergâs Shivers. What IMDB fails to sufficiently emphasize is the brilliance of both plot and directing here. The five principle actors (A Man and A Woman and A Woman and A Man and A Man) are quite well used, which I mean in the fullest sense possible. That one guy from the â70s cigarette commercials plays his role as the telephone repairman to the hilt, and even comes back at the end of the film to play it to whatever portion of the hilt he may have been holding in reserve. That other blond guy (here credited, I believe, as the second A Man), who was in a lot of â70s gay porn, plays very well against type as the straightlaced husband who loosens up under the influence of recreational drugs, alternating shots of milk and Scotch, dressing up as a cowboy, and the mere mention of Leviâs. The swinging husband swings very effectively both ways, as does his wife.

The real genius, however, of the film lies in the directorâs refusal to leave any item in his bag of â70s arthouse tricks unused. The bed in the swingersâ basement, where the gentlemen are sporting while the ladies get better acquainted upstairs (with the help of the most hilariously large, laughably medical-looking ancestor of the Hitachi Magic Wand), is covered with blue shag carpet, and the rest of the house is also done in fine period style, but Metzger is not one to let himself by upstaged by the set decorator. He makes fine use of the sets, filming whole sequences via the reflections in the mirrors above and beside the swingersâ bed, so that the head of the otherwise rather beautiful Lynn Lowry is distorted and she looks like an alien with a gigantic forehead. He angles extended shots with one character either half-obscured behind something or leaning against a mirror, so that at any given moment the viewer cannot tell if there is only half a person, or two people, and the effect is that we begin to feel as stoned as the characters (and, I suspect, the actors) are. For all that Metzgerâs directorial touch suggests a certain extravagance, he is also surprisingly economical with film, setting up whole scenes with the camera in one fixed location and focus, so that the characters will begin the scene outside the shot, become visible through the open staircase for part of it, and then pass right back out, still talking. Also, I have never before seen a shot of a muscular blond man in a cowboy hat, framed by the naked legs of a rather hairy man, which did quite such an interesting job of back-lighting the standing manâs scrotal hair so as to make it look like a fluffy golden moustache on the blond manâs face. Next to that killer shot, the earlier stoned-dress-up-party-transistor-radio dance sequence, which I had thought to be the highlight of the film, was all but driven out of my mind.

Sadly, or perhaps thankfully, the DVD version of the film is evidently the mildly censored one, as the viewer can readily tell from the scenes in which the two bisexually swapped couples are relishing their new partners. In addition to the fact that it cuts artfully back and forth between the male and female couples in order to ramrod home the point that the swinging wifeâs sexual exploitation (er, liberation) of the uptight wife is in some way akin to the swinging husbandâs sexual liberation of the uptight husband, we can also tell from the way the crazy â70s horn music keeps jumping around that all the hardcore sex has been carelessly chopped out, leading to a soundtrack five times more funky than even the original composer could have intended.

Also, man, there was a lot of bush on all those people.


Plot factor: 1 (Telephone repairman? Come on.)
Action factor: 1
âActionâ factor (if you know what I mean): 6. Whatâs with the censoring? Weâre all swingers here, right? Oh, weâre not? Well, what if we all take some poppers, put on cowboy and nun outfits, turn on the tape deck, and see what happens?
Aesthetic factor: 7. You may not like its style, but thatâs just because itâs got so much more than you.
Memorability factor: 4. I have a feeling that years from now, the same 4 scenes will still be burning behind my eyelids. So it gets one point for each scene.

Dear colleagues, you may think that the lesson of the Incas Emergency is: Learn How To Count. Or: Pay Attention To What Youâre Doing. It is in fact neither of those things, and this is why I have felt it important to present the Emergency to you myself, as an expert, because its real lesson is of such a subtle and incontrovertible value. It is this: we all ought to be grateful that we are speakers of a language that uses articles, because if we could count and if we were paying attention, we would realize that we have the word âtheâ to distinguish these movie titles from each other. Whereas, if we were in Japan, both movies would be identically titled Sukooru (or possibly something like Tokuten, if they could bring themselves to translate an American word instead of sticking it in katakana), and we would be too distracted by bright lights, weird little cars, rice omelets and hentai to discern any other difference between them. As Iâm sure I donât need to tell the countless Japanese Netflixers who have already been burned.

Let us all, then, doff our silly little padded deansâ caps to the Kingâs English.**

*I honestly am not sure which one of those is bigger. Isnât that awful?

**Although the Kingâs English gives stupid names to silly objects, like the silly little padded dean's cap, which is evidently known as a âTudor bonnet.â

Posted by katie at 10:40 PM