A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Monday, January 17, 2005 :::
Bear with A Mind That Suits for one minute. He would like to quote himself from 13 months ago. If you remember this post, scroll through it to the end, where there are some new thoughts, as A Mind That Suits has now seen Elf.

From December, 2003.

The editorial that always leads off the Taste page extolls the success of Elf, a thoroughly G movie, whose innocence even the normally shameless (though brilliant) Will Ferrell is proud of. The editorial is always anonymous, but reads far more personally than the real editorials in the main section. This writer compares Elf with kid movies that slip in swear words or leers to make themselves appear more sophisticated. But instead of citing, say, the Cat in the Hat, which is supposed to be quite vulgar and aggressive, the writer reaches all the way back to 1982 to slam the "gratuitous 'penis breath'" used in ET. Now, that particular famous expression may have been gratuitous, in that the movie could easily have done without it, and because the use of some rough language was forced on a then fledgling Steven Spielberg by the studio. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when the mighty Steven did not have final cut.) A "G" movie just wouldn't sell, said the studio. And yet the complain misses a point: ET is not a children's movie, in the way that Elf is. It is a very sad, deeply moving tale about, in Spielberg's words, "what it's like to grow up lonely in the suburbs." And faced with an unreasonable demand from a studio, he searched within the world he was describing and came up with exactly the kind of expression that a sheltered, nerdy kid might say. "Penis" is not really a swear word, and "penis-breath" is not something anyone with any real exposure to rough language is likely to say. That is left to the 15-year-old brother, who mumbles two rather pedestrian but indisputably obscene epithets later in the movie. Yet no one complains about those. Which may--just maybe--mean that Mr. Spielberg succeeded in coming up with mot juste, if you will. And when he hears complaints about it, A Mind That Suits finds himself wondering, "how may 11-year-old boys do you know?"

The last time he saw it, A Mind That Suits was nearly alone in Washington's magnificent Uptown Theatre halfway up Connecticut Avenue, a grand movie palace from the classic days, and he found a seat dead center, in the front row of the balcony. About 1 hour into it, he began crying for no discernible reason, except that the family situation in the movie is so in expressibly sad. He was worried that he would be the object of some derision from the teenaged girls behind him until just after the movie, when a mother came over to them and said, "I'll (sniff) meet (sniff) you (sniff) at (sob) the car (sniff)," and the girls replied, "o (sniff) k (sob)." Which is why whatever cavils one may have about "penis-breath," it is far, far more important to recognize that ET is indeed one of the monuments of 20th Century American art. Elf, whatever its merits, is unlikely to hold a similar position in the 21st.

And now the new stuff:

A Mind That Suits has now seen "Elf," a wise housemate having waited until it was on DVD to see it. It is garbage. It is not, really, even garbage in the grand tradition of child adventures starring Hayley Mills, at which Disney used to excell.

Secondly, he would like to repent of his acknowledgment of the word "gratuitous" regarding the epithet "penis breath" in E.T., for reasons he will state below.

Thirdly, he would like to know which version of Elf the Journal editorialist saw, as the 10-year-old protagonist of Elf say, loudly and emphatically, "up yours." "Up yours" is indisputably foul, about as foul as it can get.

Fourthly, let A Mind That Suits say clearly that "penis breath" was not gratuitous. Repeat: "penis" is not technically a swear word, and "penis breath" is exactly the sort of phrase that someone unused to rough language would use. As, for instance, a nerdy, painfully lonely 11-year-old in a broken home.

Fifthly, thinking today, he came up with a much better example of something gratuitous. Jungle 2 Jungle, starring Tim Allen, featured young Sam Huntington, then 14 but looking just-pubescent, walking around largely naked making sexual inuendo. He was covered front and back, or rather, about 4 inches front and back, which covering was held by a string that left him naked on the side. It is listed as a family comedy.

So why does "penis breath" still grate, after 22 years? Because Steven Spielberg may be at his best in showing us what boys are really like, and boys make lots of people very uncomfortable.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 11:55 AM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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