Friday, December 12, 2008
ABF Friday: Flying Home Edition!
I’m so old that I can remember when Republicans loved the auto-mobile industry. They loved loved loved it and wanted to marry it. Seriously: they even held their 1980 national convention in Detroit and drafted a platform that included the following:
Americans enjoy greater personal mobility than any other people on earth, largely as a result of the availability of automobiles and our modern highway system. Republicans reject the elitist notion that Americans must be forced out of their cars. Instead, we vigorously support the right of personal mobility and freedom as exemplified by the automobile and our modern highway system.
Yay to cars! Yay to Detroit! Yay to personal mobility and freedom! But even more yay to the most important thing of all, namely, pissing off the DFHs and sweater-wearing wimps and elitist car-forcer-outers who wanted to cut back on our use of fossil fuels and build SUPERTRAINS. On, Chrysler! On, Buick! On, Chevy and Caddy! Ah, it was another time. But you young’uns wouldn’t understand.
Sometimes I think Democrats should come out against gum disease, just to see if Arlen Specter or Jim Bunning will block appointments to the National Gum Disease Task Force and if Grover Norquist will form a Gingivitis Appreciation League to frustrate the efforts of the periodontal elitists and liberal PC oral hygienists who think they know what’s best for everyone.
But that’s not why I’m here today! Today is Friday, and it is an iron law on this blog that some or most Fridays should be Arbitrary. And so, without further ado:
On my way back from San Diego last month, I had what might have been my best in-flight experience ever. I fell asleep the moment the plane started moving, of course, because that is what I do; sometimes I even miss the critical instructions about how to use a seat belt. But when I awoke, I was 35,000 feet in the air and about six feet away from a screen showing the opening minutes of WALL-E. “Holy Mother of Moloch,” I exclaimed, just a tad too loudly. Frantically, I flipped through the airline magazine. No, there was no indication that WALL-E would be shown on eastbound transcontinental flights in late November. I do check these things, you see, partly because when I travel with Jamie, he wants to know about them even though he rarely wants to see the movie; and when we went to Omaha, he saw that the in-flight movie for westbound flights in early November was supposed to be WALL-E. Unfortunately, our flight didn’t get the memo, and we wound up being treated to Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which made Jamie say “?” and made me say “??” Still, Ms. Kittredge turned out to be preferable to Diminished Capacity, the eastbound in-flight movie. I can’t give you reliable reviews of either film, since I was merely looking at them intermittently, in mild annoyance and with the sound off. But it did appear to me that Diminished Capacity, despite being co-produced by Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theater and boasting a cast that includes Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, and Virginia Madsen, culminates in a scene in which Matthew Broderick is being strangled to death by an evil sports-memorabilia dealer in a memorabilia show while all his friends look on in horror and do nothing except to keep stadium security away from the struggle. OK, maybe it made sense with the sound on. (Best line from a review: “Didn’t we invent film festivals so we could sequester all the star-studded ‘how I spent my summer vacation’ indie film projects and keep them out of our arthouses? Who let Diminished Capacity escape?”)
Now, it’s not as if I board a plane with high expectations of the in-flight movie. On the contrary: there was a time, and it wasn’t so long ago (not as long ago as the era in which Republicans loved them some auto-mobiles), when it seemed to me that I had been subjected to every single Sandra Bullock movie ever released. Hope Floats, Practical Magic, Forces of Nature, 28 Days, Miss Congeniality—I kid you not, dear readers, I have seen them all. Intermittently, in mild annoyance and with the sound off, but still. No, wait, I might have put on the headphones for a bit of Practical Magic. Self-indulgent aside (but self-indulgent compared to what? this is a blog, after all): my very favorite Long Airplane Trip story dates from 1999, right around the time of Peak Bullock, when I flew from Chicago to Brisbane for the first-ever meeting of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes outside the U.S. “Brisbane?” people said. “That’s like going to the Denver of Australia.” But I didn’t care—I’d go to pretty much the anything of Australia. I’m not picky. Anyway, the LA-Sydney leg of the trip was fifteen hours, and during the flight they showed three movies, one of which was the aforementioned Forces of Nature. Bullock! Affleck! Romantic comedy! Your sickness bag is in the pocket of the seat in front of you! But that wasn’t the worst part of the trip. The worst part was that I was seated in the leftward three-seat section of the 3-5-3 jumbo-jet configuration next to a thirtyish woman and an uncontrollable squalling brat. The uncontrollable squalling was bad enough, but what finally made the seating arrangement intolerable were the constant looks of reproach and disgust I was getting from fellow passengers and the entire crew of flight attendants: obviously, I was an impossibly icy father refusing to help his poor struggling wife with their difficult kid—indeed, indifferently reading a book and not so much as looking their way. For a while I considered ripping a page from the back of the book, writing “NOT ACTUALLY MY FAMILY” with an arrow, and taping it to my chest, but I finally managed to find a place elsewhere in the cabin, where I could watch Forces of Nature intermittently, in mild annoyance and with the sound off unmolested by a squalling toddler and the visceral disapproval of my fellow beings.
Anyway, as many of you probably already know, WALL-E is brilliant. It is brilliant moment to moment, and brilliant overall, right down to the brilliant final credits (really, the final credits are brilliant). It is brilliant in minute gestures, and brilliant in great big sweep. It even has a brilliant dance sequence (no, not the bit from Hello, Dolly!). And best and weirdest of all, I had been seized, the previous evening, by the idea of watching the first twenty minutes of Silent Running on the YouTubes before turning in for the night, so all the Silent Running—WALL-E intertextuality was already humming in my head. So I leaned back (not too far! I don’t like crushing the legs of my fellow passengers) and settled in for a truly rare treat—a smart, well-written, delightful in-flight movie. Of course, the sensation of sitting in front of a screen with a few hundred other people and being ferried briskly through the air while watching humans sitting in front of screens being ferried briskly around a space station in Saturn orbit was a little weird, but what the hell.
So that’s today’s Arbitrary game: best and worst in-flight movies ever! And may your weekend be one-hundred-percent Forces of Nature-free.