Watchin’ With ‘witch – First Time Film Thoughts & Feelings [Film #3: The Thing]


#1


banner by @roselafayette

Hey, Waypointeers! This thread is a sister to ‘What ‘classic’ film do you think everyone should see?’, with this thread representing the fulfillment of my promise to give myself an education in film. As outlined in the other thread, I see my film knowledge as being superficial and, to an extent, a great deal of passing other people’s views off as my own. I’m hoping that exposure and consideration is the best path to setting that right for myself.

I will not have seen these films before, so I’m jumping in knowing the name, date, and anything else I’ve picked up by osmosis. My relative inexperience will hopefully make for an interesting read, and I have some plans to try to raise the discussion up along the way.

The Plan

Weekly posts, either on Saturday or Sunday. Best-laid plans never go right, but I hope this is realistic. I will watch the film, write up my thoughts into a post, then share and invite comments and discussion.

I’m not planning to give films stars out of five, but to try to reflect on how I felt watching it, what I took away from it, and, potentially, whether I’d watch it again. By nature, I’m more for qualitative analysis than quantitative judgement. Hopefully my predilections can be forgiven.

I’ll announce the next film at the end of each review, so if so inclined, watch along – although I’d prefer if you allowed me to share my thoughts before laying yours out. This is both so I can keep a table of contents and so that, if I end up watching the film late, I don’t spoil myself by keeping up with my own thread. I’m not too fussy about spoilers, but since I’m trying to push myself to develop my own thoughts, reading too many other opinions might be an issue.

The Sealed Envelope

I hope to recognise the fact that I owe this education to other forum users. Consequently, I’d like to share the post with the folks who contributed in the sister thread. When I decide what I’ll be watching, I will reach out, through PMs, to the forum member(s) who proposed the film I’ll be watching. If they’re willing (and there’s zero pressure), I’ll give them time to give me a ‘sealed envelope’.

The ‘sealed envelope’ will be a message for the thread, based on questions I provide to the user, that I will not read until after I’ve seen the film and written my thoughts. I hope it can serve as a useful invitation to discussion, as well as a way of better-understanding why someone might have considered the film a ‘classic’ or adding much-needed or interesting context to a work.

Based on the envelope contents, I may well add an addendum to my previous post reflecting on how the envelope changes my perception or view of the film. Sometimes, context is just that important.

So, er, what next?

If you want to contribute suggestions to the thread, please take it to the sister thread! I don’t really have a harsh schedule for what I’ll be watching when, I just want to make steady progress if possible.

I look forward to discussin’ films with y’all soon!

Table of Contents & Useful Links


#2

Sealed envelope hype. That’s such a great idea to add to this and make it more of a community experience.

I’ll probably watch some of the ones I haven’t seen before “with” you!


#3

Excited to hear your thoughts on Drunken Master. It was super interesting to watch it again after recommending it and seeing how it aligned with my memory of it.


#4
Drunken Master

I chose Drunken Master as my first film for two reasons. I’ve long had the impression that martial arts films are an important predecessor to modern action scenes, yet they are a genre that I know little about. The big names (such as our hero today, Jackie Chan) ring bells, but my knowledge is otherwise shallow. The fact that I knew so little also made Drunken Master an enticing prospect, as I understood it to be accessible and a good first dip into the pond. I generally enjoyed the film; to discuss it, I will discuss what I watched, the fight scenes, and the impressions I took away from it.

The first thing to get out of the way is that I watched the dubbed version, not the subbed version. This wasn’t intentional on my part, but I was surprised to find that I couldn’t switch the audio track over, courtesy of what I purchased through Amazon UK. I’m not sure if the film is cut differently in the different versions, but it does mean that I heard Freddy Wong rather than Wong Fei-hung. This didn’t really turn me off the film, but I’m sure someone is unhappy with my watching decisions as we speak.

For a film released in 1978, I thought the fight scenes were incredible. The fight in the second act between Wong and Thunderleg caught my attention, both because I felt that it had very strong choreography (beyond the extremely high bar the rest of the film has) and that it marks a turning point in the film’s narrative, making Wong’s path forward clear. Jackie Chan does a great job of selling Thunderleg as a menacing villain through how he acts, with a level of physical threat that the film had not introduced before.

Furthermore, it highlights the film’s thesis: the weakness that comes with overconfidence and the importance of rigorous preparation. By the consequences of the fights, brashness is shown to be something that holds people back and prevents them from reaching their full potential. Pride that has come out of honest work is upheld as valuable, while cockiness is brought to heel. I’m sure this is a common narrative in the genre, but it surprised to me to see it so simply laid out, assuming there was some trick in the tale along the way. Rather than a criticism, I think it is to the film’s credit to be so straightforward.

I enjoyed seeing martial arts taken seriously. The use of slapstick comedy to pace fight scenes and inject humour into the training scenes is never done to play down the subject matter. Seeing martial arts poses struck without an accompanying goofy noise was refreshing. Even if I’m sure I’m the last person to whom this is original, the subject matter being taken seriously, yet with an air of levity, works well to the film’s favour. The physical comedy aspects shouldn’t be underestimated, in both their effectiveness and the physical capacity that went into them.

That said, there were a few elements that didn’t work for me. I’m fairly confident that the dub replaced the music of the original with a replacement that felt repetitive, particularly in the final fight scene. I wasn’t too fussed on the Drunken Miss Ho style, since I do feel that it undermines the film’s thesis for the sake of a joke that I didn’t particularly like. I didn’t really get a sense of place from most of the scenes in the film; how far away was Wong from his father throughout the year he was training? How did the kitchen connect to escaping from his house? The last is a minor detail, but I couldn’t help but have it stick in my mind.

In short, I felt that Drunken Master was well-worth seeing. I’d be interested in seeing it again (subtitled, preferably), perhaps after reading more into its context. My lack of familiarity with the topic at hand makes it hard to judge whether there’s a real subtext to the film that I’m totally missing, whether it’s an adaptive work, or whether it was simply spun out of whole cloth as a fun story.

(P.S. I loved the hair in this film, especially Thunderleg.)


For today’s sealed envelope, I’d like to thank fellow forum moderator @M_o who initially suggested Drunken Master.

Sealed Envelope

So, what do you think? I have my thoughts on some of what Mo added in the sealed envelope, but I’d like to invite some discussion first. What is your experience with Drunken Master? Do you have an interesting story or article to share about it? On a scale of one to ten, how much of my ignorance have I betrayed?

The next film I plan to watch is going to be All Quiet of the Western Front. I hope to see you all next week (assuming my package arrives in time…)!


#5

A friend of mine has a copy of Drunken Master that randomly switches between being subbed and dubbed with no rhyme or reason and I’m a huge fan of it. Makes for a fun drinking game. Probably my favorite Jackie Chan movie which is saying a whole lot. Police Story 4 aka First Strike would be a close second I think, and Wheels on Meals is probably third even though most of the movie is really slow.


#6

The straightforward appreciation of preparedness over cockiness is pretty universal through the martial arts genre, and I can’t think of a lot of movies that turn it on its head. The most it changes is that sometimes the hero starts off cocky, takes one bad beating and goes to train, coming back as a different person.

Watching someone who is reserved and skilled take down someone who is loud and cocky never gets old to me, though!


#7

Agree on Freddy’s lack of respect for Miss Ho rubbing me the wrong way as well, though it does fit with his constant mistreatment / underestimation of women. I would’ve liked to see a little bit more growth on that where he acknowledges respect for Miss Ho and takes her more seriously. A joke that didn’t land and then kept on not landing, for me.

As for the sense of scale and place being super flattened and almost abstracted: that’s something that’s super common in the Kung Fu Films I’ve watched. And he was sent far away… how far you ask? one montage of walking’s worth of distance…


#8

This thread is my new favorite thing. Thanks so much for doing this!


#9

What are the key differences between Police Story 4 and Wheels on Meals compared to Drunken Master for you?

@2Mello I was actually very surprised that, as @M_o said in his sealed envelope, Wong never actually changes that much. To the very end of the film, he overestimates his talents and pays the price for it. I guess the idea is that his training still made him better than the extremely arrogant Thunderleg?

By the way, my post for this week might be a little delayed. While I’d been planning to watch All Quiet tomorrow night, I just realised what comes out on Friday 20th September in the UK…

I’m dead interested in this film, y’all.


#10

Police Story 4 is a lot less 1 on 1 fight choreography and more focused on larger scale stunts or large group action scenes. The stunt work is all really fantastic, and there’s a fun energy to things that I think buys a pass for the paper thin plot. It’s really just a set of vague excuses to go to the next big set piece made by a really incredible stunt team at the top of their game.

Wheels on Meals is a bit of a strange one. It’s less of a “Jackie Chan movie” than most stuff he stars in, he more co-stars with Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung who directed it. There’s a lot more focus on narrative to it. It’s set and filmed in Barcelona I think and they spend a lot more time than usual establishing the setting and fleshing out the story. I wouldn’t say it does a very good job but there’s sort of a novelty to them doing it at all that got my attention. Then it all comes together in a big finale full of really fantastic action scenes from all 3 of them, with Jackie’s fight against Benny the Jet in particular being a truly great fight scene. It’s probably the worst movie of the 3 but it’s the one I find most interesting.


#11

If I had known this was were the other thread was going I would have made a case for Fantastic Mr Fox instead of just listing it for the humor


#12

so I just watched this on [Canadian] Netflix, the version there is the one which switched between Cantonese and English I guess because they couldn’t find a complete Cantonese copy when they produced it? is it just me or is Jackie Chan dubbed even in Cantonese. maybe it is just the difference of a couple decades time and a language but it doesn’t sound like his voice to me.


#13

Hey, don’t have much to say here except that this is a really cool idea and I’m here for it. Best of luck witch!


#14

Don’t worry, even the not-so-serious suggestions are on my list somewhere (although it is a long list now), with the possible exception of Digimon: The Movie. I hear good things about Fantastic Mr Fox, so I’m definitely quite curious about it.

Thank you to y’all for your well-wishes. All Quiet is going up later, I just need to finish editing my post…


#15
All Quiet on the Western Front

I walked into this film with some pre-knowledge. For instance, I knew that it was written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German World War I veteran, and released in 1929. All Quiet was quickly adapted to the big screen by Lewis Milestone and released in 1930. Both were controversial in Germany, with the film subject to harassment by Nazi brownshirts, and banned upon the Nazi seizure of power (and were also banned in Italy, Austria, and France). It is a film about the bleakness of the First World War. While based on Remarque’s experience as a German soldier, the lessons from it are (to an extent) universal to the experience of the Western Front. The haunting last shot of marching soldiers turning back to the camera overlaid over a field of graves was iconic and remains a defining symbol of the First World War. All Quiet is both a representation of a widely-held view of the Great War and one that helped to shape how it was understood going forward.

The film exceeded the lofty expectations I had about it. To discuss this, there’s a few points I’d like to focus on. This doesn’t even cover the half of what this film does, but I must stop somewhere. I’d like to focus on the use of the phrase ‘dulce et decorum est’, how striking the film remains, and the powerlessness that All Quiet is built on. By talking through these, I hope to communicate why I think the film resonated with audiences at the time and the value it still has for us today.

I was first taught the phrase ‘Dulce et decorum est’ at school in the poem by the same name by Wilfred Owen, an English poet from the First World War (whose works were published, in 1920, posthumously). The phrase must have been employed on both sides of the front, as both Owen and Remarque come to ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ (‘it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country’) as a damnable phrase. Owen calls it ‘the old Lie’, while Paul, the focus of All Quiet, says that ‘There are millions out there dying for their countries. And what good is it?’. The parallel is worth dwelling on. The experience of twentieth century warfare, for all who observed it, peels back the façade of ‘honour’ and ‘bliss’ in violence and reveals blood and suffering. The use of the phrase, to highlight its hollowness and hypocrisy, gets at the heart of what the contemporary understanding of what the Great War was. Owen and Remarque both helped to forge the modern understanding of World War I that many, at least in Europe, still have today.

On the note of today, the film holds up amazingly well for a film released in 1930. The stylistic preferences of the film keep it remarkable to a modern viewer. The sounds of the shells, from the first bombardment to the battle scenes, remain harrowing and unrelenting. The tender scenes between Paul and Kemmerich at the hospital brought a tear to my eyes, but there are scenes between Paul and his comrade Kat or his mother that are also incredibly well done. The emotional range of the film is appropriately adept and flexible, able to dance between crystal clarity and confusing brawl at the snap of a finger.

One of the things that I thought a lot about when watching the film is the sheer sense of powerlessness it induces the viewer with. The classroom of enthusiastic youngsters is lured to the front with calls to patriotism and illusions of power at the front and status back home. From the first training sequence, they are forced to become dehumanised automatons with no control over their lives. Whether Paul is on the battlefield or returning to the home front, the scope for individual action is limited. No action he makes, whether from humanity or violence, can change the course of the war. The only moment of independent action he takes is his brief fling with Suzanne, a French lady (a sequence which I presume is the reason why it was banned in France?). Even when he returns to the home front and is embroiled in a civilian conversation about what the war plan should be, Paul can’t muster up the will to argue and, instead, walks away. Where he tries to warn enlistees about the dangers of the front, he is called a coward and ignored. The status from serving at the front is only illusory and only highlights how estranged he has become from civilian life. In highlighting how the war changed young people, Remarque and Milestone point out how Paul, even if he does go back home, has nothing to go back to. Military discipline and the front experience breaks Paul’s bonds with his family and life back home, leaving him with nothing in return.

If my tone does not communicate my feelings for this film, I’ll make it clear. It is a powerful film; it is vitally important to watch if you want to understand why people see the First World War as they do. I did not watch this at school (outside of brief sequences), but the most prominent thing that I was, Blackadder Goes Forth, builds on Milestone’s legacy. I’d say that All Quiet is a great film. It remains compelling and fascinating, pulling at my heartstrings until the end. Maybe this just means that I am indoctrinated into its legacy, but, if that is the case, consider me a doctrinaire.


This week’s sealed envelope is brought to you by @Foxtrot!

Sealed Envelope

Foxtrot raised some issues that I do find fascinating. The brutality of this film really is remarkable, and its insensitivity is powerful and would have been hard to find in other eras. This film was released in 1930, so close to the war’s moment, and yet so honest about the war’s meaning and pointlessness. Thank you for your contribution, Foxtrot, it is definitely welcomed.


So, what do y’all think? Have you seen this film? Does it reflect how you see the First World War?

We come close to the eve of Halloween next week, so please join me then to listen to some great 80s soundtrack in The Thing. See you all next week :ghost:


#16

A huge plus is already that nobody tries the Eastern Bloc accent too hard. Child 44 with Tom Hardy is for instance in that regard entirely unbearable.


#17

I posted some of my thoughts on The Death of Stalin in the thread that I made for it a while back, but definitely agreed. While I can see the casting being criticised, I do feel that deciding to go for Western actors and having them keep their accents was really good. Even the fake accent, because Jason Isaacs’ Yorkshire accent is just so perfect.

(edit: by the way, got a banner up in the OP at last! :wink: )


#18


banner by @roselafayette

The Thing

The Thing is a perfect example of a film that I’d heard more about than I’d seen. The soundtrack had something special to it. It had at least one video game prequel/sequel (I have no idea if it’s good or bad). The titular Thing was a shapeshifter that impersonated people and the film dealt with the implications of that. For all that knowledge going in, the film still took me by surprise. I’m familiar with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell through Escape from New York, but hadn’t realised this was another meeting of the two, for instance.

I really enjoyed this film. There’s elements of it that truly command one’s attention, while still showing the age of a film made in 1982. I feel that I should emphasise my experience with horror as a genre and how The Thing contrasts with it, my love for the technical work of the film, and the way that it intertwines paranoia and maleness throughout the film, especially in that final scene.

Horror is a genre that I am mercurial about. I theoretically respect the craft, but I haven’t watched a lot of horror films and, when I do, it tends to be in the cinema. This means that I watch mostly modern horror films. Consequently, I tend to take against them if I feel that the rhythm of quiet-quiet-bang, or jump scares, feels excessive. When I tried to watch It (2017) a few weeks ago, I gave up halfway through. The quiet-quiet-bang, scene after scene, got me every time! Yet I walked out, just over an hour in, with a sense of tiredness. Knowing there was another hour of that tactic, scene-after-scene, and that I’d jump every time just made the prospect seem exhausting.

I’m unfamiliar with the horror legacy that produced The Thing. While initially uneasy at the slightly-goofy-UFO opening, the confusion of the early scenes (and blatant manipulation of my love for dogs) gave way to fantastic work by Russell and his co-stars to set the stakes. The moments when the film chooses to stay quiet rather than go loud are all great, hiding enough scenes to keep the viewer in the dark. Particular shots, such as the dog walking in on someone alone or MacReady sitting with his back to an open door, do a fantastic job of making me want to get another minute to see what’s about to happen. The editor’s hand can be felt pulling back the curtain at the worst (or best) moment, and it’s great.

That precision is also brought through to the sound design and production work, both of which are great. There are individual instances of The Thing that lapse into the absurdly macabre (the stomach and the spider, both in the same scene, spring to mind) and I could see one criticising the grisly moving parts today. On the other hand, I was totally brought in. The still Thing bodies are horrific and evocative, signposting the nature of the creature before it is fully spelled out. The sound design is also great, choosing sounds that cut through the fabric of the film to grip the viewer. There’s specific scenes, such as when MacReady digs around in the helicopter, that throw up false flags to mislead the viewer and play on the paranoia aspect of the film, which brings us on neatly to our final point.

The Thing has an all-male cast. I think the interaction between that fact and the underlying paranoia is interesting, and I’d love to read if critics have discussed this angle before. In my reading, the maleness interacts in three key ways: (1) the lack of emotional intimacy between the characters, (2) MacReady, and (3) that final scene.

There’s only one line of dialogue that really indicates that any of the characters have more than a professional relationship, when the initial team leader remarks that one of the Thing’s early victims has been a ten-year friend of his. Beyond that, the film’s portrayal of base life is stark. The team does socialise together, but, between radio operators and UFO cranks, one can see a sense of tension and discord. The team doesn’t feel emotionally close to one another; when The Thing lurks among them, nobody has any hesitation in restraining a suspect beyond ‘this person might be useful to me’. It was interesting to see a film in which ‘I’ll talk to them and see if they’re the real deal is never even mentioned as a notion. I don’t think it’s criticising the film to say that there is an emotional void.

MacReady is a great highlight of this. He lives in a shack away from the group and spends much of the film aloof from the team. He has a good relationship with the doctor he explores the Norweigan base with and gets along with Fuchs, but otherwise doesn’t seem to be anyone’s friend. His attitude throughout the film is a mixture of command and cajole, particularly after Nauls practically accuses him of being The Thing. MacReady runs the team on a ‘I-know-I’m-right’ basis, which isn’t necessarily bad, but is interesting to consider. He’s shown as a rational and prideful person, playing chess in his first scene but giving up out of frustration when the computer won’t let him win. The notion that only your own judgement can be trusted isn’t unique to this film. I haven’t developed this thought out further, but I’ll be turning it over in my head for some time to come.

The final scene, between MacReady and Childs in the burning base, was probably my favourite. The sense of exhaustion, defiant camaraderie, and MacReady’s laughter do a lot of work. Their discussion recalls that scene of MacReady frying the computer’s circuit boards rather than let it gloat, but, now, he is just too tired to do what he thinks he should. I don’t think it’s saying too much to claim that the film implies that Childs has, at some point, been infected by The Thing. While MacReady is puffing out a storm in the cold air, Childs barely lets out one gasp of cold. While I’m not sure the film had indicated this was a ‘tell’ before, the careful suggestion of that point is worth considering.

The film has a lot for me to unpack and I’m sure I’d find more on a rewatch. I honestly can’t wait to read the Sealed Envelope, start Googling speculation, and dig more into what the film means and gets at. There are elements clear on the surface, but I can’t help but feel there’s more to thaw out in there. Even in terms of the beat-to-beat who-what-where, I walked away with questions, like what happened with the person exiled away from the group and what they were doing. That doesn’t even touch on the emotional aspects of the film, which, despite feeling like a void to me, I can’t help but want to see more of.


This week’s sealed envelope is brought to us by @bureaukat, and it’s one of my favourites so far.

Sealed Envelope

The social anxiety and interplay between the people was such an important part of the film, and I tried to speak to it somewhat in my post. What do you think? What’s your experience with The Thing? Am I totally barking up the wrong tree?

The next film is going to be Metropolis! I’m not sure when it’ll go up (I have some commitments next weekend), but I hope it will be soon… hopefully I’ll be able to swing this weekend!


#19

I’m incredibly excited that you watched The Thing on Halloween! It’s one of my favorite horror/sci-fi films. I love the lack of socializing and bonds between the base members; it makes a lot of sense, because people that would take remote jobs like this are probably not very good with other people or society. It also works perfectly for the paranoia to come.

I’m always astonished by the sound work and how anytime a Thing is present, it’s like there’s five different layers of gross squishing and squirming sounds filling your ears. It also has some of the most notable practical effects of film, being the best example of that wet 80s effect look.

It’s also really fun to play the logic puzzle of who is a Thing throughout, and it generally gives you a lot more to chew on than most plain old monster movies. And it’s not unbearably scary, more like uncomfortable and dreadful, so it’s more accessible for that reason.

Now I’m off to an old local theatre to watch Suspiria, which I hold in the same horror quality tier. :jack_o_lantern::jack_o_lantern::jack_o_lantern:


#20

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I think you’ve hit on something with the all-male cast and how that plays out in social dynamics. Paired with long-term isolation and close quarters, it’s a perfect storm of naked intensity.

One thing that didn’t fit well in my sealed envelop but that I very much appreciate is the humor. The film is not funny, but there are – in my opinion – three perfect laughs:

  1. Clark saying that he doesn’t know what’s in the kennel, but “it’s weird and pissed off.”
  2. Palmer’s incredibly human response to the head spider (“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”)
  3. MacReady’s refusal to be impressed by the Thing’s awfulness (“Yeah, well, fuck you too!”)

All of these rely on the same context: this Thing is terrible and these men are over it. There’s an exhaustion to their responses that I find relatable and hilarious, if not especially clever. But this isn’t the time for cleverness! It is the time for swears.