Despite his frequent trans-global excursions Dewitt spends a lot of time hangin' out in New York City observing urban decay and blight at its finest.
Where else but the Big Apple has that trail creature called homo sapiens better succeeded in taming the harsh elements of nature and constructing a metropolis in which the dangers of the natural environment have been exchanged for the dangers of the built environment? This conflict between man and nature leads to several interesting questions. Which is inherently more dangerous, a hurricane or trying to go for the last empty seat on an "A" train to Brooklyn? Would not trees be better served with a lightweight and washable covering of Orlon instead of the traditional but greatly outmoded bark? And finally, who has more control over the sanctity and destiny of human life. God or Ed Koch?
Harvard's Lowell House proposes its answer to these and other questions by showing SPLASH. Daryl Hannah, decked out as a real foxy fish-lady, makes a case for nature while Tom Hanks defends dear old materialist Americana. Basically this story is about how the nice mermaid gets screwed when she encounters human beings, or more accurately New Yorkers. She just wants to live in peace and harmony (and water!) while the smarmy Hanks avidly desires to split her fins. Personally Dewitt is rooting for the fish.
Hannah may come from the wilds of Davey Jone's Locker but Rosanna Arquette in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (Dunster House) hails from far less civilized terrain--New Jersey. A frustrated suburban housewife of a swimming pool salesman. Arquette goes on a spiritual quest after Susan, a debauchedly primal nymphet played by the debauchedly primal Madonna. Dewitt thinks there is something inherently fishy about equating nature and primal being with a rock star whose love handles are as big as her breasts, but the film nonetheless satisfies the teen viewer's instinctive need to have his lifestyle of Fritos and junk jewelry vindicated on film. Natural primacy as a pair of Capezzio flats? Forget it.
Dewitt finds a delightful Bogart duo at the Brattle. CASABLANCA is a love vs. war flick with Bogart saying a lot of meaninglessly cool things to Ingrid Bergman--whose love handle are not featured in the film. Anyway, war wins out the end, proving that, given the alternative of bedding down with a gorgeous Swede and playing around with a rickety old plane, men almost always prefer machines to blondes.
THE MALTESE FALCON is a picture about nothing. Bogie and a whole host of famous but forgotten stars chase after this statue of some bird that's supposed to be worth a trillion dollars. It turns out that Nature (in this case, the aforementioned bird) has played a trick on Man, and the statue turns out to be worth little more than a couple of back issues of Penthouse's Madonna issue. In any case, Dewitt has seen both of these classics about 20 times on PBS, but the communal viewing experience might be worth the five-odd bucks.
The Nickelodeon proffers its solution to this philosophic dilemma in KOYAANISQATSI. This film makes use of time-lapse photography and a Phil Glass soundtrack to show the natural growth of a plot of land and the literally synthetic growth of a plot of urbanity. The director's bias is not hard to guess. At times; the city footage looks like a Jarvik 7 artificial heart going loco and devouring human beings, or, to be more definitive, New Yorkers.
Dewitt readily admits the validity of the point, but questions the sobriety of the average audience attending the movie. This is one of the most renowned head films ever and calls into question the urban use of illicit substances: a triumph of Nature or another perversion of Man?
Competing with the Nickolodeon's ready-made typo is the Harvard Square Theater's CALIGULA. Dewitt thinks that this is either the worst soft-porn action movie or the worst action-filled soft-porn film ever made. Caligula, the Man, tries to dominate his fellow Men, and Nature ends up aserting herself to resolve the ensuing chaos. Sex and violence are so intermingled here that the sex scenes aren't a turn-on and the graphic bits of violence induce fits of laughter instead of a quickening of the pulse. The only notable monologue in the movie is the bad-ass emperor's one-liner: "On your knees, wench, and show me what hath God wrought." Well, Man and not God wrought this turkey, which is possibly the only thing in the universe designed more confusingly than New York City Mass Transit.
As Dewitt finishes this column, his eyes seize on a ray of hope, a certain hope for Nature's final triumph over the inevitably jaded sensibilities and efforts of Man. The Beacon Hill Cinema in beautiful downtown Boston unveils GODZILLA 1985 this weekend, a film which should be subtitled "Nature's Ultimate Weapon." The fire-spitting monster once again proves to be the most effective remedy to the crime, filth, traffic problems, pornography, impoliteness, inflation, hypocrisy and general yuck which accumulates every time Man decides to congregate in groups of more than four. Raymond Burr also stars in this latest incarnation of the the world's biggest sumo wrestler.
Godzilla was always one of Dewitt's childhood faves, and this time, one can only hope that the big green monster is tired of fooling around. It all goes to prove that in the battle between human beings and their environment, it's not who wins the most rounds but who lands the final blow.