Plutarch Goes to the Movies

Following up on the last post, I’m making notes for a future book on cinema. It’s tentatively titled “Parallel Movies,” and it consists of paired film criticism. (I got the idea from Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans.) An example might be Public Enemies and The Untouchables. The former is in a subtle way about the War on Terror while the latter is about the War on Drugs. They have different takes on when it is acceptable for government to cross the line into torture and murder. The former is about a Pretender who stops being one, while the latter is about a non-Pretender who becomes one.

At this point you might think I have Pretenders on the brain! (See the previous post.) Well, I do think that they are very common and the concept will show up in some of the criticism. But other things will be highlighted as well. I might make a triple review out of We the Living, Notorious and Lust, Caution, which all about a woman sleeping with a man she despises in order to gain some personal or political advantage. How does the woman view herself, how do others view her, what happens between the man and the woman? Those are all interesting questions. And what about the underlying idea, which is that for a woman to “give herself” to a man like that is more ethically and spiritually compromising that a man doing the corresponding thing with a woman he despises, an act which bothers the typical male action hero not at all.

Other examples might include Apocalypse Now and M*A*S*H, and North by Northwest and some early James Bond film.

If you have a pair of movies you think would make for a good review, please leave a comment.

4 thoughts on “Plutarch Goes to the Movies

  1. One possible moving pairing to discuss is Raging Bull and either Rocky or Cinderella Man; the earthy,womanizing boxer Jake LaMotta stands in contrast to the more wholesome boxer James Braddock or Rocky Balboa. A second similar yet different pair of movie protagonists are the main characters in Educating Rita and My Fair Lady. Yet another potential movie pairing that could be interesting is High Noon and Destry Rides again; in the former, a guilty man is acquitted and seeks revenge on the lawman who arrested him, and in the latter, an innocent man serves time and seeks revenge on the jury that convicted him.
    If I think of some others, I’ll pass them along.

  2. I have been working on the concept of parallel movies with my wife Stephanie and we think they should mostly be different takes on similar themes as conditioned by the eras in which they were made. An easy example would be Laurence Olivier’s version of Henry V, which is basically WWII propaganda, and Kenneth Branagh’s, which post-Vietnam realism about war. Other people have done that one, however.

    I might want to do two movies about Pretenders, one which shows a failure, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or Cabaret and one which shows a success, although I am not sure what the latter would be.

    I like your western ideas. They inspire me to try maybe The Man who Shot Liberty Valence versus The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the latter being one of Stef’s and my favorite movies. They are both about men who shoot bad guys and the effect it has on their lives. I believe they are both meditations on celebrity as well.

  3. I began thinking of a possible movie pairing for My Man Godfrey after watching it recently. What do you think of comparing/contrasting it with Down and Out in Beverly Hills — too much of a stretch? As the proverbial wheels began turning, I thought of some other potential movie pairs: To Sir with Love and Goodbye Mr. Chips or The Principal (?) ( I think that’s the title –starring Jim Belushi); The Best Years of our Lives and Born on the Fourth of July; THX1138 and either Brazil or Brave New World; The Lost Weekend and Barfly or Factotum; Ace in the Hole and The Front Page; The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes or The Seven Percent Solution with the new Sherlock Holmes movies; and last but not least, Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction. What do you think?

    • Diane, it sounds as if you have more ideas for this project than I do right now. Why don’t you try writing a parallel review? The trick, according to Stef and me, is to show how the two movies reflect an underlying change in attitude toward their subject. Just do a sketch of a review and we’ll talk about it. Maybe you can co-author the book 😉

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