Monday, July 21, 2008

Virtue Has Everything To Do With It

The American Cinematheque has been running a Blake Edwards series at the Aero in Santa Monica which is very nice and all, but I haven’t gone to any of them mostly because I’ve already seen what they’re showing in theaters too many times already. Sadly, his 1979 classic “10” is not among the selections which is too bad since, for all the times I’ve watched it on DVD, I’ve never seen a 35mm print of the film. So I did the only thing I could do, which was watch my DVD again.

“10” is of course mainly remembered today for the iconic appearance of Bo Derek, even if she is in it for barely fifteen minutes. Dudley Moore plays George Webber, “well-known composer, playwright and winner of four Academy Awards” who, feeling adrift at the onset of middle age as he reaches his 42nd birthday, is struck by the sight of the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen (Bo Derek, of course) on the way to her wedding. As his relationship with famous singer Samantha Taylor (Julie Andrews) quickly begins to fall apart, he finds himself doing anything he can to track down this new bride, who he dubs “an eleven” out of a scale from one to ten. I can remember watching it on video years ago, long after it had already been a huge hit and thinking it was funny, but maybe a little hollow. So it’s a surprise how it’s become such a favorite of mine over the years. I watch it once or twice a year and am forced to admit that some elements from in there have turned up in a few scripts I’ve written over the years. It is funny, at times hysterically so, but it never goes too far off compass that it forgets about the maturity of its characters, which is really the reason for the film in the first place. There’s an element to it which feels like that Blake Edwards fantasy of Los Angeles, with creative types who mostly live in Malibu and Beverly Hills and tunes by Henry Mancini wafting out of every nearby speaker. It has an elegance to it which feels sadly lost in comedies today.

The script by Edwards is extremely tight, especially in the first half, which allows us to follow Dudley Moore’s character George Webber as he makes the decisions he needs to make to track down this perfect ten he has spotted, at times giving us the credit to figure out what he’s doing as he’s in the process of doing it. He never states outright what he’s doing, partly because his obsession is something he can’t rationally put into words. Being a neurotic writer, I’ve of course never experienced anything like this. The psychiatrist played by John Hancock he sees just makes him frustrated, his gay best friend and lyricist Robert Webber seems to be living a life of pre-AIDS luxury and with nothing but Bo Derek on his mind he can’t tell current love Julie Andrews what’s bothering him, choosing to get into arguments instead. Hancock and Webber’s characters clearly know what’s going on with him, even without knowing the specifics, but that does him no good. He can only find it out for himself.

The film may be dated but at least it’s become dated in an interesting way. Even though there’s the occasional reference to things like watching Dinah Shore, the lead characters really do seem to be part of a different world than the one we know. It’s not just they’re rich people in Blake Edwards’ version of 1979 Southern California but that their points of reference and colloquialisms are simply of a different mindset. Of course, the movie and even the characters are aware of that, with George Webber being a composer of what Bo Derek’s Jenny calls “elevator music” and his own drunken musings about his dislike of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”. Though Edwards must have written the script from some sort of experience of his own, I’ve long figured that there had to be a certain amount of Henry Mancini in the character as well.

The first hour is, to me, extremely well-paced and consistently hysterical, with the round-robin from George’s house to the orgy across the way and back again particularly good. After this, the movie settles down slightly once George takes off for Mexico. This feels correct for the more laid-back vibe of such a resort yet is still feels like there’s not a wasted minute as the lead character finally takes some serious action. As he plays his new composition with Bo Derek running through his head, it’s a touching moment of the character trying to express something he can’t possibly say to anyone around him. It’s to the film’s credit that it never makes Bo Derek’s character a simple airhead or even unlikable. She’s educated, but has no real idea of the world around her and while she may be naive in a way that George can never relate to, she is at least given the intelligence to express her own point of view. She doesn’t know what George is talking about (“That’s your problem”) but the final time we see her indicates to me that someday she will. If Bo Derek had gone on to become a real actress and Edwards were still working, she would be an interesting character to revisit thirty years later. Interestingly, I found myself reminded of “10” earlier this year when I went to see FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, another film about a Hollywood composer who when going through romantic troubles takes off for a tropical resort and makes certain decisions about his life there. That film may play better in today’s world but since it doesn’t try to confront any genuine pain it never feels like it comes close to being about actual relatable emotions. And it’s nowhere near as funny.

Dudley Moore, famously a last minute replacement for George Segal, is still amazing in the lead role and is the sort of comic actor who can perform outlandish physical bits, like that huge fall down the hill, without ever crossing the line into seeming idiotic. Julie Andrews, in her first film role since Edwards’ THE TAMARIND SEED in 1974, is essentially playing a Julie Andrews-type. She’s presumably representing whatever she was for Blake in their own relationship and she deserves some sort of credit for being okay with how the film sometimes does a hard cut from a beautiful object of desire like Bo Derek to herself, looking as virginal as Julie Andrews ever does. Bo Derek looks as perfect as she is supposed to be and even if she was strikingly shot and carefully directed by Edwards in every single line reading, which I could believe, it certainly works. There’s also a terrific supporting cast in here which no one ever seems to remember—Dee Wallace as the woman who can’t seem to attract any men is instantly likable and sympathetic, yet still slightly needy in a way that seems like a believable turnoff. Brian Dennehy is one of the great bartenders in all of film—it should be mentioned here that “10” has to be one of the great drinking movies of all time. He and Moore play their scenes together beautifully. The unsung Don Calfa is very funny as George’s neighbor across the canyon and a pre-FLASH GORDON Sam J. Jones is pretty funny as Jenny’s husband, even with next to no dialogue. I’ve always figured that Edwards directed him to be as wide-eyed as literally possible in every single shot.

Along with my fondness for the film I also like Henry Mancini’s score very much. The soft track “Something for Jenny”, heard as Moore and Derek sit down for their first conversation is a particular favorite. Unless I’m mistaken, “Nothing to Lose”, featured in THE PARTY, can be heard in this film’s opening party as well. It remains entertaining, and even if this film about people dealing with how they are becoming obsolete is itself becoming obsolete, that doesn’t make me like it any less. For me, “10” does what the great films do, including the great comedies, which is to change and grow as I return to it over the years. I think I like it more every time I see it.

About ninety minutes after viewing this time to write this, my friend called me and said, “They’re remaking “10”!” “But I just watched it!” I exclaimed. It was announced it Variety. There’s not any point in getting worked up over it and I’m not going to bother asking how much this is related to the release of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and maybe even last year’s lousy redo of THE HEARTBREAK KID, but I have very few expectations that such a remake will even attempt to get near the heart of the comic anguish that the original goes for. It won’t have Dudley Moore, it won’t have Bo Derek and most importantly, it won’t be written and directed by Blake Edwards. Simply put, it doesn’t have a chance.


Larry Aydlette said...

Boy, I hated 10 at the time, and most everything Edwards did in that period except for S.O.B. Maybe I need to try 10 again.

Mr. Peel said...

I freely admit that Edwards can be an acquired taste and that I have a strange tendency to like some of his films more than most people. I cannot make any guarantees that you'll like it any better now. But I'm glad that you like S.O.B. which I'm a huge, huge fan of.

Joe Valdez said...

Terrific review, Peel. I agree that 10 is dated, but you're right, it has dated in very interesting ways. I thought it was novel to have a scene where two adults argue over the word "broad" and pull out a dictionary to solve the dispute. Such a thing would be unheard of in a movie today where you have to get to the next beat, the next gag.

Mr. Peel said...

Thanks very much, I've always liked that scene too. Edwards has a tendency to toss certain eleborate uses of vocabulary into his films and this has always been one of my favorite examples of that. Both of the characters are written very well here.