The Trail Boss Ayatollah

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Recently I ran afoul of the faithful when I attempted to herd some precious cattle off the Elysium fields of cinema. The result was hurt feelings. Not mine. I know it just a movie but some people insist on putting way too much of themselves into it. They embrace adjectives like, genius, and innovator, phrases like maker of great movies, and one of my faves, influential, followed by a list of directors who the lister claims followed the influencer like lemmings off a cliff.

I confess. It was all about the genius, Stanley Kubrick (“Well, he’s a genius” is the comment the actors serving a year and a half sentence on the set of Full Metal Jacket in response to Kubrick unusual demands, reported by Matthew Modine in the Full Metal Jacket Diary). There, I said it, Kubrick. People who have never been near an editing room defend genius boy and his 90 to a hundred takes in pursuit of “perfection”. A perfection which eluded him with Barry Lyndon. A effort that stumbled right out of the gate with Ryan O’Neil as the titular Redmond Barry.

OK, let me stop right here. I know what you are thinking. “What’s that old fool taking about? Is he nuts?” Clarification. I stand second to no man in my admiration of The Killing, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, even Lolita. Yes, even Lolita! The first part of Full Metal Jacket was good, but the drama ended when Sgt. Hartman was killed. (best not to mention Spartacus, a touchy subject for Kubrick)

There is simply no excuse for Barry Lyndon (as I recall, the novel was something of a comedy). The dialogue sequences went on forever, and it was not because the characters had a lot to say. No. They said almost nothing. (By contrast Michael Hordern’s narration explained the picture.) What they said no one wanted to hear, anyway. They just sort of gazed at one another in a close-up as if transfixed while considering what to say next. “Line?”

There was a lot of talk at the time of its release of John Alcott’s photography. Camera lens from NASA. Night interiors were shot by candlelight to give the audience the experience of going blind in the 18th Century.

After suffering through that, decades later we are confronted with the posthumous Eyes Wide Shut. Who knows what the hell that title is supposed to mean. Tom Cruise wanders around the Tri-state area after a fight with the wife (she may have been guilty of the thought crime of attraction to a man in uniform. And not a mailman or doorman, either. A naval officer.) The wondering ends at a Halloween party with bizarre sex. I’ve never been to a Halloween party, so they all could feature bizarre sex as far as I know. After seeing that movie I am not going near one, either. Spooky. But it makes me wonder about Stanley’s personal life.

Oh, and Tom Cruise is doctor who makes house-calls. (“If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911.” is more like it). Sure he does.

Let’s face it, no one can say what the damn thing is about. It doesn’t bear too much thinking. Might damage a man’s moral center, or something. Take heart, the movie can be salvaged! Yes it can.

Did you ever see the 1960s Jay Ward (Rocky and Bullwinkle) show, Fractured Flickers? They would take a silent, add new dialogue, music and sound effects, and make it a comedy.

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I remember they took Douglas Fairbanks’ The Mark of Zorro, and made it into, The Barber of Stanwyck. Hilarious! Lon Chaney, Sr.’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame became, Dinky Dunstan, Boy Cheerleader.

Woody Allen did something like it with a Japanese movie and called it, What’s Up? Tiger Lilly. I know, I know, we are not supposed to even whisper Woody’s name after that crazy ex girlfriend made all those wild claims her lawyers doubtless told her to make. His name may only whispered in a darkened room, or under Maxwell Smart’s Cone of Silence from Get Smart. But I say, damn the PC crowd. Look what they did to Al Franken. They did the Republican’s work for them. How smart is that?

Take Eyes Wide Shut , strip the dialogue, music and sound effects from the three stripe. Give it new comedy lines and give Tom Cruise the voice of Homer Simpson. Marge for Nicole, the then wife. New music and sound effects would make it sing. Maybe off key, but sing. Perhaps Rap.

It could be: Halloween: The Quest for Michael Myers. Killer Myers has gone missing so there can be no more Halloween movies. Bill the doctor no more, Tom is producer/director, Alan Smithee. His wife Midge nags him into searching the Tri-state for Myers to make another movie.

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“Michael, I beg you, I plead with you to think of all the little people out there who rely on your murderous presence. My God man, you must try to kill Jaime Lee Curtis one last time!!!”

Ah, a new story to overlay the story not even Great Stanley understood (on a serious note, the film portrayed women in a less than flattering light).

If such a thing works for Eyes Wide Shut, why not a real turkey like Heaven’s Gate? The story of Eastern European immigrates in the Wyoming wilds who are so poor they can only afford to rent skates at the only roller rink West of the Mississippi.

Kris Kristofferson is James Averill U.S. Marshall no more, but Binx Skater, Frontier Detective, in The Trail Boss Ayatollah .

About John Welsh

When I was young, cinema was my religion and the theater was my church. No matter how bad new releases may appear, my faith endures. I have worked in movie post-production, production, as a story analyst, property master, script supervisor; just about anything that is required in low budget, nonUnion films.