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Random Movie Club Flashback - March 2012


Your March 2012 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: May The Silence Be Broken!!

Pizza: Prime Italian

Preshow Entertainment: RICKY GERVAIS: OUT OF ENGLAND 2


First things first: You know that face-guard Hannibal Lecter wears? That fiberglass, half-a-hockey masky thing? The one Billy Crystal wore at the Academy Awards? I don't care what company manufactures them, what I really want to know is - why. Is there really that much demand for cannibal mouth guards? I mean come on, does this company sell more than three per year?

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is one of those movies that nearly everyone has seen, unless you went out of your way not to. I know some who don't like horror movies (which this isn't, but people often group psychological thrillers and horror together), so they won't watch it. Sometimes you need to face your fears to rid yourself of them, as Clarice Starling does. And it's too bad if you won't watch this movie, because you'll find few thrillers that are better. This is a film that should be (and perhaps is) studied in film school, or more specifically - script school. And if you disagree, that means you can't be my friend. Okay, you can be my friend, but I don't think I'll be having you for dinner.


Mention THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to someone, anyone, and they'll immediately picture Anthony Hopkins, probably saying the name "Clarice" as if he's in some West End farce. That's because Hannibal Lecter is the Fonz of this movie, the one who overshadows the main character. But here's the part you may not be aware of - Lecter is absent for most of LAMBS. In fact, his longest scene clocks in at a mere six minutes, while others are thirty seconds or a minute. And how many scenes feature Clarice and Lecter? Eleven. Ooops, I mean, nine. No, no...it was just four little scenes. Translation? This is how effective and memorable Lecter is. Maybe it's the reason Lechter's Housewares went out of business. That's like buying flatware from Bundy's Kitchen Supplies. And get this, Lecter is a villain, but he's not the villain. That would be a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill. Damn, there's so many layers to this movie it kills me dead.

When Hopkins first heard the title of the movie from his manager, he thought it was a children's bedtime story. And you know what? He wasn't so wrong. This is a fairy tale about a little starling lost in the woods, and a big badass wolf with a mouthful of saliva-dripping teeth, a wolf who tricks her with his words. "The better to eat you with" indeed.


Clarice has the determination of an ant trying to move a rubber tree plant. She's brought herself up from white trash to FBI trainee, despite her lousy upbringing which included foster (no pun intended) parents. She's got grit and moxie, compensating for her internal damage. A seasoned psychiatrist could see it, and it so happens Dr. Hannibal Lecter is such a man. Lecter lives in a cell made of stone (can he huff and puff and blow it down? You bet your ass!) with a plexiglass front instead of bars, which is now available for viewing at the Max Factor Museum in Hollywood, along with Brendan Fraser's loincloth from GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. But back to the matter at hand; Lecter is in the plexiglass cell because Hannibal Lecter kills and eats people. How fortuitous and convenient that his first name should rhyme with cannibal, though I suppose it's better than naming him Herial Hiller Lecter.

So if Lecter is behind bars, err, plexiglass, then why is Clarice visiting him? Because of his mind, that's why. Another serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), is leaving a trail of bodies, and Lecter might have some insight. Sort of like the "it takes one to know one" school. But no one's been able to crack Lecter's shell. Can Clarice? A young, attractive neophyte with a backstory the hungriest analyst would want a taste of?



LAMBS opens with a female in the woods, running, grunting, sweating. Is she running from someone...or something? Or to something? Or...wait a second, she's wearing an FBI Academy shirt. She's training! But her course gets interrupted (metaphorically, as well) when her boss, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), wants to see her. He has a job for her. "Not a job, really. An interesting errand." And twelve minutes into the movie, good meets evil for the first time.


Being an ambitious cadet is difficult enough (check out those sweat stains when she's training), but Clarice is managing it in a profession dominated by men who wear their egos and libidos like Polo shirts and aftershave. In an elevator at Quantico, she's the only female among the nine passengers, and those boys jogging at the training camp sure look like they're checking out her ass. Undeterred, she soldiers on, finding herself right in the lap of Lecter. "Believe me, you don't want Hannibal Lecter inside your head," cautions Crawford. But that's exactly what she does (there's a shot of Starling through the plexiglass while Lecter is talking to her - his reflection literally inside her head). I personally find the interactions between Clarice and Lecter the heart of the story, not to diminish the many compelling and brilliant suspense moments LAMBS offers up. But when it's just tea for two, it's stunning. In these quid pro quo scenes we witness the two trade information - she gets insight on Buffalo Bill, he gets inside her mind.


But there's another one besides Lecter who gets inside the mind of Clarice - Jodie Foster, who fosters her incredible acting chops to form a character so complex, so layered and so straight-up human. So make no mistake, though Lecter is the most colorful character in the movie (he's also on top 10 villain lists, most times in the #1 slot), this is not his story, it's Clarice Starling's, and even Lecter knows this. He's the voice in her head, leading her on a leash, planting the seeds to help her transform from larva to butterfly. In fact, we actually watch Clarice change in front of our eyes. It's in the scene where they're examining one of Buffalo Bill's murder victims who turned up in the water. At first, she turns away from the corpse; is she merely embarrassed she'll reveal her novicehood at applying salve under her nose to blot out the smell of the putrefaction? Or is she just avoiding seeing her first 'floater'? Or both?

Anthony Hopkins - Hannibal Lecter
Hopkins deserves all the praise he gets for this role. It would have been really easy to make Lecter a cartoon, and to be honest, he actually is a little cartoony (I wonder if they were afraid of that). Yet somehow, through a confluence of writing, acting and staging, Lecter is scary as all fuck. Even though he's confined to a cell, wearing unassuming muted, tailored coveralls, he's scary. He quotes Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius ("Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself?") and draws detailed pictures from memory, like the Duomo at the Belvedere (Clarice: "All that detail just from memory, sir?" Lecter: "Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view."). Once he was at the top of his field, giving lectures (you need to see the deleted scenes to know that). It's as if he himself knows he's a genius (he did graduate Harvard Medical School cum laude) and is playing it cartoony to amuse himself. He's like Einstein sticking his tongue out. He even tells her "Oh Clarice, your problem is, you need to get more fun out of life." This isn't to say he's not a dangerous man. We're given enough warnings about him, and if you're handy with a freeze frame button, you can read this on Clarice's pre-internet micro-fiche: "Cooked his victims for gourmet meals then served them to his friends," a charming subtlety here that's hit on the head in the LAMBS's prequel, RED DRAGON. But here's where the real magic trick in this movie lies; When his cellmate treats Clarice disrespectfully, the gentleman in Lecter appears, which actually, and unbelievably, humanizes him. LAMBS takes the most evil villain west of Hitler and makes us root for him. SPOILER: In the sickest, most twisted and unspoken subtext - it's psychiatrist Dr. Lecter that repairs Clarice. So what if he happens to enjoy an occasional human tongue sandwich on rye with a side of buttered sinew? Like you're so perfect?

Jonathan Demme does an amazing job directing this dark yet accessible (it did win all five of the major Academy Awards) film, especially considering that up till then he was known for fun and frivolous fare like SOMETHING WILD and MARRIED TO THE MOB (though I knew him from a COLUMBO episode, freak that I am). Demme, like most, is hit or miss. I enjoyed MOB and WILD as well as MELVIN AND HOWARD and THE LAST EMBRACE, but was offended by his takes on the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and CHARADE (THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE) remakes. I may be one of the few who has seen the film he scripted, THE HOT BOX, at a drive-in (actually, it probably only played in drive-ins). And I think his STOP MAKING SENSE is the best concert film ever. Still, nothing comes within miles of LAMBS, and perhaps nothing he does ever will. That's the price you pay for making such an outstanding movie. It's the Godfather Syndrome.

While so many films run for the exits in their third acts, LAMBS gets stronger, providing a one-two punch where the punches are 180 degrees apart, yet equally cunning. The first is something that Lecter does, the other is a movie trick, a turn that the film itself negotiates that I'm not going to give away on the chance you're the person who hasn't seen the movie. And for those who have, how did it fool us so well?? There's a huge clue that pretty much tells us that this movie-ruse will happen, yet we ignore it. Again, I can't be too specific, so when you see it again, look for it. Actually, there are a lot of things I've either forgotten or never realized until I watched LAMBS again, like the thrilling moment Catherine (the girl in the well) realizes she's not the first victim of Buffalo Bill's. You say you've seen the movie, but do you remember how she knows this? Like I said up top, maybe it's time to see it again.

Hannibal Lecter made his first filmed appearance a few years earlier, in 1986's MANHUNTER, from LAMBS's author Thomas Harris's earlier book RED DRAGON. It's hard to believe the studios didn't want to make LAMBS because MANHUNTER was a loser at the box office (though many would agree it was a really good moody thriller). But not only did they make LAMBS, they ended up remaking MANHUNTER using the original RED DRAGON title. DRAGON (2002) is decent (though they never explain why Lecter looks ten years older instead of ten years younger), but nowhere close to LAMBS, or even MANHUNTER, says me. Just remember to avoid the silly sequel HANNIBAL (2001) and prequel-to-the-prequel HANNIBAL RISING (2007), a/k/a Teen Hannibal.

Dress Pattern
So much in LAMBS is strong. The acting (just think of how this would have been with Heather Graham and Matt LeBlanc), directing, cinematography and lighting (Tak Fujimoto), and the score (Howard Shore). And let's raise a nice glass of chianti to writers Ted Tally (script) and Harris (novel), who conspired to make the story so clever, with nary a wasted word (I wish I could say that about these write-ups of mine).

Am I seeing things, or does Buffalo Bill's dress pattern look
a lot like the ornate facade above the ice cream parlor
where Clarice interviews Stacy?
It feels like LAMBS' writing takes Lecter's Aurelius quote to heart - "Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself" - as everything in this movie is there for a reason, especially Lecter's parceling out of clues. Some, like his penchant for anagrams, are obvious, while others are hidden. Is he just doing a mind fuck when he says, "One more thing, Senator. Love your suit," or is he giving Clarice a clue? And why the hell does he say the word "simplicity" when guiding Clarice to find Buffalo Bill? Isn't that the name of a company that makes dress patterns? "Simplicity" is mentioned again later, when Clarice and her co-worker/friend Ardelia (Kasi Lemmons) are discussing the case. They also repeat the word "pattern" a few times, referring to the area where bodies are turning up. And those unnerving shots where Lecter looks right at us (supposedly Hopkins' idea), as if we're Clarice. And it's not just Lecter who does this. A victim's father does it too, as do local cops, her boss Crawford, Stacy from Ohio...it seems everyone's looking at Clarice ("Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice?"). Which means, everyone's looking at us, because who doesn't imagine themselves being the hero? We all think we're John McClanes and Harry Callahans, but the truth is we're all Agent Starlings, filled with ambition, drive, and enough vulnerability to get the living shit scared out of us.

Preshow Entertainment: RICKY GERVAIS: OUT OF ENGLAND 2

Here we go again. We loved Gervais's first OUT OF ENGLAND HBO special so much I decided to see this one. Though arguably funnier than most anything out there, this sequel (well, that could explain it) was not nearly as sharp, fast or clever. This time out, Gervais attacks things like acts of God, heroin and the bible for kids. But it's his bit on people's perception of fat people that seemed to ring the bell. But whatever. The truth is he's still the funniest out there right now.

Video of Hannibal Nathanson courtesy of
Rocket Media Labs

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