Tuesday, November 20, 2007

kinski vs freud (kinski wins)


It's actually really difficult to make a truly bad movie. For a movie to be truly, genuinely bad, it has to be lacking even the most basic of value, be that entertainment, intellectual or whatever. It's more or less a cliche today, but I think it was in 1977 that the right-wing asshole Medved brothers declared Ed Wood Jr. the "worst filmmaker of all time," but in truth, when you think about it, Ed Wood's movies, as inept as some of the aspects of his filmmaking are, are genuinely pretty enjoyable to watch. Most "worst of" lists of films tend to have a certain aspect of affection to them, which is to say that while we may view some films as "bad" based on the standard criteria of what is generally considered "good" filmmaking, quite often these supposedly bad films can entertain or enlighten on any other number of levels.

Which is all sort of a roundabout way of saying that the idea of good and bad film can be somewhat relative, and because of this a truly bad movie is really somewhat rare. Which, in turn, is just a longwinded, stupid and roundabout way of saying that "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" (1984) is maybe the worst movie I've ever seen. Even worse, Danford B. Greene's directorial debut is ostensibly a comedy, yet is so painfully unfunny in such a leaden, joyless way, that, well..ugh. A good movie can be transcendental, a bad movie can be sublime, but such a genuinely mediocre film is just depressing.

What's worse is that this film has a lot of potential. Director Greene had previously served as editor to both Robert Altman (on That Cold Day in the Park and MASH) and Mel Brooks (on Blazing Saddles), so it would seem that he should have had at least some sense of comedic timing. The cast, plucked presumably from the best of both Brooks and Altman, includes Bud Cort (as Freud), Carol Kane and Dick Shawn, along with Ferdy Mayne (The Fearless Vampire Killers), Carroll Baker (Andy Warhol's Bad) and Marisa Berenson (Barry Lyndon), along with Kinski, of course. For the most part, these otherwise able performers desperately struggle with such horrible material. Bud Cort could breathe life into something even as genuinely so-so as "Bates Motel," but here, with nothing even remotely clever to work with, he's totally lost. Kane is usually irresistable, here she's cute but, again, without funny material to work with, she's basically just kind of adequate. Shawn, meanwhile, is insufferable, as a patient of Freud's who believes he is various historical and mythical characters including Napoleon, Beethoven and Santa Claus. Baker is actually pretty good as Freud's overbearing (well, duh) mother, but, again, without the material to work with, it's a pretty thankless role.

So, yeah, the film purports to chart Freud's history from childhood to his discovery of psychoanalysis, with the idea being that all of his major developments in psychology are stumbled onto by accident, primarily as a result of his failing to become a physician due to a pathological fear of blood (stemming from a childhood accident involving a bucket of red paint). Along the way, he romances Kane, discovers cocaine (in a subplot that lasts all of about five minutes and never is developed- for a minute I thought this was going to be another entry in the short-lived, misguided 1980s subgenre of cocaine comedy, like the inexplicable- but actually kind of funny- "Jekyll & Hyde, Together Again") and cures Berenson of her frigidity. I think in some way this was intended to be sort of a bawdy sex comedy (ala Blazing Saddles), but it's as sexless as it is jokeless. And if that weren't bad enough, about 3/4 of the way through, it becomes a musical, with songs as badly written as the rest of the script (thankfully, remarkably, the final painful musical number between Cort and Kane on the taped-off-TV version I watched was interrupted by an Emergency Broadcast System test, which was a welcomed intervention). Although there's really nothing of value to be found in this film, I can't help but feel the need to recommended it to people of an example of a movie where just absolutely nothing works. I mean, it's not like there are a bunch of jokes that fail, there just aren't any jokes, or rather the jokes are so bad they're only barely recognizable as jokes. You don't even hate the movie, you just feel sorry for it. It plods along with so much effort, you can almost see the film itself sweating in desperation.

The one bright spot here is Kinski, playing somewhat against type as Freud's jovial "Uncle Max" (actually Freud's mother's lover). As bad as the rest of the movie is, as much as the rest of the performers struggle with such shitty material, Kinski truly shines in his few scenes, beaming with a bright, kindly smile. For an actor so often cast as villains, killers and madmen, he's remarkably adept at playing a nice, likable guy, who seems so genuinely concerned for Freud's well-being even as he romances his mom and even attempts to seduce Kane in one scene (after which, instead of making this some kind of subplot or plot point, he more or less just disappears from the film). It's the one bright spot in an otherwise utterly dismal production. Even so, "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" just plain sucks. Never before have I seen so many talented people assembled in something so utterly without merit. Oh, and for what it's worth, this was a US-Yugoslavian co-production (Serbian actor Nikola Simic plays Freud's pops).

I don't even know if "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" even qualifies as Negative Pleasure, since aside from Kinski's performance, there's no pleasure to be found here at all. Admittedly, I did sort of enjoy how much I disliked this movie, but not because of anything in the movie, just because it was sort of a new sensation to watch a movie that failed as miserably in so many respects as this one did. In some ways, it's kind of admirable, this being a film that denies the viewer any form of satisfaction whatsoever, from jokeless comedy to nondeveloped plotlines, it simply refuses to provide anything of value to anyone at any time that Kisnki isn't on the screen. And there aren't a lot of films you can say that about. In fact, if anyone knows of any, please let me know, this could be a whole new thing for me...

Check back eventually for more Kinski & Kirby. Happy Thanksgiving...

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