' ' Cinema Romantico: The Ferris Wheel Of Movies

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Ferris Wheel Of Movies

For reasons I will not delve into a few years ago I caught a re-run of “Sex and the City” in which our gal Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) found herself in a sex buddy relationship with a guy played by Dean Winters. Dean Winters had a name in this episode – I think – but that name is unimportant, and it is unimportant because, of course, we all know Dean Winters best as Dennis Duffy, the beeper selling beau of "30 Rock" protagonist Liz Lemon. As plot dictates, Carrie eventually wants to expand her relationship with Dean Winters into more than just sex buddy status but as soon as she does she discovers that Dean Winters is loud, uncouth, clueless – kind of a irredeemable moron, basically. In other words, he is an awful lot like……Dennis Duffy.

Well, this blew my mind. What if he WAS Dennis Duffy? “30 Rock” was set in Manhattan. “Sex and the City” was set in Manhattan. Wasn’t it conceivable that Dennis Duffy could have found himself as sex buddy to Carrie Bradshaw before moving on several years later to being Liz Lemon’s paramour-in-arms? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But on ‘Sex and the City’ he was dressed in a suit, like a wolf of Wall St. That’s so un-Dennis Duffy.” To which I reply, if you think for one second that Dennis Duffy – owner of the coffee machine at 38th and 6th in the basement of the K-Mart – wouldn’t get himself into a suit solely to be someone’s sex buddy, you’re outta your mind.

I thought about this again when I recently re-watched Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” for the umpteenth time and once again inhaled the savory aroma of the sequence between dime novelist drunkard Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) and notorious racketeer Harry Lime (Orson Welles) aboard the Wiener Riesenrad – that is, the famed ferris wheel in Vienna’s Prater Amusement Park. It’s an ominous conversation despite Lime’s pretense of goodwill, and it’s partially ominous because these are old boyhood pals whose relationship has been suddenly, tragically altered. Just as Vienna was so different “before the war”, so were these two men, and now their hearts have been made dark – Holly no longer has his friend, Harry merely acts as if that’s what he still is. It is the human psyche plunging into the pit of despair.

It rises back up 46 years later when Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), college-age kids from America and France, respectively, who meet on a train and get off together at Vienna to experience a single night of bliss, living life as it should be lived, and eventually riding that very same ferris wheel where they share a first kiss. It is, in a way, a quiet if forceful rebuttal of the insignificance of human existence Harry Lime argued for all those years ago in the exact same place. That would suggest the makers of “Before Sunrise” were acting on the knowledge of “The Third Man”……but where they? I suppose it depends on how we view the movies.

The ancient phrase goes, Does a tree that falls in the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it? But I ask a different variation on the question. I ask, do Rick Blaine & Ilsa Lund watch Bridget von Hammersmark movies? This is to say, did the Rick & Ilsa of “Casablanca” exist in the same universe as the German movie star of “Inglorious Basterds”? Are the movies a whole universe unto themselves where everything that happens just as it does here in our own world? Or are they make-believe, each one influenced by all the others?

Well, if you know me you know damn well what I believe, and I believe that Rick & Ilsa watched Bridget von Hammersmark movies and that when Jesse & Celine boarded that ferris wheel they had no idea that 46 years earlier a dime store novelist and a racketeer rode it too because what history text teaches about a dime store novelist and a racketeer? No, they were just like any Chicago tourist that takes in a game at Wrigley field without knowing who may have inhabited that rickety seat before them, or Chris Parker leading her charges through downtown without knowing some guy named Ferris did the same thing a year earlier.

Of course, Jesse and Celine probably knew about the mysterious death of that one guy in the park about eight years earlier. That was probably in all the papers.


Derek Armstrong said...

I've always marveled over the fruitful topic of what exists in the world of our movie characters. Has Tom Hanks' character in Philadelphia ever seen Splash? Many movies certainly do talk about other movies that really exist in our world, but if there's an evident Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon connection between the actor playing that character and an actor in one of those movies, it usually calls too much attention to the artifice at hand and takes me out of it.

I wrestled with this topic in the early days of my own blog when I discussed the similarities between vampires and zombies, which are actually many. The notable exception is this: In most movies about vampires, everybody knows what a vampire is, and when they see a vampire, they say "Oh, that's a vampire." In most movies about zombies, though, the zombie is a foreign concept to most of the characters and they always have to refer to the zombies through a new bit of terminology that they are minting for the occasion. Why do these characters live in a world where there are movies about vampires, but not in a world where there are movies about zombies? Who knows.

This last paragraph is not exactly on your point, but I thought it was worth typing out anyway.

Nick Prigge said...

I think it's on point. I think they're all valid questions. I mean, even attempting to go down this road becomes problematic for all reasons in your first paragraph. Does Diane Kruger in "National Treasure" watch Bridgett von Hammersmark movies? Is she weirded out? Was Bridgett von Hammersmark weirded out by how much she looked like Helen of Troy (probably not)? You could go on all day.

I just like to pretend there is some mystical karmic connecting tissue in film, I guess. I'm wired that way.