Thankful for World Cinema- Bicycle Thieves

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Bicycle Thieves

Enzo Staiola and Lamberto Maggiorani in Bicycle Thieves (Produzioni de Sica)

Firstly, it must be said that as simple as it is a test of the greatness of Bicycle Thieves is how much can and has been written about it. This piece, however, is meant as an introductory piece to the film in hopes that more people will discover this cinematic gem. This is not an in depth examination or an in depth film theory piece. For that kind of examination I could not do better than to direct you to the companion booklet that comes with the Criterion release.

 Bicycle Thieves is all that is good about Neorealist cinema in one tidy story. It is naturalistic acting, practical locations and a simple yet utterly compelling storyline.

The film sets up its dramatic problem instantly. Antonio is assigned work but needs a bicycle or he won’t get the job. He does manage to get it out of hock but his troubles aren’t nearly over.

What is most effective in this film is that in following Antonio on his quest we become fully immersed in it. We identify with him because we know the significance of the bike and why he needs it.

What’s more is that we can see the extremes he goes through and can relate when he is pushed past his breaking point. In his failing we can see why he has reached his last resort.

In this way Bicycle Thieves becomes the perfect tragedy because our protagonist can see how far he fell and can wonder what he could’ve been thinking without ruining his entire life.

The tragedy is ultimately left for us to examine. As we know there are many more stories like it playing themselves out everyday. By making the tale small and not grandiose it’s easier to see how it could be you.


The Movie Rat’s Manifesto

Welcome to The Movie Rat. This blog’s name comes from a term I came up with for a friend of mine when we went to the movies every Saturday for a matinee and at least one other film. We were like mallrats except we went to the movies eventually he lost interest but I kept on going.

So a new blog and infinite possibilities and here there won’t be any annoying restrictions such as trying to keep one of the most universal artforms in the world “localized.”

What does one do when one sets out to start a new blog. Well, for the time being anyway, whatever one wants.

However, I am starting with this manifesto to let you know a few things I plan on doing and conversely not doing.

So here are some things you can expect and some things I will venture to avoid, five things in each category sounds like a decent start…

I will:

-Be re-posting older articles slowly but surely.

-Do daily themes such as: Monochromatic Monday, Two For Tuesday, Weird Wednesday, Theme Thursday and Film History Friday. These may change. I also Plan writing longer more theory-based papers from time to time. I have ideas for both Metropolis and Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe).

-Will offer “seasonally appropriate” reviews: For exampled, TCM is currently doing 31 Days of Oscar. From September 1 through October 31st there will be a glut of horror titles, from November 1st through Thanksgiving; foreign films and Christmas-themed (sometimes only slightly) in December.

-Always be looking for new and unique films as well as different ways of viewing and/or acquiring them and being a consumer advocate to an extent.

-Always write personally. No matter how informed one is I will not presume that my opinion is anyone else’s. I firmly believe in the assertion that no two people ever watch the same film and can only offer my views and interpretations and if I need to use a few “Me’s” and “I’s” to convey that so be it.

I will not:

– Discuss the MPAA here. Ratings exist for a reason but I personally do not care. The MPAA, if you visit their site (, will explain its reason(s) and other reviewers will give you their slant on the rating (I suggest: – he is a kid who is also a professional critic and always includes how kid-friendly a movie is) but it is of no concern to me. I am not a parental aid I am only interested in aesthetics. I would not deign to judge what is and is not appropriate for your children that is a decision that all parents must make on their own based solely upon their values and what they believe their children should see, hear or can handle.

– Use the phrase “well-intentioned.” Few films, if any, have bad intentions.

– Avoid, at all costs, saying “it’s the best of its kind since such and such” for I am likely to have missed films of its ilk since such and such and you may disagree with my opinion of the former film and therefore I won’t adequately express my sentiments if that’s all I say.

– Since I discussed hyperbole above I will not say I am going to post something. I mentioned on more than one occasion on Examiner that I was planning on writing something about hyperbole in film criticism. And I was, but I never did.

– Confuse the person with the artist, or allow any other bias I may have, creep in without at least addressing it and letting you know that there is a grain of salt. Unless, it’s a first run or DVD review this will be a very positive site but unfortunately some movies are bad and it needs to be said, however, I do believe that in an overwhelming majority of them there is at least some redeeming quality.

I’m sure there’s probably more I can add. Suggestions would be more than welcome, for either category. Starting tomorrow the fun really starts.

Comrade Kermit and the Myth of Childhood Indoctrination

Kermit's float at the Communist Pep Rally known as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

UPDATE: After the text watch a video of a UK press conference where Kermit and Miss Piggy respond to Fox News! Kudos to where I first saw the video linked.

By now you all may know and are tired of hearing about the whole Fox News debate about The Muppets.

The first thing I will say is that the reason I am writing this entry and bringing it up at all is to address the larger issue of brainwashing in children’s entertainment.

To specifically address the film in question any film wherein the the antagonist, the meanie who is vilifying big oil, actually says “Maniacal laugh” repeatedly as opposed to maniacally laughing shouldn’t be taken too seriously as anything besides entertainment. Furthermore, let us also note that this is a film wherein a grown man and a felt puppet are biological siblings and believe me that is something kids get and accept as they willfully suspend disbelief a lot. The fact of the matter is kids can have deep thoughts about shallow subjects too. It is adults who in turn ascribe other or hidden meanings to things, whereas kids tend to take things at face value.

More to the point any and all these “troublesome” symbols or plot points you could point out would be a lot more influential if we all lived in a vacuum. If there’s one thing that dictatorships have proven is that brainwashing is not a myth, however, it typically also needs isolation, torture and sensory deprivation to work. Therefore just because someone sees The Muppets at six doesn’t meant they’re going to become an eco-terrorist.

It’s not that simple because people aren’t that simple. We’re not automatons (Holy subliminal Hugo reference, Batman!). Granted I’m not saying that all 7 Billion plus of us are beacons of deductive reasoning or balanced thought processes but what I am saying is that “The Muppets made me do it” is not something someone in their right mind would say.

I’ll grant you that I’m oversimplifying in the above statement, however, that’s what these allegations against children’s entertainment ultimately boil down to. Cindy saw The Muppets and bought a hybrid or Bobby watched Sesame Street an now lives with a guy named Ernie. That’s not how it works.

Anyone who has gone beyond an introductory level film course and done any work in theory knows that cinema is malleable enough such that you can impose any meaning you want on a symbol or a motif, however, that doesn’t make your argument sound. You could argue, if you were so inclined, that Thelma & Louise was really about the dangers of social drinking but it’s a lot more of a stretch than discussing it as a feminist work.

In my last post I wrote about The Sitter what I inferred but did not say in that piece was that clearly I find the inclusion of those themes important and so will audience members who identify with those sentiments, having said that the film can try as it may but it won’t dictate your reaction. An example would be what I cited as the most moving line of the film. The intent of the line is to make you feel empathy, sadness, shock or depressed upon hearing a young person say what he says. The goal is not laughter, it’s not a punchline- yet someone in the auditorium took it as such.

So there we are all watching the same thing, the writer and director have X number of desired results, but inevitably there will be audience members who are outliers. They might still like it but for different reasons but missed the intent.

We all bring our own baggage to a film, the ideal is to check it at the door but we do. Another truism is that “No two people ever watch the same film.” However, that’s true and despite all the training even if you and your friend read all the same film texts you’d still have different takes.

The notion that children, and people in general, are all mindless simpletons who can’t process information on their own and are susceptible to every form of pseudo-propaganda whether real or imagined is troubling. It gives entertainment too much credit in a negative way when most people look to it for an escape or to reinforce things they already hold near and dear to their hearts.

The reason I take such a laughable subject seriously is due in part to fact that it came over the airwaves on TV, on a supposed TV News station. Now all 24-Hour News Networks are iffy these days and with the reality ethos so prevalent on all networks whether this is a sincerely held belief or one that was exaggerated to inflate ratings it equals the same thing; perception is reality. It is said therefore it is real therefore belief is inferred both by the person hearing it at home and on the part of the speaker of said opinion. So rather than dismissing the opinion I decided to tell you why it doesn’t make sense. I think I have.

Then, of course, there’s the obvious: The Muppets are now a Disney property. Disney is a multinational, multi-billion dollar corporation. Do you really think they want to breed communists who, if they’re really communists, would have to shun their commercial empire thus not line their pockets? Disney was creating a product and in this case they did a fantastic job as they updated the characters but also pleased many long-standing fans.

In the end I think in this day and age we all have a sense of the impact of art, advertising, literature, music or anything with a message inherent or inferred can have on us. Reflexive thought is all around us. This is perhaps best exemplified by the 1800 Tequila ads with Michael Imperioli where he discusses commercials. “This is a commercial for tequila.” And that line will influence this paragraph and I am well aware of it. The bottom line is: Commercials want to sell you things, some of those things are movies. Movies want to entertain you and make you think but no matter how hard they try they can’t tell you how to think. Telling you how to think is a kind of what many politicians and pundits are doing and that’s why they really think listening to the Muppets is bad. It’s not as much about what’s being said as who is saying it.