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April 25, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | April 25, 2008 |

[Please pardon any self-indulgent blather or lapses of reason in today’s entry (isn’t that what you come for?), but I’m suffering from the strep throat that TK has been passing around the interwebs like a hooker working fleet week. Bourbon and Tramadol only go so far.]

Let’s open today’s column with a special thanks to beatrice, who forwarded to me a couple of months ago a wealth of information about a quaint theater in Rome where non-Italian movies are subtitled instead of dubbed, a rarity in Italy. Not only was the Metropolitan close to our hotel near the Spanish Steps, but the lovely and talented beatrice provided several insights about the superiority of this cinema to the more modern cineplexes that have invaded Rome in the last decade. I was all set to quaff a rich Super Tuscan while sneering at Good Luck Chuck or some similar stain on the world.

In a demonstration of the special jinx that only ol’ socalled brings to the table, however, I stopped by the Metropolitan to scout out their offerings, only to find that every non-Italian film was primarily in a language other than English. Italian subtitles aren’t helpful when the selections are Persepolis, The Kite Runner, and The Band’s Visit. Bwuh.

Pop culture item consumed: In another episode of Insomnia Theater, a double creature-feature of two of my favorite scifi films, Alien and Aliens … with a hitch. Both films were dubbed in Italian. I lay on the sofa in Rome, watching the films on RAI, switching to and from the Zimbabwe election coverage. (What a depressing debacle that was.)

Beverage consumed: There’s a little game we like to play called Empty The Minibar; I have a horrible weakness for hotel minibars, especially when they are stocked with unfamiliar foreign delicacies. Actually, Mrs. socalled plays a different game called Keep Jackass From Emptying The Minibar, but there was a twist in play on this occasion, as described below.

Summary of action: After four consecutive nights of deep, peaceful slumber, the Insomnia Troll reared its ugly head the night we returned from our early morning day-trip to Pompeii. At 10:00 p.m., with Mrs. socalled snoring softly in the sleeping area, I was wide awake on the sofa pondering how I could be so tired and leg-sore that I couldn’t sleep, as well as wondering how it is possible that Robert Mugabe has not been assassinated. One of my resolutions for the trip was to get all the Ambien, Xanax, Valium, and Sonata out my system — guh, it hurts just to write that — so I was riding bareback, as it were.

Faithful readers may recall my special rotation of films for Insomnia Theater, dear old friends that help me fall asleep with a little prodding from that boozy slut the Sleep Fairy. Alien is high on the list. Lo and behold, as I worked my way through the Italian language channels - channel surfing is the real international language - there’s good ol’ Ripley! I immediately decided to conduct a little experiment, watching the film without the aid of dialogue and challenging the minibar to a duel, mano a mano.

Our hotel in Rome had made a near-fatal mistake in their offer of lodging. For a mere €40 per day, about $65 American, the missus and I could consume as much out of the minibar as we wished, including booze, snacks, soda, and water, for our entire stay. I don’t like to brag (I love to brag!), but rare is the minibar that I cannot take down like a ravenous lion pouncing on a crippled baby gazelle. When aided by my lioness, we can essentially fend off a large pack of hyenas for days on end, if you’ll pardon the severely elasticized metaphor. I’m sorry, but there’s a food chain here, and those M&Ms are going the way of the dodo.

Having already partnered with the missus to empty the wine and champagne demis, I moved to the tiny liquor bottles, saving the beer for last; don’t want to get filled up. As the crew of the Nostromo prepared for landfall to investigate the distress call, down went the Bombay Sapphire with a small bottle of tonic water. As Dallas led the expedition to the downed alien ship, I drank my first Courvoisier in 10 years. John Hurt’s chest explosion? Neat Jack Daniels whiskey, of course, to feel the sympathetic fire. And as the alien picked off the remaining crew members one by one, I measured out one little bottle of liquor for each fallen comrade: Harry Dean Stanton seems like a Bushmills kind of guy; Yaphet Kotto is Stoli vodka and orange juice; and Veronica Cartwright seems bitter and nose-wrinkling — tiny, tiny Campari, just to make sure I really hate it. Yep, I really hate it.

Between each serving of booze, I sucked down twelve ounces of water — nothing defeats a hangover like a couple of quarts of water. Still, as Ripley starts the final face-off in the escape pod, I’m slowing down, slogging like I’m running through wet snow in ski boots. There are four beers in the refrigerator — Heineken, Becks, Guinness, and, believe it or not, a Budweiser — and I’m on a mission. But there’s no way I can get this done before the movie runs out. I’m halfway through the Guinness when the credits roll.

And then, a gift, the unexpected bonus feature: Aliens.

Here is where I began to sink into a peaceful semi-comatose state. Aliens is my favorite action film of all time, better than Die Hard, better than Raiders of the Lost Ark, better than just about anything. I can recite it in my sleep, and as I eased back into the couch, philosophical realizations began to seep in. Good films have a certain visual rhythm that patters along on the edge of consciousness, obscured by dialogue and sound effects, but hanging right there. When you turn the sound down, almost all the way off, so there’s no distraction, you gain an appreciation for that rhythm, the same way a great song sucks you in without your realizing it. This is a different concept from “pacing,” the length and speed of shots, scenes, and cuts, though they are closely related. Watch your favorite film some time with the sound turned down, and try to feel the rhythm of the visuals carrying you along. I have to think it’s probably better if one is high.

These two films are a study in rhythmic contrast: the dark, brooding Alien, with its long tracking shots and claustrophobic atmosphere; and the kinetic, frenzied paranoia of Aliens. The odd set of circumstances not only allowed me to discover nuances to two of my favorite films, I gained an appreciation for the manner in which a skilled director carries the viewer along on a visual drumbeat.

On to the next morning: Yeah. Level Three hangover.

Random Travel Note No. 1: Best day of the entire trip: Pompeii. Like many children of the 60s and 70s, I was fed a steady diet of National Geographic mummy porn, and the Pompeii issues, with the plaster casts of people flash-fried as they awoke and the horrifying descriptions of how the Vesuvius eruption engulfed the town … I’m still a transfixed ten-year-old when I see that stuff.

Random Travel Note No. 2: The traffic flow in Rome and Paris reflects precisely the character of those cities. Roman traffic is chaotic and good-naturedly combative, cradling the pedestrian in a womb of whizzing, stop-and-start microcars and minis, while Parisian traffic behaves like a flock of birds, Renaults and BMWs elegantly shifting in unison to avoid obstacles, rising and falling to accommodate changes in numbers and speed. To my eye, drivers in both cities are far more competent and efficient than drivers in U.S. cities, though the traffic in and around Paris, especially on the freeways, was about the worst I’ve seen.

Random Travel Note No. 3: I’m offering a qualified withdrawal of my belittling of the French authorities charged with keeping order, following a borderline-unpleasant encounter with Olympic torch protesters in Paris. As we walked from Les Tuileries toward Place de la Concorde, blissfully unaware that the torch was even in Paris that day, two small hordes of protesters swept toward us, probably about 300 people total. One group bore pro-Chinese flags, banners and signs; the other group, natch, displayed pro-Tibet wares of the same order. We froze for a moment as the two groups moved toward each other while also about to engulf us just as they were connecting. I put the missus behind me, stuck out a forearm, and began sidling quickly to our left.

From the same direction stormed in about fifty grim-faced French gendarmes in soft riot gear, rubber batons and plastic hand-ties at the ready. I mean to tell you, these male and female officers were running full-out from a caravan of police vans near the Pont de la Concorde. Amazingly, they did not even look at us as we moved toward them — two fortyish tourists apparently occasioning not even a thought that we might be involved. It was clear, however, that we were not going make it off the square before the clash.

Just then, a police van whipped up to the curb, and out poured about ten more Gallic badasses, including a good-looking youngster who sized us up, immediately grasped the situation, and pointed to the van, snapping out something in French, which Mrs. socalled later puzzled out to be allons-y, vites, vites, i.e., “let’s go, quickly.” We made it into the lee side of the van just as the crowd broke over it like a river over a boulder. The Frenchies moved into the crowd, firmly separating members of opposite groups while also allowing them to proceed on their way without any violence other than a few well-deserved shoves. Go French police!

How well the pairing held up: This was a unique experience; I’d never watched two favorite films with no dialogue, and the setting was perfect for a weird but rewarding cinematic experience: a killer four-hour buzz, with no commitments the next day, no need to get out of bed before noon, and a large, tasty room service breakfast on its way up to stifle my shuddering quease. Seeing the little bottles strewn everywhere gave me deep satisfaction.

Tastes like: A liquor rainbow!

Overall rating: Eight out of ten bottles of booze knocked off. I dozed off and didn’t finish the Becks or the Budweiser. As I’ve said in this space before, however, there is no “failure” in “alcohol.”

Next Week: The fabled Five Levels of Hangover, with guest commentary by the missus.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

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Alien/Aliens: The Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton

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