Monday, August 9, 2010

Airplane's 30th Anniversary Screening at Lincoln Center

Tonight at Lincoln Center they had a special screening of Airplane for its 30th Anniversary. The directors The Zucker Brothers and Mr Abrahams were in attendance and said that this was the first time that they had seen the film with a large audience in a long time. They also said that seeing the film with an audience changed how they saw things.

I was originally not going to go but I was kind of shamed into going by Ken who properly pointed out when was I going to get to see the film one, on the big screen and two, with the directors in the house. He was right and I bought my ticket when they went on sale...

...which apparently a large number of people didn't do since there was a huge stand by line an hour before the film started. I have no idea what so many people were waiting for since basically half the audience would have to not show up for everyone to get in. The screening was 15 minutes late in starting because they were trying to shoe horn as many people in as possible.

Described in the intro as not only as one of the funniest American comedies ever made with an indication it might just be one of the funniest comedies period, the film was being set up at an impossible high level. More so when the programmer said that its one of the greatest first films ever with the film being the equal of Citizen Kane and Breathless. It was very hard not to scream out "you must be joking", because frankly the man must be a bit too in love with Airplane to think straight (or he had the fish, I think it must be the fish).

The screening was of a used by perfectly fine print. Its so nice to see real film instead of digital projection.

I'm not going into the plot, I don't think it's really necessary at this point and honestly I think you probably know it already.

Watching the film from start to finish in one sitting for the first time in probably 20 years I was kind of shock and surprised by what I saw. Yes, the film is funny, but time has stolen some of its power. The jokes have been dissipated by repetition, by steals and by homages.

Watching the film with an audience for the first time in 30 years I found that the hysterical laughter of that first screening was gone and that many of the jokes had the laughter come before the gag because we knew the set up. Yes, there was laughter because of the gags, though probably the biggest laugh was the shocked stare that the kid gives after Kareem breaks down and berates the kid about how hard it is to drag Frazer ect up and down the court for 48 minutes. That getting as big a laugh as it did really shocked me.

In all honesty, its a really funny movie, but it isn't a good movie beyond the gags. Its too much like its prototype Zero Hour for it to really work (actually some of the lines were cribbed from that film, such as the line about needing to find someone who can fly the plane and not eaten the fish). I'm kind of disappointed. Actually in a weird way the passage of time does make the film comparable to Kane and Breathless in that they too are films that time has zapped the power from. The other thing I noticed this time out there are a large number of dead gags. The directors said that they had to put in some things that didn't work into the film to get it up to 90 minutes and seeing the film with out once was belly laughs makes the dead spots clearer.

I'm not trying to re-review the film so much as say how it plays now.

After the film all three directors came out and did a Q&A. It was one of the better Q&A's I've been to since the directors kept talking and the questions didn't suck (audiences can ask really bad questions some times).

Ken had asked me to ask about a comment on the commentary track that had referred to the studio wanting cameos in the film. The only one that is there is Jimmie Walker, the others never happened, Ken wanted to know what exactly happened.

I never asked the question because in the course of answering something else they answered it. Apparently the studio wanted people like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Robin Williams in the film. They wanted all the small roles filled with comedians. They didn't get the joke that the film had to be played straight because it was a spoof and some of the casting was the joke (Robert Stack had to explain that to Peter Graves). They said that Robert Hays's role was suppose to go to Barry Manilow. (Get your mind around that one).

They had pursued people like Vince Edwards, Efram Zimbalist and Jack Webb for the Stack, Graves and Nielsen roles but all turned him down. They really wanted Charlton Heston but he repeatedly turned them down. (The studio couldn't understand why they would have wanted Leslie Nielsen to begin with)

(Apparently producer Howard Koch was on board with no cameos and gave the agents of the proposed stars the script telling them as an aside the script was awful)

They discussed how they directed (by commitee), how it felt to see a film they never expected to last for 30 years, and their early days doing sketch comedy.

Stephen Strucker (Johnny) came from the sketch comedy days. They waxed poetic about their friend saying that he essentially wrote his his own lines and that his role was a toned down version of what he was in real life. He had wandered in when they were setting up a theater because he heard they needed a piano player (he was an accomplished pianist) and he was with them ever since.

One audience member mentioned the Airplane Album (the movie on vinyl narrated by Shadoe Stevens)and they were shocked because apparently knew nothing about it and were wondering why they weren't getting residuals. They wanted to buy it from the guy and talk to him after the Q&A.

Asked about deleted scenes they said anything that was cut was bad and that (as I said before) they had to fight to get it up to 90 minutes, implying that there was a few things they would have cut. They shrugged when the additional scenes (or phantom scenes as they were called) from the TV version were mentioned so I take that as they had no control of what was put back into it. They did say that there were a whole bunch of gags that happened when Hays was trying to land the plane but they had to be cut because by that time the audience was invested in the story as a story and the gags distracted them from the plot and didn't work as a result.

Asked by gentleman (who thanked them for creating Police Squad) if was there anything they would change if they made the film now in a post 9/11 world they said that the one thing was the advertising campaign since it had a tag line about crashing into buildings with ease. Other than that they pretty much said nothing other than the minimal topical humor that's in it. They said, rightly, that the reason the film still works 30 years on is that there is very little topical humor.

I think than about covers it. My order is off, but I think that covers it.

It was a great evening with a good movie and funny conversation.

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