What does it all mean ?

General chat about the film.

Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by smallrhesusneg.bloodyMary » Mon Jan 11, 2010 5:39 pm

And the two main characters are closely based on Bruce himself and his friend Vyvian and their respective fates, so it's a film grounded in reality.

Hey, we just had an intelligent discussion on this forum! See, stoned wankers who post here, it can be done! You know who you are!
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by The Purveyor » Mon Jan 11, 2010 10:09 pm

smallrhesusneg.bloodyMary wrote:Most people see W & I as a film which celebrates booze and drugs; I see it as just the opposite.


Thank you.
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by HE Bates » Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:09 pm

Oh dear, I've had a bit to drink.

When I first saw the film, I was amazed by its final punch. All the way through, we laugh and laugh at these two characters' foibles, and then suddenly it turns into tragedy, with Marwood leaving, Withnail suddenly realising his dependence on Marwood, and the Hamlet speech and all. And suddenly, what has been seen as comedy throughout, is cast in a different light, and the film just becomes sadder. I think that is the first element of its genius: the off-beat comedic ride, the tragically cast ending, which then throws the comedic part into a wholly different light.

That Hamlet speech still brings a tear to my eye everytime I watch the film. And this is another element of its genius. Throughout the film, Withnail is actually quite selfish and uses Marwood constantly. He is constantly dismissive, rudely so, of Marwood: stop saying we're in the same boat, we're in a park and I'm practically dead; how dare you! [when Marwood points out his 'marvelous acting career']; the selfish use of the Deep Heat; secretly using Marwood as bargaining chip. The list goes on.

But yet, we do not dislike Withnail, at least not completely. And while he cultivates a patrician facade and pretends to care [note his bravado when he says 'what fucker said that', which then quickly disappears when the big man in the pub approaches; note the nonchalance with which he responds to the bull incident while he himself is not threatened], he reveals himself as selfish, cowardly, abusive in his friendship, opportunist, false, etc.

Withnail, in other words, has many flaws, and jealousy at Marwood's success will also appear later. But the general comedic nature of their lifestyle and situation, and their interaction with various characters, keep us from judging him absolutely, even though he exhibits these flaws. And when we get to the tragic part - the end of the friendship - we are suddenly struck down because we can see that Withnail - for all his dismissive haughtiness - needs Marwood. Despite his flaws - among which arrogance - Withnail is suddenly sincerely, authentically vulnerable. And the vulnerability rests on the very friend to whom he has generally behaved in a nasty way. There is deep regret in that end scene, and that also makes the preceding comedic bits multi-faceted. When you watch the movie over and over, you realise how full it is of foreshadowing. And only when you watch the movie over and over do you realise this aspect too of its genius.

Parallel to this development (the movement for Withnail from disdainful arrogance, and therefore apparent super confidence, to abject vulnerability) is Marwood's movement from a perverted dependence on and sympathy for Withnail (I must go discuss his problems, and so denying his own anxieties, on top of Withnail's disregard for them; Marwood constantly needs Withnail's approval; Withnail is the agent really of what they do when, etc.) to an acting job and independence. This is expressed with conviction when he refuses the last drink in the park. Marwood is in fact sloughing off a dependence he never needed to have had. This is all genius, a psychological portrayal without kowtowing to French New Realism conventions, and a film of drama without a plot in the conventional, Hollywood sense.

And this is all carried by superb acting and directing of acting. Nor should we disregard the directing of photography - those close-ups of facial expressions that flirt with a soap opera style, but uses it only elementally (parallel: Robinson's insistence that the actors play it straight rather than camp). This coming together of acting and on-face camera work is a hallmark of UK film (excepting stuff like that of that Rock n' Rolla fella, who I don't think can make a decent film). So Withnail & I also nods to tradition. I tell you, it is all genius.

I like it that it is a cult film - in the sense that there is a community who truly appreciate the film; but I also hate it that it is boxed in by that label, ghettoised as a manner of speaking. Because it is a work of genius as film and deserves to be recognised as such, and not simply as a film about and for slackers who like their drink and drugs. It's not just something for anoraks to quote dialogue from. It is a piece of art that should be recognised as such along with the other monuments of narrative film. It is masterfully constructed; its dialogue, apart from its sharp wit and poeticisms, is a rich lode of double-meaning and fore-shadowing. What's more, it's like a really good, heavy but unpretentious red, one that also ages very well.

That's my paean to Bruce Robinson, REG, McGann, Griffiths, and all others who made this film!
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by smallrhesusneg.bloodyMary » Tue Jan 12, 2010 12:13 am

And a very good paeaeaen at that! Oops, got confused by all the vowels! But I totally agree with everything you've written.

It's commonly said that 'everyone has one good novel in them'. Clearly the story of Bruce's years with his friend when they were struggling actors was his work of genius, and fortunately for us, it came out in the shape of a film with perfect casting, locations, photography and so on.
Even the fact that W&I is appreciated by a relatively small number of people seems to me to be a good thing. If it were the equivalent of, say, Titanic in popularity, it would not be nearly so attractive to me.

An excellent comment, HE. You should add it to the comments on the IMDb board for W&I .
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by McFuck » Tue Jan 12, 2010 4:14 am

bloody mary's here, how did she get in?
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by ForkIt » Tue Jan 12, 2010 8:01 am

Plenty of films that are cult films are a lot more accessible with a wider range of subject matter than so-called blockbusters. The reason they are labelled cult films is that they are so good, if they weren't labelled something, they would make so-called hit films look stupid. I mean who thinks back to Rocky IV these days, and considers its wonders and greatness? Despite a big splash in 1985, its shelf life ran out by about 1988 while Withnail is still acquiring devoted followers today who weren't even born when the film came out.

Who even holds much stock in the most of the Terry Gilliam and Python films these days, apart from Life of Brian and the Holy Grail? The rest of them are long forgotten by most today, almost belonging to another era of comedy. They are the Paul Hogan/Dave Allen films instead of the Tommy Cooper film that Withnail is.
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by The Purveyor » Tue Jan 12, 2010 10:49 am

One of the most enjoyable threads on here in a long while.
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The newer is better school

PostPosted by ForkIt » Tue Jan 12, 2010 3:21 pm

It's strange how there is an ongoing fixation with new films, music, books etc, when "new" doesn't necessarily equate to "good". For every Withnail and I there are 1000 bad or mediocre films.

The biggest musical touring acts (highest grossing) in the 2000s decade were The Police, The Rolling Stones, ACDC, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. All of these people were playing music years before I started primary school in 1977 (except the Police who released their first album in 1978), and all had several albums out by then. ABBA still sells millions also.

Much of the best literature was written around the early 1900s. A German-English dictionary first published in 1891 is still widely regarded as by far the best of all time. That book makes modern counterparts, that companies have invested huge amounts of money and time in, look like they might be ok if you ran out of wood for your fireplace.

The other thing great art shares in common is that it is often rejected at its inception because new good art is very hard to understand for most people. It takes a while to get it. The Beatles were rejected by quite a few record companies. The Seinfeld sitcom was almost cancelled after the pilot. Withnail and I was pulled from most movie theatres within a couple of weeks after initial release due to extremely low ticket sales.

The thing is, to appreciate new art requires a shift in paradigm, and there is always an inner tension in people between either shifting your point of view, or sticking with what you know is accepted by most people as successful. There's a resistance to new ideas and ways of seeing things. This is probably because 99% of the time, the new idea or artform doesn't take off, so why invest in it. And it's more work to appreciate it if it is good because its a new thing that people haven't developed a way of valuing yet.
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by ForkIt » Tue Jan 12, 2010 3:38 pm

HE Bates wrote:Throughout the film, Withnail is actually quite selfish and uses Marwood constantly. He is constantly dismissive, rudely so, of Marwood: stop saying we're in the same boat, we're in a park and I'm practically dead; how dare you! [when Marwood points out his 'marvelous acting career']; the selfish use of the Deep Heat; secretly using Marwood as bargaining chip. The list goes on.

...he reveals himself as selfish, cowardly, abusive in his friendship, opportunist, false, etc.

And when we get to the tragic part - the end of the friendship - we are suddenly struck down because we can see that Withnail - for all his dismissive haughtiness - needs Marwood. Despite his flaws - among which arrogance - Withnail is suddenly sincerely, authentically vulnerable. And the vulnerability rests on the very friend to whom he has generally behaved in a nasty way.


This is what you call an audience double pay-off. The audience, who have to identify with Marwood (whom the title even tells you is "I") because Withnail is just too far out there, get tantalised by Withnail's reproaches to Marwood, in a secret hidden way (they act like they don't care but secretly they are drawn into that). People love those who hate them, women especially (and society has very feminine men these days). In Seinfeld, Jerry says ideally you want someone you are in a relationship with to hate you.

So the audience is merrily precariously enjoying all the humilations dumped on I by the great Withnail (at a safe enough distance not to be personally affronted by him) and then he turns around at the end and expresses his deep need for Marwood when he leaves. Another payoff for the audience! Now he can't do without me!
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by HE Bates » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:21 pm

@Forkit

Exactly!

I just watched it again last night. I was struck by how I couldn't help liking Withnail even as he is detestably rude and selfish, lives in fantasy all the time (It's a part I intend to play), and is full of false bravado. I think that has a lot to do with script (character) and REG's acting.

Half-topic:
@BloodyMary, thanks for the compliment; some of the credit should go to the alcohol that was flowing in my veins. I don't have an account at IMDB; don't want to open one. Do I need an account to post comments? Feel free to post it there if you have the inspiration (link back here of course).
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by ForkIt » Fri Jan 15, 2010 4:29 am

The coolest thing about this movie, and other good stuff, is that the people who made it obviously had no idea what they created. That's the way artists are - they don't know what they are doing is actually that good - they just do it because it's in their blood or something. Most of them don't even know why people buy their stuff, because to them it's like paying to see them breathe or walk because it's nothing special to the artist 99% of the time (maybe 1% of what they do is special to themselves).

You couldn't possibly set out to make a movie this cool because it would be way too simple to imagine that it could be a huge hit. It's just too natural and simple to believe in it from an abstract point of view, like in a sales pitch to a film studio. A lot of art is like this - it's more about very little happening, rather than a lot happening. Less is more.
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by McFuck » Sat Jan 16, 2010 4:22 am

and no high-tech special effects either. Nothing explodes. There's no guns, no high-speed chases, no violence; well, not much. Good films don't necessarily need big budgets.

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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by ForkIt » Sat Jan 16, 2010 9:10 am

The whole film is a zen koan that you can't answer, you just have to "live it". You become it, and that solves it, like entering into a state of enlightenment. You question the existence of the film, and what it proffers, like you would say question the nature and life of water for example. But to answer it, you have to live within it as one with the film or the water. No other choice is possible to gain that harmony.
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by HE Bates » Sat Jan 16, 2010 3:17 pm

McFuck wrote:
I'm high :high: ignore me
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Re: What does it all mean ?

PostPosted by bluejon » Tue Jan 19, 2010 12:49 am

ForkIt wrote:The whole film is a zen koan that you can't answer, you just have to "live it". You become it, and that solves it, like entering into a state of enlightenment. You question the existence of the film, and what it proffers, like you would say question the nature and life of water for example. But to answer it, you have to live within it as one with the film or the water. No other choice is possible to gain that harmony.

Wtf?
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