I Saw a Film!

And thought a lot of it!

The title had put me off for ages, but when I saw that a third of Monty Python (Cleese and Chapman) had their hand in the thing I decided to give it a go. Also it’s a Peter Sellers project and had Terry Southern as a basis. Lots of good stuff here. When you add in the co-starring of Ringo, no less, you’ve got a curious artifact of late sixties counter-culture. Aspects of this film are like ancestors of Monty Python’s 80s film The Meaning of Life.

The film is a twisty labyrinth of short vignettes both humorous and dark. The premise is a very rich man, a great fantasy alone, of course, adopts a homeless fellow in the form of Ringo (who we meet being ousted rudely from park for sleeping) and they go on a merry adventure both weird and pointed. This is no mindless Dudley Moore as Arthur nonsense that was so popular a decade later, no, this is more along the lines of proving that capital is what makes the rules, and brandishes the swords and nothing else really. There are also a good many very enjoyable cameos from Rachel Welsh to Christopher Lee to old Sellers crony Spike Milligan!

What you get. You get a lot! Sellers and Ringo pull a “Banksy” decades before Banksy, by buying a painting from under an auction (by offering three times the expected sale price) thought to be by Rembrandt and immediately ruining it with scissors. Sellers performs at a restaurant (again this is reminiscent of Python’s later Meaning of Life’s Mr. Creosote) and shoves a painstakingly prepared plate of caviar literally into his face, liberally washing with it and then goes and dances with the chef. Sellers’s sisters are put off watching a story about a dog show in which a leopard is introduced and eats some of the dogs. She demands the channel be switched. When it is riots are brought up and this calms her nerves. Racists have a beautiful black body builder shoved in their faces as they dine. A pair of bulky prize fighters wind up kissing in the ring and the joke of course is that the audience is offended by not seeing blood. Wealthy old ladies collect Nazi atrocity books. Sellers has a business in which he’s trying to enlarge cars, he wants to compete with huge american cars, and has a little cartoon of a massive car the size of a city block playing while he asks his marketers to come up with copy for it. Some Oxford rowers are bought off Graham Chapman assures them they can’t buy Oxford men, but indeed he’s bought, and they not only throw the race but cause a dramatic never before seen accident! In a more directly telling sequence a parking meter cop tickets their car and rejects all argument and discussion about letting the offense pass. Finally he is offered 500 pounds sterling to eat it. Of course, this solves their ticket problem. We all have a price to break our most widely held beliefs and trusted regulations.

What I miss about good old British comedy is the willingness to harpoon the uselessly wealthy people we Americans worship. I would kill for this outlook to change in our country, but not only do we pointlessly worship wealthy people, we routinely forgive their criminal behavior. When Trump’s Son-in-law is taken to court and fined and laws created to protect people against his predatory landlord practices (Kushner comes from a long line of real estate barons) we don’t pillory him. Instead, we put him on magazine covers and behave like his actions against poor working class people is just a minor malfeasance, and the justice levied just a kind of accidental oversight, or worse, something orchestrated by a cabal of bad haters. As Trump himself would say “fake news” (can you hear him?). It hasn’t always been this way in America, in fact, it changed in my lifetime. When I was born there was far more interest in integrity and the nobleness of labor (artists indeed knew wealth was not their goal, as wealth negated soul and depth). A film like The Graduate (another sixties product influences by counter-culture) reflected the pursuit of an inner, spiritual improvement. When the graduate rejects his parent’s wealthy celebration of excess it’s almost incomprehensible to a modern viewer. All I’m saying is, I’d love a bit more of this old-style shunning of undeserved and unearned wealth. We live in an age to which this would be like a shock to the system, but I believe it’s a much needed one and not just because of the officer we have in the Whitehouse now, but certainly he is a symptom of the current psychosis. We are immersed in a world of pragmatism and shallow grasping at product as pure as 19th century head-hunters producing as many shrunken heads as they could for European buyers.

By the end of the film we’re back in the original park. Ringo and Sellers begin to camp out but the park guard is poking them and trying to get them to clear off. Wads of money are produced and so the right to break the rules is directly purchased.

This is well worth the 4 bones you’ll need to view it. Even if the Badfinger song is overplayed a bit, and is oddly not quite appropriate to the task of the story. Oh well maybe they couldn’t afford Pete Seeger.

4 thoughts on “The Magic Christian (1969)

    1. It may be that I got this wrong. It may more be an artifact of the sixties counter-culture on either side of the big lake. However, I still think Brits had a better grasp of the grotesque results of inherited (or as I say do-nothing) wealth. Their punk rock reflects it, and their comics were well steeped in it. Upper-class twit of the year competitions by Python were somewhat boggling to my young brain, but when I grasped it I wondered why our comics and musicians ignored it. Americans worship wealth as if we’re waiting for a blessing from them. We follow their tales of drug and drink and traffic accidents and marriages the way peasants once had to line the streets and bow to the royals. It’s a sickness we have never been able to entirely kick. We are now struggling with a result of that inherited wealth as human quality issue right now with possibly the dumbest do-nothing idiot we’ve ever seen hold high office.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I dodn’t think you’re wrong about any of the above, but British culture has been Americanised over the past few decades, and we’re falling into the same trap of worshiping money and wealth rather than caring about each other. Hard to find much in British culture of late that has this kind of anything-goes freedom of thought. Hate to think of it, but America has been caught out by the Trump era; he clearly didn’t sign up to defend America, and is resolutely refusing to do so.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I like to imagine that we’re on a pendulum swing, and the swing has reached it’s climax with this astonishing display of ignorance and self-aggrandizement. The defenders of the orange bozo are ridiculous in their depravity and wholesale loopiness, and while there are dumb people and bad politicians everywhere, the American I think is unique in his stubborn willingness to reject reason itself and grasp desperately anything to satisfy righteousness (never even brook the idea that you could be wrong about anything!). It’s something pounded right into the fabric of our nation (in fact, I just finished a book about this called Fantasyland by a fellow named Andersen) – it started with the Protestantism that rejected authority and carried on to gold-seekers and wealth-dreamers and stock-market gamblers that we are rife with 99.99% of them never striking any gold but carrying on under the wheels of that day-dream, playing lotteries and consuming tons of “self-help” books that really offer nothing but magic. Sorry, brother, I get carried away . . . but sitting in this world and watching people revert to mindless screaming children about every possible affront while kow-towing to a painfully obvious con-artist is like a Greek tragedy writ large.


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