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Archive for July 6th, 2010

I was recently a guest on the (LAMMY award winning) podcast “The Matineecast”. For those of you who haven’t listened to The Matineecast (WHY NOT?) it’s hosted by The Mad Hatter who is also the brains behind the movie blog “The Dark of the Matinee”. Early on in the show he always does a segment entitled “Know Your Enemy” in which he asks a series of questions. One of them is “what is a Classic or essential movie you have never seen?” That was an easy question for me to answer, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Released the year I was born and winner of five Oscars, it is a really significant movie. The Oscars were all big ones, it was actually the first movie since Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) to sweep the major categories: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman). It also picked up nominations for Original Music Score, Cinematography, Film Editing and Supporting Actor (Brad Dourif). It went on to go one better at the BAFTA’s adding a Supporting Actor win for Dourif as well as the big five again. It was a huge financial success making around twenty five times it $4.5million budget in the domestic American market alone. It was also a hit in the late 70’s early 80’s on the fast growing VHS rental market. To put it simply we are talking about a pretty major movie in cinema history that I had never seen.

So why had I never seen it? By the mid 90’s I had already developed an obsession with movies and had seen a lot of classic movies, if you had asked me at the time I would probably have said The Godfather Part II was my favourite movie. It was around this time I became aware of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack Nicholson was a big star, even kids at school who weren’t into movies knew him as The Joker from Batman (1989) (back then who would have thought his performance would be surpassed by another actor playing the Joker two decades later!), a big fan on Chinatown (1974) I had just seen its belated sequel The Two Jakes(1990), I had seen Easy Rider many times (and had an American flag on the back of my leather jacket inspired by Peter Fonda’s character). Anyway I digress I think it must have been a late night season of Nicholson movies on at the time as I had also seen Five Easy Pieces around the same time. So one night I had been out with some friends came home just in time to set the VCR recording before going to bed. A few days later I came to watch the movie only to find it recorded over. At the time I blamed my brother or my parents for the terrible transgression, I truth looking back they probably didn’t even know I had recorded it!

Not one to worry about these things I knew it would be on again soon. It wasn’t the next time it was due to be on years later it was bumped from the schedule, I think somebody died and they put a movie on as a tribute. And then it must have just faded from memory until last month knowing I was going to be asked the question by Hatter I thought I would make a list of the big movies I have never seen, the movies that seem to come up when he asks other people seem to be epic classics that people find daunting like Gone with the Wind or some of the David Lean movies, I have seen all of them! So I went to IMDB and decided I would go with the highest placed movie on their top 250 that I had never seen. I have seen approximately 95% of the 250 but standing out at number 8 with an average rating of 8.8 from over 200,000 votes was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Seeing it there all my memories of failed attempts to watch it came flooding back and I decided I would make no effort to watch it but would come up on TV one day. So when Hatter told me how great it was and I was in for a treat I said something like I would catch it on DVD sooner or later. Then a strange thing happened, I must have put it in my Love Film (a UK website like Netflix) queue sometime in the past and forgotten it. As one day last week it dropped through my letterbox, so between world cup football matches I have just gotten around to watching it. But was it any good? Simply put it was fantastic.

Assuming I am not the last person in the world to see the movie here is a brief synopsis: R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) isn’t the most stable person and he has a few issues but he clearly isn’t crazy. In an attempt to avoid hard labour in prison he pretends to be crazy and gets transferred to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Spending his days playing cards or Basketball and pretending to take his medication, he fits into his new environment surprisingly (and frighteningly) well. Although often disruptive he soon has a positive effect on some of the other patients who have been living under the cloud of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a tyrant who rules the ward through fear and humiliation.

Nicholson is truly brilliant giving one of his best ever performances but to dismiss it as a one man movie would be to underestimate the depth of the movie. The supporting cast includes Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and Brad Dourif as well as Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched who is mesmerising in a part turned down by every big name in Hollywood. Interestingly the movie is driven by both character and at times plot making it totally engrossing and immersive. I was amazed to discover it is nearly a two and a quarter hours long, it felt like an hour and a half! As the narrative unfolds, you kind of know where it’s going and how it will end up but this really doesn’t matter. When it comes the end is perfectly handled being both heartbreaking and uplifting at the sme time.

If I were to be asked the same question again now the next highest ranked movie on the IMDB 250 that I haven’t seen is WALL•E (2008) at no. 46, but a more significant movie I haven seen would be E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) I have to say I am in no rush to see either.

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