Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Eight

Someone suggested to me the other day that I should do these reviews as videos on YouTube. I honestly think there’s entirely too many videos of people just talking on any of those sites. I also still kind of prefer the written word and don’t own a webcam (a tragedy when you consider how many requests I get for one of those Avante-garde live sex shows that all the college kids are big into these days) and

I’ve always wanted to rather create hopelessly weird, potentially stupid sketch-type material with a webcam. It’s just not something I’ve gotten around to yet.

I also blame the heat for what was just now a completely random, unnecessary thought.

Let’s move on.


30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Eight: Favorite Thriller
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

It baffles me that some people consider The Silence of the Lambs to be overrated.

Why? Because it won a bunch of Oscars? I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument for why this might be overrated in a larger sense. It doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t like it. My life seems to demand entertaining a certain amount of delusion to get through the day, but it’s not quite at the level of believing that it’s worth getting upset if someone doesn’t like a movie that I happen to love. That part doesn’t bother me. The term “overrated” is what annoys me a little. It seems to be only used as a way of dismissing something entirely without explaining why that word should come into play. People seem to use it as a shortcut to getting the final verdict on something. I’ve seen the word used for The Silence of the Lambs a few times, and while I don’t mind someone not digging the movie I would like someone to elaborate on why they feel that way. You could probably call that one of my inane curiosities. It’s just an excuse for me to talk to somebody about movies.

I’ll label a movie as overrated, but I’ll at least try to explain why I think so.

Personally I wish there were more character-driven horror/thriller movies along these lines. As hard as I try I honestly can’t think of a film where Anthony Hopkins (who won the Best Actor Oscar in spite of only being in the movie for less than twenty minutes) or Jodi Foster are in better form.  The Silence of the Lambs is an amazing piece of work for a lot of reasons. The story is a faithful, multi-layered and constantly chilling adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel. It features beautiful, deeply disconcerting and voyeuristic cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. Howard Shore is one of my favorite composers of all time. His work here amounts to one of the eeriest, most memorable scores ever created. Everything is a striking marriage of music and camera manipulating story and performance at one moment and then flipping that marriage around at the next moment. Somehow it’s a film that’s smooth in every facet of its delivery and yet at the same builds a layer consisting of a strange, dream-like personality with troubling undertones. You can be completely engaged by the detective story (it’s a pretty good one), or you can enjoy that, and then go further into the vast psychological landscape of the film’s world and characters.

All of these things are true, but what has brought me back to watch The Silence of the Lambs more than once is Hopkins and Foster. It bears repeating again that Hopkins is in a two-hour movie for less than twenty minutes. That’s been a source of contention for some people who wonder if that qualified him for the Best Actor Oscar he won in 1991. It does raise points about the difference between Best Actor and Best Supporting, but I haven’t the faintest interest in arguing those points here.

What I will argue is that Hopkins gives a performance as Hannibal Lecter so breathtaking, so absolutely in control of a character awash in disturbing personality and depth that it’s impossible to imagine the movie without him. When he’s not on screen we wonder just what in the hell he might be up to (something involving culture and insanity is a good guess). We know Jodi Foster as Clarice Starling is wondering that. His shadow looms over every scene that he’s not in, and in everything Starling does in pursuit of the even-more frightening Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine at his very best). Their relationship is almost immediately established on several different levels within minutes of their first encounter. It’s the heart of the movie. It’s because of both Hopkins and Foster that so much is established or just suggested in the very limited amount of time they share the screen together. Foster has proven time and time again her range. Her talent and how completely she realizes this character only further enhances the impact Hopkins has when he’s on screen and when he’s not. As much as Lecter seems to be in control of everything around him it’s obvious that he comes to rely on her (for what can be debated) as much as she relies on him. For both information on Bill and what is clearly a black hole ripping apart the center of everything she is and hopes to be. This thought can even extend towards the actors themselves. Both won Oscars, and both absolutely needed the other to accomplish that. Foster gets the whole movie to both create her own character and enhance Hopkins’, but Hopkins only gets that limited window of time to create something that can allow Foster to do that. I would say doing that more than makes up for his not being in every scene.

Captain Leland Stottlemeyer enjoying some quiet time after work.
I also love the somewhat deranged assortment of names and faces popping up in small roles or as cameos. This includes Tracey Walter, George A. Romeo, Chris Issak, Dan Butler (who I note mostly because I’ve seen the entire run of Frasier way too many freaking times) and Roger Corman. I’ve always been a little amused by the fact that Corman’s career includes cameos in a slew of A-list pictures directed by filmmakers (Demme, Francis Ford Copolla, Joe Dante and others) whose careers he helped launch. None of this is critical to The Silence of the Lambs as a whole. It’s just a small bonus for me to see so many different talents round out the cast after Foster, Hopkins and Levine (who also deserved an Oscar nomination). Credit for kicking in something memorable should also go to Anthony Heald as the greedy, despicable and dangerously inept shrink who keeps Lecter under lock and key. Also to Scott Glenn as Starling’s mentor and as one of those actors who’s so steady and reliable that you almost forget he’s there.

It’s easy to see why this movie got so much love from critics and Hollywood in general and continues to do so. The Silence of the Lambs is a slick, well-acted and well-made film. Calling it a thriller is fine (I’m doing just that myself), but I think it’s still a straight-forward horror movie beneath the supposedly classier label of thriller. I suppose it may just be a question of semantics. That’s another argument I don’t have the patience for. I just like the notion of calling this one of the greatest horror movies of all time. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t really matter. All that really matters is that I wind up watching this about once a year. It just pulls me right in every single time. I still remember thinking as a kid that just on atmosphere this was one of the creepiest movies of all time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve maintained my love of that atmosphere, one I’ve never really found anywhere else, and I’ve added so many other things to the list.

Let’s just hope and pray that nobody ever makes a musical out of this. That thought scares me more than Buffalo Bill ever did.

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