Sunday, July 13, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: The Freshman (1990)

The Story:  I love movies. I like to write about movies. I don't think of myself as a "reviewer," or a "critic" (you have to be paid to be called that, don't you? And, maybe, read by someone?)

The simple approach is to take the nugget of truth the late Roger Ebert used as his mantra (from the writer Robert Warshaw): "A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man." You take the stuff that makes up you—the experience, the history, the attitudes and prejudices and filter the film experience through the prism of that lens.  

You walk a fine line when you write a review...any review. You want to talk about what's so great about something you like—why you like it—but you don't want to become a pretentious nit about it, either.

Which brings us to The Freshman. It's not a great film, but it is a pleasant one, about an innocent (Matthew Broderick) who goes to The Big City to attend film-school and has his innocence tested by Carmine Sabatini, an "importer," who bears an uncanny resemblance to "The Godfather" (because they're played by the same actor, Marlon Brando). By coincidence—or, more probably, writer's strategem—the film that's being studied is The Godfather, Part II, and director Andrew Bergman cuts between an exiting Sabatini to a shot of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone that for a moment it's a little disconcerting ("What am I watching again?")

One cut shows us that this Godfather is the fictional one, as it is being spooled in a film course. The professor is one Arthur Fleeber, academic and hack. Fleeber lives through the movies and escalates his love of films by comparing them to The Great Works, no matter how tenuous the link. That he lives the very thesis he decries is part of the joke.

You gotta be careful how seriously you take all this.

Now, this serves as a prelude to my blogging this week the final paper I wrote in one of my first college classes in film, taught by Richard T. Jameson. Now, in no way, shape, or form does Fleeber resemble that accomplished film professor/writer/editor. The fact is, Jameson is a brilliant writer, and his way of picking apart films was so inventive and hard to refute, bringing a sense of history and acknowledging the story-telling style to a director's life-work, that it informed how I've looked at films ever since. My admiration for his work is deep and profound, and when I read one of his pieces these days I'm still struck by the good sense and readability of his offerings. When I turned in my paper, he paid me the highest suggesting that I plagiarized it.

The thought still brings a smile to my face, although at the time, I was scared to death, stammering that no, no, I really wrote it. Really.*whimper*

The subject? The Godfather. It was a film that Jameson didn't find favor with, but, to show just how far afield he was from the academic portrayed in this scene, he acknowledged that maybe...just maybe...he should see the film again.

Which is the second nicest compliment he paid me.

Thanks, Professor.  For all your good work.

The Set-Up: Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick) is a film student at NYU, who becomes involved with "importer" Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando), who asks the young freshman to do some delivery jobs for him...for a lot of money. Having had his money stolen by Sabatini's nephew (Bruno Kirby), Clark sees it as an offer he cannot refuse. 


CUT to Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II.
MICHAEL CORLEONE: Senator, we're both a part of the same hypocrisy.
MICHAEL CORLEONE: But never think it applies to my family.
CUT to a film class watching the film.
SENATOR PAT GEARY: Alright, alright. Some people have to play... 
GEARY: ...little games.  You play yours.
Standing at the podium before the film is PROF. FLEEBER, who is wrapt in attention at the image on the screen.
CUT to BUSHAK and CLARK watching the film.  BUSHAK notices something and nudges Clark, indicating FLEEBER.
GEARY: So let's just say you'll pay me because it's...
GEARY: your interest to pay me.
FLEEBER is mouthing the words along with the film.
GEARY: But I want your answer and the money by noon tomorrow.
GEARY: And one more thing. Don't you contact me again, ever. 
He's even doing the gestures from the film.
GEARY: From now on, you deal with Turnbull.
MICHAEL CORLEONE: Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. 
CLARK can't believe it.
MICHAEL CORLEONE: My offer is this: nothing. 
MICHAEL CORLEONE: Not even the fee for the gaming license, 
MICHAEL CORLEONE: ...which I would appreciate if you would put
up personally.
At the conclusion of the line, FLEEBER gestures for the film to be stopped and the lights turned on.  He begins to speak.
PROF FLEEBER: "Senator, my offer is this: Nothing."
PROF FLEEBER: In that one moment, Michael Corleone says that all corruption is equal.
PROF FLEEBER: That there is no separation between politics and gangsterism.
PROF FLEEBER: the Fleeber treatise "Guns and Provolone" what point is made about the similarities between Karl Marx's "Das Kapital..."
PROF FLEEBER: Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason..."
PROF FLEEBER: ...and the Lake Tahoe scene from Godfather II, Mr. Kellogg?
CLARK: Sir...
PROF FLEEBER: You haven't read the Fleeber piece...?
CLARK: Uh..ahem..well...
BUSHAK scrambles through his notes and whispers an answer.
BUSHAK (under his breath): In an evolving society...
CLARK: In an evolving society...
PROF FLEEBER: You need tutorial help from Mr. BUSHAK?
CLARK: No, sir.
PROF FLEEBER: Well, perhaps Mr. Bushak will enjoy helping you prepare a five page answer to my question
PROF FLEEBER: ...which I want on my desk by noon tomorrow.
PROF FLEEBER: Mr. Glassman.
GLASSMAN: In an evolving society... 
GLASSMAN: ...violence and narcissism replace rationa...
CLARK: I hate this guy.

Words by Andrew Bergman (and Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo)

Pictures by William A. Fraker and Andrew Bergman

The Freshman is available on DVD from Columbia Tri-Star Home Video.

No comments:

Post a Comment