This certainly fulfills the subtitle of my blog. Over the years I’ve been plagued, plagued by the existence and the ineffable experience that is Popeye. As I was too traumatized by my initial viewing to ever be able to endure more than two minutes of the film at a sitting, what follows is description and analysis from a safe remove; imagine the people hunkered and bunkered miles away during the A-Bomb tests.
On paper, it seemed like a dream.Robert Altman was the director. The casting was impeccable: Robin Williams as Popeye, muttering that distinctive Popeyese to a T; Shelley Duvall, so verisimilous as Olive Oyl it’s as if she sprung from the pages of syndication. The rest of the players were solid: Ray Walston as Popeye’s father (although I think Burgess Meredith might have been a better choice); the actors portraying Bluto and Wimpy certainly looked the parts and were more-than-adequate performers, and so on. The script was by the imminently competent writer and cartoonist Jules Feiffer, the songs by two certifiable (and I mean that in both senses) geniuses, Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke Parks. The set, constructed on Malta (it’s still there and is a popular tourist attraction– the trivial things my mind retains!) was picture-perfect.
Yet somehow Popeye accomplished whatever is the inverse of synergy, that is, it’s less than the sum of its parts. Far less. Kind of like the Grateful Dead. When I inadvertently catch even a few frames of this concoction, the fine hairs at the small of my back go up, a chill pervades my entire body, and I start to feel nauseous, physically ill. The sensation is so immediate and intense, you’d think little 10-year old Pannie was molested and raped in the movie theater when she saw it. It was the single most distressing and powerful cinematic experience of my life. (Now, the way media works, that’s the part that would be excerpted and blurbed on the advert or the DVD case:)
It was the single most … powerful cinematic experience of my life –raves pannonica!
Rave is right. In fact, I think I’m starting to foam at the mouth.