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Episode #90: PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

  

154 members have voted

  1. 1. Is PENNIES FROM HEAVEN Canon?

    • Yes
      82
    • No, I don't pick up pennies on the ground, even if they're from heaven
      72


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I wonder how many people are voting yes because of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of Pennies from Heaven.

 

If you really think that it's one of the all-time great movies, then go ahead and vote yes. But thinking that Amy is a great person, being mad that Re-Animator got in, or wanting more diversity in types of films (all of which are things that i agree with 100%) should not be valid criteria for voting a movie in or out of the Canon.

 

then again, i'm probably just taking things too seriously

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Let's not get hysterical. This canon, the one we're voting on, doesn't have any Buñuel, Chaplin, Lang, Kurosawa, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Ozu, Rosellini, Kubrick, Hawks, Godard, Visconti. It doesn't even have any Hitchcock.

 

It does, however, have the perfectly enjoyable and middlebrow "Working Girl", the atrociously crafted "Boyz N' The Hood", the middle-of-the-road actioneer "Casino Royale", the competent "Marathon Man" (arguably only the third best film to open in January 1976 after "Network" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and I voted for it). It has "E.T." but not "The Wizard of Oz", "All About Eve" but not "Sunset Blvd." and Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" but not Cocteau's. It's a great list of movies to watch, and it's fun to hear Devin and Amy talk about them, but at least half of them also fail the "500 greatest films" test.

You know, we could do 1,000 films, and we'd have less than a tenth of all films. That's 99.9% of an entire medium that doesn't make the cut. We haven't done 100 episodes yet, and if Devin and Amy go through with what they've been teasing, we're going to be taking a film out. We could do this for years and years and years, and never get to all the films that ought to be discussed. Really though, the The Canon, more than anything, is a show about what makes for a lasting piece of cinema. That often means looking at some pretty ambiguous cases. Working Girl may not be a film all of us like, but it's well-liked enough. I like finding the limits with divisive films. Of course we're gonna get to the masters, but those are seldom the most interesting episodes. They're fun, and often important, like when we get episodes for Pather Panchali, or Blow Out, for getting people to see films that aren't the obvious choices for great, epochal works.

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You know, we could do 1,000 films, and we'd have less than a tenth of all films. That's 99.9% of an entire medium that doesn't make the cut. We haven't done 100 episodes yet, and if Devin and Amy go through with what they've been teasing, we're going to be taking a film out. We could do this for years and years and years, and never get to all the films that ought to be discussed. Really though, the The Canon, more than anything, is a show about what makes for a lasting piece of cinema. That often means looking at some pretty ambiguous cases. Working Girl may not be a film all of us like, but it's well-liked enough. I like finding the limits with divisive films. Of course we're gonna get to the masters, but those are seldom the most interesting episodes. They're fun, and often important, like when we get episodes for Pather Panchali, or Blow Out, for getting people to see films that aren't the obvious choices for great, epochal works.

 

I agree with you completely, which is why I think that the "it's not one of the 500 greatest films" is an absurd argument. I especially agree that the obvious shoo-ins for the canon make for less interesting episodes. And for the record, I like Working Girl - I saw it more than once in the movie theater when it came out and Amy made great arguments in its favor - but I wanted to make the point that when voting "yes" we don't have to be voting necessarily for flawless, unquestionable masterpieces. I'm all for Marathon Man, ReAnimator, and They LIve being in The Canon and I wouldn't say they're any of them in my top 500. The list so far, as I see it, is less THE CANON, than an "Appendix to The Canon", but that would be a terrible title for a show.

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I've always been a big fan of this movie. I don't know if I've loved it so much that I would deem it "canon worthy," but Amy's passion persuaded me to vote yes. I'm also still a little bitter about Devin's campaigning for Re-Animator, so perhaps I'm trying to balance things out with karma. I do agree with Devin that Steve Martin was maybe still a little green when he made this film and he might have been more successful in the role slightly later in his career, but that's the only thing that would make me consider voting no and it's not enough. Watching this film again last week I was astonished by how well it has aged. I've always been a big fan of the mini-series, and generally prefer it, but I think that Dennis Potter's condensed screenplay is masterfully done, and the musical numbers are pretty stunning and can stand up alongside some of the classic musicals that it's trying to emulate. So I give this film a big YES, and I hope Amy isn't too afraid to read the forums on this, because the film seems to have more fans than I realized.

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If you really think that it's one of the all-time great movies, then go ahead and vote yes. But thinking that Amy is a great person, being mad that Re-Animator got in, or wanting more diversity in types of films (all of which are things that i agree with 100%) should not be valid criteria for voting a movie in or out of the Canon.

 

then again, i'm probably just taking things too seriously

Enjoyment of art is subjective and no one gets to decide what is or isn't valid criteria for criticism, analysis, or simple pleasure. I voted for Boyz In The Hood because it's a black filmmaker, full stop. Plenty of people said that's not a good reason and it was a bad movie, but hey, that's their opinion. I voted yes on Pennies From Heaven purely because I think Dennis Potter should be represented, and because I unabashedly love Bernadette Peters regardless of the film she is in.

 

But yeah, we should all take this a little less seriously :P

 

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Enjoyment of art is subjective and no one gets to decide what is or isn't valid criteria for criticism, analysis, or simple pleasure.

 

Totally. In this case I voted yes because I think it's a great film, but sometimes I've been more self-indulgent.

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All this talk about the movies we haven't gotten to yet just makes me really excited for future episodes. Long live the canon.

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I agree with you completely, which is why I think that the "it's not one of the 500 greatest films" is an absurd argument. I especially agree that the obvious shoo-ins for the canon make for less interesting episodes. And for the record, I like Working Girl - I saw it more than once in the movie theater when it came out and Amy made great arguments in its favor - but I wanted to make the point that when voting "yes" we don't have to be voting necessarily for flawless, unquestionable masterpieces. I'm all for Marathon Man, ReAnimator, and They LIve being in The Canon and I wouldn't say they're any of them in my top 500. The list so far, as I see it, is less THE CANON, than an "Appendix to The Canon", but that would be a terrible title for a show.

Oh, completely. I think we're pretty in alignment on this.

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First off, this was a nicely balanced episode where I felt all sides were rather calmly represented (or calmer than usual), so kudos to you two.

 

My vote ended up being a yes, and it was Devin that pushed the vote in that direction.

 

This marked the second time watching PFH for me. I remember not carrying a wink for it some 10 years back when I first saw it. This time around, I more clearly understood the juxtaposition between dream and reality, and i dealt with the extreme darkness better as well. I found the play between the different folks' dreams more worthy of my attention and my brain continues to catch surface level allusions to Death of a Salesman in the movie. That said, I still wasn't sure if I would put this film in a Canon.

 

The line repeated in the episode by Devin and Amy that helped me off the fence was among the lines of "I'm glad I watched this movie again" (and it was mainly Devin so said it). This idea that PFH was a movie that should be seen and discussed is what makes it Canon worthy. That is the idea behind a Canon, or at least a part of the philosophy behind a Canon, the elements of the list should forum a part of our cultural conversation.

 

What PFH brings to this list is a dialogue between film/music and viewer/listener. Through the conceit, there is an opening to discuss why movies/music hold such sway over us. Plus it brings forth the impact of the early musicals (Busby Berkeley extravaganzas, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, etc.) in a way that works on both the internal narrative and meta narrative.

 

I may not consider owning this movie, but I can see its importance in the discussion of films. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to revisit this movie.

 

This is the second time I've voted and is yes for PFH.

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Did anyone else think that the bar/vaudeville scene was from the perspective of the two men? Hence why the song was so crass and led to their statement that brought Arthur out of his reverie (the song seemed to have just as crass in it, and Steve Martin was doing the most obscene gestures of the three when they weren't synchronized ; the two salesmen's idea of what he really did).

 

Maybe this ambiguity is a flaw ... But I like the fact that two different reads can come from the same scene.

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I'm a little disturbed at Amy's identification with Arthur. I don't see him as the unfulfilled dreamer, but much closer as a self-serving jerk who has hardly any consideration for others unless it serves him. They commented on how we saw a little remorse in Arthur after he rebuked the accordion player, but it doesn't last. The diner scene after that was very interesting. It's all about Arthur's ego, how -even though he's not doing well- he has to show off that he's better off than the poor little fellow who was charmed by the woman that Arthur wants to cheat on his wife with. And his hitting on the (underage?) blind girl was outright sinister. What is Amy harboring that she thinks we all share?!?!

 

I agree that Arthur is a despicable character, but I can understand the identification with him, I think that's part of what the movie was going for (and an aspect that Devin didn't like, hence his arguments regarding the ending). I may disagree with Arthur's view of the world, but I can empathize with it. Here is someone whose motives are laid out on the screen and acts on those dreams. Can we not identify with trying to realize ones dreams? I'm not asking to identify with those dreams or the destructive nature of how he handles their realization (a key flaw is Arthur's self-centered attitude which is taken to such an extreme that he has sociopathic tendencies in his lack of empathy when confronted with other people's lives), but this film bends over backwards to propose a "There but for the grace of God, go I" narrative on Arthur.

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Yeah I have no problem identifying with Arthur and thinking he's a piece of shit at the same time. He's selfish and petty and often careless about other people's feelings, but absolutely not a sociopath. He has remorse and shame, just not at the right time. He tries to show accordion man kindness, but he's uncomfortable with the overwhelming gratitude so he spoils the moment and storms out of the diner (SUCH a common thing in the real world. Moments of true beauty get snuffed out because we can't be seen bawling our eyes out. This is the kind of stuff that makes me love this movie.)

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My vote was a soft YES. I think that Pennies from Heaven is an interesting film, and an interesting footnote in Steve Martin's career. And I think it is something that deserves to be revisited - I am definitely glad that I watched it, and will watch it again. I really enjoyed it.

 

And I have a few things to say about my interpretation of it (and how I think that Devin and Amy were both right and both wrong about a few things).

 

First, I disagree with the notion that Steve Martin was miscast. His character is largely insincere, even if he doesn't realize it, and the persona that Martin has actually fits in a way. The character believes he is sincere, but the people around him don't quite know how to take him. The blind girl does seem to see right through him though.

 

My other big thing (that I think Devin and Amy missed) is the notion of the internal logic of the film when it comes to POV. The fantasy comes from Arthur, but he "infects" both his wife and Eileen with that fantasy (not in any concrete way, but I think the film supports this idea).

Especially with sex.

Joan becomes resentful, hence why the only number from her POV is a fantasy about stabbing Arthur with a pair of scissors.

Eileen at first is enamoured (the school number), but after her night with Arthur on the couch, and by the time she is forced into prostitution by her circumstances (I thought her journey to this point, while quick, was quite clear) her outlook is decidedly more jaded. Tom (Christopher Walken) is the star of this big musical number because she is not control of her life. The men in her life are. First it was her father and brother, then Arthur, and now Tom.

 

It's worth noting that the other big number that is projected onto another character, the Pennies from Heaven sequence (which is magnificent) featuring the accordion player, is very much about Arthur feeling altruistic and imagining the gratitude that the accordion player "must" feel toward him. Much as with the sequence featuring the other salesmen in the bar, it is undone when Arthur's lustful intentions toward Eileen are reflected back at him, even slightly.

 

The last thing that I will say (though I actually agree with Amy in that there is a lot to talk about with this film) is about the ending.

I think the death of the blind girl is a little clunky, and the thematic importance of it being a blind girl is a little muddy, but I think the point of the ending is that Arthur thinks it is a random tragedy. The audience knows it is not, and I don't think we're meant to feel bad for him, but we are supposed to see the mess he has left in his wake.

I can't quite decide if the last musical number is his one last fantasy as he hangs on the rope, or if Eileen has killed herself in the wake of Arthur's execution, and it is her fantasy we see, or maybe both. But it is definitely a skewering of the typical happy ending inherent to this type of film and meant to further the shared delusion of Arthur and Eileen.

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I voted No in the poll.

 

This is the first time I've hated one these movies. I've stopped watching because I just couldn't pay attention. Opted out of watching because I can't handle a certain level of violence (Canibal Holocaust, Anti-Christ). Even been purely bored by one or two.

 

This one is just, hate to the point where I had to watch this movie in parts. So much of this movie just doesn't work that it makes the parts that do piss me off even more. I liked the design I thought it was beautiful when the dinner wall disappeared.

 

I can't fully explain everything I hated which is even more infuriating because of this movie, I hope everyone who loves it enjoys it.

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This was a weird one. I voted many hours ago, but I had no idea how to explain it.

 

I'll just try to keep it simple: The film doesn't really work for me. But I admire the HELL out of what they were trying to do.

 

Science teaches that there are no failed experiments, just experiments that don't work out they way you intended them to (and some of those end up resulting in some damn-near magical findings, see also penicillin).

 

I could easy argue that Pennies From Heaven doesn't belong in The Canon, because it didn't accomplish what (I suspect) it set out to do: transplant a 1930s musical into a 1970s world (it's still New Hollywood, thus 70s). It has the surface, but it flatly rejects the core. All that ends up doing is stripping the varnish off of the old formula (EDIT: OK, those analogies don't mesh, but you get me I think, since the surface WAS the core of the 30s musicals, just the happy emotional bits of it), and replace it with....a depressing acknowledgment that A) they don't accurately reflect the very non-fluffiness of reality and B ) that filmmakers don't even WANT to make those kinds of films anymore (unless maybe you're Peter Bogdanovich). So what did you accomplish? I think I understand where Astaire was coming from; while paying homage to the world he grew up and thrived in, they were also clearly trying to bury it.

 

But....it's a ballsy production. It's an original. It doesn't come together, but it's got really good parts. It's a worthy failure of a film. Or, perhaps, just a belated, depressing, coda to an era as much as an homage to it. But it still says a lot about both its time, and about the time it's reflecting. And if it failed at the time of release, and if it's been forgotten since then, all the more relevant it seems. Funerals are depressing, but they still have meaning, BECAUSE something is gone and is never coming back. This film was a funeral.

 

Pennies From Heaven just doesn't work as a film. But it's still a worthy attempt. A worthy homage. A worthy counterpoint. And a meaningful nail in the coffin of a time in film that had passed. And, while I typically feel that the bar for The Canon tends to be set too low....I still wanted to vote yes on this one. But it's a borderline, kinda confused yes. It deserves to be remembered, and to be seen. Even if it, technically, isn't very good. Just see a couple of the original 30s musicals first, so you know what it's referencing. And if it doesn't work for you, try The Purple Rose of Cairo. That's a less-ambitious film on a similar subject, but one that's a lot easier to like. Together, they make for an excellent reflection on a very big decade in Hollywood's past, and the long shadow it created for those who remember it. I'd vote for that film too, and probably pick it in a versus, but I won't take anything away from the makers of this film. Only in New Hollywood could you see a movie like Pennies From Heaven. For that alone, it's an illustrative film. Just not an easy one to love. For me, at least.

 

$#!+, Cannibal Holocaust is in.

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Write the book Amy! And then make Devin write the foreword ;-)

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Amy's enthusiasm made me want to vote for this..but having rewatched it I just can't.

My main reasoning being how badly it stands up next to Dennis Potters British Tv version. It has all the edges smoothed over. Particularly In Hoskins performance...who is actually able to make that character both appalling and so incredibly empathetic.

 

But the biggest reason is the setting. Maybe this is something that only makes sense to a UK citizen. But the story takes place in the rural A road towns of the UK. The epitome of middle England, so far removed from the big city. It makes the juxtaposition in his musical fantasies so much more heartbreaking. Potters use of American music as his way of showing the aching heart stuck in a tightly wound British man is something he used brilliantly in so many of his shows...but none better than here. It just doesn't work as effectively when transposed to Chicago.

 

From a short bald, tubby englishman stuck in the arse end of nowhere...who just feels the burning need for something, and the only way to give that form is through the mythical world his song sheets come from...to a very Handsome man in the beautiful sprawl of Chicago...it might seem purely aesthetic but it dulls what makes this such a devastating piece of TV to me.

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I agree with a lot of your points but I think you're way over simplifying the experience of Jessica Harper's character. I think we can imagine that her and Bernadette Peters were raised in similarly conservative and probably religious households where women were taught early and strictly to be ashamed of their sexuality. The two women represent very different reactions to that experience but just because one of them is more modern does not make the other illegitimate. I think Harper's character cares for Martin's on a very deep emotional level even if she can't bring herself to express it physically. That scene you're talking about where she puts lipstick on her nipples is really gut wrenching. She forces herself into a vulnerable and humiliating situation because she loves him and she is scared that she is going to be replaced. It's the ultimate damned role where she has been taught all her life to be chaste and virginal and now is expected to be sexual and to please the needs of her husband. He is completely unsympathetic to her and berates and belittles her for not complying to his advances. She is obviously very repressed but as far as her ideas being backwards, I think it only looks that way to modern eyes.

I wouldn't disagree with you entirely except to wonder why we should privilege Harper's feelings over Martin's, who's as unfairly trapped as Harper is. I mean there's no divorce in this period and it would just be so awful to be with someone doesn't want you. And I admit I just wasn't wrenched by the lipstick. It's not all that pervy. To me it was kind of cute. And don't you think if she really loved him so deeply she would never have helped kill him? No matter what he may have done to her it's no way the same as being unfairly lynched! I do think her situation is unfair, I just think that everyone's situation in the movie is unfair and I think this modern idea we've gotten into that all women are pitiful victims while the dudes have it made is kind of ridiculous. I found Devin's take to belong to this fatuous new form of dubious gender sensitivity.

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