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Episode 73: THE LOST WEEKEND

  

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  1. 1. Should THE LOST WEEKEND Be In The Canon?

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Pour yourself a stiff one and listen to Amy and Devin discuss Billy Wilder's THE LOST WEEKEND, an Oscar winner featuring Ray Milland as a drunk writer trying to sober up over one disastrous weekend.

 

Should this film be in the Canon? Is the movie too overwrought? Or does it take a nuanced look at the problems of alcoholics? Vote and discuss here!

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This grabbed my vote early on. My relationship with alcohol seems to be tracking along Devin's path. I still drink, but nowhere near as much as I did in my mid-twenties. This was after much abstaining due to fear of alcoholism within my family.

 

The scenes that sealed the deal for me were Milland's adoration and relief upon getting his two bottles of rye back to his apartment. His facial expressions there made the whiskey seem so enticing, so comforting. I craved a drink. Minutes later, we get the flashback at the opera, and the same dynamic between this viewer and the screen is now occurring between the lead character and the stage. It is what we would now call meta. Truly masterful writing and directing from Wilder (natch). Easy yes vote.

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I'm voting yes for the Lost Weekend.

 

The movie has some issues, and I agree with Amy that this is certainly not Billy Wilder's best, but I still think it deserves to be in the Canon. Because while the movie could be a tad melodramatic at times, reaching Reefer Madness territory once or twice, overall it's a gut-wrenching and honest look at the horrors of addiction. It was super progressive for the time, and discusses addiction in a manner that stupid people in 2016 sometimes still can't wrap their minds around. I also love how it could sometimes look like a horror movie, even having the Theramin in the soundtrack occasionally, like alcoholism is a monster slowly destroying his life.

 

And man do I love the scene where he tries to sell his typewriter for booze money. How harrowing. He's considering selling his tool to write, to feed his drinking habit which he claims helps him write. What a crazy vicious cycle. This was my first time checking out the movie, and while there are certainly issues, and it's not Wilder's strongest, I really liked it, and I think it certainly belongs in the Canon.

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Yes.

 

My own story, which will seem silly to some, but here it goes: I'm 26. So my relationship with drinking is only about 14 years old. The last five years or so is when I've come to terms that I do have a soft addiction to alcohol. Watching this movies was sobering to me. I watched things when I was younger that were very much "Look-how-cool-we-are--romanticizing of alcohol" and I watched this two months ago one night and realized what bottom could look like and how I don't want to get there. My mother told me in college once, "don't become an alcoholic because you have to quit drinking forever." I've been made aware by disastrous nights, some that were no more than me, the glowing light of my laptop, and a whole bottle of booze. Gaining knowledge of what life is like when this soft addiction becomes a hard one at my age feels like an invaluable lesson. I've eased up on my drinking, it's not every day and it's no longer a liter of liquor per night. I'm pretty grateful to this movie and also to some of the worst mornings I've ever had for getting me here. Also, I'm a writer and already I've learned that lesson that writing after a night of drinking (or writing while drinking) is nearly an impossibility for productivity; I'm best at writing first thing in the morning with a clear head, so it just feels better.

 

 

All of that aside, Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors. A Canon with many Wilder's is a better canon. The way I see The Canon is if modern civilization crumbles and find one screen and a thumb drive with all of these movies on it, what are we communicating about film, art, and more importantly humanity. This is a must because Wilder did it in a way that most modern storytellers just can not. Alcoholism is a major cultural issue, and it is also prevalent in many stories (think about every TV pilot that introduces the alcoholic character), this movie introduces the issue, presents it in an honest way, and the cultural context of 1945 strengthens its legacy.

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The Lost Weekend is a solid movie, but it falls short of being in the Canon of great films.

 

I'd argue that strongest arugment for its candidacy is it's historical importance. It's under-discussed today how transformative film is to the public's perception of social and political issues. Now, there are plenty of writers and directors who take aim at under-represtented topics knowing that a film can force positive change, and there always have been. But many more make films with baked-in prejudices and harmfully conventional perspectives, and they dismiss detractors by falsely minimizing the effect film has in shaping the public consciousness. For that, it's important to look back with a positive scrutiny on the effect a "Lost Weekend" can have on reifying addiction and mental health in a time where there was no vocabulary to even get at the issue. As Devin and Amy brought up, the word "alcoholism" was still fringe, and easy to imagine how little help people had in wrapping their minds around the behavior of an alcoholic before it came into fashion.

 

 

Even so, I guess I'm discovering that it's hard to vote "yes" on a film that passes the Canon bar on historial significance and nowhere else. The rest of the film excels more in concept then reality. I agree with Devin that the script and lead performance paint Don Birnam in an interesting way; it sells the physicality of his addiction, but also the self-loathing sad sack beneath that commits to it. If one element reaches the Canon bar within the film, it's the script. Sans Helen.

 

Helen's a bad character. I think the film flirts with how unhelpful-cum-enabling she is to Don without committing to it in the finale. Bad performance aside, Helen overcommits to Don in a way that comes off as toxic and patronizing. I think Amy nailed it when she discussed her inherent co-dependency; Helen is trying to insert herself as his savior throughout, and that self-centered choice ends up saving him when it would actually leave him worse off. She's just setting himself for a more intense self-loathing when his addiction comes back for him.

 

I should probably give more credit for making the best out of a 1940's understanding of alcoholism, but the ending rubs me raw. I disagree with the hosts that the ending is self-aware that the victory we witnessed is only around three minutes of sobriety. Unless I'm the mistaken one, Amy and Devin missed that the final shot is a flashback to the initial shot of the film, not a callback to it. It reflects on the beginning of the film as 'the bad ol' times', and postulates a strong chance at the complete conquest of addiction after one moment of clarity. The grand gesture of sobriety is to put his cigarette in the drink and leave it on the table. I don't think the film realizes that Don's probably going to fish out the cigarette and gulp the rye down the second he hits his first writer's block on "The Bottle."

 

I think the rest of the film, as Amy suggested, is solid but un-Canonworthy. The greatness has its pair in dullness, and the rest is solid. For every creepy bat killing a rat there's Ray Milland overselling it. For every opera alcohol temptation scene there's a lecture from a sanitorium doctor that wouldn't be out of place in any bad after-school special. I think the film is paced well and has a fun supporting cast of characters. Doris Dowling is fantastic with her prostitute barfly character, and has more chemistry with Ray Milland then Ray has with his brother or girlfriend. I just feel that very little of the film rises to greatness.

 

TL;DR, I think the film is good, but I don't think that every good film should be in the Canon. A film should at least be great and I"m not sure each and every great film is entitled to inclusion. The movie has an immense social good to it, and a subject that gives an automatic emotional "in" for many people, including myself. But it's just not a great film, and I don't think it deserves entry.

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It's a very good film but not one of the greats for me. It's historical significance is on the social level, not its contribution to innovation for cinema, which I find to be a better argument for including a film in the canon. A soft no for me.

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I've probably voted for lesser films in the past, but I'm putting in a real soft no on The Lost Weekend. This is a good film. I'm glad I sought out this film. There are better Best Picture contenders. There are better substance abuse stories. There are better Billy Wilder pictures.

 

Looking at the votes, this might be the first pre-1980 film not to make it into the canon--which is too bad, because this is solid.

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It's true that there may be better films on the topic, and there are better films from Billy Wilder, but this is still a solid picture. This was one of the first black and white movies I ever saw and I've thought about it ever since. I vote yes.

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I think the rest of the film, as Amy suggested, is solid but un-Canonworthy. The greatness has its pair in dullness, and the rest is solid. For every creepy bat killing a rat there's Ray Milland overselling it. For every opera alcohol temptation scene there's a lecture from a sanitorium doctor that wouldn't be out of place in any bad after-school special.

 

 

This sounds right to me, but I mean this is so close. I guess I'm a no, but a soft one, one you could drop a safe on without damage.

 

Movies should be rewarded for avoiding obvious flaws in execution, one could be forgiven, but bunches of them take a movie from great to good. I would so much rather see Ace in the Hole get in if there are limited Wilder spots. The powerful and quiet counterpoint of a small character like Leo Minosa is exactly what Lost Weekend is missing.

 

And I just don't know if historical significance is enough. I feel like I'd be hypocritical to vote yes for Lost Weekend and no to To Kill A Mockingbird, and I just couldn't get myself to yes on Mockingbird I don't think.

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Soft yes for me. The historical significance is what pushed it over the edge for me, that I think it deserves to be in the Canon and be a film that people should see at least once in their lifetime.

 

But I also agree with the negative points as well. The film is good but not great (Helen's character is...such a problem), and Amy's right in saying it's not even in the top 5 best Wilder films. So while it's a yes for me, I wouldn't be devastated if it ends up not being voted in.

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I vote yes.

Of all the nominees for the 1945 best picture Oscar, this is the one that I saw.

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I'm fine with this being an important film, and also being a best picture winner somewhere in the same realm of Gentlemen's Agreement and All The King's Men, but how could this ever win the the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival? I do think it's a fine viewing in the same way double indemnity is. It's a good film, but minor Wilder. If I can't be passionate about an entry I rather go with a no, although a soft one.

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Soft yes for historical importance. It's a good movie, but it didn't blow me away. I doubt it's one that i'll revisit.

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I've got such a soft no for this that I won't vote.

I agree with Amy- it's just Ok, nothing really Canon-worthy apart from the first modern-ish look at alcoholism.

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I was expecting a fun black out drunk time based on the title. Instead I got a depressing story about rock bottom that isn't really all that realistic and I don't feel the filmmaking was ground breaking at all.

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Amy hit the nail on the head for me. It's good, but I can't really get excited about it. Like a lot of the comments above, I'm saying yes based on the historical and cultural impact, and I'll leave it at that.

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Yeah! I'm with Amy! I think this movie is terrible, and that everyone involved with it should feel ashamed of themselves!

 

...Well, no, I'm not THAT critical. It was...OK. Well....good. Probably something that was shocking back in the day. And I don't wanna say it doesn't deserve to get in (because, maybe it's Ray Milland's biggest movie, I dunno), but...I just don't want to vote for it. You gotta be more than good. I gotta be certain it's a great movie, certain it's so worthy it's not even worth thinking about, to put it in.

 

It's well-shot. It's got some really good performances. It's probably very of-its-time. But....as others have mentioned, Wilder's done much better. And as far as post-war Hollywood goes*, there are a ton of other movies I'd rather see in than this one.

 

You did well, The Lost Weekend. It's an honor just to be nominated, and you're a movie well worth seeing. But "must see"? Not really.

 

* - Just sayin'...if you're gonna be a downer, you gotta really bring it (and no, I didn't buy the happy ending either). I'm probably biased (how could I not?), but, looking back to films of the era, I'm far more drawn to the sentimental (White Christmas), the critical/damning (Ace in the Hole), the fluffy (Roman Holiday), the epic (Sunset Boulevard), or the strikingly, unforgettably awesome (The Third Man - EDIT: OK, it's not Hollywood, but still....). There are plenty of movies nowadays to just plain feel bad about. The Lost Weekend is a worthy film, but not Canon-worthy.

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I vote yes.

I am an alcoholic in recovery. I watched this movie early in my recovery and agree w/ many of the comments regarding the horror feel and especially the self loathing (as well as the duplicitousness of the main character and the ambiguity around just how "great" the guy is).

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I understand its historical significance as a social issue pic and Oscar winner, but I always look at the Canon as simply: when the aliens land, what movies would I show them as a complete representation of the art form? When looking at it that way, it's hard to rationalize letting the aliens see the 5th, 6th, or 7th best Wilder film the first go-around. Perhaps if the aliens enjoy human cinema after watching the entire Canon, and they want more, I could see this being a solid recommendation.

 

The Lost Weekend is just too dated, the acting too uneven, and quite simply, just not among the top five Wilder movies I'd recommend to someone who was unfamiliar with him.

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It's an easy yes for me. Watched it for the first time last week when it was on TCM and fell in love with it. Such an intense, well-acted film with a truly haunting score. Also the use of shadows in the film is very effective. And it's an important film, especially considering how cavalier many movies today are in their depiction of alcohol.

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I am a very soft no. I am both a huge Billy Wilder and Ray Milland fan and as others have noted, I believe I have voted for "lesser" films in the past but I have to draw the line here. There are better Wilder( a Sunset Blvd episode might be unanimous), Milland( I'd love to see "Ministry of Fear" in the Canon) and better addiction pictures. There are also films which pushed the code further and in more interesting ways.

 

When I first heard that this movie would be the subject of an episode I thought it would be an easy yes. After a rewatch, a listen to the episode and some soul searching I came to a very surprising conclusion. This very conflicted decision will probably make me much more critical in the future about these votes, which is a good thing.

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I'm trying something new. I just watched the film and this is my first time voting before listening to the podcast, so as not to be swayed or biased. Without hearing the arguments or knowing historical context, just on a pure reaction to the film, I'm voting "no".

 

I think it was entertaining and enjoyable, and I'm there were probably not many films of this kind at the time it was made, but through modern eyes, this portrayal of alcoholism seemed a bit closer to "refer madness" cartoon alcoholism to me as opposed to a "Leaving Las Vegas" or "Clean and Sober" or even "The World's End". This might be a case where it was a fine film for its time, but maybe not Canon-worthy. I'm really curious to hear the arguments in the episode now and see if I am swayed one way or the other.

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Hard no. If this movie had been about a woman, it would have been written off as a Lifetime made for tv melodrama. Performances were solid, but the movie did not hold my interest at all. Gloria was the only character who I found engaging. I can see the historical importance but even so I did not care for it.

 

FYI the last shot was a flashback to the beginning, not a callback to it.

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