Steven Spielberg’s “1941” at Cinefamily
Last night my family and I took a stroll to the newly proclaimed non-profit Silent Movie Theatre where we saw a screening of Steven Spielberg’s 1941. In some ways this is my favorite Spielberg film, despite the fact that I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as Close Encounters of the Third Kind or any number of other Spielberg movies. It’s similar to films such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Mars Attacks, neither or which are among my favorites. So why do I like 1941? I think it has something to do with the general attitude, that is, everyone’s crazy, an attitude it shares with those other two films, but especially the energy, which some may call simply busy-ness. But the jitterbug scene is a classic and worth the price of admission. As far as I know, it’s Spielberg’s only comedy, although Spielberg says that Kubrick (whose Dr. Strangelove was probably on the mind of 1941‘s makers: at least two scenes appear to be directly derived from Kubrick’s film) thought it should have been marketed as a drama. If you don’t say it’s a comedy, you don’t have to worry when people don’t laugh, a point one of my teachers at USC liked to make. However, based on the laughter that shook the theater last night, the film is definitely a comedy.
The screening was followed by a discussion of its making by co-writer Bob Gale, actor Eddie Deezen (who played Herbie Kazlminsky, the nerd on the Ferris Wheel), and second assistant director, Chris Soldo. For nearly an hour, the three 1941 alumni entertained us with stories related to the making of 1941. Here’s an example: Gale said that John Milius, credited as executive producer and a co-writer on the film, insisted that Gale and co-writer Robert Zemeckis each receive a gun as part of the deal for the screenplay. So the two went to Monrovia to buy a pair of guns. After they returned from the gun shop, Milius took them around with their guns on display to visit some of his friends. First up was a flummoxed George Peppard where, when offered Colt 45 beers, the two raised their guns saying that they already had Colt 45’s. Then it was off to Francis Ford Coppola’s place where Coppola was busy making pizza, something Gale said Coppola was usually doing. Upon seeing the guns, Coppola compared them unfavorably to the pizza which he said represented life whereas the guns represented death.
But why not listen to Gale himself tell this story (and screw up a punchline) and others in the video below.
Here’s a video of the discussion (recorded with an Android phone). Although several other phones were in action, there does not appear to have been an official recording of the event. (As the flyer excerpt above states, the screening was co-presented by La-La Land Records to help promote their new 1941 soundtrack CD.)
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