[10 December 2013]
“One of the gifts one movie lover can give another is the title of a wonderful film they have not yet discovered”
In a time and age when snark and cynicism seem to be the norm, British culture blogger and film critic Scott Jordan Harris provides one of the friendliest voices out there. His Twitter feed features a remarkable combination of humorous tweets (everything from self deprecating jokes to strange obsessions with odd animals and situations), heartfelt responses to people who get in touch with him and most of all, great insight on film and popular culture. His deep love for film seems to be something he inherited from his master, the late Roger Ebert, whom Harris still cherishes as he continuously celebrates his work and life.
Like Ebert, Harris has the idea that film is a democratic art form and his writing is as accessible as can be. In the introduction to Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects, he implies how his love of film began not with fancy schools and profound academia but at home, watching movies with his family. On New Year’s Eve, “my parents would rent a cassette from the local video shop and we would watch it after dinner but before I fell asleep waiting for midnight to arrive,” he explains, before he goes into how watching a Star Trek movie, of all things, he realized the importance of objects in film.
He describes how a simple tea cup opened up to him a whole new way of seeing one specific character, triggering his obsession with movie objects. “They are still my favorite type of article to write, and that is why I have written this book” he explains. Always a careful preserver of film joys, Harris avoids giving away plot details as he populates his book with objects that aren’t the “top 50” but objects he chose to explain how great films can be at evoking specific feelings and ideas.
The book immediately gives way to the list organized chronologically, it begins with the clock from Safety Last! and ends with Ryan Bingham’s backpack from Up in the Air, making one wonder if Harris decided to stop in 2009 or simply chose not to include the scorpion jacket from Drive, the microphone from The King’s Speech or the tutu from Black Swan. The book also features an index that makes the objects searchable by Category or Illustrator (David McMillan, Jayde Perkin and Charlie Marshall provide expressive illustrations that don’t look exactly like the objects they represent, but convey enough elements to make them recognizable, reinforcing Harris’ theory).
Your first dive into the book might not take more than an hour (it’s only111 pages long), but you’ll find yourself going back to re-read how the author shares anecdotes about Rosebud from Citizen Kane for example, and how it became part of Steven Spielberg’s own personal collection of movie memorabilia, or even chuckling at how he manages to include objects so big, you’d never really of them as objects, such as the starship Enterprise or the bridge from Bridge on the River Kwai.
For every object you would expect, such as Dorothy’s famous ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, or Marilyn Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch (which he calls “the most evocative outfit in which Hollywood ever dressed her up”) there is something unique and surprising like the cosmic cup of coffee from Two or Three Things I Know About Her, which instantly make you want to drop everything and watch the film, or the wafer-thin mint ingested by the extremely large Mr. Cresote (Terry Jones) in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
Those expecting a canonical list, à la AFI, will be disappointed to realize that Harris is more interested in taking us through a personal, rather than institutional journey through iconic movie objects. His fascination with Harold Russell’s metal hooks from The Best Years of Our Lives, for example, make all the sense in the world when one thinks about the fact that Harris suffers from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or “chronic fatigue syndrome” as it’s usually called, meaning that he would be the kind of person who would put more emphasis on things others would give for granted. His entry on Kermit the Frog’s bicycle from The Muppet Movie is a beautiful ode to the technical wonder that is motion. “I am certain that once you have seen Kermit the Frog ride his bike you will always remember it” he adds.
Other curious choices include Marty McFly’s hoverboard from Back to the Future Part II, as opposed to choosing the Delorean vehicle or his inclusion of Christy Brown’s wheelchair from My Left Foot. Harris seems especially interested in objects that replace parts of the human body, including Dirk Diggler’s plastic penis from Boogie Nights or Rooster Cogburn’s eyepatch from True Grit which he suggests makes audiences think of John Wayne’s character as a “swashbuckling hero”.
All 50 objects contain lovely descriptions that read more like journal entries than “movie trivia”, moving forward page after page one can almost see Harris as a kid during those chilly New Year’s Eves, dozing off slowly, imagining all the pleasures the movies would bring to him in years to come, like little Ralphie Parker from A Christmas Story dreaming of his precious Red Ryder bb gun.