January 24, 2005

The Desire Realm of the Two Destinies

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Sometimes The Sun is obligated to report events that may have eluded the mainstream press. This week marks the 20th anniversary of Dudley Moore’s film, Santa Claus: The Movie, the infamous chronicle of one elf’s crusade against corporate fraud. To honor the occasion, we decided to cull recollections from some of his most notable admirers and critics. Unfortunately, hardly any students we interviewed had seen or heard of that movie. But everyone had seen Moore’s 1981 smash, Arthur.

Julia Donahue ’07 admires Moore’s depiction of a “generous playboy, living life to its fullest.” Mark Rice ’07, the only student who had seen Santa Claus, had no comments about Arthur. But others remember more intimate, critical encounters with the movie. Daniel McAlvin ’05, a sort of Moore scholar, believes there is a substantial and debilitating flaw in both Arthur and its sequel, 1988’s Arthur 2: On the Rocks. “I was in Baltimore with my friend, Miguel Sabogal, a student at Johns Hopkins. One night, after just a few cocktails, we were in his apartment, and we decided to look at celebrity mug shots, knowing they’re easily available on the Internet. We found a picture of Dudley Moore. He was arrested for domestic abuse or something similar. We thought it was funny that someone known for being so jovial could have done something so uncharacteristic, so we looked up his entire filmography and pledged to see who could watch both Arthur and Arthur 2 first.”

McAlvin added, “he downloaded the movies from the Internet; I went to the public library.” For McAlvin, the fascination with Moore amounts to the ageless contradiction between his private life and the public persona that subsumed his entire identity. “He’s like four feet seven inches,” this genial, silly little man,” McAlvin said. “And that’s just part of his caricature as a celebrity and as an actor. Part of his success and failure was to be such a perennially amiable character. He was unable to escape Arthur. He died bound to this embarrassing, clownish reputation.”

McAlvin’s appraisal of Arthur as a film is similarly muted. While he objects to any total condemnation of the film, he seems indifferent and bored with — and perhaps even belligerent towards — the mysterious motivations of the characters and the haphazard interests of the screenpla. “Arthur leaves behind too many questions,” McAlvin said, “Even for a slapstick comedy, too many scenes seem arbitrary or misplaced, as if they weren’t meant to be seen together. None of the conflicts seem to be remedied, not that I’m against that per se, but in a slapstick, something needs to be resolved by the end or else it just seems monotonous.”

In an analogy that may seem uncannily close to truth, McAlvin offers that “everything seems incidental, like a drunk Arthur making a film about himself.”

Arthur 2 only widens these faults while prolonging the repetitive jokes and lethargic romances. The production of the sequel occurred seven years after the release of the first movie, resulting in a perplexing disjuncture between the characters’ personalities and appearances. “Everyone is gray and withered,” McAlvin said. “They look tired, but they’re compelled to imitate the characters from the first film.”

Brian London ’06 challenges this critique, contending that the haggard actors are supposed to represent a sort of “hyper-aging” that accompanies marriage when lovers become more mature and domesticated: “The obvious implication embedded in the gestation period of Arthur 2 is that the weight of marriage is really, really a lot deeper than the physical transformation after the first night. There’s a symbolic aging that does not manifest itself physically. Except in Liza Minelli’s case.”

Nevertheless, McAlvin got more irate as he reflected upon this befuddling scenario: “Who waits seven years for this sort of thing? ‘End this slumber! The world awaits Arthur 2!’ It’s bizarre. The second film makes it more pronounced how little Arthur learned in the first one. Arthur is presented with ever more intractable conflicts. But at the end, his wife finally adopts a child because she was thought infertile. Then, literally one minute before the credits roll, we find out she’s actually pregnant. It’s like a solution to a problem that was already a solution. It just makes no fucking sense at all.”

McAlvin hastens to note that none of this will matter much to home viewers: “The Arthur ‘dualology’ is something you rent and then return, without having watched a minute of it.”

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Sun Arts & Entertainment Associate Editor