It’s a world of have-nots, but is it too much to ask that I get a little peace and quiet on this airplane?
The Film: The seminal work of Italian neorealism
The Potable: Four bloody marys, an airplane bottle of rum, and an airplane bottle of gin
Far from the viewing comfort of my living room, I spent Tuesday onboard a flight to Switzerland. Why, you ask? To attend an international conference of film critics? Conduct an interview with legendary Swiss filmmaker Dominique Othenin-Girard? In truth, my fiancé is in Geneva on business and I plan to mooch off her free hotel room. See the sights, tool around town.
Just not by bike, since that’s evidently a major problem in Europe. As all the other plebs of flight UA 974 sat down to in-flight screenings of The DaVinci Code and old episodes of Bones, I pulled out my laptop to watch Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 masterpiece, Bicycle Thieves. As I stirred vodka into my first cup of tomato juice, I couldn’t help but notice that my neighbor in seat 32B was watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Cute, I thought to myself. Very cute.
The Bicycle Thief begins with a down-and-out father who, struggling to survive in postwar Italy, lands a job. For pennies a day, he hangs prints of busty blonde movie stars around town. No judgements here. But it’s a big city, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the gig requires a bicycle.
You can probably guess what happens next. The father doesn’t have one of those u-locks and some asshole runs off with his livelihood. The whole family is distressed, but some of the scene’s weight was ruined by my neighbor guffawing over Paul Blart falling down an escalator or something.
Father and son hunt the city for the thief, going from tenement to tenement. Don’t be fooled by any notions you have of fine wines and pasta bucatini; postwar Italy had a long way to go before there was a Papa John’s on every corner. The abject poverty on display is, by design, very depressing. I checked my watch. Seven-and-a-half hours until landing.
Meanwhile, while I had no access to the audio, my neighbor laughed at what visual clues indicated was a fart joke. I do, I confess, enjoy those. My curiosity was piqued, and honestly after looking at so many fixed-gear bicycles, Paul Blart on his segway was starting to look like a goddamn blade runner.
You see, Blart is also a man in dire straits. His job earns him no respect, he desperately wants to be a real cop, and he’s got eyes on a woman out of his league. Typical Kevin James problems, really. Thankfully, a gang of robbers plan a mall heist, giving Blart a chance to prove himself.
The movie has it all. Headbutting gags, drunk gags, Scooby-Doo pun gags. It’s a wonderful continuation of the themes explored in his hit TV show, The King of Queens. It’s Home Alone for adults. It’s a modern, clever retelling of The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance. When he plays Guitar Hero – on duty, no less! – I die. My neighbor’s name, I learned, was Gustav. We laughed and we formed a quick bond.
As the credits rolled, I tried to explain to my new friend Gustav that while such low-brow fare can be guiltily delightful, one must not deprive oneself of the classics. Cinema is as varied and complex as the human experience. It can reveal truths in a way completely unique to its medium. Bicycle Theft, for example, is a must. Would you be satisfied with a life lived on hamburgers, having never tasted steak? A life full of acquaintances but never any loves? To be content, but never moved, for Christ’s sake?
“Well, we’ve still got four hours,” he said, and nodded toward my DVD case. “Mind if I borrow that for two?”
“Go fuck yourself,” I said, ordering my fourth bloody mary and a shot of gin.
Verdict: need to rewatch, thanks a lot, Gustav.