I recently bought two DVDs out of the cheap-and-used bin at Half Priced Books & Movies. I buy a lot of movies that way. I tell myself I’m scouting for gifts to give my husband at holidays. (We double up a lot. “How many presents are you getting me for Christmas?” “You tell me first.” “Uh, eight?” “Okay, I can make that work.” Meaning, if I tape a movie to each shirt or spatula or box of golf balls, I can pretend I’ve only got eight when it’s more like fourteen.)
The truth is I’m looking for keepers. For me. My keeper DVD shelf is never full enough. I re-watch movies the way I re-read books: they’re comfort food for the eye and ear and heart and funnybone; they give me the security of knowing that at least these movies won’t make me wake up screaming or barf up my pizza.
Both these DVDs are keepers. I screened them, as I screen all “gifts for Rich,” skeptically. Each is so very obviously the brainchild of a single auteur, written-&-directed-by jobs, badly packaged because they’re obviously too “intelligently written” (as the blurbs crow) to make their way successfully through a big studio’s marketing department, and possibly they’re too fucking arty to be watchable. I take these chances.
Bickford is one of those solemn undergraduates with a terminally serious chin. He broods well. He doesn’t mesh well with his boozer roommates. He hides from their parties in his basement lair and develops his unified field theory, at such times when his roommates let him hear himself think, and he records his ideas in a metal-jacketed notebook called The Book.
One night, while he’s briefly out of the room, a particularly boozed- and juiced-up young lady sneaks downstairs and starts reading The Book. We never get a good handle on what’s in The Book beyond a hopeful kind of nihilism. Whatever the ideas in there, they are so cool that she orgasms, reading them. (She is apparently very intelligent and libidinous as well as wacko.) Being a wacko, she steals the book.
She reads it, she is Enlightened, she tries to convince her boyfriend to read it but he’s too dumb to get it and, disgusted, he throws the book in a sidewalk trash can, from which it is retrieved by a fairly young, tidy, intellectual young homeless crazy, who reads it, is Enlightened… you get the idea.
The Book moves from hand to hand, blowing the minds of all who read it.
Meanwhile, Bickford Shmeckler is beside himself at the loss of The Book. His nihilism before was as naught to this nihilism.
The young lady catches up with him. They search for The Book. Stuff happens.
The casting, writing, timing, editing, and exquisitely sure-touch characterization make this simple story work really well. Turns out it is one of those writer-director brain children that come together in a seamless, Platonic ideal of whatever the hell the director-writer had in mind. Try it. See what you think.