Wandering around in the desert--I just got done bagging on that very trope for its dire boringness. I may even have gone so far as to declare a personal ban on watching movies that prominently feature wandering around in the desert.
There's a commonly-abused phrase in the English language that we've all heard: "the exception proves the rule." As in all things, I like to pick and choose the wisdom nuggets that I like best and warp reality a little bit to suit my own needs. In commonly accepted scientific/statistical parlance, the phrase refers to the exceptions themselves rather than to the proving bit, but that's fucking boring. I prefer to interpretthat bon mot along the lines of a medieval "proof," those extreme tests of justice involving danger, torture, or plain old discomfort (the familiar trope of ducking witches in water--that's a proof). If you follow me along this dubious logical path (and I know you do--we're a bright bunch), then "the exception proves the rule" means that the existence of an exception to a stodgy, boring, probably-crappy rule tests the legitimacy of that rule. In short, one should always seek exceptions to prove one's rules.
Extra bonus niftiness:
So yes, back to the desert-wandering thing. My own rule would say that films that focus on desert-wandering are tedious and should be avoided. The 1991 comedy "Rubin and Ed" provided a powerful test to that rule, and now I'm reconsidering my previous desert-wandering movie ban. I grew a little as a person while watching this movie, and as a result, I may have to go back and watch "Lawrence of Arabia," "Ishtar," and "Sahara."*
*OK, maybe just the first one.
I'm embarking on a bit of a mission here, since "Rubin and Ed" may be a bit of a hard sell--it was certainly difficult to convince me that I wanted to see it.** Allow me to hit you with the only two factors about which you absolutely need to know: Crispin Glover and a cat puppet.
**I would be remiss if I didn't thank Prof. Jack for the recommend on this movie--I know I got around to it a lot later than he'd have liked, but he deserves major kudos for his insistent and enthusiastic prosthelytizing.
If you were me, you'd already have stopped reading right here and would be watching this film.
If it takes more than the Klaus Kinski of our time interacting with a faux feline to break through your leathery exterior to reach your juicy joy-core, I'll continue. "Rubin and Ed" tells the story of social misfit Rubin Farr (Crispin Glover), his chance encounter with struggling salesman Ed Tuttle (Howard Hesseman of "WKRP In Cincinnati" fame), and their ensuing quest to find a final resting place for Rubin's beloved cat Simon (a watermelon- and Mahler-loving critter who was Rubin's only friend). What ensues is some of the strangest, most uncomfortable comedy I've seen--and I mean this as the highest possible praise! As a person who's spent most of her life feeling out-of-place in everyday situations (I go into absolute flop-sweat panic when asked about "favorite movies" in a professional setting), there's something I can relate to about humor that hinges on people who make other people feel uncomfortable.
Let's take a minute to talk about the Rubin character. Sketched with twitchy, monosyllabic mannerisms and an alarmingly frank stare by Crispin Glover, the nature of Rubin's unwellness is front and center even though it's never explained. His warbling delivery of emphatic non-sequiturs is both off-putting and utterly hilarious. Over two million YouTube viewers have experienced the Rubin character--most of them unknowingly--in this oft-reblogged clip from David Letterman's late night talk show (circa 1987):
Method acting is *awesome*.
While the movie looks and feels strictly fictional and even fantastical (as was no doubt the goal since even the cat is clearly artificial when it appears on screen), Glover's portrayal of Rubin is convincingly mad and Hesseman's exasperation never feels anything less than authentic. The chemistry between the two actors is weirdly compelling and as the characters begin to understand one another and the similarities of their situations, it's pretty much impossible not to root for them.
I really dislike the word "quirky"--it's kind of a cheap term that gets tossed around to describe a lot of twee emo-generation*** entertainment that comes in flavors that I find personally displeasing. I go in for "eccentric," because it has more letters and a better pedigree. "Rubin and Ed" wears its eccentricity on its sleeve, from its unlikely lead characters to its off-beat dream sequence. Director Ted Harris pulls off an amazing feat in this movie when he takes what could be two terrible individuals and, through the alchemy of the cast/director/crew/script relationship, makes them relatable and even lovable.
***I hold the term "emo" responsible for making my first experience in Feeling Old. I had to ask a younger-than-me colleague what the term meant, and when I learned it was short for "emotional punk," it added "confusion" to the mix. I mean, isn't punk already inherently emotional? Or is "angry" no longer an emotion? Nobody likes to feel old and confused, and it's a day-old sushi roll of feelings that I was introduced to thanks to the word "emo." Fuck you very much, "emo."
In summary: I love "Rubin and Ed." I want your gratitude for not quoting every line and thus spoiling the experience for you all. Go forth an enjoy, friends! DVD copies are available from the director's website at Echochave.net.
Extra bonus niftiness:
Watch for Rubin Farr's appearance in Crispin Glover's "Clowny Clown Clown" music video:
Rubin Farr art from "Cien de Cine" (100 memorable characters from 100 memorable films) by artist Puño: