(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#12) Withnail & I
Comedy • dir. Bruce Robinson • 1987 • UK
Several years ago, I took part in a 48 hour filmmaking contest with a few friends. It was an interesting experience, even if it did involve a great deal of waiting around not doing much. More to the point at hand, it was an unsurpassable insight into how easily the best of intentions can still a bad movie make. Not enough time, too much of it wasted, too many ideas, not enough good ones, storytelling by committee, poor sound, insufficient lighting, compromise and cliché, hungry crew, conflicting priorities, indifference, hangers-on like me not really contributing… I’m amazed frankly that we didn’t all call it quits after a mere 24 hours. I know I did. (If I ever do get back into the filmmaking business, here are my non-negotiable demands: absolute control, including final cut; no asking anyone for money, ever; work on weekdays only and never before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.; a budget not to exceed $10 million, nor a penny less than $5 million; decent lunches.)
All of which is to note: let’s always throw our arms around the good stuff, when it does come along. All too rarely does the chaos of filmmaking result in the intended outcome – a theatre full of happy paying punters. (Full is no guarantee of happy, and if no one’s paying it doesn’t really count.) The best films are all case studies in happy accidents and talent overcoming filthy odds. And there is no better case study than Withnail & I. It’s a ragged and raucous comedy pieced together with phenomenal precision. It’s ridiculous and farcical, and also bittersweet and poignant. It’s eponymous leads are at once loathsome and lovable. Put another way, exactly no one should have been surprised if Withnail & I stumbled into the cinemas of the world, like its two main characters, fucked-up, haggard, and sickly. Somehow, though, it emerged in ridiculously fine fettle: lean, full of beans, and magnificently funny. Richard E. Grant as Withnail was never better. Paul McGann as & I was never better. Richard Griffiths as dear old, fruity Uncle Monty was never better. And though he had a decent career still ahead of him (most recently via The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp), writer/director Bruce Robinson never hit the same lofty heights again, either.