I absolutely love it when a film has such a strong creative essence that it immediately relays its muses to me, who inspire me to express the experience in a review (in much the same way that a songwriter might be overcome by the need to play the expression of his/her passion). At those moments, the essence of the film appears before me as a dream awaiting a poet’s articulation. Other films, however, leave me scratching my head (and leave my muses shrugging) as I try to figure out what to make of whatever I’ve just seen. These are the moments that make me look at Roger Ebert with jealousy, knowing that he could nearly always express exactly how he felt about a movie, no matter the film’s complexity. Unfortunately, History of the World – Part 1 is a puzzler for me, since I really want to love the film, but I just don’t think I do.
The film has its moments that hit home and are very strong, but it has a lot of moments that simply don’t do it for me. Unfortunately, the movie can’t decide whether it’s comprised of comedy sketches, vignettes, or (not very) short films. This inconsistency in length means that many scenes leave me thinking, “that’s it?” while others make me cry, “it’s still going?” I think that consistency – or, better yet, a narrative (or some focused structure) to tie everything together – would do the film some good. That being said, I love the “Inquisition” number, and I’m more moved by Mel’s take on 2001: A Space Odyssey than I am by the actual Kubrick film.
I generally wouldn’t hold a vignette-based film to my Pausibility Test (I measure a film by how content I am with pausing it and coming back to it in a few weeks) because the nature of such a film has built-in stopping points, which makes pausing natural. The problem with this film, however, is that I was content with pausing the movie mid-segment, and I suspect that’s because of the characters. Ebert helped clarify this for me by pointing out that we are presented with cardboard cut-outs of Jews, monks, etc., but there is not much detail added to make them funny or interesting. Instead, our interest in each character is dependent on the performers. While I didn’t necessarily “have a blast” watching the movie, I cannot be as hard on it as Ebert because I suspect that many scenes from it will stick with me for the rest of my life.