From the Archives: The Movie Game
From my sister Karen:
Erik, thought of you when visiting the Karps and playing the movie game, Jordan's latest obsession. (Name an actor, movie they're in, another actor in that movie, etc.) It was everyone against Josh, and he still killed us.
From my friend Josh Karp:
as for jordy, he got me with one kubrick film i'd never heard of (eric told me about how he'd wanted to be kubrick for the school biography event and had to settle for hitchcock.). then he tried “the killing,” which i've never seen, but for some reason i knew that sterling hayden was in it. neither he nor karen believed me so i brought it up on my phone. i think both were unable to recover. but jordy will no doubt kick my ass before long. maybe by this summer.
From me, 13 years ago, originally published in Seattle Weekly:
Six Degrees of Boredom
At one o'clock my friend Mike travels up the ramp that separates the warehouse receiving area (his morning detail) from the textbook marking department (where he spends his afternoons). He hangs up his jacket, unpacks a box or two of textbooks, and before the boredom of the routine set in, and with a small smile lifting the ends of his mustache, he glances at his watch. “Hmm?” he asks.
This is his way of signaling for yet another round of the movie game.
The movie game should not be confused with “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” The purpose there is to begin with an actor, travel through shared movies, and wind up at Kevin Bacon before your allotted six turns are up. Humphrey Bogart, in other words, leads to Angels with Dirty Faces, which starred James Cagney, who was in Mr. Roberts with Jack Lemmon, a bit player in JFK, which also featured...ta da!...Kevin Bacon. Easy right?
C'mon guys! Play my game!
Too easy. There has to be competition to make it worth our while. You've got to understand: Our work is not only repetitive but seemingly without purpose. Mike prices textbooks; I receive them and wheel them in large metal tubs down to the textbook department; Jeff, around the middle of the term, collects these same textbooks and brings them back upstairs, where he and Rich remove the prices and return the books to their publishers. Now somewhere in-between my activity and Jeff's there are apparently student purchases, and learning, and the continuation of culture; but these are mere rumors to us. Since we don't know how much of the books actually get absorbed into students' minds, our jobs often seem the bibliographic equivalent of digging holes only to fill them. We receive textbooks only to return them again.
And what to talk about when we're metaphorically wielding or leaning on our shovels? The mornings are usually reserved for politics (local, national and office), sports, music, personal matters. Such talk peters out after a couple of hours, and, in the gathering monotony, we retreat, one by one, into the buzz of our respective walkmans. It is the appearance of Mike that brings us out of these electronic shells.
The format of the movie game is similar to “Six Degrees” except that Kevin Bacon holds no more power than any other actor. A non-participant tosses up the ball, as it were, by naming any actor (Actor A). From there we proceed by predetermined order. Mike names a movie Actor A was in; Jeff then picks a different actor from the same movie; Rich mentions another film with Actor B. Etcetera.
Essentially you try to name an actor or movie that will stump the others but which--important proviso--you can get out of yourself. Presented with Wallace Shawn, it does no good to mention My Dinner with Andre unless you also know something of the screen career of Andre Gregory; otherwise you're grinding the game to a halt. If you pass or guess wrongly, you're given a letter: M, to start. Spell M-O-V-I-E-S and you're toast.
Strategies abound. Since I know something of older Hollywood, I try to wind the game in that direction by choosing an actor's earliest film or a film's eldest actor. Mike, at the other side of this temporal tug-of-war, tries to pull us toward the litany of modern character actors--Tracey Walter, Kurtwood Smith, William Sadler--that he stores in his pockets like so many nickels and dimes. Jeff, meanwhile, wants to trick us all into the swamp of the schlock/horror genre that he rules like some in-bred Alabaman.
Some plots, especially when the field narrows to two, are positively Byzantine. If, from Charles Grodin, I say Midnight Run, Mike will mention Robert DeNiro, to which I can go New York, New York, forcing him into Liza Minnelli, which will lead to That's Entertainment!, causing him to fumble for Gene Kelly. Now he's dead. Of course you can be so intent on your own strategy you don't see your opponent's. Once I had Jeff mired in 1930s musicals when I mentioned Fred Astaire; it shot us all the way to 1981 and the horror film Ghost Story. In a flash we went from my strength to Jeff's, and I, anticipating a pin, wound up flat on my back. It is this kind of drama which leads Rich to suspect that the movie game could make it big on cable access.
We've tried other games to occupy our minds. There was “Questions”, from Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where everything said has to be in the form of a question. No statements; no non-sequiturs; nothing rhetorical. But you can only have so many conversations like this:
“How are you?”
“Are you asking?”
“Are you suspicious?”
“Should I be?”
The One-Syllable Game was good for a day. The-point-was-to-make-all-words-just-one-note. Kind-of-stilt...ing.
Attempts to transplant other art forms into the movie game's pre-existing structure have failed miserably. Writing is too solitary an occupation to allow for the necessary cross-connections between artist and product, while musicians, in a more group-conscious field, are less whorish than actors, tending to work with the same people for long periods rather than flitting from co-star to co-star. The movie game stays.
But how much longer? Already certain avenues have worn so smooth we practically slide through them. Tom Hanks to Bachelor Party to Adrien Zmed to Grease II to blah blah blah. Hey, let's talk about girls for a change.
--originally published in Seattle Weekly, October 1998