Sunday, January 28, 2007

Johnny Yen's Fave Raves: Withnail and I

Back in the mid eighties, the woman I was dating took a break from dragging me to see her favorite bands, Soul Asylum and the Dead Milkmen, and dragged me to see "Withnail and I," a movie that was playing at The Music Box theater, which was just a few blocks from where I was living at the time. If you've seen "High Fidelity," this is the movie theater that Rob goes to.

It has become, over the years, one of my very favorite movies. The plot revolves around two out-of-work actors, living in London shortly before the turn of the decade, in 1969.

London may be swinging, but they're not. They live in a filthy apartment, in abject squalor. Housekeeping is not their forte. Withnail, played by Richard Grant, is from a rich family. He is brilliant, an alcoholic, lazy, self-absorbed and the best friend and housemate of "I," played by Paul McGann. While waiting for acting jobs, their main obssession is staying intoxicated, through alcohol and whatever means they can come up with, including lighter fluid.

The people in their lives include their dealer, Danny, played by Ralph Brown, a British character actor, who hilariously reprised his Danny character later in Wayne's World 2.

At some point, they decide that what they need to do is have a holiday in the country. In order to do this, they have to finagle the use of the Northern England cabin of Withnail's rich, eccentric, extremely gay Uncle Monty. Monty is played by Richard Griffiths, who has played the evil uncle in the Harry Potter movies.

They make it to the cabin, and run-ins with a poacher, a nearly-deaf lady, a barely-English-speaking farmer and a drunken bartender ensue.

This movie has more memorable lines than Animal House. Among them:

"You've got soup. Why didn't I get any soup?"

"The reason the wanks don't do lighter fluid is that they can't handle it."

"We're not from London!"

"We've gone on holiday by mistake!"

"I feel like a pig shat in my head!"

"Make it dead!"

"We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here and we want them now!"

The movie has developed a cult following, particularly in England. On the Criterion edition, which is worth owning, there is a short little documentary about this, and how people who were babies when this movie came out, walk up to the actors shouting out lines from the movie.

It was only available for years on the Criterion version, which my favorite online DVD store, has for a little over 20 bucks. They are supposed to release a regular version soon, but for my money, the Criterion edition is worth having, for the extras and for the Ralph Steadman poster that comes with it.

I've probably watched this movie 20 times, and everybody I've ever watched it with fell in love with it. There are lots of clips of it on Youtube. I've included one of my favorite parts of the movie, in which Withnail and "I" drunkenly stumble into an effete tearoom.


Dale said...

Maybe they were just falling in love with you watching it Johnny?

I know I'm supposed to love it but can't. I tried at the urging of friends who I do love but could not do it.

Waiting for Guffman is also on my list of supposed to love but just can't. I love the people in it and the two films that followed but not it.

Danny Tagalog said...

I'll have to get hold of the DVD version - a true great, and Richard E. Grant is supposedly teetotal in real lofe would you believe

lulu said...

"We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here and we want them now!"

Giggle. I'm going to have to add this to my list of overly used phrase.

Johnny Yen said...

Maybe. I suspect that most of the people I watched it with shared a drinking lifestyle with me in my twenties and early thirties (up to the birth of my son) and could relate to the characters and their escapades.

I liked Guffman and Best in Show-- I really wanted to like A Mighty Wind more than I did, because I love folk music-- it had it's moments, but I think the "mockumentary" form is starting to wear thin. I've not heard good things about the latest one, "For Your Consideration."

They mention that in the documentary-- amazing, since he portrays being drunk so well. Apparently they did take him out once and get him drunk, just for "research." I don't think my wife would buy that one.

Yes, that phrase must be used early and often.

My friends out in Seattle will blurt out "We've gone on holiday by mistake!" at random moments.