Four Pristine Films and One Covered in Filth

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. 

1. Mary Poppins (1964)

Director: Robert Stevenson

Essential Characters: Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), Bert (Dick Van Dyke), Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson)

Basic Gist: Into a mournful house of sad children living in disarray with their bored mother and cold, emotionally vacant father, comes the vibrant, sing-songy Poppins, who descends to the family on an umbrella, sings a great deal, and teaches the lot of them how to embrace life’s travails and flourish.

Tidy Type: Physical and emotional. Poppins teaches the children how to clean things up and get organized — which notably makes them instantly happier — but also how to enjoy their lives, freeing their beleaguered father in the process.

Cleanliness Quotient (1-10): A solid 8, though we’re talking emotional clutter rather than ground-in dirt..Were you aware that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, medicine go down, medicine go down? And I mean in the most delightful way.


2. Chinatown (1974)

Director: Roman Polanski

Essential Characters: J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), Noah Cross (John Huston)

Basic Gist: Gittes, a PI based in L.A. in 1937, becomes embroiled in a complicated matrimonial case that eventually leads him into conflict with Cross, a wealthy but extremely twisted tycoon, and his comely daughter, Evelyn. Things get very, very twisted from here, with Gittes having to figure out everyone’s angle, and just why Cross seems so preoccupied with a dam being built outside the city.

Tidy Type: Entirely plot-based. Robert Towne’s screenplay is very often used in screenwriting classes as an example of a perfectly executed filmic narrative. So exacting, intricate and complete is the film’s final puzzle, one can find fresh nuances upon each subsequent viewing, no matter how many times you watch it.

Cleanliness Quotient (1-10): A perfect 10 for its elegant narrative execution. There’s no mess here.


3. The Odd Couple (1968) 

Director: Gene Saks

Essential Characters: Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon), Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau)

Basic Gist: Suicidally despondent after being thrown out of his house by his enraged wife, Felix, an OCD neat-freak with serious control issues, is saved by his friend Oscar, a slovenly sportswriter with no sense of decorum. Given little choice, Oscar allows Felix to move in with him, against his better judgment, and the two clash incessantly on matters of organization, cleanliness and personal hygiene to hilarious results.

Tidy Type: Physical. Felix can’t abide the slightest thing out of order in his purview; Oscar doesn’t think twice about whipping a plate full of linguine against the wall of his kitchen and letting the remains sit there indefinitely.

Cleanliness Quotient (1-10): Just as writer Neil Simon would have it, we’ll give this one an average of 5 (Felix = 10; Oscar = 0). Both men are so extreme in their given predilections, it’s difficult to side with either one, but you’ve got to appreciate Felix’s panache.


4. Housekeeping (1987)

Director: Bill Forsyth

Essential Characters: Sylvie (Christine Lahti), Ruth (Sara Walker), Lucille (Andrea Burchill)

Basic Gist: When Ruth and Lucille’s mother kills herself, the young sisters are eventually taken in by their peculiar Aunt Sylvie, who likes to sit in total darkness and go on long, meandering walks through her small town in the Pacific Northwest, collecting odd bits and pieces (incuding old tin cans) as she goes. As the girls grow to become teenages, they take divergent positions on the subject of their eccentric aunt, a split that leads them down totally different paths.

Tidy Type: Spiritual. Sylvie might be a bit of a nutter, but she’s a firm believer in maintaining a healthy and vibrant home, both non-figurative and metaphoric. She’s completely grounded in herself, a tidiness that few of us ever get to achieve.

Cleanliness Quotient (1-10): 7. As much as Sylvie keeps a soulful house, the stacks of newspapers and tin can pyramids are one step removed from an episode of Hoarders. And we mean the original, scary British one, not the cute, watered-down American version.

And the antithesis:


5. Pink Flamingos (1972)

Director: John Waters

Essential Characters: Divine (Divine), that is all

Basic Gist: For reasons that soon become clear, Divine, a large drag queen living in Baltimore with her nutty son and mother in a small caravan, greatly enjoys sharing the title of “Filthiest People Alive” with her family. That is, until a new couple enter the fray and attempt to wrest the proverbial championship belt away from her by selling hard drugs to school kids and impregnating female hitchhikers. Divine takes ever more drastic steps to retain her family’s birthright.

Untidy Type: Physical, and when we say that we mean, truly physical. There are an ungodly number of scandalously trashy scenes — Waters seemed to have the full measure of such bodily horrors, which he finds delightfully funny , and which you will either find in hilarious bad taste or absolutely unwatchable, depending on your sensibilities. The most notorious example would be Divine’s dog-poop-eating crescendo at the end, but there are plenty more sensual horrors that lead up to that seminal moment in hardcore trashy behavior.

Cleanliness Quotient (1-10): Does this thing do negative numbers? No? Then we’ll just stick with zero.

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One Response

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    […] Piers Marchant takes us to 4 sparkly clean flicks and one filthy film. […]


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