has long been stated that the Road to Hell Is Paved With Good
Intentions. I think it's also possible to amend that to "The
Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Ideas". Or at least
ideas that seemed good at the time.
concept for this B-Masters Roundtable has been kicking around,
off and on, for some time. Generally, the idea of each of us choosing
a fellow B-Master's review film was greeted with derisive hooting
reminiscent of the crowd scenes in Planet of the Apes,
and the idea would get thrown in the kitchen junk drawer (next
to those batteries of dubious worth and that power adapter to
god-knows-what), while we all went on to review movies featuring
killer sock puppets, or somesuch. Well, it came up again, and
since the closest runner-up was "The Films of Kitten Nativadad",
we finally went with the Secret Santa concept.
I am lying of course, because I am a naughty monkey. There were
protests, and equal cries of "C'mon, it'll be fun!",
and the usual abstentions. There was at least one choked cry of
"Will no one think of the readers??!!!" which
was followed by a shouted "Who cares what the man-animals
think? Let's do it!" I blush to admit that was probably me,
and my mood was largely due to my home office looking like the
last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, all my possessions
packed for weeks, and my being forced to subsist on a diet of
badly-transferred kung fu films.
was a terrible thing to behold, the unholy glee with which my
fellow critics unloaded the hurtful films that had been festering
in their archives for so many years. To my eternal shame, I assisted
Chris Holland in pawing through the inventory of a used video
store for a copy of Nukie.
Well, forget the shame part, I was giggling like a schoolgirl
with a copy of N'Sync Confessions. Being the saintly fellow
that I am, I awarded Andrew a movie which did not harm me physically,
but had merely pissed me off - The Video Dead - but my
largesse was not duplicated by my peers. Witness the movie picked
for me by Ken Begg, doubtless in retaliation for my expose of
The Unseemly Graft Incident At NOWFF
I knew I would get Ken in the draw; his endurance levels are legendary
November, for God's sake!) and he seems absolutely obsessed
with discovering my breaking point. This started with his offhanded
mention, back when we were planning the Bangs 'n' Whimpers Roundtable,
that one of us "should review Doomsday Machine,"
and like Susan Strasberg in Psych-Out, I went "Sure,
why not?" and found myself in Cinema Hell. Though I blame
him by association for B-Fest's infliction of Jungle Hell
upon my soft, unprotected psyche's underbelly, I think he is bitter
because he was not truly responsible for the experience that turned
me into a catatonic wreck.
when I found out that Ken was my Secret Santa, I said to my wife,
"You know, I keep hearing seagulls cry, punctuated with Neil
Diamond music." Within the hour, the message hit my In Box:
It was time for me to break out that copy of Jonathan Livingston
I had long ago bought the bullet that was about to be loaded in
the gun pointed at my head. It was hard to resist. Going through
the inventory at an out-of -the-way BlockWood Video, I found it
in a black library case - no cover art - just a sticker stating
"Jonathan Livingston Seagull - $5.99". But it was the
other stickers on the shrink wrapping that told the tale: "$3.99"
"$2.99" and finally "$1.99". I theorized that
if I waited another week, there would be one more sticker, "Please
- We'll Pay You" - but plopped down
the two bucks anyway and slid it into The Box, wherein resides
it was time to tear away the cellophane and see what two bucks
will buy ya these days.
I have to say I'm sorry - it hurt me, but not in the way you intended.
Perhaps it is the way I hardened myself by watching the supremely
un-entertaining Pink Lady and Jeff over and over. Better
luck next time (and put down that copy of The
Lonely Lady - I have a cane, and I'm not afraid to use
Livingston Seagull is, of course, based on the best-selling
book by Richard D. Bach. I can't call it a novel, or even a novella,
it's more like an extended short story. I read the dang thing
back in the 70s, when Congress passed a law requiring it. Not
terrible, but very indicative of the early 70s, if you catch my
drift. Author D. Bach reportedly hated the movie. Why should he
be different from anybody else?
start with some very nice nature nature photography (the helicopter
shots by MacGillivray/Freeman get their own credit, and they deserve
it) - backed by Neil Diamond music. Now, I will admit to liking
Diamond's music, but there is also a sameness about it;
all throughout this movie I will expect him to burst into "They're
comin' to America!!!"
pretty pictures of surf and beachfront will continue for a while
- in fact, I glance at the time counter on my VCR and note that
we are nearly five minutes into the flick, and there is not a
seagull in sight. Ah! Silly me! There are some, flying
around a fishing boat. And as the fishermen toss the useless heads
and tails of the day's catch into the water, the gulls descend
and proceed to fight over the food, providing us with some footage
of bloodied gull heads. I'm relatively sure there's some sort
of message there...
one gull who's not interested in fighting over chum, he's much
more interested in flying, so this must be our hero, Jonathan
Livingston Seagull. Another clue is that while he flies through
more stirring nature photography, Neil bursts into song. And,
just to confirm this, after the song Jonathan Livingston Seagull
begins to speak to us in the whispered voice of James Franciscus:
"Maybe gulls can't fly faster than 62 miles an hour... but
wouldn't it be great if we could?"
Livingston Seagull, you see, is obsessed with flying farther and
faster than any gull; this is usually accomplished by diving from
a great height and smacking into the ocean, a practice which,
of course, causes his parents to take him aside and worriedly
tell him this will come to no good (in the voices of Richard Crenna
and Dorothy MacGuire).
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a nonconformist, as were
all our heroes in the 60s and 70s. Well, actually our heroes still
tend to be nonconformists, but that's a digression for another
time. A better digression for this time is not so much the fact
that seagulls can talk, but that they are conceptually aware of
their air speed. And they use the English system of measurement.
back to Mom and Dad worrying. Jonathan Livingston Seagull should
fly where The Flock flies, and how The Flock flies, not venture
into forbidden territories and experiment with forbidden knowledge.
Wait, I'm beginning to experience Bad Movie Blur here - fortunately
the characters here are all birds, so there's never any doubt
what movie I'm actually watching. But this is the same setup for
Teenage Caveman or Battlefield Earth... which is
fine, because that means that eventually giant lizards or John
Travolta wearing stilts and bad makeup will arrive and liven up
doesn't this mean that Jonathan Livingston Seagull has a Spunky
Girlfriend hiding somewhere? And where is the Lawgiver?
back to this movie.
Livingston Seagull promises to be good, and joins the rest of
The Flock at a landfill, where the gulls fight over trash and
we see more bloodied bird heads. All in all, this reminds me of
the trading pit scene in Trading Places, so by golly I'll
bet there's symbolism here too. Jonathan Livingston Seagull remains
aloof from all the carnage, and flies off for more unsanctioned
so high his wings can no longer grasp the air, he divebombs into
the ocean and nearly kills himself. Floating on a bit of flotsam,
the half-dead Jonathan Livingston Seagull realizes there may be
something to this fighting-over-fishheads thing, and swears to
be a normal gull from now on. The end.
hell. Jonathan Livingston Seagull realizes that his destiny is
not to die on this bit of wood, but to do.... something else.
He gathers his strength and flies off in slow motion, as Neil
Diamond ululates on the soundtrack. That's actually a pretty effective
moment - okay, I admit this movie is going to be mawkish, but
I can handle mawk. Bring on the mawk, movie! Show me what you've
this time, the sun has gone down, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull's
internal monologue informs us that gulls don't fly at night because,
to quote some sort of gull mantra, "We'd have to have an
owl's eyes, charts for brains, a falcon's short wings...."
Bingo! A falcon's short wings! Interior monologue, I could kiss
"by wingtips only", Jonathan Livingston Seagull reaches
speeds of 200 mph and more, and successfully pulls out
of his dive. Proving that seagulls also understand the scientific
method, he does it again. Huzzah!
at 14 minutes by my VCR counter, a black frame and music swells.
The movie's over! That wasn't so bad.
The camera was behind a rock and is craning up to catch Jonathan
Livingston Seagull in the sunrise. Back to the grind...
is where the pain actually started; my VCR literally refused to
play the movie any further. I know I've joked about this before,
but this time it's the truth. I realized that the squeaking sound
I heard was not from the seagulls in the background, but from
the tape - I had indeed bought a tape from the bronze era of video,
and it was showing its advanced age. I took it up to the master
bedroom, where I had set up a VCR so my wife can watch her videotapes
of Friends and Survivor.... (pause for uncontrollable
shudder)... and slapped it in. This is an older, more brutish
model, not at all like the more modern and *ahem* sensitive JVC
Jonathan decides to exhibit his newfound flying chops to the assembled
Flock, and zooms down on the landfill. This has the
same effect as sending anything hurtling at 200 mph toward a flock
of seagulls* - they all take off
and turn into the feathered equivalent of a torchbearing mob.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull finds himself madly correcting his
flight to avoid hitting anybody.
leads to a gathering of the flock and - hey! It's the Lawgiver!
He intones that Jonathan Livingston Seagull has violated The Way,
and for his reckless flying he is now.... AN OUTCAST!!!!
Jonathan Livingston Seagull's parents spend time wondering "Why,
Jonathan, Why?" I spend time wondering why all seagulls seem
to whisper, except for the Lawgiver, who gets to bellow his lines
like Hans Conreid after too many schnapps. Just another mystery
of the animal kingdom, I guess.
his fate, Jonathan Livingston Seagull flies off. And the second
VCR gives up.
good thing about working in the video field for a while: you know
people who know things. After having a friend kindly transfer
the tape from my ancient relic to a new housing, I returned to
the JVC, eager to get the rest of this out of the way. I mean,
we're already forty minutes into this, surely the halfway mark
(not quite... but close enough to give me false hope).
Jonathan Livingston Seagull has flown away, only to encounter
a hawk, who proclaims, "My sky! Go away! My sky!" and
attacks Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Hmmm. A hawk. Attacking our
nonconformist hero. Jinkies, I'll bet there's more symbolism
Livingston Seagull continues on his peripatetic way, vowing to
fly where no gull has gone before, which is the cue for more Neil
Diamond music and more nature photography. Jonathan Livingston
Seagull takes a bath in a mountain stream - that eats up some
Jonathan Livingston Seagull time. More helicopter shots, in wooded
areas, then more beaches.. Jonathan Livingston Seagull watches
a colt suckle at its mother.
is probably where Ken thought I would start clawing at my eyes
- Jungle Hell, after all, nearly killed me with its cavalier
use of stock footage of the noble elephant in its glorious natural
black-and-white habitat. But this footage is hardly stock, and
whatever gland is in charge of dealing with mawk hasn't overloaded
yet. At the very least, I have outlasted my VCR, which once again
spat out the tape. It's possible that it considered that last
scene to be animal porn of some sort, but it is much more likely
that putting the tape in a new housing simply didn't help that
much. (Ken has also hypothesized that OSHA at some point rammed
through legislation causing all video cassettes of Jonathan
Livingston Seagull to be made unplayable, as a means of protecting
that's where I am now; I am to the point of watching five minutes
of movie, taking the tape out and slamming it against a table
a few times to hopefully loosen it up - hey, it worked for audio
cassettes - and watch five minutes more. This is perhaps most
fitting, as it seems that Ken writes his reviews as he actually
watches the movies. Most appropriate that I should be forced into
the same method. It also means that I may not have the full review
up by deadline, making this entry prone to live updates....
bulletins as they occur.
so the colt-and-mare subplot went nowhere (looks like only seagulls
can talk). So Jonathan Livingston Seagull flies some more, into
the desert, where he dies of thirst. Just kidding (though hope
springs eternal). Then he shelters in a pine tree from the rain,
flies over snow-capped mountains, and into a winter forest. Now,
I will admit that seeing footage of a seagull padding through
a snowy forest is novel, but it is beginning to be discomfiting
how often this flick is making me think of other movies. Teenage
Caveman and Battlefield Earth, then Lawrence of
Arabia, and frankly this crunching through snow in a beautiful
forest is causing me to flash on images of Peter Tork in the Monkees'
Head (remind me to review that some day). All this is indicative,
I am sure, of my deep-seated wish to be watching something else.
is a bit odd, since this hasn't been such a bad movie.
while Jonathan Livingston Seagull sleeps in the winter wonderland,
he has a dream, and my Head wishes come true, as it is
a psychedelic dream, in which brightly colored seagulls
welcome him to his new flock. Awakening, he flies to his new home,
only to find it deserted. Until another gull flies in, Marie (voice
of Juliet Mills); ah, this must be the Spunky Girlfriend, at last.
sure this is where the pain kicks in for most people, as Marie
talks about how Jonathan Livingston Seagull is "adjusting
very well to your new body" and "adapting to the air
here", all of which gives rise to a suspicion that Jonathan
Livingston Seagull did freeze to death in those woods,
and is now in Heaven. Talk about fulfilling an audience's wishes....
somehow I'm not finding myself wracked with guilt over that.
Livingston Seagull sees more psychedelic birds, and Marie tells
him it is time to meet the Elder. Jonathan Livingston Seagull,
having a poor track record with elders, isn't very excited about
the prospect, until he sees a gull turning barrel rolls in the
surf, and learns that is the elder.
elder's name is Chang (Philip Ahn), and of course he must
have an Asiatic name, as he is about to start dispensin' Zen wisdom
in bulk quantities. Jonathan Livingston Seagull tells him that
he has learned to fly at 276 MPH ("level!") but wants
and feels that there is more. Chang tells him that "This
isn't Heaven." (Damn! Cheated again!) "Heaven
is not a place - Heaven is Perfection."
assures Jonathan Livingston Seagull that he can learn to fly faster,
but how fast? 1000 miles per hour is still a limit. The speed
of light is still a limit. "Perfect speed," he assures
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, "is being there." And then
he vanishes. And then reappears, festooned with colorful stickers
from all the places he's visited in the wink of an eye.
kidding about the stickers. But Jonathan Livingston Seagull is
convinced that this is The Biz, and hunkers down at the shoreline
to meditate until he's able to do that, too Eventually he discovers
that willfullness don't amount to a stack of beans when it comes
to Zen enlightenment. Chang finally pops up and gets Jonathan
Livingston Seagull to come up with the final piece of the puzzle
himself, and then accompanies him on the maiden journey. The first
stop? A cave, because Jonathan subconciously wanted to be walled
off from the world to contemplate matters. Next stop: the stars,
as Chang and Jonathan Livingston Seagull fly across a nebula.
Chang tells Jonathan Livingston Seagull to think of "love",
and they find themselves at the landfill. This confuses Jonathan
Livingston Seagull, because he feels he has no love for his old
flock. Upon Chang's command to think of "love, and
where you belong", Jonathan Livingston Seagull finds himself
teleported to Marie's side. Awwwwww......
is going to be where the picture loses a lot of viewers. If you're
not a flower child or have a leaning toward Zen, Chang's homilies
will prove abstruse and irritating. And if you are in those
categories, they will seem basic and overly-simplified.
tells Jonathan Livingston Seagull that, when the time is right,
he will return to his flock and teach them this new way of flying
- and also tells him to "keep working on love." Then
the ancient Chinese bird flies off to wander the West, righting
wrongs and fighting evil. You know, like Kane in Kung Fu.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull takes his leave of Marie to seek how
to help his flock, and if there is one basic lesson that
should be taken away from this movie, it is in what Marie calls
to him as he flies away: "I love who you are, Jonathan."
Not for what he is striving to do, but what he is - that
Livingston Seagull returns to his flock, preaching the New Way,
and is summarily nailed to a cross. The end.
really, but I didn't want you thinking I was going soft on you.
does follow is a replay of Jonathan Livingston Seagull's
banishment, with the Lawgiver bassifying "You are AN OUTCAAAAAST!"
and Jonathan Livingston Seagull cursing the name of the Flock
and flying off. Hey! Jonathan Livingston Seagull has succumbed
to the Dark Side of the Force! Cool! Strangle the Lawgiver at
long distance, or something!
crap, that wasn't Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that was Fletcher
Seagull (I have finally found somebody harder to tell apart than
the Baldwins...), and Jonathan Livingston Seagull finds him and
proceeds to teach him the New Way. Fletcher proves an apt pupil
(he may actually turn psychedelic at one point, but this tape
is so hinky I ain't rewinding to find out), and finally Jonathan
Livingston Seagull tells him, "It is time to return to the
Flock. We have a gift for them."
VCR had a gift for me, too. It spit out the tape. Time for more
brutalizing the cassette in hopes of finishing this - I can't
be that far from the end.
you familiar with the phrase Comedy Voodoo? I first became
aware of it way back when The Bionic Woman was still airing,
and one episode featured a boy with bionic limbs. I joked that
doubtless a bionic dog was next, and lo, there it was, next season:
the dog with the bionic jaw. Comedy Voodoo is an awesome power
not to be trifled with, and I still thank the Gods of Entertainment
that I kept the crack about the bionic hamster to myself.
is a sidewise way of saying that when Jonathan Livingston Seagull
and Fletcher try to bring The Word to the Flock, those who can
hear our hero over the Lawgivers shrieks of "Ignore him!
He's an outcast!" doubt they can do the things Jonathan Livingston
Seagull can do, because he is "...special, and gifted, and
Livingston Seagull, of course, poo-poos that idea, then immediately
sabotages his own poo-pooing by healing a crippled young gull
and allowing him to fly (mawk gland....clogging!!! Everything...getting....dark....).
wait, it gets better.
determines to prove to the Flock that this New Way of Flying is
possible for even normal gulls to master - this by divebombing
them at 200 MPH. Keeping in mind that this is how Jonathan Livingston
Seagull got in trouble, Fletcher announces his intention
to the Flock, and has quite a crowd to witness his feat. All this
scene really needs is a seagull wearing one of those paper hats
circulating through the crowd hawking beer and fishheads.
the best laid plans of mice, men, seagulls, and all that. A baby
gull strays into Fletcher's path, and our evangelical egret, veering
to avoid the sprat, splats into a cliff wall with a crunching
sound, and his broken body plummets to the ground in slow motion
(prompting one last Battlefield Earth flashback. John Travolta
has, however forsaken me, as have the giant lizards).
an odd interlude in which the surprised Fletcher finds himself
talking to Jonathan Livingston Seagull ("You're getting ahead
of yourself. We don't fly through solid rock until later."),
who assures the wall-whacking gull that they're just on another
plane of being, and he can return to his flock if he so chooses.
Fletcher realizes he has more to teach, and returns to the meat
dream that is his body....
Jonathan Livingston Seagull has just resurrected the dead. In
front of witnesses. Not that he's special, and gifted, and divine
Lawgiver, scrambling through his Handbook of Lawgiver Cliches,
starts screeching, "He is a devil! Kill him!" and as
the Flock rises up, that whole cross-nailing thing is starting
to look like a certainty (the many scenes of gulls flying with
mob noises on the soundtrack is pretty surreal). Jonathan Livingston
Seagull and Fletcher respond by simply teleporting away.
Jesus... sorry, Jonathan Livingston Seagull... tells Fletcher
it is time for him to move on, that Fletcher knows all he knows,
and now has his own followers among the Flock. Jonathan Livingston
Seagull will now travel the West, righting wrongs and fighting
evil, like Kane in.... wait, I've already done my Pulp Fiction
riff for this review. Crap. Okay, he's heading back to be with
that hot gull with the British accent, while Neil sings that song
again. The end. Finally.
really don't have much of a problem with Jonathan Livingston
Seagull, except for its very existence. I suppose that it
is a given that a book which spent a bazillion weeks on the Best
Seller list would be made into a movie, but attempting to supply
concrete imagery for a slim volume that is an allegory for the
ascension of the human spirit is a daunting, if not impossible,
task. I suppose director Hall Bartlett should be commended for
trying, even succeeding, at times, but he can't overcome
the book's final third.
seem to recall some controversy over the Christ imagery in the
book at the time of its publication; in the movie it simply provides
one last hurdle that the average viewer (and myself, the extraordinarily
above-average viewer) is not willing to muster the energy to leap
over; Richard D. Bach and Hall Bartlett try to shift from Zen
to Quantum Mechanics to Christianity to some sort of new age space/time
claptrap that is about as well-defined as a Slurpee. I normally
do not hesitate to drag on my metaphysical mucklucks and slog
through thorny questions about Consciousness and Being, but for
stuff like this you need the spiritual version of a bio-containment
suit. The thousand monkeys at typewriters gave up on the story
and started flinging poop at the walls, and this is what stuck.
but I really hate bad metaphysics. And it's worse that the metaphysics
on display here are not actually bad, just the easy
way out, dumped in a defective
blender that can't quite make it to "puree". Sometimes,
you can throw all the leftovers in your refrigerator into a pot
and come up with a yummy stew; other times, it is an inedible,
albeit interesting mess. The ultimate failure of Jonathan Livingston
Seagull is that in its allegory, it also attempts to be a
Unified Field Theory, a Rosetta Stone of most world religions
- but it's frickin' birds, for Pete's sake. What seems
like poetry on the printed page can be made risible by the camera's
largely thanks to the excellent, frequent beautiful photography
of California's Monterey, I don't hate this movie as much as I
apparently should. But it's likely that I feel that way because
I was forced to watch it in small, easy-to-chew pieces. Face it,
Ken, Jabootu decided to cut me some slack. And all it cost me
was two bucks, two VCRs, and likely, my very soul. Knowing my
luck, God actually is a big seagull.