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The Ninth Configuration
May 27, 2009 7:49 PM   Subscribe

In 1978, William Peter Blatty published The Ninth Configuration - his first novel since the blockbuster success of The Exorcist. A reworking of his earlier Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane, it told the story of a Marine psychiatrist providing unorthodox treatment to mentally wounded Vietnam veterans at a facility located in a castle in the Pacific Northwest. Two years later, Blatty's film adaptation received Golden Globe nominations for Best Drama and Screenplay - winning the latter. Critic Mark Kermode described it as "a breathtaking cocktail of philosophy, eye-popping visuals, jaw-dropping pretentiousness, rib-tickling humour and heart-stopping action. ... Blatty directs like a man with no understanding of, or interest in, the supposed limits of mainstream movie-making. The result is a work of matchless madness which divides audiences as spectacularly as the waves of the Red Sea, a cult classic that continues to provoke either apostolic devotion or baffled dismissal." (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (20 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a warm place in my heart for Blatty, but I've never actually read any of his books or seen TNC. One of my all-time favorite horror flicks is hands-down "The Exorcist III," one of the most overlooked and underrated sequels ever, and a rare breed: a number three that doesn't suck balls. George C. Scott chewing the scenery, muttering about carp and shrieking YOU SON OF A BITCH! I BELIEEEEEEEVE...in...you..., racist crucifixions, special cameo appearances by Fabio and Patrick Ewing, old ladies crawling around on the ceiling and talking about invisible radios, Brad Dourif doing what Brad Dourif does best (i.e., being Brad Dourif)...it's all just genius. And TNC looks even weirder, so thanks.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:06 PM on May 27, 2009


Perhaps my geek is showing, but that bemakeupped guy in the brawl clip shrieks just like a mutalisk.
posted by echo target at 8:15 PM on May 27, 2009


Absolutely gorgeous and 100% mad. It looks to me like Blatty had even better visual instincts than Friedkin had, even if he lacked the story-sense to use them.

Still, far more watchable than anything Michael Cimino did.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:35 PM on May 27, 2009


I'm a huge Blatty fan, but was never sold by TNC (the movie). Something about the portrayal of veterans' mental illnesses as compulsive childish tomfoolery coupled with the non-stop delivery of zingers (badly ADR'ed for the most part) struck me as pretty meretritious, especially considering the emotional anguish of the characters is supposed to be the foundation of the story. Catch-22 it aint.

I also tend to be unconvinced by Blatty's theism, which has always struck me as basically "whatever I don't understand... is evidence of God!" He tries to intimate some numinous influence at work the universe by highlighting the shortcomings of science (I think there's something in TNC about the "impossible" evolution of the eye?), and whereas that approach worked wonderfully for producing the horror of the Exorcist, in TNC (and to an extent in Kinderman's internal dialogue throughout Legion, the book on which E3 is based) I found it comes across... awkwardly. I believe is the name for it.

Criticism aside, Blatty is fairly awesome. I'm immersed in his audiobook reading of the Exorcist every night at present. And TNC has badass Steve Sandor in drag doing box splits in a bar brawl, so it's not all bad.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:50 PM on May 27, 2009


* I believe God-of-the-gaps is the name for it.

relig0wn3d.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:52 PM on May 27, 2009


I rented this movie solely because of the cover of the DVD in the store. An astronaut on the moon looking at Christ on a cross? Fuck yeah I'll rent that! Instant regret.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:55 PM on May 27, 2009


One of my all-time favorite horror flicks is hands-down "The Exorcist III," one of the most overlooked and underrated sequels ever,

Word, the whole film is gorgeously shot as well. It also contains the scariest "boo" scene in any horror movie ever (in the hospital), which is so scary in part because it's shot in exactly the opposite way to the one you expect.

The Ninth Configuration is definitely a mindfuck, I watched it because it was recommended on AskMe. The first half is one sort of movie, the last half...isn't. The location is as much a character as any of the humans, plus you can't go far wrong with an all-dog cast version of Shakespeare, and the mental illnesses of the patients are, I think, intended to be over-the-top caricatures of movie mental illnesses. I am still not sure what I thought of it.
posted by biscotti at 9:15 PM on May 27, 2009


Wow, it sounds like Kermode loved this movie almost as much as he loved High School Musical 3! (Much respect for the Good Doctor, but I really wish he'd tone down the contrarian schtick.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:42 PM on May 27, 2009


Perhaps my geek is showing, but that bemakeupped guy in the brawl clip shrieks just like a mutalisk.

Heh, there was an unresolved AskMe about that scream (at 4:05 in the clip, right?).
posted by gubo at 10:19 PM on May 27, 2009


Stacey Keach in a crazy bar fight, in case you still weren't sold.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:33 PM on May 27, 2009


I'm not sure you can trust Kermode where Blatty is concerned, Kermode is an obsessive fan of the Exorcist and I suspect that colours his views.
posted by biffa at 1:55 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Robert Browning had the clap, and he caught it from Charlotte and Emily Bronte."

I've always loved this flick despite its flaws. The cast is fantastic and the dialog zings. The Exorcist III was also great despite the tacked on ending the studio forced on Blatty. I only wished he would write more.

And I miss Ed Flanders.
posted by beowulf573 at 5:23 AM on May 28, 2009


spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints: "Fuck yeah I'll rent that! Instant regret."

Last night, I told Mrs. Beese, "You know... William Peter Blatty's parents are Lebanese." (As is her father.) When she asked what brought that up, I explained I was making this post.

"That was one of the first movies you recommended to me after you moved out here," she recalled. "I decided I'd marry you anyway."

She's a mental health worker - so she probably finds the film's mental illness burlesques a particularly large stumbling block.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:38 AM on May 28, 2009


I'd post a comment, but the action stopped my heart.
posted by DU at 5:41 AM on May 28, 2009


What a strange and terrifying movie. There's something about it...it works on you - needles you - it does something to the unconscious - it communicates through to the unconscious bypassing 'rational' thought - how it does this is not clear - even though I watched it again last week it fades like a dream in my memory.

There's just something about it - right from the beginning = stunning shots of a castle shrouded in mist, accompanied by a near folk tune that is so incongruous that the brain, (or our standardised expectations for commercial cinema), become unbalanced.
posted by jettloe at 5:56 AM on May 28, 2009


I'm not sure that "obsessive fan" isn't much too mild a phrase to describe Kermode's feelings about "The Exorcist."
posted by blucevalo at 6:47 AM on May 28, 2009


Agree with jettloe. We rented a VHS copy of the movie back in that late eighties, and I couldn't take my eyes off the thing. Then later on I found a paperback copy of Twinkle, Twinkle "Killer" Kane and read it in one shot (it's pretty short, maybe closer to a novella, if I'm remembering it right.) The movie made more sense after having read the book.

Thanks for the post Joe Beese. It's one of those things I only recall maybe once per decade, but I remember it fondly. Might make it the subject of my next interlibrary loan (waiting for Stickman to show up right now.)
posted by metagnathous at 8:37 AM on May 28, 2009


I'm a huge Blatty fan, but was never sold by TNC (the movie). Something about the portrayal of veterans' mental illnesses as compulsive childish tomfoolery coupled with the non-stop delivery of zingers (badly ADR'ed for the most part) struck me as pretty meretritious, especially considering the emotional anguish of the characters is supposed to be the foundation of the story. Catch-22 it aint.

This is very very well put, and I agree with it very strongly (except I wouldn't call myself a big fan of the guy, interesting though he may be. Trivial tidbit: Blatty wrote the script for the penultimate film in which Danny Kaye has the lead, The Man from the Diners' Club, which these days is more or less impossible to see. However, if you're curious, MeMail me.)

Anyway, yeah: the depiction of mental illness in TNC rings really false to me, as well, and since this is the central conceit of the plot, I've never been able to make it through this film. It's as if all mental illness can be reduced to nonsequiturs and incongruous utterances. The dialogue in that film I find to be squirm-inducingly bad. Points, though, for bold, weird experimentation, and just for casting the ever-underrated Stacy Keach. (Do yerselves a favor and check out the great Fat City, the best movie ever set in Stockton, CA.)
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:59 AM on May 28, 2009


I just watched Fat City this weekend--it's a late-period John Huston, and one of the movies he claimed to be most proud of--and I whole-heartedly agree with Dr. Wu. What a great movie. (And the novel is a classic, too, according to Denis Johnson.)

It's also one of Patton Oswalt's favorite movies, too, for what's it worth.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:09 AM on May 28, 2009


I have a warm place in my heart for Blatty, but I've never actually read any of his books or seen TNC. One of my all-time favorite horror flicks is hands-down "The Exorcist III," one of the most overlooked and underrated sequels ever, and a rare breed: a number three that doesn't suck balls. George C. Scott chewing the scenery, muttering about carp and shrieking YOU SON OF A BITCH! I BELIEEEEEEEVE...in...you..., racist crucifixions, special cameo appearances by Fabio and Patrick Ewing, old ladies crawling around on the ceiling and talking about invisible radios, Brad Dourif doing what Brad Dourif does best (i.e., being Brad Dourif)...it's all just genius. And TNC looks even weirder, so thanks.

Yeah, thanks Joe and middlecl.


*breaks finger in frenzied attempt to open Netflix tab*
posted by scratch at 12:22 PM on May 28, 2009


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