Often, and not without good reason, people question how anyone qualifies to be a film critic. Some argue in favor of a formal education. Others will settle for competent syntax and a fair knowledge of movies. (And yet others settle for even less than either.)

It's a fair question. I, for example, am still in school and must confess to not really digging into movies until my teens, whereas most of my colleagues not only grew up with countless tapes at their disposal and a likely job at a movie theater or video store, and then proceeded to write about film with the fundamentals well-watched and fondly remembered.

Me? Not so much. I'm frequently lambasted for not having seen Film X or Movie Y; I even attempted to harness the shame with a Twitter hashtag (#fessupfriday) that always seems to get the conversation going. And that's what this is really about -- having a conversation about movies.

So why leap into covering movies now, at such a young and arguably inexperienced age? Because I want to be a part of the conversation now, because opportunities arose and because others -- first editors and then readers -- trusted me to be knowledgeable. And so I owe to myself, my editors and my readers to catch up with the classics, the essentials, The Basics if you will, and while that "New to Me" series was an attempt to lend some structure to my relentless game of catch-up, I feel that volleying opinions back and forth with Hitfix's Drew McWeeny (read his entry here) would make it feel like more of, well, a conversation.

I want to be a part of this conversation, a better one anyway. And I want you to be a part of it too. So, before we begin, just let me ask one simple question...

Who the f**k is Rufus T. Firefly? Rufus T. Firefly, as played by Groucho Marx in 1933's Duck Soup, is the newly appointed leader of the utterly fictional and nearly bankrupt land of Freedonia. He sleeps in on his inauguration day, insults the very woman who insisted that he be put in charge (not to mention every other woman and man in sight), and hires two spies from neighboring Sylvania (played by Chico and Harpo Marx) into his own cabinet on a whim.

In other words: he's the perfect president.

Rufus: "You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are."

This was admittedly my first exposure to the Marx Brothers, and I can undoubtedly see why they're every bit as legendary as they are. I took me a while to come around to Harpo's particular brand of mayhem (why is he cutting everything with giant scissors? Oh, right, because he can), but it only took me a second to fall for Groucho's wise-ass antics. He's so sublimely sarcastic, a one-man rat-a-tat-tat of uncouth charm, but put him together with the others and who needs words? Their slapstick routines are impeccably staged and rightfully lifted throughout the years (I knew I'd seen that mirror scene -- pictured -- before I'd ever seen this movie), and they tend to nail the film's critical balance of the innocent with the anarchic.

Because, let's face it, this is a film about a petty leader who couldn't care less if he leads his country to war. Of course the climactic battle sequence is itself a joke, with pettiness and slapstick coming back around to save the day, but they're saving themselves from the very trouble they started. No one dies in wars where you throw fruit. But what happens when real leaders with real cigars decided that a real human toll is worth the cost of something perhaps as petty? It's no wonder you gotta laugh.

Drew already beat me to name-checking In the Loop as an example of a great recent political satire, one that revels in the profane and childish so as to distract from the very real consequences of conflict. My admiration for Dr. Strangelove has grown over the years, although there's still something about it that doesn't quite floor me. (Maybe if I kept doing desk drills...) Even something like The Americanization of Emily uses sharp verbal barbs to address the serious issue of war, but Duck Soup was first at it, best at it and still holds some bearing today.

Until next time, hail, hail Freedonia.
categories Columns, Cinematical