“Villainy! Treason! Public naughtiness!”
The Scoop: 1971 G, directed by Fred Wolf and starring Ringo Starr, Mike Lookinland, Paul Frees, Lennie Weinrib, Bill Martin, Buddy Foster and Joan Gerber.
Tagline: As far as I can tell, none.
Summary Capsule: A boy and his dog take a leisurely (if forcible) ramble around the Pointless Forest, and much groovy weirdness ensues. Also, music.
Deneb’s review: Well, it’s getting on towards Christmas time as I write this, and a whole lotta people, myself included, are preparing to snuggle down and enjoy the holiday. Doubtless hot cocoa will be involved at some point – it often is.
Now, I don’t know about you, but for me there’s one thing that is practically inseparable from Christmas, and that’s movies. Just about everyone these days, it seems, watches some sort of movie round about Christmas, be it It’s a Wonderful Life or what have you. And given that this site is, y’know, all about movies, I’m guessing that my fellow MRFHers will be putting forth a lot of Christmassy reviews this week, redolent with eggnog and mistletoe and the like (although hopefully not a combination of the two. I’m fairly sure that would be a bad idea).
Me, though, I’ve decided to do something a little different. See, while Christmas specials and the like hold a special place in many people’s hearts, they’ve never really done much for me. I don’t have any problem with them, mind you; it’s just that they’re not an important part of my holidays the way they are for some. So instead, I’ve decided to review a little film that I’ve seen on Christmas before, but can be watched and enjoyed any time of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, for your enjoyment, I present The Point.
First, a little background. The Point is the brainchild of one Harry Nilsson, a friend and contemporary of the Beatles. His career never really took off in the same way, but he certainly has his fans, and one thing you can say about his music is that it was always creative and interesting. In fact, The Point (OK, technically it’s The Point!, but I’m not a fan of titles that seem to be yelling at you) started out as a concept album featuring his songs in which he voiced all the characters himself. It’s not really necessary to know all this going in, mind you, but still – interesting, eh?
Anyway. The Point features a framing story in which a father (Ringo Starr) reads to his son before bed. The son isn’t too wild about this – he’d rather watch TV – but the father insists. This, he says, will be a good story.
The story he tells starts off once upon a time in a village where everything has a point on it. The houses have pointed chimneys on pointed roofs, pointed meals are eaten from pointed plates – in fact, even the people themselves are pointed. This is meant quite literally – they all have pointed, triangular heads.
So it’s a pointed place filled with pointy people, and they all live happily point-filled lives – until one day, a child is born in the village. He’s a perfectly normal boy, or at least, he would be to us, but to the villagers, he’s somewhat of a jolt. You see, he, alone out of everyone else, does not have a pointed head. He’s got a round one. Gasp! Shock, horror!
Well, no, not really, actually. At least, not much. The boy, one Oblio by name (Mike Lookinland), is a bit of a curiosity, but he’s a nice little guy, and nobody really cares too much about his non-pointyness. He wears a pointed hat, and he’s got a dog, Arrow, who is typically pointy, and who goes everywhere with him. So he fits in pretty well.
Everything is just dandy, in fact, until Oblio makes a mistake – he ticks off the son of the village Count by beating him in a game. When he tells his father (Lennie Weinrib) about this, it opens up a great big can of uh-oh. The Count, you see, is a nasty piece of work, and views his son’s humiliation as an affront to the family name. Therefore, he vows to drive out “that vile little round person” once and for all.
This, as it happens, is easily done. See, the village has only one real law, and that is that everything and everyone in it must have a point. It’s never really been an issue before – after all, in a place like that, it’s like saying “everything in the ocean must be wet” – but a non-pointy kid like Oblio is therefore in direct violation of the law, and once the Count starts raising a stink about it, the King (Paul Frees) reluctantly has to agree. (Yes, it’s a village with both a Count and a King – just roll with it.) He therefore banishes the boy and his dog to the dreaded Pointless Forest, a place where none of the villagers have ever gone.
So off Oblio and Arrow go, and quickly encounter a bewildering variety of strange characters. There’s the ultra-groovy Rock Man (Bill Martin), a trio of dancing fat ladies, a giant bird – and, most prevalently, the Pointed Man, a strange three-faced individual whose main occupation, it seems, is pointing out how everything in this forest is, indeed, pointless.
Yet Oblio’s beginning to wonder – just what does being pointless really mean? As such, is the Pointless Forest really all that pointless – and if it isn’t, what does that make him?
The Point is a movie that sticks with you. I first saw it when I was somewhere in my mid-single-digits, and while I can’t recall exactly what my reaction to it was at the time, I do know that the movie made a significant enough impression on me that it was a nagging presence in my mind for quite some time afterwards. You probably know what I mean – it was one of those “what was the thing I saw with the thingy in it that did the thing?’ sort of films that nags and nags at you and won’t stop bugging you until you see it again and find out for yourself if your memories are correct.
Thankfully, in my case, they were. The Point is just a great little movie, one of the most purely enjoyable little flicks I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. I think a good word for it would be ‘mellow’ – this isn’t a film that gets your heart rate up, it’s one that invites you to just sit back, relax, and check out the grooviness. It’s a very ‘70’s sort of movie in that regard – it’s one of those movies that could really only have been made during a certain time, but remains timeless in and of itself.
This is not to say that it’s perfect (although really, what is?). The film is an allegory of sorts, and not a particularly sophisticated one – in fact, you’ll probably figure out the moral before the first five minutes of the movie are over. Furthermore, it has a number of musical numbers in it that really add very little to the plot. If you’re a fan of plot-based, stripped-down stories, then this might not exactly be your ideal movie.
That being said, I think you’d have to be a pretty obsessive example of such a fan to actively dislike it. The Point may not have the strongest plot in the world, but it more than makes up for it with other stuff. For one thing, it looks incredible – the animation style is that loose, sketchy type typical of ‘70’s TV, which lends itself, I find, towards visual innovation, and that’s certainly what we get here. The village, for instance, is just a wonderfully bizarre place – its point-heavy aesthetic includes all sorts of stuff that would make absolutely no sense in terms of real-world physics, but work marvelously in a world like this one. As for the Pointless Forest – hoo boy. You know those old books you find in used bookstores sometimes with really trippy imagery on the dust covers – butterflies coming out of someone’s mouth, for instance, or trees that look like asparagus? The Pointless Forest is those dust covers – it’s pure ‘70’s pop art distilled into one fictional location. ‘Nuff said.
In any case, the plot really isn’t as weak as all that. In fact, it has some unusually subtle elements. For instance, the whole bit with Oblio being cast out is obviously making a statement about societal oppression and the like, but it’s handled a bit differently than most. After all, Oblio isn’t some sort of hated outcast – most people think he’s fine. It’s only when someone in power throws his weight around that they must reluctantly acknowledge that yes, he is breaking the law, even though most people think it’s a pretty silly law to begin with. Instead of going the usual “people are prejudiced S.O.Bs’ route that a lot of movies would take, The Point takes the position that people are basically good and tolerant, even if their societies have flaws. It’s really unusually nuanced for this kind of film.
And yes, the songs may mostly be pretty gratuitous, but y’know what? I wouldn’t want to watch The Point without them. Yes, you heard me. They may technically just be music videos inserted into the plot, but they’re really, really good music videos – they’re the sequences in which the animators obviously went “screw plot and coherency, let’s just have some fun”. These wild, bizarre images are thrown at you one after another, and while some of them may have some slight relation to the movie proper, most are just glorious free association – animated jam sessions, I suppose you could call them. And needless to say, if you happen to be a Harry Nilsson fan, you will be in hog heaven. I personally only know him from this movie, but he belts out some great tunes here. None of them are exactly dance music, mind you, but that’s not what would be appropriate here – the songs, like the film, are laid-back and mellow and will stick in your head. Groovy. Cool, maaaaan.
Of course, as I’ve said before (more or less), the greatest music and visuals in the world can’t make up for an absence of good characters. Thankfully, good characters are in abundance here. None of them are particularly deep characters, mind you – they pretty much just act as vehicles for the film’s philosophy – but in this context, that’s exactly what’s needed. Oblio himself, for instance, is a nice little guy, and Mike Lookinland voices him as the sort of kid who can legitimately say things like “Gosh!” and “Jiminy!” without sounding silly. He’s the viewpoint character, an innocently curious blank slate with whom we’re supposed to identify – and, luckily, we do. Other standouts would be the Count, who is gloriously evil and spends most of his time onscreen snarling at things, and the Rock Man, who’s kind of like a cool old beatnik who’s decided that nothing in the world is really worth getting upset over – and while you’re watching the movie, you may find yourself agreeing with him.
Basically, The Point is… well, let’s put it this way. You know comfort food? Imagine a nice big serving of comfort food – take your pick as to the exact kind. Now imagine it with some new ingredient added that makes your senses prickle. “Hey!” you go, “I like this! It’s still nice and comfort food-y, but it’s got this extra something that’s got my tongue sitting up and paying attention! Wow, I gotta have this one again!”
That is The Point in a nutshell. There is something in here for just about everybody – I suppose very small children might have a bit of trouble with the part where Oblio has to say goodbye to his mom and dad, but other than that, this is an open house with everyone invited. Or, to continue the food metaphor, a lip-smacking plate of grub that really hits the spot every time it’s on the menu.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like The Point. It’s perfect for a cold winter’s night. If you haven’t chosen your holiday movies yet, you could do far worse to give this one a try – or if you have, just put it on the list for later. Maybe something to stave off those post-holiday blues, or get you in the mood for another one – say, the Fourth of July. Or St. Patrick’s Day. Or Thanksgiving. Or Easter. Or hell, just the weekend.
Think about it. And merry Christmas.
- The Point was initially conceived of in a very ‘70’s way. Nilsson described it thusly: “I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to a point. I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn’t, then there’s a point to it.’”
- The exact number of points on the Count’s starburst emblem changes quite a bit. It usually has eight, but at various times it also has seven, nine, etc.
- If the song ‘Me and my Arrow’ sounds familiar to some, there’s a reason – it was used in a car commercial.
- The film has had several different narrators over the years. The original broadcast version featured Dustin Hoffman in the role, but for “contractual reasons” this had to be changed. It was initially re-recorded by Alan Thicke, and there was a version seen on cable for a while that featured the voice of Alan Barzman. The Ringo Starr version is the best-known, though, and is featured on all current VHS/DVD releases.
- During the “Triangle Toss” sequence, the kids picked before Oblio are Harry, Fred and Richard. This refers to Harry Nilsson, director Fred Wolf, and Ringo, whose real name was Richard Starkey.
Song lyric: This is the town and these are the people/This is the town where the people all stay/That’s the way they wanted it/That’s the way it’s going to stay…
Narrator: It was a good life, a settled life – and the point was the point of it all.
Leaf Man: Y’know, leaves like that don’t just grow on trees or something.
Count: I would only remind you that this law, so cherished a part of our tradition, was not enacted, nor is it being applied, for purposes of base persecution or cruel harassment. Oh, good gracious no!
Oblio: He’s a very industrious industrialist.
Pointed Man #2: Now there you go again –
Pointed Man #1: You’re thinking!
Pointed Man #3: That’s very destructive, my lad!
Pointed Man #2: Most destructive indeed!
Pointed Man #1: If a person does enough thinking…
Pointed Man #3: A certain amount of knowledge is sure to follow.
Pointed Man #1: The result, sonny-bob…
Pointed Man #2: Could be a life of misery!
Rock Man: Listen, jack, there ain’t nothin’ pointless about this gig. Just look around yourself – the birds singin’ sweet love songs to the trees, and squirrels doin’ crazy takes all over the place – Mother Nature, she watchin’ over the whole scene. And dig me, takin’ it all in.
King: The law is the law. And, as all of you know, without the law, why… why, there would be no lawyers. And, uh, without lawyers – well, it just goes on and on.
Pointed Man #2: Mayday! It’s a complete mayday!
Rock Man: Saaafe.
Oblio: What was that?
Rock Man: I believe it was E Flat, double style. Extra-fortissimo, doncha know?
Count: Madness! That’s madness! SHEER MADNESS!
Oblio: What happened is, you just got hatched. You’re born now. But don’t worry; it happens to everybody.
Pointed Man #3: Oh, really?
Pointed Man #2: That’s an interesting misconception.
Pointed Man #1: But then I’m sure you’ll agree.
Count: Villainy! Treason! Public naughtiness!
Rock Man: You see what you want to see. Tell me, did you ever see a dinosaur?
Rock Man: Well, did you ever see a pterodactyl?
Rock Man: Well, did you ever wanna see a pterodactyl?
Oblio: I guess not.
Rock Man: Well, that’s it. You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear.
Pointed Man #3: A point in every direction…
Pointed Man #1: Is the same thing as no point at all!
Pointed Man #2: Or would you argue the point?
Pointed Man #1: I wouldn’t!
Pointed Man #3: Not on a bet!
All: It never entered my mind!
Count: Would that it were not true! You idiot! You pathetic fool. I groomed you – oh, how I groomed you! I cultivated you like a rare flower – and for this?
Oblio: I really don’t understand this.
Rock Man: Let me hip you to reality.
King: That does seem a bit excessive, doesn’t it?
Count: Well, what do you suggest? Send out a pastry tray and let them eat cake?
King: Well, that’s never worked before…
Leaf Man: Question – is the world ready for a tweed leaf?
Pointed Man #2: What’s this? Still talking of points, my boy?
Pointed Man #1: The youth’s obsessed!
Pointed Man #3: I’ll make a point of noting that!
Pointed Man #1: Ah, your point!
Pointed Man #3: Nice shot!
Pointed Man #2: Long game!
King: Now why do you want to go and create a problem like that?
Count: Oh, that’s no problem, King – that’s a solution.
Rock Man: Bein’ a rock is a very heavy life.
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