Not Necessarily All in the Right Order

by Harry on June 1, 2008

Here’s one of the few bits of parenting advice I offer my students: Do not allow your child to see Monty Python’s Life of Brian until they have seen Spartacus.

Other nominations of films that must not be watched in the wrong order?



jim 06.01.08 at 5:17 pm

The principle here seems wrong. Would you require they can’t see _Monty Python and the Holy Grail_ until they’ve seen Bresson’s _Lancelot_?


brooksfoe 06.01.08 at 5:29 pm

I agree this principle seems wrong. I don’t think there’s a person currently living in the US who didn’t encounter Wagner and Mozart through Bugs Bunny before encountering the originals. In fact I think most people these days would find Spartacus pretty tedious unless they’ve encountered its treatment as parody or otherwise in subsequent media — at which point discovery of the original becomes interesting and layered.


abb1 06.01.08 at 5:35 pm

Spartacus is boring, music irritating. It’s a friggin epic, your children will hate it, you can only force them to watch it as a punishment.


AlanM 06.01.08 at 5:36 pm

Definitely watch “Don’t Look Back” and “The last Waltz” before “Spinal Tap”.


Kieran 06.01.08 at 5:54 pm

Don’t watch Chasing Amy before you die.

“101 films not to see before you die” would make a decent book, actually.


dave 06.01.08 at 6:09 pm

Chicken Run before The Great Escape is a definite no no.


Andy 06.01.08 at 6:47 pm

The Hidden Fortress before Star Wars is probably a bit too much.


tom s. 06.01.08 at 6:50 pm

Shaun of the Dead before Dawn of the Dead.

Although (to support jim’s point above) my kids laughed through many episodes of The Simpsons without watching The Godfather, Lord of the Flies, Twin Peaks, etc etc. Then they watched those films and laughed again.


toby 06.01.08 at 6:51 pm

I found I appreciated Life Of Brian a lot more because I had previously sat through a collection of boring biblical epics:

King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Quo Vadis, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators ….

.. I am sure there were more. Ben Hur is in a class of its own.

Life of Brian more than made up for the mediocrity of those films. Advise your child to watch at least one.


Dan Hirschman 06.01.08 at 7:04 pm

Spaceballs should not be viewed until after seeing the original Star Wars trilogy and at least one or two episodes of the original Star Trek series.
A friend of mine made this mistake when he was about 13. The result was definitely confusion.
Oh, and The Godfather should be seen before any mafia movie made since. Very important.


Chris Bertram 06.01.08 at 7:04 pm

Requiring _The Seventh Seal_ before _Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey_ would be cruel.


~~~~ 06.01.08 at 7:12 pm

I had already seen Kentucky Fried Movie a few times before I finally saw Enter the Dragon, which became an absolutely hilarious film as a result.


Buce 06.01.08 at 7:19 pm

I think you’ve got it backwards. I would agree with an earlier commentator that Spartacus is unwatchable–but I would add: unless you have watched Brian, in which case it is actually pretty funny.


Ozzie Maland 06.01.08 at 7:20 pm

> Other nominations of films that must not be watched in the wrong order?

First watch _The Truman Show_, then _The Lives of Others_. (You’ll go nuts if you don’t watch them in that order.)

Aloha ~~~ Ozzie Maland ~~~ San Diego


bryan 06.01.08 at 7:25 pm

the reason for the principle is obviously that seeing the parody makes the serious work laughable. I think this is incorrect however, if the film actually is a parody. Chicken Run works fine without seeing the Great Escape – although not sure how it works if viewer totally unfamiliar with escape films as a genre, in which case the viewer would have not been raised on American films or TV.

When the principle is correct is if the film is a satire. Monty Python’s films tend to be satirical, after all Life of Brian is not a parody of Spartacus it is a satire of the type of movie that Spartacus takes itself for. You probably shouldn’t watch Life of Brian before Ben-Hur either.


abb1 06.01.08 at 7:26 pm

Does this post have anything to do with the Universal Studios being destroyed by fire as we speak?


harry b 06.01.08 at 7:49 pm

Kieran — I actually have a whole post in preparation about The House of Sand and Fog. Chasing Amy, however, I could only get through 15 minutes of, so couldn’t write about it.


John 06.01.08 at 7:49 pm

Fail Safe before Dr. Strangelove.

And anway, you’re all wrong. I’M Spartacus.


a 06.01.08 at 8:04 pm

Stardust Memories should be watched after 8 1/2.


implied otter 06.01.08 at 8:31 pm

Sullivan’s Travels before O Brother, Where Art Thou.

Les Biches before The Royal Tenenbaums.

I was going to recommend The Conformist in conjunction with something, too, but that seemed to be taking it a bit far.


Dan Simon 06.01.08 at 8:31 pm

Do not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before reading all the science fiction you will ever read.


abb1 06.01.08 at 8:46 pm

Nah. Douglas Adams is OK, but Robert Sheckley is better. Funnier.


Hedley Lamarr 06.01.08 at 10:32 pm

I don’t know about movie order, but don’t see “There Will Be Blood” before reading “Oil!”. In fact, don’t see the former, as it sets the record as being most unlike the source book.


Tom Hurka 06.01.08 at 10:42 pm

Don’t watch The Flintstones before watching The Honeymooners?


fardels bear 06.01.08 at 10:45 pm

Think of the generations that have watched BLAZING SADDLES without seeing a single, solitary westerrn. My students, born during the reign of Bush I, have only a dim idea that such a genre exists and certainly don’t have any idea how omnipresent it used to be in theaters and on TV.


bernard Yomtov 06.01.08 at 10:54 pm

Nah. Douglas Adams is OK, but Robert Sheckley is better. Funnier.

What’s this? abb1 making sense? Amazing.


Dan Kervick 06.01.08 at 10:56 pm

Spaceballs should not be viewed until after seeing the original Star Wars trilogy and at least one or two episodes of the original Star Trek series.

Spaceballs should not be viewed at all – ever.


dsquared 06.01.08 at 11:19 pm

I am with #13. Certainly, “Casablanca” should not be seen before “A Night In Casablanca”.


Randy Paul 06.01.08 at 11:35 pm

I think you’ve got it backwards. I would agree with an earlier commentator that Spartacus is unwatchable

Obviously you don’t like oysters . . .

Don’t see The Dove before you see Wild Strawberries, The Silence and The Seventh Seal.


harry b 06.02.08 at 12:08 am

Don’t watch Top Cat before you watch The Phil Silvers Show (one-upping tom hurka!)


"Q" the Enchanter 06.02.08 at 12:11 am

Regarding a different but related principle, Airplane! obviates the need (such as it is) to see any out of the Airport franchise.


Jonquil 06.02.08 at 1:05 am

Play It Again, Sam and Casablanca. (Which we watched, in the right order, as a double feature with the kids.)


Randy Paul 06.02.08 at 1:08 am

Or at least Zero Hour.


Randy Paul 06.02.08 at 1:08 am

That was for “q the enchanter”


vivian 06.02.08 at 1:35 am

I agree with several of the above commenters, you only need to see enough of the genre movies to get a sense of their tropes and tedium. Then the parody works just fine. But Life of Brian works really well on its own, or with a brief history of how it was banned and did more damage to society than gay marriage, or something…


vivian 06.02.08 at 1:37 am

27: Spaceballs was uninspiring, until the villain “Pizza the Hutt” appeared – that balanced the books.


Witt 06.02.08 at 1:41 am

Hamlet, then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

I don’t think there’s a person currently living in the US who didn’t encounter Wagner and Mozart through Bugs Bunny before encountering the originals.

Who was it who said “The definition of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and *not* think of the Lone Ranger”?


bernard Yomtov 06.02.08 at 1:43 am

Spaceballs should not be viewed at all – ever.

Nonsense. “Comb the desert,” alone is worth the price of admission.


tom s. 06.02.08 at 2:29 am

Galaxy Quest is obviously far superior to Spaceballs but is also best after watching too much Star Trek.


Jacob Christensen 06.02.08 at 2:54 am

Oh dear: I’ve watched Brian an endless number of times. But Spartacus? Nope.

I’m sure the jokes have been thoroughly missed on me.

Which films should you watch to make the Marx Brothers make sense, by the way?


Henry (not the famous one) 06.02.08 at 3:21 am

Hold off on “Pennies From Heaven” until you’ve seen “42nd Street.”

And another movie to add to the don’t see before you die category, desecration of a classic division: “You’ve Got Mail.”

And as for No. 40’s last question, you need to sit through “Strange Interlude.” If you can.


Martin 06.02.08 at 3:24 am

Some blogger, I forget who, correctly pointed out that The Simpsons marks the end of the Western cultural tradition (i.e., from the Greeks through Hollywood) because it incorporates enough of that tradition that it leaves future generations with no compelling reason to go back to anything beyond The Simpsons itself. Sort of the way Justinian saw his law code as leaving no reason for lawyers and judges to look to any earlier sources of Roman law.


noen 06.02.08 at 4:16 am

Does that include this Sparticus? Probably not.


Martin James 06.02.08 at 4:34 am

Everyone should see Star 80 before they first get laid.

I call it the sexual driver’s training film.


ozma 06.02.08 at 5:50 am

I loved Spartacus as a pre-teen. I probably would have liked it as a child as well. I loved epics.

Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” in my Freshman year of high school beautifully corresponded with my re-discovery of “The Holy Grail” that same year. (My parents took me to see it at a drive in when I was a much younger kid.) Luckily, in my Sophomore year I took New Testament and saw “Life of Brian” and got to realize how brilliant it really was. I won a religion medal that year and I’m pretty sure “Life of Brian” was the reason I was able to remember so many facts about the Essenes, the Zealots, etc.

“Camelot” (the musical) does enhance one’s full enjoyment of “Holy Grail” but that might be an accident.

You do have to see some westerns to fully appreciate “Blazing Saddles.” Are there specific ones? It helps to know who Marlene Dietrich is to fully appreciate Madeline Kahn there.


grhabyt 06.02.08 at 7:27 am

I don’t think there’s a person currently living in the US who didn’t encounter Wagner and Mozart through Bugs Bunny before encountering the originals.

This influence can lead in both directions — my wife can only think of Wagner with derision, while I saw most of the Ring Cycle with student $5 standing only tickets.
More generally, I think that insisting on a sequentially pure approach to culture or history is more of an impossibility than a mistake: both in the practical sense — do we really need to read Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho before Austen’s Sense and Sensibility? — and in pedagogical sense — learning and enthusiasm can run in both directions on these chains of reference and causation.


arthur 06.02.08 at 7:33 am

Don’t see Ed Wood before Plan 9 from Outer Space. Or 8 1/2 before any Fellini film.


abb1 06.02.08 at 9:15 am

Ah, Fellini. Watch La Strada and especially Le Notti di Cabiria before any of his pop-surrealism. Marvel at Giulietta Masina.


Jonathan H. Adler 06.02.08 at 11:25 am

Double Indemnity before Body Heat before any of the gazillion knock-offs that will ruin the plots without the same payoff.



Picador 06.02.08 at 2:33 pm

I assume it’s a near-universal experience for anyone born after, say, 1970 to have absorbed countless derivatives before being exposed to the original, whether those derivatives are parodic or not. Like most people, I still find myself a little bit annoyed when I discover the hidden precedent for some film that impressed me when I first saw it, and I do find that a lack of direct exposure to the original diminishes the appreciation of a good parody. But both of these irritations are gradually fading, both in my own life and in the culture at large. Riffs on “The Seventh Seal” and “Citizen Kane” find audiences much wider than either of those films have. While the cultural purist in me still gets his panties in a twist when an audience gets a kick out of some homage whose antecedent they don’t recognize, the fact is that this is how culture has always operated: folklore and oral traditions accumulate in layers, and soon nobody knows what the original text was. In a culture that now produces more film content in a generation than anyone has time to see, it is inevitable that we will begin to operate more like an oral culture and less like a textual one. Subsequent generations will learn about great films mostly through folkloric reinterpretations that incorporate strands of them and bastardize them, just as oral cultures learn their mythologies through constantly-changing folktales instead of fixed sacred texts.

That being said, I’m still pretty hung up on text, and I try to evangelize the originals whenever I can. But I know it’s a losing battle.


barney 06.02.08 at 7:51 pm

It’s probably pointless now to suggest not watching Strange Brew before seeing/reading Hamlet (or seeing any serious movie with Max von Sydow in it), but I will do it anyway.

I have also discovered over the last 25 years or so that Strange Brew is much funnier if you (1) drink beer and (2) know at least one Canadian [and (3) are easily amused to begin with].


double-plus-ungood 06.02.08 at 9:09 pm

Watch High Noon before Blazing Saddles.


double-plus-ungood 06.02.08 at 9:19 pm

Speaking of Spartacus, I recall a story from someone at the premier that in the final scene, when Varinia says to the crucified Spartacus “This is your son. He is free, Spartacus– free” that a heckler in the audience yelled out “Free schmee, get me down off this fucking cross!”

Very popular with the audience, but Kubrick was apparently livid.


david 06.02.08 at 9:31 pm

As both Ben Hur and the theory of laughing first (and then laughing again) have been mentioned above, I’ll nominate seeing the celluoid closet before Ben Hur or Rebecca. All of Celluoid Closet is great – parts are fun and parts tragic – but Gore Vidal reminiscing about not telling Charlton Heston what was going on in Ben Hur is classic and Susie Bright being outraged about the housekeeper going through the underwear drawer in Rebecca made me look at that film in a whole new -if also snide – way.
That Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine didn’t talk about their characters in The Children’s Hour comes closer to tragic, though.


daelm 06.02.08 at 9:51 pm

any eddie izzard standup, without having seen the italian job.


Dave S. 06.03.08 at 6:39 pm

A bit late to the thread, but Destry Rides Again is one of the primary sources for Blazing Saddles.


David in NY 06.03.08 at 7:19 pm

“Chicken Run works fine without seeing the Great Escape – although not sure how it works if viewer totally unfamiliar with escape films as a genre, in which case the viewer would have not been raised on American films or TV.”

Generally agreed. Except when I saw Chicken Run with the kids (and had only seen The Great Escape years and years before and only part of it, maybe, and at first didn’t get the parallels between the two), it got a lot better when I realized the specific instances of parody in it.


bartkid 06.03.08 at 7:19 pm

Bonfire of the Vanities before Hudson Hawk.


Spoon 06.03.08 at 9:08 pm

@ 55: Don’t see Eddie Izzard without seeing The Great Escape, either. Steve McQueen, on a motorcycle, all the way to Switzerland, isn’t nearly as funny without the reference.


ROG 06.04.08 at 3:17 pm

I grew up with a big unanswered question: why would anyone name a bear Yogi?


Xboy 06.04.08 at 4:03 pm

Nah, you just can’t experience books, movies, or musical works in chronological order, and you shouldn’t worry about it.
As Mike Watt said, “You can’t blame everyone for not being born at the same time.”


Keith 06.04.08 at 4:21 pm

Don’t read this thread title before seeing Morecambe and Wise featuring special guest Andrew Preview.


Scott in Dallas 06.05.08 at 1:34 pm

Brians Song…

I thought it was going to be a musical…but no…


Dick Mulliken 06.05.08 at 8:29 pm

I had my boy watch chien andalou before seeing Snow White. but he was a hardy lad


Anna 06.06.08 at 1:26 am

My suggestion is to read a book, then read its movie adaptation. For example, read “The Shining” before you see the movie. You’ll be surprised to see how many differences there are between the book and the movie!


j@ne futzinfarb 06.07.08 at 2:17 am

Here are some things that come to mind:

Jean de Florette before Manon of the Spring (too obvious?);

The Thin Blue Line before The Green Mile (for an earth-based framework in which to consider the issue of black men on death row in the south, plus, what a nice serendipity of titles!);

Taxi to the Dark Side before any episode of the television show 24 (I know, 24 is not technically a movie, but I can’t think of a movie that has advanced the view that torture is just one part of a well-rounded program of crime prevention in quite the way that 24 has);

The Gold Rush and City Lights before, oh, ANY modern romantic/physical comedy (it seems to me that the boxing scene in City Lights is overlooked as one of the most hilarious and perfectly choreographed bits of physical comedy ever put on film – absolutely priceless – after a dozen times seeing it, it still makes me laugh until I cry – sheer genius – in my humble opinion much funnier, orders of magnitude funnier than the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera which is often cited as one of the classic comedy scenes – have I used enough superlatives yet? (full disclosure: I have a tiny bit of experience with boxing));

Nanook of the North before March of the Penguins (maybe just my northern hemisphere bias showing?);

Little Big Man before Dances With Wolves (although, really, the latter should simply be avoided – I think it’s a terrible movie – these are contrasting visions of “white man goes native”, and I have a hard time believing that the parallel nature of the titles is purely accidental, inviting the unhappy comparison that arises by viewing in this order)

Amadeus before any of the other of the myriad “great composer” movies

Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, and perhaps the rest of the Kubrick oeuvre before Next (and I am NOT recommending seeing Next – I didn’t care for it – but there was a scene in which Dr. Strangelove was playing on a television in the background, something I found kind of clever and intriguing, plus a second scene (eyelids propped open while being forced to watch media) that seemed an obvious nod to A Clockwork Orange – I wonder if folks can identify other Kubrick references in Next?)

Any movie that the Coen brothers directed with the actors/actress John Goodman, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Nicholas Cage, Dan Hedaya, William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, and Tim Blake Nelson before any other movie with these actors/actresses (I think the Coen brothers movies managed to extract the most brilliant career performances from this group; I know, Cage did Leaving Las Vegas, but everything that is good about him was already there in Raising Arizona)

There is, of course, an enormous body of WWII movies, and though I can’t recommend a specific order, if someone is working their way through these, the standard triumphalist fare should probably be alternated with Slaughterhouse Five, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Catch 22, and Saving Private Ryan; some other antidotes to military glory movies that should be required to be interspersed in the viewing order include Breaker Morant, Gallipoli, M*A*S*H (which also should be seen before any episodes of the derivative and, I think, wildly inferior television series), Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and Full Metal Jacket.

I don’t have a recommended order for these two movies, but I do think they should be watched back to back: A Prairie Home Companion and The Devil Wears Prada. (I was simply stunned at the brilliance of Meryl Streep’s acting in these two extremely different contemporaneous roles – I think their contrast highlights her genius like nothing else).

See any other movie that you’re likely to watch that has actor Brad Dourif in it before you see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest because after OFOCN he WILL be Billy Bibbit. Actually, that’s an interesting thread in itself: which movie performances/roles do you find so compelling in some way that the role carries an indelible permanent association for you afterward? These must be a very mixed blessing for an actor/actress if there is any commonality in such experience – this would be closely related to the issue of typecasting. Here’s a few other possibilities for me: John Turturro as Bernie Bernbaum in Miller’s Crossing; Marisa Berensen as Lady Lyndon in Barry Lyndon; Keir Dullea as Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey; Christopher Walken as Nick in The Deer Hunter. Wow, that’s an interesting look under my hood – all of these are characters that in some fashion embody desperation. I wonder what that means? All right I’ve definitely drifted from the theme – time to end.

Comments on this entry are closed.