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This week, a favorite film gets the coffee-table book treatment…
I’m at home sick as I write this. It’s a mild cold — sore throat, headache, and general lassitude — but the most unbearable symptom (for those around me, anyway) is pernicious self-pity. Fortunately, this is eminently treatable with baby aspirin, pats on the head, and repeated applications of The Princess Bride on DVD.
The Princess Bride — which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, with this splendiferous new coffee-table book from Universe Publishing to mark the occasion — was neither a box-office smash nor a big award-winner; it received only one Oscar nomination, for its theme song. But in its long afterlife on cable TV and home video, it has taken its place as one of the most beloved films of all time. It’s easy to see why. William Goldman’s screenplay is wise and funny and endlessly quotable, the performances are joyous, and the direction is pitched just to right side of knowing affection — never condescending to the material, but delighting in its solemn ridiculousness. It is a film to lift the spirit — just the sort of cinematic comfort food that a sniffly shirker like me craves, on a day like this.
That kind of prescriptive use is part of the film’s metafictive framing; The Princes Bride is a story that calls attention to its own fictional nature. In the movie, The Princess Bride” is a book read aloud by kindly grandfather Peter Falk to ailing grandson Fred Savage. (Frankly, the kid doesn’t look that sick to me; I suspect his main complaint is a bad case of feeling sorry for himself.) “This is a special book,” Falk explains. “It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today, I’m gonna read it to you.” It’s a medicine for melancholy — in part because, beneath its fairy-tale trappings, The Princess Bride is a polemic against self-pity, and exhortation to stop being such a gaddam crybaby.
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