Sunday
Aug312003

« The Popcorn and the Prozac »

I have been on a movie watching binge lately. For some that may not be a big deal, but for me it is. See, I actively stayed away from movies for a long time. Well, I should qualify that; I never bought any or paid admission to a theater, and had no membership with rental shops. This went on for years, mostly. I only own one movie now. It's hard to say what led me to avoid movies. I do know that I didn’t have much faith in the movie industry. I don’t really like the scene. It just rubs me the wrong way in too many cases. I get too much hype and not enough substance. I also don’t watch TV very much. In short, I rejected the visual medium for years. I liked music and listened intently to music but imposed a long time limit on the quanity or quality of movies or TV watching I would experience. I did see movies, but it would likely be a rental or when Kelli worked at a theater and got free admission. I just felt that the movie market had been too obsessed with the first week ratings and not the long term durability of a movie as a piece of art. Granted, I have been wrong in enough cases, but really, movies are part of American consumer culture, and that is something I try to limit my exposure to. I resent that movies are in theaters for such short times, and by the time the reputation is honestly established for a movie, it may be off the big screen. And at $8 a shot, it's too much of a gamble for me, so I wait it out and don’t get in any hurry. I can catch it later if it is worth it at all. Some people mock me for this self-imposed regulation. It saves me money, and I get to watch when it seems its actually worth doing, after a reputation is earned.

Anyhow, as music started to fade for me and I could not seem to stay interested in that world, I was sort of looking for ways to fill the time. I was talking with my online buddy Doug and over the course of time, I realized there were some movies I really was itching to see. One day he sent me a list of 90 movies that he thought were critical viewing, and little by little, with my crappy VCR that was donated to me and my crappy TV that I inherited, Kelli and I started making more regular stops to the movie store and I began to work my way through some of Doug’s flicks, and a few that I had been wanting to see. Fortunately, there was some overlap.

I never was much one for literature and film. Those are foreign worlds to me. My ears served me more than my eyes. Each medium has its own vocabulary and conventions. Film just hardly registered with me. I suppose it's almost a recent discovery for me to realize the literary appeal of a film. I know it's not a new thing; my college English teacher taught film-as-lit among his courses, but I paid it no heed. I was way too sheltered, and even last night, Doug told me to take the stick out of my ass. (There is actually no stick in my ass, for those who might be tempted to run with this morsel of gossip.) I embraced music at the expense of other things. I was waiting to be ripe for certain things. A person has to be ready to do something. So here I am. I have been reading more, and life has been leading me to different understandings of the real trials that constitute the human condition. I guess the bubble has burst. In recent times, I have read Brave New World (Huxley), Ghost Rider (Neil Peart’s road-to-recovery journal in the wake of the closely spaced deaths of his daughter and wife less than a year later), Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, and maybe some other bits. I also am a mad internet hound, and Google gets well traveled, as does Wikipedia.com, the internet encyclopedia. I have been reading a lot more than in years past. That may not be saying a lot, but even reading (literature and bios and stuff) is sort of held back for me. Again, in too many cases, it was just foreign to me, but that is beginning to change. And it will in the future, as I will be starting back on my college path next week, after a solid decade away from the academic world.

The movies on my plate in recent times are pretty intense. In fact it almost scares me to think that I saw all these in a few weeks' time. Many are about suffering of various sorts. But not just suffering. Some are hopeful in the end. Still there are a few that are as dismal as they come. Most of them are about gross injustice and mistreatment of humanity. Sure, there is plenty of that in the news, and I hear about it often enough, but sometimes you need to have it framed into a span of time that can be digested. Trust me, the news doesn’t leave me with hope for humanity. A three hour movie with a decent ending might though.

The one movie I actually own at the moment is Shawshank Redemption. I remember seeing that in 1995 on a crappy TV in a leaky and drafty garage/bedroom in the winter with my girlfriend Robin. The TV was utter crap, and the image was so bad it was like watching through a blizzard. But the movie captivated me. It was some time till I saw it again. Finally I did see it a year or two ago, and felt the same. One week back around Christmas last year I watched it two or three times in the same week. That movie is utterly amazing to me. It uses not one special effect but leaves me in tears at the end. I am an utter novice in reviewing lit and movies, so no revelations here. The thing just speaks to me. It gives me hope.

The more stark and demanding movies (emotionally for sure and physically because some are very long) have been Bowling For Columbine, The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List, Threads and The Day After. The last two are rather odd, and I almost gave up hope on finding them, and I never thought I would have the chance to play them back to back in the same week. Both are nuclear holocaust movies made in the mid 80s.

The Day After was the American nuclear war movie from 1983—from the height of the Cold War nuclear scares of the Reagan era. TDA was a made for TV movie that was a huge media event on the week of showing. I have read that there were hotlines set up for scared viewers to use to decompress. I remember seeing it and a certain few images were etched upon my mind as a 10 year old. I don’t remember being particularly scared, but I was marked. I think the movie ends too early, just a day after the explosion, as a result, the long term consequences are not really brought to mind. That and it seems that there actually might be hope, which as the next movie shows, there might not be much of that left if suddenly civilization is reduced to anarchy and pure survival.

Threads was a British film from a year later. I think it is even more frightening. It spans a little over 13 years and is done with a docu-drama approach. Statistics turn up at the start of each scene, charting the progress of the events leading up to the attack and for months and years later. The premise of the movie is that the fabric of society will unravel into threads in the wake of a nuclear attack (in this movie, basically the entire world is the victim of a massive nuclear volley between the super powers, so there is no aid to be had because USA, UK and USSR and chunks of Asia are destroyed uniformly). First, all anyone can do is survive at all, for all the immediate damage that has been done to cities and agricultural areas. The civic infrastucture is rendered helpless and useless, and people must be let to die if they are too badly injured and doomed to death, so that food (the only currency that matters at all) can be made available for the remaining abled bodies that can do the work to be done, which, as time goes on in the movie, is again, anything to survive. The hospitals are all laid to waste, the doctors have nothing but hacksaws and torn clothing to aid their work. Really, it's a grim and terrible thing. As the movie goes on, it charts the “progress” —disease, radiation sickness, famine, genetic mutation in generations to follow, summary execution of criminals (those who steal food or cause unrest against the last shreds of the government), survival alone being placed above all else, at the cost of education (a last priority in a “society” that goes further and further backwards to a medieval way of life—every man for himself, subsistance, living off anything that can be killed for food, etc.) Anyhow, its a damn frightening film. I watched it twice in two days. If you ever want to watch a film without a happy ending, watch Threads.

Bowling For Columbine should be required viewing in this country. In fact, anything that shakes a stick at violence needs to be required viewing. The thing that pleased me to see was that Michael Moore was hoping to address an issue from within. The opening of the movie lays it out: he is a card carrying member of the NRA, has a long history with guns and the people who keep them. He’s not simply attacking the use of guns in America from an ivory tower, he’s in the thick of it, and for a few reasons close to him (the shooting deaths of some young people in his community, it seems), he seeks to take on some questions that don’t seem to be getting asked enough. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I watched it. The movie starts off with a bank that gives away guns for new account holders. Welcome to America. Land of the free, home of the armed. I could happily live in Canada after seeing that movie.

I had heard about The Deer Hunter some years back. I heard only that it was about a Vietnam vet who had a hard time returning to normalcy at home. I read up on this and a number of other movies. It's a three hour flick, but I watched it three times in the week I had it. I was just mowed down with that one too. Christopher Walken’s performance is still lodged in my mind. Again, I don’t have much reviewer prowess to flaunt. The movie just rocked my pathetic little world. And then, in some weird cosmic convergence of events, at the end of the week when I first saw the movie, one of the men I serve at the senior center turned out to be a Vietnam vet, having been the point man and dog handler for his infantry unit. He was the tip of the spear for his fellow men. He and his dog had the harrowing job of hunting mines, traps, pits, trip wires, and all that stuff, so that the other men could safely pass. He told me about his life since, and though it was nothing like Deer Hunter, but the movie primed me for hearing what he had to say, about raging fits of suicidal and homicidal anger, inability to keep a job, nightmares and flashbacks, and visits to the mental ward which continue to this day. At least the film didn’t have a happy ending to cheapen the experience. That would have been tragic. That week was quite a time for realizing how horrible that whole experience was.

Schindler’s List is one that was on the back burner for a long time. I had forgotten about Schindler as a real life figure till the end of the movie. Again, I have nothing to say but wow. Not just that 1100 people had an underground railroad to freedom and survival, but that it came in the form of an exploitive, greedy, self centered schemer that was as bad as any Nazi, but had a Christ-moment of purity and became a temporary angel to those he guarded, for whatever reason. I guess one never knows. I watched it twice this week.

The Last Temptation of Christ. I was invited to go on a field trip to watch this movie when it came out (I was 16). The brouhaha was enough that permission from my family was denied as the rest of my group was permitted to go. I of course am a big fan of the score, a masterful piece of music and recording by any measure, and so the movie was in the back of my mind for some years. And now I SOOOOOOOO wish I had seen this years ago. I assure you I would be a different person had I seen this before I did. I think it takes a jackass to not be moved profoundly by this movie. This movie stirred me deeply. And you know what? It was made by a crew passionate about making the movie and it was done for a (paltry) $7 million. I mean, a work of ART done for next to nothing, and released as a major movie? Wow. Can that be done now? Or is it all $200 million dollar budget CRAP that is only good for a few kicks on opening weekend, only to go to DVD and video after a month or less? Spare me the high budget, whiz-bang shootemup shit meant to just suck money out of the pockets. That’s what I ran from when I stayed away from movies. Unfortunately for me, I missed a few in the process, but I am ripe for these and more now.

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