Sunday, December 4, 2016

Simple Joys: The Scent of Green Papaya

A deceptively simple film, we see a girl growing into herself through cooking, serving and dreaming. Although she is in a Vietnam of conflict, she is a servant with no way out, she is hopeless and helpless, yet the film doesn’t look at that reality.  It focuses on her joy in life, in food, in relationships.  And that joy is infectious.  

Not all of us can see the joy in life, especially in a time of conflict.  I know I can’t, not always.  But we should allow those who can find joy in simple things to inspire us, and we shouldn’t ever dampen what they understand: that God has given us the simple things to enjoy and we should let that happiness pierce through the skin of darkness that seems to surround us.

We need to experience the sensuousness of texture, the delight of a quiet conversation, the sacred presence of a good meal. The refreshing bath of a beautiful film. No matter what hell goes around us, we can still take time for joy.

Also watch: Bright Star, Life in a Day, Alamar, Babette's Feast

Read more of this blog series, The Way Forward

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Arrival: Communication and Truth

Chatter, beautiful noise, static, prattle, nonsensical, overwhelming talk.  It is Starbucks music to my soul, easily ignored until I despise it, ready to attack. It is my fear and focus of my anger, and yet, and yet, it is the core of love.

Arrival begins near the end of Close Encounter.  After the Up-like prologue (another few minutes and I'd have been bawling), the aliens have arrived and the government was communicating with them.  But they are at an impasse, so they gather Louise Banks and Ian Donnelly to find out what is really going on-- are the aliens attacking, are they wanting to help?  The pair immediately are allowed on one of the ships. Ian looks at the landscape scientifically, overjoyed with new discoveries, but scared out of his wits internally.  Louise is a linguist, and she clearly is frightened, but the enormity of the puzzle captivates her.  How will she learn to speak to these octopii who don't share even the fundamentals of human language?  Stakes raise, there is betrayal and power trips and so much more, getting to the core of human nature.

I was captivated. The aliens were simply not alien enough for me, and the communication happened too quickly, even under such enormous time pressures.  But so much of it is wonderful.  First of all, thank you, thank you, that the central event doesn't take place in New York or San Francisco, but the middle of nowhere in Montana.  Similar to Close Encounters' Wyoming, perhaps, but good enough for me.  The script lays out both the political puzzle and the intellectual exercise with increasing drama on both sides, increasing the tension and curiosity.  The score is easily the best one this year, both appropriate and innovative (I'm listening to it again right now).  The acting was fine, perhaps Whittiker was distracting occasionally, and the effects were thankfully subdued so as not to distract.  Frankly, this tops my list for this year.


Would that I had time to explain the themes of the film, so rich, full of the back and forth of seeking that which is most important.

There are, in this human world, two themes that push and pull us.  Language v. Science, Communication v. Truth.
Communication opens doors; to truth before communication is to close doors
Communication empathizes; truth assumes
Communication is human; truth is nature
Communication leads to mercy; truth is without compromise

Truth does not give any space for the human, for the person, the individual doesn’t matter

Communication is the necessary white around the yoke of truth, it comes before, it comes after, it cushions, it comforts, it is the home of truth.

Truth, without that cushion, is a hard, bare stone.  Impossible to swallow.

Fear does not close communication, but allowing fear to rule closes all paths to truth.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Find Family Where You Can: You Can't Take It With You

This early Frank Capra film gives us what we see often in later film: A group of rag-tag misfits who stick together although the odds are against them.  Some of them are related, some are not, but the point is that they are family because each of them have a unique vision of life and they are all encourage to pursue that vision. Each have a skill that they practice and they are given that chance to promote their own personal growth, despite the way they look.    

We are encouraged to find families, not necessarily connected through flesh and blood, of people that will support us being who we are, and will find ways to help us use our skills, even if they are rare.

Also Watch: Notting Hill, Delicatessen, Another Year, the Toy Story films

Read more of this blog series, The Way Forward

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Look for Friendship with Enemies: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Powell and Pressburger are at their best when they claim to be giving you one genre, in this case a war film, but end up giving you something much better and surprising. This film depicts the friendship between a British General and a German officer through the wars of the first half of the 20th century.  Their relationship began as a rivalry between enemies, and then grew to grudging respect and then complete admiration, despite being on different sides and having wildly different opinions.  

Even so, we must realize that our allies and supporters might not come from people on “our” side.  Sometimes people who disagree strongly are still the human connection we need to keep going in life.

Also watch: How to Train Your Dragon, Catch Me If You Can, District 9, Joyeux Noel, The Son

Read more of The Way Forward

Movies Illuminate the Way Forward (Introduction)

Many of us are living in anger right now.  Anger at the “other side” who is trying to take our world from us.  Anger at ourselves for not doing enough.   Anger at people who are stupid, just so stupid, because they can’t see what is real.  Many of us live with just a spark of hope, or with despair because we don’t know what the future holds.

I’m here to tell you that movies can help.

Cast Away
Well, frankly, any complex text might be able to help us.  There is truth in every section of the library, in every art, and there is lie.  We need to seek it out, to find what is true for us.  But I believe that movies, yes, even movies, can guide us to hope in a world of anger and despair.  They can give us a path forward. 

Movies, for the most part, are stories.  Sometimes stories with a moral, sometimes just stories to entertain us.  But within all of these stories is a piece of our own humanity.  And it is that humanity that gives us the way forward.  Over the next number of posts today I will be presenting a set of movies that I believe give us a way forward in an uncertain world. 

Click on this link to read the full set: The Way Forward
My Own Private Idaho

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Tribe: Seeing the World through Deaf Eyes

Do you hear that sound? That is what nothing sounds like. The funny thing about nothing is that, on this planet, it does not exist. Even the deaf hear, through their fingertips.

I spent about ten years in the deaf world. I was professionally an interpreter for the hearing impaired for that time. I attended their churches, went to their parties, attended their classes, visited deaf professors, went to their concerts (yes, they have concerts) and hung out with students. And in all that time there is one word that I would never describe the deaf world, which is silent. Every conversation is punctuated with guttural and popping sounds. Their lives are filled with loud music, because some hard of hearing folks can hear it, barely, and others can feel it. There are hearing aids making loud pitched noises that the owner is unaware of. There is always banging and loud pounding to get people's attention and because no one is going to complain about the noise.

So the idea that The Tribe is mostly silent is the opposite of what I expected. These deaf people are more like very active ghosts than real deaf folks, more reminiscent of the shadows in Vampyr I just saw. And I think it goes along with the point. At first, the decision to not translate the sign language I thought was to make a film directed toward the deaf. But I know ASL, and while the folks in the deaf school used a variant of ASL, it was mostly unknown to me. Only the deaf from the region of Europe they are in could make it all out. I got enough clues to know that most of the dialogue is conversation about what is just about to happen, so no one is missing more than nuances. And deaf folks couldn't get it anyway. Sometimes conversations are filmed from their backs, so no one could read the signs. It's all artfully done, but communication isn't the point.

In fact, it is the opposite of the point. What we have here is a form of Meek's Cutoff, where the hearing audience can understand for a couple hours what it is like to be deaf. There is a whole society around you and you can only make out clues as to what is going on, because no one is including you. And if you are not specifically thought of and spoken directly to, then events and motivations and intents are mysterious, until they are done and you had no idea what was happening. Even then, you might wonder, "why are they doing this" and only have clues as to the answer.

The deaf person's most common question to a hearing person is, "What did they say?", which is the very question the hearing person asks again and again in this movie, but knowing that they aren't going to get an answer, they just remain silent, mystified, and mostly bored until something exciting, which one could never anticipate, happened. It is a full turning of the tables.

But most hearing people wouldn't understand. They would just say, "That film was just annoying." Right on. You got it.

Still, it is a slow gangster flick. I agree with the point, and I get it. That doesn't mean I was entertained as much as I was enlightened.

Vampyr (1932)

Delayed until her servant’s due was paid in full, her death was feared lest damnation be her fate.

“Doctor, please, grant me release from this destiny!” fell on closed ears for his lust was for blood.

Shades, broken from the stranglehold of life, sought her release,

For only those completely freed

May unencumbered seek the unchaining of another.

A cinematic feast, Dreyer does it again, having the eye and the power to create genius scenes. The story as a whole might be weak and slow, but there are individual sights and scenes to keep one enthralled. The biggest weakness of the film are the long stretches of text... I didn't know I was going to be reading a book! But there are more than enough visual joys to make up for it.