Friday, August 31, 2012

Film Buff Essentials #6-10 (FB 101 Part 4)

I am not trying to list the ten best films or most important.  Rather, I want to give the beginning of a conversation between film buffs.  What are the basic films that pretty much all film buffs should have under their belt?  This is the final five of ten, but they aren't in any particular order.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
It is difficult to choose only one Stanley Kubrick film, as many of his films have made a permanent mark on film history.  I choose this film because it became, in a sense, the basic way of thinking of an era of world history: the cold war. The paternalistic insanity and futile attempt to recover some rationality pervades this film.  Peter Sellers did some of his best work in this film, playing a half dozen characters.  As madcap as it seems, the film never goes out of control, it steps clearly to an inevitable, black, but still comedic, conclusion.

Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppela is the only director who has two films on this list.  Perhaps I should have made room for another director, but his two films could not be missed.  This is not just a film, but a piece of literature, more complex and crafted than the text that inspired it, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.   Although episodic, the theme of the madness of war couldn’t be clearer or more precise.   This film has sections that will haunt you long after you finish it.

Citizen Kane
For fifty years, this film starring and directed by Orson Welles was considered the greatest film ever made.  Whether that was true or not isn’t important.  But the influence of this film demands attention.  It is a technical marvel, even seventy years after its release.  But the truly amazing thing is a film that is so praised and so honored for its technical achievement is so human and so entertaining.  It has everything: comedy and drama; it is both a biopic and a newspaper film; it is both pro-system and critical of system.   It is an every-film, but it is enjoyable at the same time.   Rarely do we see such a marvel.

Taxi Driver
This is an actor’s film that is also a director’s career highlight.  Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese have worked together a number of times, but never more powerfully.  We follow Travis Bickle’s little sorrows and joys and see him step by step fall apart.  And his psychosis is reflective of New York City’s, for he is a son of New York, and he gives back what he receives.  Rarely does a fictional character so frighten us and enthrall us and the film so perfectly set us up for its conclusion.

City Lights
To choose any one silent comedy is to stir controversy.  Why a Chaplain and not a Keaton?  Why not Modern Times or The Gold Rush?  Yes, The General or Sherlock Jr. or Safety Last could have been chosen.  But this classic is the perfect transition film.  It is primarily silent, but makes use of sound technology.  It is a Little Tramp slapstick comedy, but is as much a romantic comedy.   The Little Tramp has less of the scoundrel and more of the noble in this film.  And it is as much a sentimental melodrama as a comedy.   There are so many films in this one stirring, much lauded film, that it must be seen.

Mind you, these ten are only a beginning, the first step up the gangplank  to the ship Film Buffness that has adventures and new people galore.   If you are new to film buffness, then you can’t go wrong with beginning with these films.   If you are an old film hand and haven’t seen one or two of these films, please check them out.  And if you have seen them all, then try out the directors and actors you’ve appreciated.  The journey is long and fulfilling.  The best thing you can do is enjoy it. 

Finally, what would you put as your essential film buff movies?  If there were films that you could make everyone see so you could all have them in your film vocabulary, what would they be?

Film Buff Essentials #1-5 (FB 101 Part 3)

Here we go, the ten films every film buff should have seen.  They aren't ordered in any particular direction-- there's no priorities here.  They are all important.  Here are the first five.  The second five are in the next post.

The Godfather
The godfather of all film buff films is, rightly so, The Godfather.   It was released in 1972 and was one of the few films to receive the Best Picture Academy Award that actually deserved it.   Amazingly, its sequel won the same award.  Of course, The Godfather is now a permanent fixture in the broad cultural consciousness with phrases like “We’re going to give him an offer he can’t refuse” and the image of a horse’s head in a bed common territory.  But the Godfather is more than a cultural touchtone.  It is also a role call of great actors of a certain generation: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall—many of them giving the classic performance of their careers.  And it is a master storyteller, Francis Ford Coppella— telling a masterful story.  There are some movies that become so ingrained in our culture that they become tired that watching the film again feels like a chore.  Not The Godfather.  It is an amazing experience, in which we feel we understand the Italian mafia, because we have spent time with them, seen them at their best and worst. 

8 ½
This is an Italian film of 1963 directed by Fredrico Fellini.  It is about a director played by M M who is in the midst of filming a film that he isn’t altogether clear about.  But it has less to do with filmmaking and more to do with how one directs one’s life, and how badly it can be mismanaged.   The greatness of this film can be explained in this phrase I recently heard which describes it: manic charm.   On the surface, it feels very unorganized and unnecessarily complicated.   Some of the greatness can be seen in its self-reference, how much of the discussion about the film is talking about the film we are watching now.  This film can be watched with a critical eye, analyzing and making references, or we could let it flow over us until all we have left are impressions—a giant spaceship, a fountain, a crazy dance at the close.  Either way, we will experience something unique.

Seven Samurai
This is one of those films that seems difficult to watch at first.  Three and a half hours of subtitles, really?  Of course, if you are going to be a film buff, subtitles must be your stock in trade, but this seems excessive.  In reality, it is not.  How long does it take to know a person, to really have a sense of who they are?  And if a filmmaker is going to really get us involved in a character, how long does that take? Certainly not as long as a real person, but it is not easy, or quick.  Now, what about seven characters?  How long does it take to feel the stakes involved in seven people accomplishing an impossible task?  This is Akira Kurosawa’s goal—to introduce us to seven characters who impact us.  Seven Samurai may be of a different era, a different culture,  but the power of this story is there because he took his time.  This epic film is powerful, and its impact is felt on most who take the time to watch it.

There is an ongoing debate as to which of the great director Alfred Hitchcock’s film is his greatest.   My money is on Rear Window.  But the influence and impact of Vertigo cannot be gainsaid. Jimmy Stewart plays Scottie who is obsessed with a mysterious woman (Kim Novak).   Although there is clearly a secret about this woman, it is Scottie himself who might have the greater, more disturbing secret.  As usual, Hitchcock invents new ways to tell a cinematic story, in the shooting, in the editing and in the narrative.  No one can deny its brilliance.

Singing In The Rain
The classic Hollywood musical is about exuberance and joy, and none excels in these qualities better than Singing In the Rain from 1952.  The plot is thin, about the new sound films and a fading actress, but each scene is expertly crafted, wonderfully choreographed and rarely do we see color like this anymore.  All film is about entertainment, and no film screams “that’s entertainment” better than this one. 

(to be cont...)

What is a Great Film? (FB 101 Part 2)

Oh, really?

There is a great debate among film buffs as to the definition of “goodness” in film.  Some claim to know what to look for in a film that is good or “great” and they are full of crap, I am sorry to say.   Because for every rule, there is a clearly great film that breaks that rule or definition.   But this isn’t to say that goodness in film is only subjective.  Why is it that a film like, say, The Godfather, gets almost universal acclaim, but our personal favorites—like mine, Spirited Away—obtains a high level of interest, but isn’t considered “great” on that same level?  I don’t think any of us can really determine that.  But there are a handful of films among the many, many thousands that have been made that are universally praised by critics, film buffs and casual watchers alike.   These are films that are discussed again and again, and they operate as a basic language for other film buffs and critics to discuss film by.

What is a great film?  Like pornography, we can’t define it, but we know it when we see it.  A great film is acclaimed by many, and (almost) no one who has seen it can claim that it is a lesser film.

Every ten years Sight & Sound magazine attempts to distill the great films of all time into a top ten list.  They ask a large group of critics to give their ten best films of all time, then they compile a top ten from the hundreds of films mentioned (this year, for the first time, a top 50).   You can read their entire list revealed this month here.

That list might be help some film buffs get a handle on great films, but it is a critics list.  A list by people who have their definitions, who “know” what a great film is.  I wonder if a better way of establish a list is determining which films are most spoken of as a positive influence or comparison with other films.  What films are most discussed, most referred to in an offhand way by those who talk about film or who take film seriously.   On that list would The Rules of the Game make it?  Or The Man with the Movie Camera?  I doubt it.  

Richard Linklater considering how to be a film buff
Suppose you were planning on becoming a film buff.  Where would you begin?  What are the essential films you need to have watched to even fairly talk about film in general?  This list could probably not be called the “best” films because “best” is such an insane term to use for art, anyway.  They certainly wouldn’t be anyone’s favorites, although we might find a few on most people’s top 100 list.  They could be called “essential” films for conversation.  They are the basic films that almost all film buffs should watch just as reference to other film buffs.  They make up a common language, a foundation for understanding all other film through.  They could be the films that we would expect any film buff to have seen, and even if we were mistaking in making that assumption, another film buff would shamefacedly admit that not watching this film is tantamount to a sin against film buffdom.

In the next couple posts, I attempt to make such a list.  Think of it as an introduction to film buffness.  The  films that any self-respecting film buff would make sure to have seen.  There are certainly many more and as I post more in the film buff school, we will bring those out.  And not all of these films do I personally care for.  But they are important for the discussion.   For the common experience they give us all.

(to be cont...)

FB 101: An Introduction to Film Buffness (Part 1)

How do you know that you are a film buff?   Here is a simple test:
  • Have you seen more films than 95 percent of everyone you know?
  • When you begin to discuss a film does everyone around you seem uncomfortable and begin to shuffle their feet?
  • Do you feel like you should make a distinction between “movies” and “films”?
  • Have you spent time thinking which films are the “best”?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you are probably a film buff.  If you answered “yes” to all four, there is no doubt.

What is Buffness and how does it relate to Film?
A film buff holds that nebulous area between a film critic and a person who just enjoys movies.  A critic is one who has clear opinions about what makes a good film, at least in their opinion, and is prepared—at a moment’s notice—to express it verbally or in writing.  A person who enjoys movies is someone who likes a good movie but hasn’t spent any time thinking about movies—they know what they like and film as a whole doesn’t impinge itself on their consciousness.

 The film buff is one who enjoys film, but finds film to take up a decent portion of their thinking.  They find themselves  spending more than a reasonable amount of free time watching movies.  They also seek out “classic” or “great” films to further their film enjoyment or education.   A film buff enjoys talking seriously about movies with other film buffs.  And usually film buffs don’t see a real distinction between “art” films and “popular” films—or it isn’t as important, anyway.  What they know is what they like and they like almost all film, across all genres, across all languages, across all decades.  Certainly there are bad films, but a “bad” film isn’t in any particular style, either.  What a film buff knows about film more than anything else is what she or he likes.  And who else matters, really?

One of the joys and frustrations of film buffness is the fact that there are always more films to watch.  Even if somehow you became one of the great film buff Masters and have watched all the “great” films of each year and genre, there are always new films coming out.  And there is always this sneaking suspicion that there is another “great” film just around the corner that isn’t as widely watched by critics and it can be found by you—yes, you!   So a film buff’s work is never done.  We may fail film by losing interest or lacking time, but film will never fail us—it will always be there for us.

(to be cont.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Just Some Movie Confessions

It is said that confession is good for the soul.  Okay, so let's try some movie confessions with a series of questions that a number of bloggers are using:

Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?
I can appreciate the filmmaking of Goodfellas, and the character arcs and the detail of the camera work and plot.  But I can’t enjoy this film because every character is so slimy and horrible.  Why would I want to spend two hours with these people?  There is nothing redeemable with this film.  I had the same problem going into Raging Bull and I shut that film off.

Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?
1.       Raging Bull  (see above)
2.       Bonnie and Clyde (I avoid Warren Batey films for some reason.  I haven’t seen Reds either)
3.       Cat on a Hot Tin Roof/Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?/A Streetcar Named Desire (although I have heard wonderful things about these films, long intense dramas about bad relationships just doesn’t draw me)
4.       Cinema Paradisio/The Bicycle Thieves (I have no excuse for not seeing these classic Italian films.  I hang my head in shame.)
5.       Andrei Rublev (and every Tarkovsky film I watch makes it more difficult to get to)
6.       On the Waterfront (Doesn’t look interesting)
7.       Brief Encounter (I’ve had it on my shelf for months now.  No excuse.)
8.       Any of Romero’s “Dead” films (My wife and I have tried to get around to Night of the Living Dead.  Just haven’t gotten around to it).
9.       Army of Shadows
10.   Cleo from 5 to 7

Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?
When I was a teen, I used to ask my mom for money for a movie, and then tell her to drop us off at the multiplex and we’d call her to pick us up late that night.   She never mentioned anything wrong with it, so I figured it was okay.  I haven’t done it since I was 15 or so.
           However, it did cause one problem.  In the summer of 1981, I was curious about the new blockbuster hit, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  So I decided to sneak in and just get a glimpse.  I saw some guy in weird headgear and they were opening a box.  There were spirits moving around and then a scream… and then their FACES WERE MELTING OFF!  I saw the climax of the film (sorry, did I not mention this was a spoiler?) and it so freaked me out that I didn’t want to see the film for months after.  I did get my chance to see it on the big screen in the rerelease the next year.

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?
Al Pacino after 1980.  In the 70s, Pacino was brilliant, a genius.  He could play a wide range and was a fantastic performer.  Now, he has a lot of energy, but no finesse—so dull, so bad.  Otherwise great movies are ruined by him, like Heat.

From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?
I have been working hard to catch up with the big directors I have missed.  I recently saw a couple films by Johnny To and a trilogy of films by Ming-liang Tsai.  But the one great director I am most distressed to have not seen a single film is Yasurjiro Ozu.   I have had Late Autumn on my shelf for almost a year but never has the time been “right”.  Sigh.  I’ll get there.

Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?
I love The Emperor’s New Groove, which is often considered lesser Disney.  But there is one film in my top 100 which is hated by almost everyone who sees it.  Not just considered bad, but actually despised.  That’s Terry Gilliam’s Tideland.  I see it as celebrating the resilience of a creative child, but most people just see it as two hours of child abuse.  

Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?
I rarely make it to the theatre, and I watch perhaps five movies a week on my laptop in my living room.  My one habit that I have a hard time breaking is talking back to the movie.  I don’t talk loud, sometimes I gasp or say “no” quietly… but I’ll do that sometimes in the theatre.  I try to sit away from other people so as not to disturb them.

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?
I can’t think of any, but I would be willing to watch Hugh Grant in The Lair of the White Worm.  If my daughter would be willing to laugh at it with me.

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?
Um.  No. Are subtitles supposed to be bad?

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?
I only started my DVD collection a few years ago.  I’m a late bloomer.  Take that as your confession, if you like. 

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?
Probably the worst is Kill the Poor.  I bought it because I thought the title and description was interesting and I didn’t think I’d see it any other way.  Now it’s on Netflix instant.  I wonder if I can give it away?

Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?
I already confessed it above.  All my movie watching takes place on a laptop except for the few films I see in the theatre and the fewer films I see on a projector with my family at home.   But The New World still stunned me with its beauty, although I deeply, deeply regret not seeing it on the big screen.  Lawrence of Arabia, as well.

Any other confessions you want to make?
I don’t like sitting still for two hours straight, so I’ll often take breaks in watching a film.  Sometimes I take a break because I’ve fallen asleep in the middle of a film—not due to me not liking a film, just because I was more tired than I realized.   Occasionally I watch half a film, fall asleep, and then pick up where I left off a couple days later.  Not an optimum viewing experience. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Corruption of Democracy: An Analysis of the Dark Knight Trilogy

This post contains spoilers to all three Dark Knight films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.  If you haven’t seen all three films, you might not want to read this analysis.

The way I figure it, if you want to read a review of Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his epic Batman trilogy, there’s a million places to hear or read one.  Google the title name and “review”.  Plenty of them out there.   This means that I don’t need to tell you that I think that the Dark Knight Rises is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, that it was entertaining and thought provoking, it made me cry twice (Michael Caine is such a manipulator!), and it completely shocked me twice.  I don’t need to say that it was very entertaining, but not as good as a movie as the second film.  I also don’t need to confess my opinion that The Dark Knight Trilogy is, in my opinion, the best superhero… heck, the best genre trilogy ever (yes, I think better than LOTR and Star Wars).   See?  Completely unnecessary to say all that.

But I think I do have substantial proof that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan will not direct/write another Batman film.  Why do I think this?  Well, C. Nolan said it himself, so that might be enough, but I think the final evidence is in the films.  Not the plot.  Heck, the plot certainly leaves a number of options for follow-up  Dark Knight films.   Anyone could return and the dark Gotham has a million stories.  The reason C. Nolan will have to hang up the mask and cape is because of the themes.

There are a number of themes in the Dark Knight films: the limit of personal sacrifice for a people;  lies for others’ good;  killing v. locking up evil people; and the morality of hope.  These themes are explored throughout the DK films.  And that’s the point: all of these themes resurface in the final film.  Misters Nolan have nothing new to say.  The plot is great and inventive and well executed.  But C. Nolan is a director that likes ideas, to play with them and explore them in the midst of an intense plot.  They have run out of themes to play with.  Even in this last film, they were only underlying themes they already explored in the first two films.

I could write at least a paragraph on each of these themes I mentioned above and a couple others.  But what I’d like to do instead is to focus on one theme and explore that idea, rather than giving a survey.  This theme is the corruption of society.

I think it is pretty obvious that Gotham is just a stand-in for New York City.  Sometimes I think Gary Oldman accidently says New York instead of Gotham (that’s probably my imagination).  It is a dark place, full of corruption and lies.  It is The Wire’s Baltimore, but it isn’t just morally dark, it is physically dark.  There are shadows everywhere, criminals in hiding, politicians and police officers openly corrupt.  It begins a little better at the start of DKR, but only because the city is founded on lies.  Even when good, the city is evil.

Why is this?  The answer that is given by every villain in the DK series is that the population is evil, corrupt.  The city as a whole is an evil entity, and no matter how you look at it, or help it, or sacrifice for it—even if it changes for a while—in the end, the darkness and corruption returns.  The people are just evil.

I think that this critique is not only for Gotham, not only for a large city, but ultimately it is a critique of the United States and of democracy itself.   Because although it is “this people” who are corrupt, really Gotham represents the whole of urban America.  Each city has, at one time or another, the same problems as Gotham.  Does it really matter if we are talking about New York or Los Angeles or Miami or Portland or Denver or New Orleans when we speak about police on the take, lying politicians, a powerful criminal underground, and mob violence.  To speak of Gotham is to speak of the United States.

In the first film, this idea of the corruption of the city is a given.  We see how criminal lords run the city and how easy it is for the violently mentally ill to take over a large section of the city.  The villain, Ra’s al Ghul can openly speak of the corruption of the city as unquestionable, and Bruce Wayne cannot disagree with it: he only disagrees with the response to such corruption.  Ra’s believes that such evil is unredeemable, and must be destroyed.  He “proves” this theory by drug-induced panic, which cause riots and violence.  Bruce thinks that the criminal element can be controlled, given the right motivation: fear.  By the end of the film Ra’s is defeated and Batman is given an opportunity to enact his theory.

In The Dark Knight, this theme is revisited, but the assurance of the Joker that all societies are just violent anarchies waiting to happen must be proven, not just stated.  Under Batman’s influence, the criminal element is somewhat controlled and there is legal hope for justice in the city under the leadership of the prosecutor Harvey Dent.  Joker’s plan is threefold: corrupt Batman, corrupt Harvey Dent and prove the hateful nature of the urban American.     Batman is, of course, proven incorruptible, Dent is corrupted, but it takes a huge effort for this to happen. 

The ultimate experiment of the populace is the ferry experiment, a version of a Game Theory experiment, the prisoner's dilemma. .  Joker has two ferries, one full of criminals and the other full of normal citizens and each are loaded with explosives which can be ignited from a distance.  The Joker announces that the detonator for the other ferry is on the other ferry.  They must kill the people on the other ferry, or else both ferries will blow up at midnight.  One would expect the criminals to be selfish and so quickly decide to blow the other ferry up.  And the normal citizens, deciding that the criminals were worthless would decide the same.  Instead, each boat decides to not destroy the other.   This surprises the Joker, but it doesn’t keep him from attempting to create general chaos in the city.

In the final film, a similar assumption is made by Bane—people are evil and if you give them an opportunity, they will hate and destroy each other.  Bane’s experiment is to isolate Gotham, and give it three months of mob rule, mob justice, all under the threat of a nuclear explosion which will destroy the city.  Like the first movie, the experiment proves the point to the villains, because mob rule kills the innocent and releases the guilty.  But it is Bane himself who established this unnatural situation.  He appointed a madman as judge, he released all proven criminals into the street and caused the panic by having the nuclear weapon driven through the streets.

What is the judgment of the films?  Is anarchy the natural state of the urban American?  Is democracy really just forced upon the people, a con game that hides the dark side of the populace? 

There are two answers the films give:  

First, people, in their natural state, are not violent or anarchic.  The ferry experiment proves this.  Although the Joker was psychotic and murderous, his experiment was  a fair judge of human nature at its worst.  Even though the felons and the citizens had the opportunity to kill each other for their own preservation, and even though the results were close, in the end the decision not to kill the other was made.  In the other two experiments, the populace were given unfair circumstances to determine their reactions.  Yes, the mob ruled in the first and third films for a time, but only because the mob was inherent in the situation of the experiment: the first through drug-induced panic and the third through the release of the violent and the imprisoning of the police, which created a might-makes-right style of leadership. 
But that isn’t the complete answer in the films.  After all, Gotham clearly began as corrupt and evil.  By the beginning of the third film Gotham was a just city, but it wasn’t this way on its own.  How is corruption avoided and people are able to live well in urban America?  According to the films, there are four elements that are required to avoid mob rule:

1.       Strong, moral leadership—Commissioner Gordon and the uncorrupted Harvey Dent are the primary examples of this in the film.  They are moral leaders, but neither are pushovers, either.  They have to be strong against crime, but open to mercy.

2.       The violent imprisoned--  In the first and third films, all hell broke loose because the uncontrolled violent were released to the streets, free to do as they please.  The Dent Law imprisoned these people and Gotham had their best period.

3.       Sacrificial heroes—The primary example of this is Batman, but he is not alone.  Gordon, Lucius Fox, Rachel, Selena and “Robin” all have to make their own sacrifices in order to keep Gotham and peace and to defeat the corrupting influences.  Harvey Dent was morally upright, but he failed in the area of sacrifice.  Moral leadership is not sufficient in itself—heroes who are willing to sacrifice everything for the people are necessary.

4.       Hope at any cost—People in general are good, but not in a panic, nor in the face of open violence.  Most people will roll over and allow corruption to rule unless there is hope for change, hope for the good to prevail.  This hope may be based on a lie, it may be a corruption of the truth, but if people are to keep civilization going, hope must prevail.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that in the end the Nolans agree with the Founding Fathers of the United States: religion is necessary for the ruling of the people.  For these three elements: moral leadership, sacrificial heroes and hope (even if a lie) is exactly what religion provides.  The Batman/Harvey Dent mythos was a kind of religion for Gotham, a version of the truth that gives them hope and allows the moral to rule.  Are the Nolans saying that without some kind of mythos the DK villians were actually right?  People are corrupt unless the right mythos guides them, teaching them, guiding them to trust the right leaders, granting at least the hope that security and peace is right around the corner.  Hmmm.

Postscript:  In listening to many discussions about the last film (which I only do after writing my own take), I found out that Gotham City resembles different cities in each of the three films.  The first is New York City, the second Chicago and the third Pittsburgh.  Another brilliant move by the Nolans, and confirming my idea that Gotham is really just an every-city, at least in the U.S. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Film Communion

Recently, I’ve been rediscovering the joy of watching film with others.

For years I’ve been watching film alone.  Usually with my laptop and headphones and very rarely in a theatre.  When I was young, watching a film alone seemed like a sad experience.  Once I drove thirty minutes to catch a showing of Poltergeist… which made me nervous for the entire drive home.   Usually I watched film with friends or family. 

But over the last couple years as my desire to watch film was almost an obsession, I found that I was watching film by myself.  After all, what normal (American) movie viewer wants to watch subtitled film, silent film or art film?  My youngest daughter for a while got caught by film by looking over my shoulder, like, for instance, The Passion of Joan of Arc.  By being captivated by foreign film, she learned to overcome her fear of subtitles.  But more recently her interest in movies waned and she would rather be on the computer than even watching a film she’s interested in.

But my family loves family activities, maybe because we have them so rarely.  We’ve tried to watch movies as a way to hang out together, and it’s been great.  This is especially true for dumb action movies and comedies.  We will laugh throughout the whole film, and poke fun at the dialogue.  Thor was a mediocre movie at best, but with my two daughters it was a really enjoyable experience.   The Secret of Arietty was more beautiful because my family saw its beauty together. My daughter and I tried and failed to poke fun at Taken, instead we were both just a little disturbed at this “whole season of 24 in 100 minutes.”  But it was good to share our concern.

This last week I took my youngest daughter and my movie bud out to see The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX.  It was their first experience in IMAX and the impact was great.  But what was best that my daughter and I could comment to each other (quite a bit away from all other viewers, those concerned with the Code of Conduct) about inconsistencies and questions we had during the film.  In the end, it was almost a perfect viewing of the film.  A big movie on a big screen with big sound and a private conversation with my daughter reflecting on the experience. 

It is my belief that a film ultimately is an alternative means of experiencing life.  Both real life and unreal life.  But in the end, film gives us tools and perspectives that we otherwise would never have, because we would never have the opportunity to experience what we might through film.  But would an experience be complete without reflection, comment or analysis?  What can we learn about an experience in our lives without others to bounce the experience off on? 

I think that film is an experience that is intended to be shared.  I think we get more out of film if we do share it.  This isn’t always possible—I still have no one in my non-internet life who is willing to watch Seven Samurai with me.  But I can reflect on my film experience with other film buffs on the internet.  But I still hold precious the times I can share a film with my family and friends, where we can glory in or laugh at a film together.