Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Do You Show Love? (City Lights, 1931)

#85-- City Lights (1931)

How do you communicate love to one who cannot see?

Blind people aren’t stupid.  Far from it. However, to be missing one of the more foundational abilities—hearing, sight, speech—makes it difficult to communicate.  Humans have created substitutes for the normal modes of communication for the “impaired”—braille, sign language—but those are specialized skills that most people do not have.

Love is a sensitive matter to communicate.  To display caring can be difficult without some good non-verbal communication.  Romantic feelings are even more sensitive, for it is a dance of desire and attraction that one plays to avoid rejection or offense.   When the Little Tramp, the master of non-verbal communication—falls in love with a lovely blind girl, how can he communicate that?  How can she know what he feels?  All the complexities and difficulties inherent in love is just that more difficult and complex.

The Little Tramp decides that he will give her the miracle of sight, by paying for an operation.  This poses another difficulty—the Little Tramp, he who has eaten his shoe in the past—finds it difficult to meet his own needs.  How can he afford an operation?  Love always finds a way.  Love finds a way to communicate.  Finds a way to overcome each and every hurdle.  Yes, this is a romantic view of life.  But for an hour and a half we want to live in that world, where love conquers all.

Fun Fact: Although City Lights was made after sound had overtaken all silent cinema, Charles Chaplin determined to make this film as a silent.  Despite the public’s general determination that silent films were passĂ©, City Lights succeeded both critically and financially.

Is Religion Real? (Ordet, 1955)

#86-- Ordet (1955, Danish)

It certainly seems to the Borgen family that religion is dead.  Those who once believed drift away or are adamantly opposed to the faith.  Fundamentalists rise up against the community, rejecting all social standards and morals.  The only ones who truly believe are insane.  Bitter arguments rise up between true believers, causing hatred.  All because people firmly, certainly believe in God.  How can God truly be there, a loving, strong presence if there is such doubt, such hatred?

But in the final moment, when all hope is lost, something happens.  Maybe it is something that you can’t explain to others.  Maybe it is an event that someone would look at and scoff.  But you know, you believe.  Powerful, eternal love is real.  And love cares for you and your own.  This love is as real to you as the chair you sit on, the sun in the sky.   And that one experience changes everything.

Religion may or may not be real.  But that love that reaches across time and space to meet your needs—that God is real.  And no one can take him away from you.

Fun Fact: Carl Theodore Dryer directed some of the great early films, such as The Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath. Ordet is one of the most influential spiritual films of all time, movies like the meditative Silent Light imitate it. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Is Hollywood Hypocritical? (The Player, 1992)

#87-- The Player (1992)

I grew up in a suburb of L.A., but I have very little experience of Hollywood.  During the LA Olympics in 1984, I was on Hollywood Blvd. overnight and it was like a party all night, and dirty and the people were odd, but that’s about it. 

Robert Altman, however, should know.  He’d been involved with Hollywood from 1957, when he directed a documentary about James Dean until his death in 2006.  And in his film about Hollywood, The Player, all he can deal with is hypocrisy.  The main character, Griffin Mill, is smarmy and weak and thinks that money and script approval can buy him anything.  And by the end of the film, he is basically proven right.  People will bend over backwards to get success, no matter what the moral cost.

However, it must be said that Hollywood isn’t alone in this regard.  In every building block of society, those who get ahead are those who set aside whatever moral qualms they have in order to look out for number one.  Wall Street, politics, corporations, -- these are obvious examples.  But also hospitals, international relief organizations and churches are also filled with power plays, money moves and back room deals. 

Not everyone is like Griffin Mill.  But it only takes a small number of men like this to corrupt an organization or a society.  The problem is when a society supports and encourages such low approaches to life. 

Fun Fact: The Player is a lighthearted poking of Hollywood, and a number of Hollywood heavies agreed to make unpaid cameos, including Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Cher, Burt Reynolds and more than 60 others.  What I love most about the film are the many knowing hypocrisies within itself, where it speak of long tracking shots in the middle of a huge, complicated one, and about the wrong of unnecessary nudity, just before a topless woman rushes past.  I love such knowing pokes.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How is a Hero Broken (Lawrence of Arabia, 1962)

#20-- Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
This was my third viewing of Lawrence, the second this year.  I was glad to have it so fresh in my mind when finally having the opportunity to see it in IMAX yesterday.  It was already one of my favorite films, and while it's placement in my top 100 can only go up a bit (it's at #20 right now), this viewing certainly increases my appreciation of it.

There is certainly a benefit to seeing certain films writ large. A movie like My Dinner with Andre isn't important how you see it.  You want to watch it, not just listen-- it is a movie-- but the format isn't really important.  But a movie like Tree of Life, the format makes a bit of a difference.  Even with that, a blu-ray with a largish screen would do.  Not so Lawrence of Arabia.

Should it be seen this small?
 Last time I watched LoA, was on my laptop.  I can sit really close, but it still is not the same experience.  When a movie is almost four hours, you find that you want every scene to be justified.  When Lean spends minutes just looking at the desert, I wondered why he bothered to do this.  Why spend time on this?  I need to go to the bathroom.  A minute on a whirlwind.  Why?  I have better things to do.

With the full projection and the film restored after 50 years it all becomes clear.  We are supposed to love the desert like Lawrence does.  At the very least, we are to understand why he adores it so.  On a small screen it is difficult to understand, but on the large screen, the details display the beauty and the majesty of the desert that couldn't possibly be captured on my laptop.

Another thing that was astonishing to me is the use of empty space.  Here we have the largest screen made, and four fifths of it is filled with sky in many shots.  At the bottom of the screen is a sliver of desert or of a rising sun.  And it is amazing how well it works.  Almost an abstract piece that speaks to the heart of beauty although little is there.

*  *  *
I had a slightly different experience this time than previously.  The focus has always been for me see Lawrence as a leader.  A hero, yes, but a leader in general.  How all the pieces are there to make a perfect leader: charisma, arrogance, stepping into danger, trying what others say cannot be done, a love of other cultures, intelligence, moral strength, willpower and a broad education.  It is amazing and inspiring. 

This time, I noted especially the last third of the movie which speaks to the breaking of a leader.  Two of Lawrence’s great pillars of strength had to be broken—his arrogance and his willpower.  Eventually, put yourself in stressful situations and every human body will break—either the physical health or the mental health will go.  Lawrence was out on the edge so often that he had to break.  And the generals had to keep pushing him out there until his leadership was effected and he began making bad choices.  Great leaders burn out.

Lawrence of Arabia is a film that is an analysis of charismatic leadership, from the rise to the fall.  The film needed the length to present such a complex presentation, possibly the most thorough character analysis presented on film.  And O’Toole is perfect in every scene, constantly adding the small inventive touches that makes for a real character.  If Lawrence weren’t such a unique man, it would seem over-the-top, but he was, and it was all appropriate.

I have read a couple biographies of Lawrence, and I know that the Lean film is one simplistic interpretation of a life that has much that no one actually knows.  Much of what is in the film is guesswork.  But it is brilliant guesswork, and this film is the Lawrence that will be passed on through the ages.  He shall always be the brilliant glory-hound with bright blue eyes.  And so should it be.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Is the Average Life Art? (American Splendor, 2003)

#88-- American Splendor (2003)

Harvey Pekar is nobody special.  He works as a filer.  He has trouble with girls.  And with expressing himself.  He gets cancer.  Oh, and he writes comic books.  Not the dashing fantasy comic books we read as kids, or the edgy comic books we read as adults.  Rather, he writes about… himself.  His daily life.  His rants, his pet peeves, his failures, his (few) successes. 

Why would someone write about their own dull, everyday existence?  Well, it’s what Harvey knows.  And shouldn’t he have an outlet?  Shouldn’t he be able to express himself?  Isn’t that what millions of blogs on the internet provide?

And Harvey was moderately successful.  He’d never compete with Batman, but he didn’t do too badly.  And some consider his comics, especially the ones that he wrote with his wife about his struggle with cancer, to be art. 

And why shouldn’t they be?  In a sense, shouldn’t every life be made into a movie, or turned into a novel or made into a concept album?  Every life has its mysteries and it’s connection with the common person.  Every life is unique and the same. Every life has its moments of hilarity and of tragedy.   Every life has the potential of being powerful, communicate deep messages and being a moral tale.  If Harvey could take his life and turn it into art, then more power to him.  And why shouldn’t the rest of us?

Live art and turn that life into art you share with others.

Fun Fact: After the film was released, Harvey wrote another comic book called American Splendor: Our Movie Year.  Interesting follow up to the movie about how an average guy can get lost in the whirlwind that is movie marketing. 

Is Truth Worth The Pursuit? (Brick, 2005)

#89-- Brick (2005)

There is a fundamental truth found in all noir films: The pursuit of truth hurts.

It may hurt a person physically (The Maltese Falcon), or emotionally (Notorious) or morally (Double Indemnity), but it hurts.  Hurts like hell.  No one who is serious about truth should take the search lightly.  Because it causes pain.

Brenden is concerned about his friend Emily, who has turned up missing.  Finding out the truth about Emily is a hard pursuit and it leads to thugs and drugs and broken mugs (especially Brendens’).   It’s tough.  I wonder if Brenden ever wishes he never began this search.  He is so obsessed, perhaps he never considered it.  But he should have, because finding the truth always costs more than we ever thought we’d have to pay.  Sorkin’s phrase from A Few Good Men is true of all of us: We can’t handle the truth.

Because the truth is personal.  Always.  In the end, if we find the truth, we have to take a part of ourselves, our self-respect, our false hopes, our self-deception, and we have to leave it behind.  The real truth never leaves us whole.  At the end, when the truth is exposed, we find it isn’t the world or another person that is naked, broken and shamed.  It is ourselves.

Fun Fact: Brick is Rian Johnson's first directed film; his latest is the recently-released Looper. Johnson writes his own films and takes on a different genre with each film.  Brick is neo-noir, The Brothers Bloom is a con film, and Looper is a sci-fi time travel movie. All are awesome. 

Does a Relationship Ever Actually Change? (Certified Copy 2010)

#90-- Certified Copy (2010)

I have been married for (carry the one, twelve minus nine) 23 years, which is half of my life.  And when my wife and I married, and for the eight years before we were married, we were completely different people than we are now.  I was more stoic and aloof.  She was more carefree and had more energy.  There is much that we haven’t changed: we both still love books (we spent half of our first three months of marriage reading), we are both still introverts, I am still ambitious and she is still anti-ambitious.  But there still seems some fundamental things that have changed.

But have they really?  Are we really all that different?  The male and female protagonists of Certified Copy (Juliette Binoche, William Shimell) seem to make a radical change toward each other in the middle of the film.  Although no time has gone by, their relationship changes from courtship to married to several years.  The heat in their relationship increases.  But the issues in their relation remains the same.  They are fundamentally still the same people, with the same opinions, with the same attraction toward each other, and with the same anger at each other’s’ idiocy.   They are different people, and yet, over the years, their relationship remains oddly similar. (There are different interpretations of the film, but this is mine and I’m sticking to it.)

What if, no matter how long we lived together, we are continually rehearsing the same relationship joys and sorrows, again and again?  Perhaps each relationship is fated to be a loop, with the highs and lows repeated, with the same arguments.  Perhaps, in the worst as well as the best times, we need to re-consider our relationships before we commit to them.  Perhaps we need to ask these questions before our marriage, before our divorce: Can I live like this the rest of my life?  Can I live without this for the rest of my life?  I know for me, despite any hardships or desperate weaknesses in our relationship, I couldn’t imagine my life without her.  I can only hope she feels the same about me. 

Fun Fact: Certified Copy is a French film with a French actress, a British actor and an Iranian writer/director, Abbas Kiarostami.  Kiarostami also directed Iranian films, such as A Taste of Cherry which won the Cannes Palme D'Or of 1997.

Public Lawrence Announcment

Just to let everyone know, across the United States there will be showings of Lawrence of Arabia tomorrow.

In case you didn't know, I consider this one of the best films ever made, and I have only seen this Cinemascope film on the small screen.  I will be there.  If you want to see one of the greats in the way it should be seen, this may be your last opportunity.

One day: October 4.  Most theatres are showing it at 7pm.  If you want to find a theatre near you (if you are in the U.S.-- for others, sorry) check out this list from fathom events.