Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why I Love Movies

Michael is spending his afterlife in this theatre.
Must be the popcorn.
Movies are central to my life.  On average, I participate in about two hours of movie-watching daily.  That’s more than seven hundred hours a year.  If I keep this pace up I might chalk up perhaps 35,000 hours in my adult life. Some would say that as a pastor, or a Christian, movies shouldn’t take such a large part of my existence.  I should spend that time in prayer, perhaps or Bible reading.  I don’t know, perhaps I should.  But I spend my life living with and working with people who deal with tragedy on an everyday basis, so I figure I’m deserved a break at times. 

I have a friend of mine who looks at my bookshelf every once in a while and aloud wonders at the large amount of fiction books, as if there is a problem with good Christians reading fiction.  Some people have the same idea about movies, as if they are a “waste of time” and unworthy of a productive life.  Well, I lead what I consider to be a pretty productive life, and movies play their part in that.  Below are some reasons why. 

I think that my wife might exchange the word “books” for my word “movies”.  And I think that any form of art might be able to take the place of movies in my life, if they were as integral.  So feel free to  put “music” “fiction” “poetry” “art” or whatever else connects to you in place of my focus on movies.   Just one other thing: I’ll be speaking specifically about watching DVDs at home, because I rarely get out to the theatre.

Tell your boyfriend goodbye!
Because I need a break from life
I’m a busy guy.  I know this because everyone tells me I am.  And I know this because after a day of working, I am exhausted, ready to collapse.  As an introvert, I need to take a break from people and their demands, just to recharge.  Watching a film allows me to be passive while my mind is active.  It allows me to interact with two-dimensional beings on my own terms.  I can decide if they will make me laugh or sad.  I can decide if I’ve had enough of them and just need a break for a moment.  I can turn down the volume if they are too loud, and freeze them if I need to use the restroom or get something to eat.  For a few moments, I’m in control of my surroundings. 

This may make me sound like a power-hungry control freak.  But it is because I feel so out of control for most of my life that I feel I need an arena in which I can control.  People think I am in charge of a lot, but actually I see a reality that is best for others, and strive to reach that reality.  I live most of my life trying to meet people’s needs and to meet their expectations.  When it’s just me and a movie, then I can meet my own needs for a bit, and these two dimensional beings act for my benefit.  This doesn’t mean they always do what I want, not at all.  And that’s part of the joyful surprise.

Kubrick, to what horror-filled place did you send me?
Because I want to expand my experiences
In 1983, before Christopher Walken was only playing scary guys, he starred in a B-grade sci-fi called Brainstorm.  The idea of the film was a technology was developed in which one can “videotape” experiences, tapping one’s experience in the mind and placing that full experience into another person’s brain.  Someone could learn piano this way, or experience a roller coaster or re-live someone else’s tragedy. 

To a lesser degree, this is what movies are like.  Saving Private Ryan, in the twenty minute D-Day scene, gave non-combatants a sense of what the constant danger of a battle means.   Ordet allows us a glimpse of what the disciples experienced of Jesus’ passion (more so than the over-brutal Passion of the Christ).  Amadeus helps us view Mozart’s music through one who truly loves and hates it.  At times movies give us an opportunity to empathize with those we might never want to, like The Godfather or Citizen Kane, but we obtain a new perspective on humanity as a whole by experiencing these lives.

A life with art expands our experiences to accomplish what we will never do ourselves.  Art can help us climb Everest, can walk us through Dante’s Inferno, can help us empathize with an evildoer and can give us a sense of being a saint.   Without art, we will be limited to just who we are, without being anyone else, which leaves us poorer human beings.

Because I need an outlet for my emotions
My job pretty much is that of a social worker.  I listen to stories of tragedy all day long and my task is to solve problems, erase difficulties, point toward solutions.  All too often I hear the worst of tales and there is nothing I can do… nothing anyone can do.  Yet it is my role to remain stoic, to be calm and not to worsen their own fate by causing it to be more dramatic than they can handle.  I am level-headed, looking for help.  I make sure they know I take their problems seriously, but I am a solver, not an emoter.  Meanwhile, I pack this tragedy into my heart, stuffing it with the hundreds, thousands of stories that I have heard.  They are all packed in there so tightly, that they are in danger of bursting out, often in frustration or anger.  Frustration that there is nothing to be done.  Anger because I feel overburdened with tragedy, not a single one of my making.

I know of a mental health organization where each social worker is required to see a therapist monthly, to process the stories they obtain from their clients.  That’s a great idea, but not everyone can afford this, or have employers who can afford this.  My therapy is film.  Occasionally, the right time and the right film meet and I am able to release my pent-up emotions.  I wept watching Wendy and Lucy, tears streamed down my fact at Joyeux Noel, and I openly sobbed at the musical of Les Miserables.  I didn’t used to cry at films, but now I look for the opportunity.  Life for many is tragic, and we all need an opportunity to let it go.

Of course, some ideas are better to never have heard...
Because I want to learn new ideas
Along with expanding my experiential horizon, movies can help me do what I most enjoy: explore new concepts.  I am a concept junkie.  I love seeing things from a new perspective, opening up doors in my brain that I have never explored before.  Books like Thinking Fast and Slow are like a whole bundle of Christmas presents, each chapter exploring a new, shiny bauble for me to play with and examine. 

Even so, certain films open up my mind to ideas never realized.  The Mission (1986) introduced pacifism and fighting for justice from a Christian perspective to me.  The idea of mercy as being the foundation of the universe is explored by Tree of Life.  The idea of growth through discipline and adversity is explored by Groundhog Day.  Many of my favorite films not only give me compelling characters and entertain me, but also create new thoughts, which I can use later in my life.

Jack and I are feelin' good
Because I need an emotional uplift
I am of a melancholic nature.  I’m more comfortable with the sad story than the happy one.  I expect life to be unhappy, and thus far life hasn’t disappointed me.  But I can get to an emotional state in which I am no longer able to play well with others.  I can be moody, withdrawn or sullen.  It used to be when I got in that kind of mood, I would bask in depressing music and wallow in my dark mood. 

This doesn’t work so well for a marriage, I found.  My wife never understood my dark moods, and my children just simply ignored them, running over them roughshod.  As my responsibilities grew, I found that I wasn’t allowed the luxury of melancholia.  So I sought an out, and movies and television provided me an opportunity.

If I need a cheerful (but sarcastic) disposition, then I can watch a couple episodes of Gilmore Girls and I laugh myself into a better mood.  If I need a burst of energy, I can watch Die Hard or a Star Wars film.  If I need to be productive and fast-paced, an episode or two of West Wing does the trick.  Film provides a mood changer, providing both a setting and characters for me to conform to.

There's a limit to how deep I want my experiences to go
Because I want to learn about modern cultures most powerful art form
The world is a complex place.  It always was, and always will be.  Art gives us an opportunity to explore the vastness of the world and of the universe, both in its reality and its possibilities.  The worst of art only tells us what we already know, enforcing our preconceptions.  The best of art opens up old worlds that we never knew existed, and new minds that sees the world in a way we could never perceive without art. 

Film is not the newest art form but, along with novels, it is the deepest experience.   When watching Gravity, we might experience floating in space.  When watching Rabbit Proof Fence, we not only learn about a period of history we might not know about, but from a perspective that we would never read about outside of fiction.  Through film we can be surrounded by a world, step into it and observe it, feel it and know what it means to be a character in that world. 

Someday perhaps a virtual reality might give us that kind of experience.  But right now, in this era, it is the time of movies.  In a matter of an hour and a half, we can live a life we have never dreamed of in an area of the world we may have never thought of before.  Yes, often we are simply riding the rails inside of a couple artists’ minds, but when we have a remarkable artist, isn’t it worth it? 

Because of movies, I find that I am a richer, more complex person.  I am more stable and (if I don’t keep talking about movies all the time) more interesting.  Movies take the ins and outs of my everyday experience and allows me to see the sparkle in the humdrum, the significance of the mundane.  I laugh at what others do not see and understand the sorrow that no one sees.

That’s what’s so great about film. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Below the Surface: Blow Up

Blow Up (1966)

The thriller is not the thing. If we focused on the "mystery" of this film, then we would miss perhaps 80 percent of the film.  I'm going to describe a scene, and it won't spoil the film, even though the scene is in the final quarter of the film.

Our protagonist is looking for his friend, Ron.  He goes to a music venue where the Yardbirds are playing (and they are playing so well).  There is static on Jeff Beck's speaker and he's really irritated at it, so he keeps hitting it with his guitar.  Finally, he breaks his guitar on the speaker, throws the instrument down and smashes it with his foot.  Then he takes the fretboard and throws it into the crowd who goes wild, trying to grab the broken piece of the guitar.  Our protagonist doesn't care about the Yardbirds, but he goes after the fretboard and captures it, running out of the club.  A couple fans run after him, hoping to capture the broken piece, but he outruns them.  Finally, after the chase, he tosses the fretboard aside.  Another man sees the debris, picks it up for a second and then tosses it back on the ground.

The film is about value.  The broken piece of guitar has no value in and of itself, it is because it is associated with Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds that it has any value at all, and only to those who value the band.  To a person on the street, it is a piece of garbage.

Even so, the film is about human value.  We see the protagonist take pictures of women and deal with them all day long, but he only sees their surface.  They have no value to him, because he doesn't see them as whole people, only bodies without souls.  The point of the mystery is that his photography finally leads him to see human value-- the act of looking close at the surface allows him to see what is below the surface.  The final scene indicates to us that he finally able to see what cannot be seen by only looking at the surface-- human value.

Great art, and an interesting character arc.  I'd be interested to see the character a year from this time to see if this insight changed him at all. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Struggling with the Void: The Hours

The Hours is a film of three stories about three women all living a form of the life of Mrs. Dalloway, the lauded novel by Virginia Woolf.  The first story is that of the author herself played by a gaunt, frail Nichole Kidman.  She uses the novel to struggle with her inner demons, to which she eventually subcumbs (as we see in the first scene of the film).

Then there is Mrs. Brown, a housewife in the 50s, masterfully played by Julianne Moore. She has the perfect life, the perfect husband, the perfect, beautiful son, yet she is inadequate for this very life she is living.  The third woman is Clarissa, played by Meryl Streep, a book editor who struggles to keep her dear friend, poet and ex-lover involved as he struggles with AIDS.

The brilliance of this film is the weaving of these three stories into one coherent whole about life and happiness and relationship.  This is cinematic literature, depth in film at its finest, even if it wears its literariness on its sleeve.  The film is held strong by its amazing cast, including John C Riley and Ed Harris, who take the great ideas and encapsulates them into a reality that touches us and breathes.  Even the editing is top-notch, clearly spelling out a narrative that could easily be confusing for frustrating, but never is.

One of the greatest aspects of the film are the touchstones of themes in the story.  There is a desperate kiss in each story, each protagonist collects flowers to maintain a semblance of normalcy, and they all have an individual that keeps them alive and breathing, often out of duty.  The deeper we look into this film, the richer we find it.

*  *  *

Is the purpose of life happiness?

Happiness is so fleeting and life continues long after happiness has passed.  A life might be spent pursuing happiness, but that goal might be too lofty to be achieved, yet does that make the life any less meaningful?  Certainly life must have a certain level of contentment, a low level of happiness, a sense that "yes, this is the direction things should be going in."  We must have a satisfaction with who we are, what we do, lest we perpetually be in transition.  At the very least, we must hope that who we are will eventually be enough to satisfy ourselves.

But what if we have obtained happiness, all the things that we have reached for we finally achieve, all the hope realized and then, mysteriously, we are still not content? Some might say we are ungrateful, but the inner emptiness has noting to do with appreciation.  We can be amazed and thankful of how far we have come, but it simply isn't enough.  Perhaps the goals we achieved were wrong headed to begin with, or perhaps our emptiness will never be filled.  We don't know.  And the ache becomes more and more unbearable.

To obtain contentment, we must have peace both in our environment and in our hearts.  To claim that one or the other kind of peace is all that is necessary leads to despair, causing one to fall in the personal void of discontent.

Struggling with this void comes naturally to those who have no control over their own life decisions. Their lives are taken out of their hands and their happiness and contentment is determined by those who only see a shadow of their deeper selves.  There may be fleeting glimpses of bliss, or the opportunity to build the life of another, but this is inadequate to avoid despair over the long haul. When we have no say in our own lives, the natural result of this is discontentment.  The vulnerable life is the despairing one.

Perhaps contentment is essential, but if we see the basis of life as our own personal happiness, that would deepen the discontentment, because it can never be ultimately achieved.  But what else is there?  Compassion?  Building society through family or other means?  This is the core of our being, and we must discover it for ourselves.  In the end, the determination of what gives our life purpose is a solitary determination.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The World's End: A Poetic Meditation

Glory to the crude!

All praise to the crass!

The very gentle capers

When passed through our nature

Becomes crap!

Sans humus we are not human.

May the lowly be raised!

Omnipotence to chaos!

The Boxtrolls: A Poetic Meditation

"My fear is greater than your fear

for to support my terror I

have automatic ammunition

at such speeds that cannot be seen.

I have clubs and armors.

I have motors and missiles and mortars.

What have you?

Barely a toothpick to poke me with?

Your fear is but a paltry thing--

mine is the greater concern

that you must acquiesce to

as I crush you beneath my boot.

I must control and destroy your little life

for you inconvenience my comfort."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Beauty of Ida

Some of the themes have been explored before: a young woman discovering herself (e.g. Blue is the Warmest Color), guilt and revelation about the Holocaust (e.g. Dekalog 8), a woman forced to seek herself before entering a convent (Viridiana). But never have these themes been executed with such beauty and composition.  Every scene is expertly posed, I would want a still from every one on my wall. 

Ida herself is almost a still-- completely passive, doing as other's recommend and command.  She is quiet, meek and serene, even in the face of startling revelations and great life moments.  Until the very last scene where she is striding, almost running, toward the only decision we see her make: how she will spend her life.  In a way that stands against modern sensibilities, this is a film about independence in its freest sense.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

John Donne Meets the Tortures of Cancer: Wit (2001)

Christian theology screws a lot of people up. At this point, this is a truism, but it is partly true because people do not understand the basic, everyday terms of the original idea. Take "salvation" for instance. The original idea of "salvation" isn't spiritual or other-worldly at all, but it means moving from a state of need to a state of the satisfaction of need, from starvation to being filled, from neglect to honor, from sickness to a state of wellness. When we spiritualize the simple, then we complicate that which is very basic, and turn what we understood at our mother's knee into a state of confusion and anxiety.

Poor John Donne. When observing the sufferings of Professor Vivian Bearing, the "treatment" which is no such thing, we observe the flayings of Donne upon his soul who wishes to be forgotten by God, because he cannot bear under the sight of a God whose vision is so cruel as to judge that which cannot change.

If lecherous goats, if serpents envious
Cannot be damn'd, alas, why should I be?

This is not unlike the sufferings of Vivian, but while Donne spiritualized his sufferings, imagining the loving Mother who seeks him no matter how much he might hide as a horrible abusive monster, even so Vivian doubts that compassion and touch and a simple act of kindness could be a greater balm than the deepest understanding of the medical profession. How we complicate that which is quite simple, really, and then find ourselves of need to walk through a morass of maze-like corridors to come back to that which we learned at our mother's knee.

But that doesn't speak to Emma Thompson at all. Suffice it to say, I could listen to her speak all day. The fact that she is reading some of the greatest lines ever written, just causes me to close my eyes and bask in the delightful lyrics. But only briefly, because she is like Dryer's Joan of Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc), beautifully deformed by her anguish.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Chatting with my Bud, Darren Aronofsky about Noah

I called up my bud Darren Aronofsky last year and said, "So you're going to release a biblical epic this year, huh?  Which one?"


"Okay, I can see this working.  Will this be an imaginative interpretation of it?"

"Oh yeah. Lots of innovation."

"Well, that's good because every culture has had a reinterpretation of the flood story. We need a new one."

"Well, it's new-ish."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's pretty strongly based on the Bible story.  Highly interpreted, but still from the Bible."

"Well, there's some great themes there.  And you're interpreting it for modern audiences?"

"Absolutely.  With a strong environmental message.  The animals are innocent so they get saved, but humanity is judged because they kill animals."

"So... it's a vegetarian message?"


"So you say.  We'll see.  Still sounds interesting.  What about the racial slant, you're getting rid of that, right?"

"Racial?  What do you mean?"

"You know, the part where one race is good and another race is bad and we have to get rid of the bad race?"

"Oh, uh, well, I kept that bit."


"Well, it kinda drives the plot."

"At least you made Noah a pacifist, right?"

"What do you mean, pacifist?"

"Well, in the text the world was wicked because they were murdering each other without consideration.  Noah, in context, was righteous because he didn't kill anyone.  He refused to judge."

"Huh.  I didn't read that."

"So, you didn't make him a pacifist?"

"Not exactly..."

"You had Noah kill?"

"A little bit.  I mean, what do you expect?  It's Russell Crowe!  It's in the contract-- someone has to be killed! By Russell!"

*shakes head*

"Hey, but I got giant rock monsters in there!  That's good, right? And Jennifer Connelly really knocks it out of the park.  Every one of the dozen lines she and Emma Watson speak are perfect."

"I'll watch it on DVD."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Three Acts of The Deer Hunter

Yes, it is long. Three hours long. But it is neatly segmented into three distinct acts, with clear divides between them, so it is not much of a burden to watch.

Act One: The Wedding
It is amazing that he spends a full hour setting up characters and setting, without much going on. It reminds me of Dazed and Confused without the nostalgia, or perhaps the first segment of Fanny and Alexander. We are watching our main characters and most of our supporting characters in their everyday life, over a single 24 hour period. The wedding is central, but it isn't the only event, and it arguably isn't the most important event. What stuns me about this segment is the detail. Every bit of every frame is used, and filled with details. This is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen or else you couldn't possibly see it all.

Act Two: War
As rambling as the first act was, so this act is direct and fast paced. The minutes fly as the action keeps us attentive. It is brutal, but after so many war films we are almost used to that, but what amazes me is the repetition. The "game" is repeated countless times in this film, but the intensity is never less. I can understand how one might be addicted to the game, even perhaps playing the game. The danger, once one is used to the level of stress, draws one to it's inevitable tragedy. The various reactions to it feel very true to life. And once we think about it, we realize that war itself is just a version of the game, whether one is a revolutionary or a defender or an invader or a defender. It is an act of suicide through which one intends to harm one's enemy.

Act Three: Home  (Spoilers below)
By this time we realize that setting is everything in this film, and the points are left to the end. You can't step in the same river twice. Community changes as the goal of community are met. Life's a bitch and then you die. Tragedy changes everyone, even those who haven't experienced it. Suffering isn't always for good. And any number of other cliches. Yet watching it, we see that when people are living it out, these life lessons cannot be reduced to a cliche. By this time, these are real people and we can't just dismiss them or their experiences. All the characters are caught in a catch-22, unable to live and unable not to live.

Certainly some brilliance there, especially in the cinematography and direction. It's one of the few times I can say that I saw a movie with Meryl Streep and she wasn't the best thing about the film. It is big and sweeping and somewhat tragic and, probably unforgettable. A great achievement. Epic.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Madness of Sorcerer (1977)

It is one of my wife's pastimes to play Sims on the computer while I watch a film on the other side of the room with headphones in. She knows when a film is really good because I can't keep quiet. I'll moan or talk to the characters or gasp, and she sits there and smiles. When I watched Sorcerer, she had a full evening's entertainment, without ever hearing a single line of dialogue. I was especially noisy that night.

I honestly think that William Friedkin of the 70s is one of the greatest storytellers of cinema. The French Connection, The Exorcist, and Sorcerer are three of the best told stories we have. In Sorcerer, we are thrown immediately into the action in Jerusalem where a bombing occurs. Then in Paris, where an executive is threatened with jail. Then in New York where heist goes all wrong. And these disparate stories are not only captivating, but they introduce us to the world through the film's eyes-- desperate and without hope. Every time hope emerges, there is another dousing of ice cold water to bring us back to this reality. This doesn't mean the film is always dark, but we can understand the motivation behind the characters because desperation leads to extreme choices.

And the film is extreme. To a degree that a kind of madness took over even during the making of the film, where William Friedkin, looking back, regrets putting his actors in an extremely dangerous situation to film the famous bridge scene. And the insanity comes through. By the end of the film, I was desperate myself and the ending had me throwing up my hands, exclaiming. Which amused my wife to no end.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Everyday Rebel Without a Cause

Mic Eddy is a homeless, with red hair and pale skin and an outgoing disposition. He's in his twenties, and has obtained and lost some jobs, but he doesn't care about that. What tears him apart is the lack of respect that he experiences daily, because, frankly, everybody dislikes him. He acts like a child, gets in people's faces, destroys property without thinking. He does this because he must have attention and if he can't get positive attention, he'll get whatever attention he can. He drinks so that the negativity that surrounds him doesn't bother him. Honestly, he's a friendly, gregarious, fun-loving person. But he is caught in a cycle of doing all the can to obtain respect, but losing it with every outgoing step he makes.

I thought about Mic throughout this whole film. The film is focused on the relationship between disheartened teens and their broken parents, but deeper it has to do with honor and what one would do to obtain honor. And what one lives with when honor isn't available, or at least the kind of honor that really matters.

There are a number of weaknesses to the film, not the least of which that I recognize a couple actors from later television sitcoms (although I recognize that isn't their fault-- actors gotta work. But every time I see James Dean's father I see Hurston Howell III, and wonder if Dean's character isn't called Jim Howell...). Occasionally the actors are playing out a silly set of lines, or a shot looks too obvious or purposely pretentious. The fact that all the movement and emotional changes happen within a 36 hour period is a bit too fast.

But when this movie works, it is tremendous. The game of "chicken" is bursting with cinematic power. James Dean is perfect, innovative, hard to take my eyes off of him. The movie captures my attention and doesn't let go. Despite its shortcomings, I can see why this is counted among one of the greats of cinema history and deserves its lofty reputation.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon for Peace

How to Train Your Dragon
This is perhaps the third or fourth viewing of this film, in preparation of watching the sequel.  And it is as fresh and funny as when I first saw it.

As silly and fanciful as the world is, the characters of Hiccup, his father, and Astrid are excellent characters, better than the majority of characters in any comedy, let alone a children's film.  While it deals with the common themes of a child/parent relationship and a late bloomer, these are not the focused themes of the film.  It is about choosing peace with one's enemies instead of warfare and how it works far better than persisting enmity.

Many of us live in a nation that thrives on enmity, and all parts of the nation must persist in fearmongering and pinpointing who we should hate next in order to have unity.  When an enemy outside the nation isn't clear, then we must target enemies inside the country to be our target.  If we did not have hatred, it would seem, we would have nothing.  In the end, How to Train Your Dragon isn't a film pointed at children at all, but it is a message about welcoming diversity and working together with one's enemies against one's hatred.  It demonstrates that as powerful as the weapons and strategies of war seem to work, the most effective tools for peace are the tools of peace. 

It is easy for parents to dismiss this message because of the context of the film-- it is a highly entertaining comedy (I am chucking right now at the perfectly delivered line, "Thanks for nothing you useless reptile"), and it is a children's film.  But someday I hope that this film along with others will be pointed at as indicating a turning point that is to come, when we realize that creating peace has to do with understanding instead of greater firepower.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
This is one of those rare sequels that plunges into new territory, rather than simply rehashing what made the original film wonderful and popular.  Not only do we go to new lands and explore new storylines, but even the characters of the first film reflect the growth of five years.  There is a shadow of the familiar characters, but they aren’t the same, as if we were meeting our old friends at a high school reunion.

That is the glory of this follow up.  We have no idea where this film will go because it is so new.  Hiccup is different, as is Astrid.  The town, of course, must be different, but we spend very little time there, even as Hiccup himself is determined to explore the broader world with Toothless, his best companion.  This film has fewer laughs, but we hardly notice as it has more action and higher stakes.  And it has it’s first bad guy—Drago, who is both evil and vulnerable.  Everything is so fresh, so powerful, so quick that we don’t even have much time to feel.

This film also continues the theme about enemies and violence.  We see the source of Hiccup’s ability to be a peacemaker, and that impulse is affirmed.  In this film, as opposed to the first, the peacemaking tendency is balanced with the need to protect and, ultimately, with the need to vanquish an enemy who won’t recognize and actually threatens the peace. 

As a storyline, there’s not much to complain about.  As a philosophy, I am disappointed.  All the ideals of the first film—seeing the enemy as more than enmity, meeting the fear with provision of need—is undermined by the second film.  Drago is presented as a man who pursues violence because of fear... those fears could have been met.  But instead Drago was too much of a threat and had to be eliminated. These two points of view could be seen as a balance—a time for peace, a time for war—but in a week in which a victimized nation turns around and victimizes another nation because they “have to protect your own”, it seems clear that the two philosophies can’t work.

Enemies are truly vanquished through love and sacrificed, not war and destruction.  I am so glad to see Toothless and Hiccup come into their own in this second film.  But if I were to make another sequel, it would show how the demand of protection destroys other islands around them, simply because they didn’t belong. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Perfection In Depicting the Evil in All of Us: Schindler's List

I have a short list of films, including Rear Window, Citizen Kane and The Godfather which I consider "perfect." There is not a frame out of place, not a sour note, not a dull moment. In these films, the great directors were at the top of their powers and they created their master pieces, that which we could all point to, which declare their greatness.

I will have to include Schindler's List in that short canon of films.

I feel, at times, that I am Schindler. The man whose motivation is questionable, but whose compassion and humanity grows through time and relationship and crisis. He who had to be led by the hand to mercy, but in the end weeps because he has not done enough.

There are Schindlers in every age, every era, stumbling upon a small way out of the horrors of prejudice and dehumanization. This film is not just about a moment in history, but about every moment. A call to sacrifice for those who die around us.

* * *

At this point I need to apologize to Liam Neeson for my "Rule of Liam Neeson", which goes, "An excellent actor, in order to obtain the maximum praise, must choose films in which he is the best aspect of the film."  Clearly, Schindler's List does not fit that restriction, despite the fact that The Phantom Menace, Taken, Les Miserables (1998), Clash of the Titans, Non-Stop, and many other films he starred in do qualify.  

- It is interesting to note that a film about the real life Schindler has been talked about since 1951 when Poldek Pfefferberg spoke to Fritz Lang about the possibility.  Poldek finally enouraged Thomas Keneally to write the novel on which this film was based.

-Spielberg didn't take a fee for this filming, feeling that if he did it would be "blood money".

-Auschwitz scenes were only filmed outside the gates, not inside, out of respect for the dead.