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.

Primer for Activists: John Carpenter's They Live

I wear my sunglasses at night.
This movie was made for activists, presenting the ideas of an extreme activist. I'm a moderate activist, myself, but I've spoken to the extreme folks and I get it. Here's the basic viewpoint: The United States is falling into poverty because of leaders who are taking resources and using them for nefarious purposes. They are paying off people who might whistleblow and so keeping them quiet. Meanwhile, your average person is on the edge of being homeless, pushed around by those in power, numbed by television and other forms of mass media which convince us all to consume and obey the powers.

Of course, since They Live is a science fiction story, the leaders are alien businessmen and you need a pair of special glasses to see what's really going on.

In one sense, They Live is a spoof of this viewpoint, and a comedy. Two guys spend almost ten minutes in a fistfight, trying to get one to put on a pair of sunglasses, after which they are the best of friends, walking around with bruises and puffy faces. I'm still laughing at the ridiculous of that scene.

On the other hand, the insidiousness of the paranoid scenario is scary, because it is partly true, and we know it. All I have to do is mention Dick Cheney or Edward Snowden and we know that there's something to it. That same fight scene touches something deep, because the man who won't put on the glasses knows that this new knowledge of the world will change him, place him and his family in danger, and so he desperately is resisting that insight. He has too much at stake.

But the knowledge is there, in the real world, and sometimes we can't avoid it. We will often stumble upon it, pursuing our own interests. I am involved in homelessness and I know that there are blocks to certain kinds of homeless folks ever succeeding to fit into society, even though they are doing nothing wrong. I also know that others are being paid hundred thousands of dollars a year to shuffle homeless people from one street corner to another, and to make it look as if they are really accomplishing something. I personally know pastors and churches who are professional level societies, who talk about justice and peace, but won't do anything about the beggars around their corner.

But I also know that this is nothing new. The issues of homelessness and of white trash are older than the discovery of America. I wish that we could blame our callousness and ignorance on aliens or the Illuminati coming to take our resources. But more often than not it is bureaucracy that stands in the way of relief. I wish that we couldn't see the messages, "Sex is success" or "conform" without a pair of glasses on every magazine. But it is all human, all coming out of our everyday natures. It is all easy to see, if we would but look. The ignorance is within ourselves, because, like Frank, we'd rather be secure than know. Because if we admitted that we really knew how evil our culture was, then we'd have to do something about it.

As far as the film itself, it is really well done, balancing the two sides of hinting at paranoid reality and laughing at the same point of view. There is but one problem: the lead actor. Roddy Piper as the lens through which we see this world is a very poor choice. He can't even rummage through a box of glasses believably, let alone give us a believable line reading. Never have I missed Kurt Russel more.