Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Wonders of the Film Experience

Film has been a love of mine since I first spent those Saturday mornings in the dark with a few hundred other kids in one of six movie theatres in the town where I grew up. It was dark, it was crowded and it was sometimes disappointing. I didn't really see the point in all those Broderick Crawford films and had no idea what film noire was. He was a guy in a cheap suit, a prizefighter's face and he was pushing people around. I'd seen lots of that in my neighborhood, so why would I spend my hard-earned money watching more of it?

Then there were the news reels that purported to give us the real story of what was happening in the world and I would later learn they were merely propaganda to fire us up about something. Often it was some war effort or the fight against polio or something else like the evils of drugs. Or we'd see a clip on the wonders of bananas.

Fortunately, or cleverly, depending on how you view it, there was a smattering of completely silly cartoons or Saturday serials that never seemed to be run in sequence. Before the coming of non-linear storyline, we had non-sequential serials. How my mind adapted I really didn't give much thought. Actually, I came to expect that the serials would be out of sequence and that was that. Lois Lane was always going to just have been saved from some dire situation and Clark Kent was going to have his true identify revealed yet again.

Along the way, I struggled through those frothy, all-singing, all-dancing films that brought changes in Technicolor epics and then the huge wide screen bonanza and even Todd-A-O. What did I know? Film was escape from a world that often was upsetting and, in summer, too hot to tolerate. The movies were the place to go even if you did freeze and had to bring a sweater.

And you had your pick because we had six of them right in our town within seven blocks or so of each other. One was less savory because it was really down on its heels.  That was the last one to consider. It was the Savoy and it was midway between one outlier and the other four. Of course, one was a movie palace built by the Loews chain and that one was the one we prized most of all. It was also the most expensive. But with plush seats, an incredibly ornate lobby with thick, thick carpeting and a huge gold fish pond, it was heaven for two hours. Even the entrance to the palace was the beginning of this magical journey.

The true love of film came in the 60s when I began to venture out in my car to foreign film houses around the area. It was an experience unlike any other. Films were not fun necessarily, but things that provoked discussion and showed creative possibilities of shot, editing, use of black-and-white or color and there was no singing and dancing. This was life on the medium-sized screen. The splashy CinemaScope or Todd-A-O (was that a real technology?) wasn't even a consideration here. It was storyline, not technology that was paramount and I loved it.

Today, I read a review of two similar film approaches to life; one is "Boyhood" and one the "Up" series. I enjoyed the exposition because I, too, have a feeling that "Boyhood" is a one-trick pony. Hanging on and filming a kid over a decade does not a story make necessarily. What does it prove? What is the purpose--that you can hang on, that the actors will willingly participate with you? Is it worthy of Oscar consideration? Sure, if you think that sticking to something for a long, long time to make a film is sufficient for this reward. I don't.

Perhaps I'm a film snob, I don't know and you may not agree with me. That's okay because film can't be something about which we totally agree but it should make for discussion. Discussion, however, is becoming increasingly rare in our snippet, staccato-instant-messaging culture and so nose-to-the-grindstone films may be coming our way, but I doubt it. How many years does any producer/director/actor have in their career? Martin Scorsese knows all about this and he's said so in interviews. Creativity isn't something that keeps oozing out like sap from a tree. But bad films can come on the heels of Oscar nominations or wins. Doesn't mean they're any good.

A slight departure here. Harper Lee, it's been noted, is having her second (albeit really her "first") novel published. I believe it was the original book she wrote which was then morphed via her editors into "To Kill a Mockingbird." Mockingbird is a wonderful example of one of those think-piece films I love. It's also one I believe needs to be left alone. I don't think we need a prequel or a sequel or any other quels.

But Lee has been nudged into publishing this latest "lost" manuscript and it will most definitely be turned into a movie. I don't think I want that to happen and this must sound like I'm putting myself into the Goddess of Films category. Can it burnish or tarnish the reputation she now enjoys? It's a thought that bothers me and I am also bothered by the fact that this elderly woman is probably being besought by money grubbers who want another good pay day. Maybe she only had one super book in her. So leave it at that.

Lee lives quietly and that's going to end if the book and film mavens have their way with her writing. Also, she won't have very much to say about it. J. D. Salinger knew about that road and his will made sure his material was protected. A bit too protected, I agree, but he knew how fragile reputation can be and how writing isn't always something you really want to share because the muse may not be smiling on that particular piece.

Back to the business of film. The Oscars are almost upon us and I do have my picks but I doubt if my Best Picture is going to win. No, I don't think I'll say which I liked because I think even the ones that are nominated may not truly be worthy of this kind of praise. The business isn't about the best but the most promoted and touted and it's a circus that cares not a bit about film really. Oh, there I go again. Well, I'm hopeless and I'm a dreamer and I live in hope for fine films in the future.

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