March 15, 2011

Place and Proportion

Isn't it funny that movies, sometimes more than anything, seem to 'place' us? We can feel very disconnected from so much of life--ironically so in a world that has become increasingly obsessed with superficial modes of connectivity. Yet movies have the power to transport us back to a time where we--naively--saw the world as idealistic and safe. People are always waxing on about the "good old days" when crimes never happened, unaware that the 24-hour news cycle has perpetuated the idea that crime and calamity are worse than ever.

Watching movies I love (or tolerate...or despise) with students is always interesting. Sometimes I'm surprised how much they respond to a movie. They loved Hitchcock's Rebecca, for instance. Despite all its "Gothic corn" (to quote Pauline Kael), that movie is so well-done, so darkly funny, that you can't help but like it, even respect its histrionics, maybe because Hitchcock was doing everything with a wink.

Alternately, my students were skeptical of My Fair Lady, and rightly so, because it's almost unwatchable. We had finished reading Pygmalion, and while I didn't exactly relish the idea of showing them My Fair Lady, it seemed like a worthwhile endeavor for the sake of comparison. It reminded me how disenchanted I've become with most Audrey Hepburn movies. I tried to re-watch Breakfast at Tiffany's and couldn't get through it. Sabrina seems boring now too. Only Charade has endured, because Charade doesn't try to elevate itself beyond its romantic thriller status. It just lets us sit back and enjoy its exuberant genre interplay. The students found it very entertaining, and Charade's sense of humor--so lacking in those others--energizes the movie and the audience. It has a much longer lifespan.

Right now we're watching All About Eve. I don't teach a film class, but I think movies are just as important as novels. After all, kids deliberately go to the movies. We might as well show them some of the "classics" for comparison. My supreme hope is that they will leave my classroom knowing that Twilight  and Inception and The Green Hornet are NOT all there is. But back to All About Eve, the dialogue in that movie is simply hysterical. As far as I'm concerned, Joseph L. Mankiewicz could win an Oscar every year for his screenplay, but I read once that the words wouldn't be as good, as funny, or as memorable, if they'd been said by anyone other than Bette Davis, George Sanders, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe, et al.

The 7th graders have been watching Singin' in the Rain. I love laughing with them at the humor in that movie. It's amazing to see a bunch of (mostly male) pre-teens cracking up to a 1950's musical. They are seeing something they would never choose to watch, and probably many of them didn't know it existed. But sometimes choice isn't as lofty or sanctified as we make it out to be. It's so creative and so full of energy, and not because of flashy editing but great acting/sing/dancing and the general hamming it up of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, and Jean Hagen.

But there are disturbing moments when I re-watch a movie I haven't seen in years and have a totally different reaction to it. Like Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I loved when I watched it some ten years ago. There are many others that have elicited almost totally opposite reactions. I hated The Graduate when I first saw it, then loved it a few years later when I watched it in college. I hated The Exorcist, now I find it fascinating--probably because of all the spiritual threads running through it. (The priest is struggling with doubt, and I can relate more than I could some years ago). So, sometimes, movies displace us, when we watch them with the assumption that we'll get the same experience as before, as though experience were a commodity (which, in Western culture, it kinda is, or so we believe). Instead, however, this unpredictable thing happens where we react differently. And we wonder which reaction is trustworthy or real. We worry when our sacred cows (the movies we will defend to the death) do not entertain us as much or we suddenly see through their holes more clearly and feel compelled to defend them even more vociferously for fear that they will be pulled out from under us. And the things that made us laugh, cry and shrink in horror are apparently fluid. It's like watching Saved by the Bell as an adult and realizing how inane the humor is.

1 comment:

Li said...

Good post! I'd be interested to see what other movies you would consider showing to a class.

Also, just a comment on "unaware that the 24-hour news cycle has perpetuated the idea that crime and calamity are worse than ever". Too true. Too many people I know insist that "the good old days" are gone. It drives me nuts. The good old days aren't gone, you just think they are because all you do is watch 24-hour news and refuse to acknowledge what happened in the past. OK. I'm done.

Again, good post! :)