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Monday, December 25, 2006

Some movies change you completely

I talked briefly with my brother Leo today, who used to watch a lot of movies and had quite offbeat tastes (Terry Gilliam and such), and he mentioned that he doesn't have time to see movies anymore, so he just reads capsule reviews and watches previews and figures that, since he's seen so many movies in the past, he "gets" all the new movies that way (implying that every movie is derivitive of everything that's come before). Needless to say, my head almost exploded. We didn't get a chance to continue the conversation, but I did send him an email:

I'm a little shocked that someone with your artistic sensibilities
would be so dismissive of what I (and many others) consider to be an art
form. Sure, there's plenty of formulaic crap out there and I try hard not
to spend my time on it (though I must admit that I occasionally just want to see
them live happily ever after). But there's lots of movies that your system
won't work for - you haven't "seen" these movies because they were never made
before, and a capsule review and a 3 minute preview created by the marketing
department isn't going to give you that experience. To me, it's like
saying that you saw a photo of the Sistine Chapel in an art book, so why would
you bother going to Italy?

Now I'm well aware that I'm passionate about movies, certainly more than the average person, and I've thought about why that
is. I think it's a combination of the visual experience and the emotional
experience, and the movies that cater to that (for me) are the ones I try to
see. A movie like Gosford Park cannot be experienced by reading a capsule
review (I've watched it at least a half dozen times and I still cry every time
when she says at the end, "He'll never know me now.") American Beauty was
a film I thought was so gorgeous, it completely transcended it's subject
matter. I recently saw Capote on video, after seeing it in the theater
last year - it was so stunning, so beautiful - it's not just a narrative about
writing In Cold Blood - it's a visual work of art.

And there are performances that grace you with their presence. I know several people who thought The Interpreter was formulaic, but I thought Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn acted the shit out of their roles and they complimented me, as an audience member, by bringing it on. Sure, there are plenty of movies that do the
opposite - that insult you with how little effort they make to say anything
worth saying or performances that obviously can't be bothered. But on the
other hand, Lisa (my sister) told me that she cried for an hour after she saw
Brokeback Mountain -- you can't get that experience from reading a capsule review.
There are movies that you see, when you leave the theater, you're not the same
person you were when you went inside. There are movies and characters that
get inside your head and just won't leave (both Lisa and I dreamed about Ennis and Jack for several days after we saw the movie). There are performers and performances that reach inside your chest and squeeze your heart
in ways you didn't even know were possible. You can't see a movie like
or Igby Goes Down and walk away untouched.

I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I just felt the need to express a bit of outrage
at a glorious medium being trivialized in a way that I think is quite unfair. Sure, there are plenty of movies you can "know" without seeing them, but there are so many, too many to count, that defy neat description and certainly stand up, not only to your full attention, but repeated viewings as well - I'm sure there are people who've been to the Sistine Chapel more than once!



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