Sunday, September 14, 2008

My answer to the assignment

Here are my thoughts on the newest assignment. (The Friday class received the assignment, but the other class hasn't yet.)

Thinking back to your childhood, detail any key emotional or personal experiences you've had watching movies.

I believe the first movie I saw was Batman, a full-length feature with the actors from the television show. I must have seen it when I was four or five years old. I recall how startling the colors were--we had only a black and white television at home. Both the vivid, too-bright colors and the startling size of the people troubled me. The film was too much. When Batman ran around with a bomb, desperately looking for a place to drop it, I felt anxious, not amused.

* * *

Saturday afternoons, I watched horror and science fiction films on two UHF stations from Philadelphia. One program was called "Dr. Shock's Mystery Horror Theater." The good doctor, dressed like Dracula, emerged from a coffin into his laboratory and proceeded to introduce--and interrupt--the weekly films. I found that I loved to be scared. I loved the British movies, with the interesting accents and the foggy outdoor scenes. I couldn't judge the movies at all. I just sat on the floor in front of the television and stared.

* * *

My home town had one theater, an old brick building with a popcorn counter that faced you as you entered the doors to the lobby. Often, it showed second-run features. In my high school years, they showed special films in the evenings: the classic horror films of the 1930s; and W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and Marx Brothers comedies.
I'd first seen the Marx Brothers on "the late show" on television one summer; my parents had let me stay up very late to watch A Night at the Opera. I was amused and puzzled. I didn't understand why the characters broke into song. I couldn't understand their relationship to one another. Why did Harpo not speak? These guys were brothers? Half the jokes were based on 1930s culture. But it was compelling, and so when the Newtown Theater showed their movies on summer evenings, I went, by myself.

Perhaps those evenings are still with me less because of the films, with their strange humor and their lack of color, than because of the walks home in the mild summer air. Nostalgia for a time long before I was born was somehow mixed up with nostalgia for the town in which I lived and which I could not imagine leaving.

* * *

Two college friends, guys who were a year younger (and who are my friends to this day), took on the job of running the weekly film night in my dorm. Both were students in the radio-television-film program. A company mailed film reels to them, 16 mm, and they threaded the movies into the machines and we watched them in the dorm's common room, where we held weekly wine-and-cheese parties with professors, occasional dances, and talks from visiting speakers.
The night that most hit me was the showing of Klute, a mystery whose villain is revealed almost immediately. The film was compelling, visually interesting, and the acting seemed almost dangerous. Every scene was fraught with anxiety, but very little actually happens in the movie.
When it was over, my friends and I talked about the movie, and they suggested we watch it again up in one of our rooms. We did, discussing how the film worked, marveling at the symbolism in the images, and rethinking the film's point and focus. That's when I saw you could sit and analyze a film and enjoy it even more. You could turn it around in your head and reinterpret what it meant. You could be both entertained and challenged.


aFigureOfSpeech said...

Okay, so I've written the assignment, but every single thing I came up with was a Disney movie. It's weird; I just could not come up with more of a variety that also had some sort of significant memory for me. I hope that's okay...

I had fun with the assignment though. Just writing it kind of made me smile, for remembering. I actually like what I wrote. :)


WmPreston said...

ALL DISNEY?! . . . So, the Mouse has won after all.

Seriously, Disney has been a cultural force for three quarters of a century, sometimes pushing live cinema to meet its standards.

And I'm glad you enjoyed the assignment. I want people to truly reflect on the influence film has had on them and continues to exercise over their perceptions.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Um after talking to you about plot holes from various movies, I thought I would send you this.

-Molly G

WmPreston said...

The most shocking discovery on your post is that . . . CRACKED has a web site?! I didn't know they still existed.

Thanks for the link.

The Sixth Sense is notable, I think, less for what we call "plot holes," something the writer didn't think to take care of, but for a more broad inconsistency with the "rules" the film sets forth. (For the record, I figured out the movie five minutes in, because, well, the guy had had a giant wound and now he didn't; duh.) The movie has lots of internal logic problems, but the desperation with which "Night" throws elements at the screen in order to shock us without any consideration about whether they fit his schema is either intellectual laziness or just general non-brightness on his part. (Or a combination of anti-virtues. I'm willing to be broad-minded when considering that writer/director's weaknesses.) Most dead people remain where they died. But then (Bruce Willis's character aside) the girl who's been killed by her mother actually comes in search of our main character. What are the rules? Who does he see and why? It's all terribly sloppy.