Below are my answers to some of the questions on your homework assignment. Don't forget to mark up your assigned readings for comments and questions.
Do you ever watch just part of a film, and under what conditions?
If I’m flipping around on television, I might watch a few minutes of a cheesy action picture. We only get a few stations, so I don’t tend to stumble across great movies when doing this. I get a good laugh out of watch portly Steven Segal use his martial arts skills on bigoted toughs, and it’s kind of cool to see Jean-Claude Van Damme kick butt on evildoers harassing an innocent woman.
List three films you’ve enjoyed. You may have seen them once, many times, or they may be the kind of film that, no matter what else is happening, if it’s playing on television, you have to stop and watch. These can be films you enjoyed when you were a child; they don’t have to be recent. For each film, say a little about why you liked it.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Funniest movie ever. The thing I think I loved right away when I saw it, which was on television when I was in high school, was how the dialogue could be both silly and smart at the same time.
The movie manages to make science look exciting and action-packed, the special effects are beautiful, and Jodie Foster is just so interesting to watch. For all the obvious elements of the plot and annoying bits of directing, the film pulls me in because of the relationships surrounding the conflicted, smart character that Foster plays.
Certainly I’m pulled in by the time-travel idea. It shares, with Contact, that notion of communicating across a distance (both main characters operate ham radios) with a loved one. The plot goes a bit crazy at the end, but if you buy into the logic early on, it makes a kind of goofy sense. Jim Caviezel’s emotional performance appeals to me as well.
Name one film you’ve disliked. (Perhaps you didn’t even finish watching it.) What did you dislike about it?
The Sixth Sense
I figured out the movie’s “trick” right after its first scene. I couldn’t believe how obvious it was, and sat through the rest of the movie hoping I was wrong. I wasn’t, so the big surprise not only wasn’t a surprise, it seemed poorly revealed. In addition, the plot didn’t even follow its own rules for what the characters were capable of (this would also happen in Shyamalian’s next movie, Unbreakable, which was somehow both more moronic but more interesting).
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.
List any reading you did over the summer that wasn’t part of a school assignment.
Norwood, Charles Portis
stories from Love and Hydrogen, Jim Shepherd
Death with Interruptions, José Saramago
Far Bright Star, Robert Olmstead
The City & The City, China Miéville
stories from Aye, and Gamorrah, Samuel R. Delany
Nova, Samuel R. Delany
Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
The Forever War, Dexter Filkins
I also read various short stories from collections, many issues of the New Yorker, and books that I didn't finish.