Sunday, July 31, 2011

Movies in the heat

The third week in July summed up a lot about my life. I work mostly from home, but I didn’t expect to be too busy, and my wife was away from Monday until late on Friday; consequently I thought I might achieve my endlessly delayed ambition of doing some writing, or at least of spending time coming up with ideas (since I didn’t have any). This was pretty exciting to me, I can tell you. Of course, I had a few other things to do before that. Since my wife was away, I had somewhat more dog walking and tending duties than usual. I had a social engagement one evening. I had a magazine backlog because, in the wake of the postal strike, several weeks of subscriptions all arrived at once. And I thought I’d watch a movie a day. But I figured that would still leave dozens of untapped hours.

Walking the dog

Well, I worked a few hours a day, took care of my dog (his name’s Ozu, after the wonderful director Yasujiro Ozu, not that their worldviews have much in common as yet), got through my magazines and watched a movie a day, no problem there. I got distracted one morning by the Rupert Murdoch hearing in the UK, and at other times by planning a possible trip; still, that was barely a ripple on my vast ocean of available time. I made myself dinner on the nights she would have made it, but that was merely so much chopping and heating. This was of course the week of the big heat, so sometimes after walking Ozu, it was hard not to have a nap. But I don’t sleep that much at night, so that shouldn’t have set me back too much.

It definitely took me longer to read the paper every morning – I don’t know if that’s the heat, or advancing age. I should probably cancel the paper, because its physical presence draws me into reading a bunch of stories I’d never click on if I was scanning it online. Sometimes, of course, that’s enlightening and mind-enhancing, but it also means losing a lot of time on disposable life section stuff. But I generally conclude it all nourishes me in some way, ensuring that if and when I do start writing, I’ll be that much richer and more nuanced than I would have been otherwise.

I don’t suppose my ambition is what it used to be. A lot of days, walking Ozu – and making it great! – was really my most urgent goal for the day. We often take our morning walk now on the new park at the foot of Sherbourne. It’s also a water treatment facility, and has a concrete-sided stream flowing down one side. Ozu thinks this is great, and runs up and down in the water like a maniac. The signs prohibit “wading”, but not crazy out-of-body excess, so I think it’s OK. Then we walk around the new Corus building to Sugar Beach, next to which are several artificial hills. Ozu likes to climb the biggest hill with me, then after I walk down, to stay up there and survey me like the ruler of the world. Which from his perspective, of course, is entirely how it is.

Compound interest

I’ve come to think – or at least to claim – that taking care of Ozu and making him happy is an investment not just in my physical and psychological well-being (I think I’ve seen that aspect of having a dog addressed in the life section, more than once) but also in my artistic capacity, although this latter pay-off will only come in the long term, when I seriously turn my mind to writing and find depths of perceptive mellowness I didn’t have before. It’s like compound interest – it builds up slowly for years, until you pass a critical amount and then 3% a year really means something. Right now though I only have the equivalent of around $26 in the intellectual bank. And not to stretch a metaphor, but nowadays who can even be sure of earning as much as 3%? And since Ozu is only a year old, he’s often a total brat, the frustration of which probably depletes the intellectual bank (on the other hand, if it doesn’t kill you – i.e. if it only barks incessantly at you – then it makes you stronger).

Anyway, in the end I probably spent about an hour writing/thinking, and I can’t actually remember I generated during that hour, if anything. Although of course I did get this article out of it. Lately, the way I watch movies is pretty much like the way I walk Ozu. It’s a big chunk out of the day, and sometimes it’s a bit of a grind. But it also generates wonderful moments of splashing giddily in the water and staring majestically down from the hill.

What I watched

I watched James Ivory’s The City of Your Final Destination, Jose Mojica Marins’ The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (and nope, I didn’t just sneak that one in because my wife was away), Vittorio De Sica’s The Children are Watching Us, Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero and Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days. Now, if that’s not splashing in the water, I don’t know what is. Ivory’s picture is less evocative than its title, but has some interesting ideas about the mutability of existence, about how the journey is never as linear and restricted as you might allow yourself to think. Marins’ film (available online on is wacky and moody, but almost convinces you it carries a serious theological purpose. De Sica’s classic, made just at the dawn of Italian neo-realism, is delicately contrived, but still claws at you with its reflection on desires and social structures in conflict.

Larrain’s film, made in Chile a few years ago, is a remarkable study of a cold-blooded killer who’s obsessed with John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever character. “Quirky” angles on amoral behaviour are commonplace in movies, but this one has real psychological and political resonance. And although just about any objective observer would have to rank Haggis’ flick at the bottom of this pile, he’s much easier to take when handling obviously silly material. And anyway, by then it was Friday.

Of course, even more than the other things I mentioned, I view watching movies as a major project of self-education and enhancement, which can’t help but pay major creative dividends down the road (note how I subtly adjusted the investing metaphor there, from compound interest to dividends – see, I’m already getting into shape!) In this sense, maybe I’m becoming the equivalent of a postgraduate student who’s perpetually signing up for more courses, never actually taking the leap into the world. But when it’s this hot, who can leap at anything?

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