Monday, September 3, 2018

My movie confessions

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in May 2000)

I’m very sensitive to people who talk or generally make a nuisance of themselves in movie theaters, although I usually just move to another seat rather than confront them. Earlier this year, I briefly experimented with a tiny flashlight, to illuminate the notebook in which I sometimes write notes for these columns. I took great care to sit in isolation and to use the light as minimally as possible. Even so, someone complained and told me I was being irritating. I was very ashamed at having become the very thing I deplored. Just as well the movie (Angela’s Ashes) was no good, because the shame would have ruined it for me either way. Of course, human nature being what it is, I still wished I’d told the whiny little nerd to go screw himself.

I’ve largely daydreamed through most of Jean-Luc Godard’s recent films, despite the very best intentions. The Cinematheque Ontario program stated of his Nouvelle vague: “A nocturnal sequence in which a servant moves through the villa lighting lamps is worth more than the rest of the decade’s commercial cinema put together.” I confess to only having half-registered that sequence.

(I don’t doubt the writer’s sincerity, but if he were being exiled to a desert island for a few years, I truly suspect he’d rather be accompanied by the thousands of hours of commercial cinema than the two minutes of lamp-lighting).

I went to see the lamentable Dog Park, solely because I have a little Labrador puppy and often go to the dog park myself (I’ve confessed to this before, but I don’t deserve to get off that easily). Judging by the film’s box-office performance, no other dog owners made this mistake.

He’s a great dog though. He’s named Pasolini, after Pier Paolo. Sometimes Pasolini and I lie in front of the TV together and eat peanuts. I watch the movie and he watches the peanut jar. On average it’s a ratio of three peanuts for me and one for Paso (which might by the way have been a reasonable value ratio to apply to the lamp-lighting sequence versus the commercial cinema). Sometimes, when we’re done with the peanuts, Pasolini brings over his soft-toy cow and shoves it in my face. It makes a rather loud moo-ing noise. Usually I have to rewind the movie.

Talking of the Cinematheque Ontario, they recently showed the consensus choice for best film of the 90s: Dream of Light, by Victor Erice. I’d never seen it, and still haven’t, because it played on a Friday evening and I thought it would be more fun to spend that time of the week drinking with my wife. I know some people may view this as a sign of hope, if not redemption, but I know in my moviegoer’s heart that I failed some kind of test. But sometimes I don’t use that particular heart.

I once reviewed a film for this newspaper and referred in passing to the occupation of one of the characters as a building contractor. My wife, who also saw the film, read over the article before I sent it in and pointed out to me that he was actually a drug dealer. I haven’t lived a lot.

I have a standard list of the films I’ve never seen and would most like to, and  - happily – it slowly dwindles down over time. Right now the top ten would probably include Jacques Rivette’s Out One, Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev – assuming they’re not playing on a Friday evening that is. I also thought the list included Josef von Sternberg’s Saga of Anatahan, until I looked back recently at the record of movie viewings I’ve kept since 1982, and discovered that I’ve in fact seen it – not once, but twice! Admittedly that was fifteen years ago, but still…how could I have completely forgotten about it? This is but one of the problems of having a passion with so little tangible residue – sometimes I really envy stamp collectors. Anyway, I’m eagerly looking forward to my third viewing of Anatahan.

I found the love scenes between Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin in the remake of The Getaway oddly arousing. And I think it must have had something to do with knowing they were really married, which must have kicked of some little voyeuristic trigger in my head. So you see, sometimes it pays to know your celebrity trivia. Imagine the thrill if Jack Nicholson and Lara Flynn Boyle ever make a movie together.

Not long ago, I saw a film by one of the most acclaimed current directors (on this issue, I’m too deeply embarrassed to specify further). I found the main character remarkably inconsistent in his behaviour, and couldn’t really make much sense of it. Only toward the very end of the film did I realize that there were actually two main characters, who looked somewhat alike, and that the film consisted of two intertwined stories. I decided it was best to exempt myself from ever attempting to comment on that director’s work, and I’ve stuck to it.

I usually take my used movie tickets and put them in a box, and on a couple of occasions I’ve made huge poster-sized collages out of them. They’re up in the house. I think they look terrific, and I even think I could make some kind of aesthetic case for them. Alternatively, they may be just sad. Maybe that’s why I do what I can to hang on to my wife.

I can’t believe in my heart (either of them) that films like The Godfather and The French Connection are approaching their thirtieth anniversaries. To me those still look and feel like contemporary films. I can’t fathom that there’s a generation for which those films are ancient history. And then I realize that for, say, a sixteen-year old, Five Easy Pieces would be- mathematically – as far away in time as was Cecil B DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth from my own birthday. In other words, ancient history. I think I’m really beginning to see how the years can catch up with someone. Will The Godfather still seem contemporary to me in my eighties, and how much of a relic will I be then? (I think it will, and I won’t care).

I love movies. I love Welles and Hawks and Bresson and Antonioni and (for most of the way) Godard. But that doesn’t mean I have to love Fellini.

(2018 update – very little of this holds true now in the same way. Most obviously, I’ve seen all of the then-unseen films I wanted to see, mostly multiple times. Pasolini has long since been replaced by Ozu (another yellow Labrador). Fellini has grown on me over the years. 70’s films still feel pretty contemporary to me though, so maybe that one will never change.)

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