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Why Movies Matter


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A. Because I learn more about life.

B. Because I can escape life.

C. All of the above.

 

I think C. is the best answer. If I just needed to watch something, I could buy an aquarium. If I just needed to learn about human nature and the world around me, I could buy a psychology book and an encyclopedia. A great Ford, Renoir, Murnau, Kurosawa, Welles, Hawks, Ozu, Hitchcock, Keaton, Fellini, Lubitsch, Chaplin, Dryer, Mizoguchi, or [fill in your favorite director] film is both entertaining and enlightening. Like a fine novel or moving piece of music, I'm a richer person for having experienced it. You are what you feed your brain.

 

DavidE

http://www.classicfilmpreview.com

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Well, that about covers it.

 

Thanks, David.

 

Well, maybe we could say a little more...

 

A film can say things about our everyday lives, our cultures, our failures and successes and our potential as human beings that it would take us too long to say in words.

 

Message was edited by:

wordmaster

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> A film can say things about our everyday lives, our

> cultures, our failures and successes and our

> potential as human beings that it would take us

> too long to say in words.

 

That sounds right to me. Maybe I'm deluded about this, but I think I have a better sense of Japanese culture because of Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi. I have a better sense of duty, and the value of family and friendship, because of Ford and Hawks. And I have a better sense of how people coped with the Great Depression because of the Warner Bros. films from the 1930s. It's a view you won't get just from reading.

 

All people from Chicago aren't gangsters, all people from New York aren't wise cracking and rude, and all southerners aren?t ****. On the other hand, once you peal away the clich?s and look underneath, there?s often a lot of insight. I have no reason to doubt that Ozu was telling the truth about the social and generational forces pulling families apart in post-war Japan. As for Ford having fights break out in Ireland at the drop of a hat, I guess I'll have to take that with a grain of salt.

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Well, that's like saying that watching 1930s MGM or Paramount films, with their glossy tales of High-Society swells, gives one a realistic overview of American society during the Great Depression (or any other time, for that matter).

 

In the case of Kurosawa, that may go double (hard to say, as I'm not Japanese), since the previaling view in Japan is that he was "too Western," and not representative of indigenous Japanese filmmaking or culture, at all.

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"Why do movies matter?"

 

May I present a passage from Tom Robbins' 1980 tome Still Life with Woodpecker? Though it's a work of fiction, the tale he tells is true. It's a favorite of mine, and one that I lend to many (and now to you). In fact, when I was in art school there were a myriad of conversations regarding questions along this line. A favorite painting professor (and one whose work is in museums all over the world) even questioned the importance of art in today's society. I gave him this passage and he hung it on his office wall:

 

"There's an underground involved in political resistance and the underground involved in preserving beauty and fun -- which is to say, preserving the human spirit. ... In the 1940's in Nazi-occupied Paris, an artist named Marcel Carn? made a movie. He filmed it on location on the Street of Thieves, the old Parisian theatre street where at one time there was everything from Shakespearean companies to flea circuses, from grand opera to girlie shows. Carn?'s film was a period piece and required hundreds of extras in 19th-century costume. It required horses and carriages and jugglers and acrobats. The movie turned out to be over three hours long. And Carn? made it right under the Nazi's noses. The film is a three-hour affirmation of life and an examination of the strange and sometimes devastating magnetism of love. Romantic? It's romantic enough to make a travel poster sigh and a sonnet blush. But completely uncompromising. It's a celebration of the human spirit in all of its goofy, gentle, and grotesque guises. And he made it in the very midst of Nazi occupation, filmed this beauty inside the belly of the beast. He called it Les Enfants du Paradis -- The Children of Paradise -- and forty years later it's still moving audiences around the world. Now, I don't want want to take anything away from the French resistance. Its brave raids and acts of sabotage undermined the Germans and helped bring about their downfall. But in many ways Marcel Carn?'s movie, his Children of Paradise, was more important than the armed resistance. The resisters might have saved the skin of Paris, Carn? kept alive its soul."

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> Well, that's like saying that watching 1930s MGM or

> Paramount films, with their glossy tales of

> High-Society swells, gives one a realistic overview

> of American society during the Great Depression (or

> any other time, for that matter).

 

I said that once you dig below the clich?s, you can find insight. I never said it was a realistic overview. I doubt you will find anyone here who would argue for that.

 

> In the case of Kurosawa, that may go double (hard to

> say, as I'm not Japanese), since the previaling view

> in Japan is that he was "too Western," and not

> representative of indigenous Japanese filmmaking or

> culture, at all.

 

The prevailing view isn?t always correct. Kurosawa is more Western-influenced than Ozu, but that doesn?t mean Kurosawa?s characters and situations don?t have a Japanese core. Ikiru doesn?t feel too Western to me. It resonates with audiences because it taps into universal themes. Yet it also has a Japanese sensibility.

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At the moment, I can't add anything that's nearly as eloquent as the words of Lzcutter, DavidEnglish, wordmaster, Cinesage, or JackBurley. (Jack, I copied that Robbins' passage for my own collection--thanks a million.) I was reminded of a few lines from another good writer, Walker Percy, in his novella, The Moviegoer. His narrator, Binx Bolling, says: "Our neighborhood theater in Gentilly has permanent lettering in front of the marquee reading: Where Happiness Costs so Little. The fact is I am quite happy in a movie. Even a bad movie."

 

Even a bad movie can capture something of a time, place and emotion that has value to me, and, I'm glad to learn via this website, to articulate others. Do any of you find that even a bad movie can communicate something?

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> May I present a passage from Tom Robbins' 1980 tome

> Still Life with Woodpecker? Though it's a

> work of fiction, the tale he tells is true.

 

That passage from Tom Robbins does get to the heart of the matter. The best films are much more than just entertainment or glimpses at history.

 

Back in my college days, I had a conversation with one of my English literature professors. This is a guy who thought English literature went downhill after Edmund Spenser. He said he couldn't figure out why people thought film was an art. He said he had seen a lot of films, and was in fact a Marx brothers fan. What he hadn't seen was any great insight into the human condition or any extraordinary creative expression in film.

 

I thought for a few seconds and said to him: Let's assume I don't know anything about literature, and you tell me it offers great insight into the human condition and contains extraordinary creative expression. I visit a local drug store and see a rack of paperback books. I buy several bestsellers and eagerly read them. Weeks later, I see you walking down the sidewalk. I tell you I didn't find any great insight or creative expression in these books, which are all bestsellers. Then you say I should have read the best books of all time, regardless of how well they have sold, and not the bestselling books of today.

 

I then said to him, if you haven't seen the best films by Ford, Welles, Murnau, Renoir, Kurosawa, and the other great directors, you'll never know what film has to offer. You can't judge the theater's achievement or potential without reading Hamlet or Long Day's Journey Into Night. You can't judge music comprehensively without listening to the Brandenburg Concertos, The Magic Flute, or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. And you can't judge the full measure of film without having seen Sunrise, Citizen Kane, Napoleon, October, Grand Illusion, Greed, or Seven Samurai.

 

I don't know if he made the effort to see these films (this was years before they could be available on DVD). He did acknowledge he probably shouldn't make sweeping statements about film as an artistic medium.

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My wife is a teacher and was recently lamenting the fact that young people today (students and their young parents as well) generally do not read the way we did when we were young. I made the point that a century ago, educators worried that young people were reading dime-store novels instead of "serious" literature, and that concern has evolved to films, TV and now video games and ipod fare. I understand the great Victorian novels were considered a waste of time for any but the idle rich in their day, and today we would be thrilled to catch our kids reading them. I've never been to Fargo but have a sense of the place and its culture from watching Fargo, as I do any number of other places and times.

 

I recall also that in Classical Greece, the Greek tragedies were not considered primarily entertainment but instead were a social and religious experience reaffirming the values of the group. In America, because we're all immigrants, we don't share a common culture, but film gives us a basis for a shared common experience and common sets of values and standards.

 

So that's why I think movies matter.

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  • 2 weeks later...

How to Go to the Movies

by Quentin Crisp

 

 

We should vacate our homes and go to a movie for the very reason that this exodus will force us to take the occasion seriously, to abandon everyday life, to place ourselves for a while where there are fewer distractions.

 

The way to go to the movies is incessantly. The more often the more exciting it becomes because films teach us how to see them. Films are written in a language that we must learn.

 

The way to go to the movies is reverently. We must be prepared to believe the most improbable provided it's presented with sufficient conviction and passion. We must surrender our whole beings to whatever reaction the story demands. Thus we shall be spared the appalling likelihood of giving way to indecorous emotion in real life.

 

The way to go to the movies is critically. That is to say, we must bring two pairs of spectacles. While we must plunge into each picture as though it were happening to us, we must also watch it from a distance, judging it as a work of art.

 

If we go to the movies often enough and in a sufficiently reverent spirit, they will become more absorbing than the outer world, and reality will cease to burden us. Clearly, the salvation of the Western world is in the hand of cinema.

 

 

From an article printed in Christopher St. magazine.

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