You Had Me At Hello.

29 11 2010

Every time I go home for Thanksgiving, I feel like I’m getting exponentially older by the year.  My favorite thing to do in Louisiana on a Friday or Saturday night is to dodge people’s phone calls, pet my dogs and argue with my male-dominated family over what movie we’re gonna watch.

This year, I’m feeling sentimental about my baby 17-year-old brother heading off to college, so I decided I was going to pin him to the couch and force him to watch “Dead Poets Society” with me, despite his insistence that he was going to hate it.  It’s pretty much my favorite movie ever, and I was convinced that he would be able to relate to the story, since it’s about high school boys learning to ‘seize the day’ and defy their parents’ expectations.  Plus, the quality of “Dead Poets Society” is not really a subjective matter anyway–  you don’t decide it’s good, it just is inherently good, and if you can’t see that, then the problem is not in the movie but somewhere buried in the folds of your defective, pea-sized brain.

So the whole family gathers around and we put on the movie and I am giddy with delight, just hanging on Robin Williams’ every word as he teaches these stuffy rich kids to appreciate poetry, looking over at my brother every 30 seconds with a stupid grin on my face to make sure his facial reactions to the movie are conveying a sufficient amount of enthusiasm.  I mean, sure, the story is overblown and contrived, and the music is waaay melodramatic, and nobody actually talks the way these kids talk, but how can you not be inspired by the way Robin Williams gets these rich kids out of the classroom and makes them shout lines from poetry as they kick soccer balls and rip out the dumb introductions to their English text books and stand on their desks and yawp?!

So my favorite scene happens, where all the boys have this assignment to write a stanza of original poetry and read it to the class, and this really smart, but really shy kid (Ethan Hawke) has a horrible fear of public speaking and thus tells the teacher he didn’t write a poem when he obviously did, cause he’s awesome. To pull him out of his shell, Robin Williams points him to a picture of Walt Whitman on the wall and gets him to ad lib an amazing poem in front of the class.

Here’s the scene:

So my eyes actually well up with tears as I’m watching this scene, because I’m a gigantic English dork, and I look over at my brother and he is… wait for it…

texting someone on his iPhone, completely oblivious to the emotional upheaval happening in Robin Williams’ classroom.

And it occurred to me that kids these days are so freaking overstimulated by technology and so accustomed to the 2010 movie, in which either the titillating special effects take the place of a well-crafted story (i.e. Avatar) or the movie is so close to reality that it feels more like a documentary than a movie (i.e. Hurt Locker), that they have all but lost the ability to suspend disbelief for a beautiful (if melodramatic at times), special effect-free, sentimental story.  Now I know how my dad feels when he tries to force me to watch “Laurence of Arabia,” and I fall asleep during the opening credits.

By contrast, my parents and I watched “The Kids Are Alright” with Julianne Moore on Saturday night (big weekend!), which is an all-too-real movie about a modern lesbian married couple with two kids and the complicated relationship they develop with their sperm donor.  There’s a scene where Julianne Moore and Annette Benning, the moms, have this awkward, graphic sex scene while they’re watching gay man porn and the kids overhear everything and then later ask their moms why they’re into gay man porn if they’re lesbians, and my mom looked over at me with her face all squinched up and said, “I feel really uncomfortable and creepy right now, like I’m a peeping Tom spying on somebody’s personal business.”  And I’m pretty sure the director would take that as a huge compliment, because the movie was not supposed to feel written, it was supposed to feel like a reality show. I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Have you ever noticed that all the best movies from the 80s and 90s– Jerry Maguire, Forest Gump, A Few Good Men, Dead Poets Society–seem really, really dated when you re-watch them in 2010 and compare them to the movies coming out right now? The emotional crescendos corresponding with the sweeping musical crescendos and dramatic scenery, like that horrible song “Secret Garden” in Jerry Maguire that plays when Jerry and Zellweger are standing across the street from each other in the moonlight before their first date,  just jab their fist in your face and demand that you shed a tear over the love or grief or humiliation or triumph that is exploding out from the screen.  And you do, or at least I do, and it’s just really fun.

Why do we have this need for movies to represent an ugly, gritty, entirely unsexy reality?  Whatever happened to pure, unbridled escapism?

Just saying.

 

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8 responses

29 11 2010
geof

How did you suppress the urge to slap the iphone out of your brother’s hand? This is an area of much needed personal growth for me. Recently at the bookstore, I literally slapped a book out of my adult sister’s hand when I turned to see that she was not listening to my spontaneous lecture on some nerdy books I like.

Regarding your final questions, isn’t escapism a part of the reaction of the viewer, separate from the techniques of the director or scriptwriter? Some people might get lost in the ‘gritty realism’, while others are distracted by it. If I understand correctly, it sounds to me like you simply prefer one set of conventions over another.

On a recent 15 hour flight, I had the opportunity to watch a bunch of recent, forgettable crap that I wouldn’t normally watch. They didn’t seem too different from older films of the same ilk. However, I also saw Get Low, with Bill Murray and Robert Duvall, which was good, and I think is the kind of film that could have been made 30 years ago or 30 years from now. I guess I’m not seeing a sea change in favor of something bad, only a bunch more crummy movies and with a few gems mixed in.

When I think of film in the context of plays for the stage (or stories told by people around the campfire), it seems clear that the elements of good story telling were set long ago. The question for a long time now (I can’t set a date, but sometime since Sophocles) has been whether to avoid popular tropes in favor of the hard road of good writing, or to embrace them and in so doing, channel the zeitgeist and curry favor with a broader audience.

29 11 2010
districtramblings

geof!!! so happy to have you back! i was worried i’d lost my mojo for a second there.

You’re totally right about preferring one set of conventions over another, and I think it’s because the old set of conventions has more sentimental value for me because it’s what I grew up with. Kinda like my mom said she was really pissed when Pretty Woman came out and people started comparing it to My Fair Lady, because nothing, for her, will ever compare to My Fair Lady, but especially not a movie about a dull businessman and a prostitute in LA.

But it’s an interesting question you pose at the end, and all I can say is that my preference would be for the hard road of good writing.

30 11 2010
geof

i’ll give you back your mojo if get your baby. baby back ribs.

29 11 2010
BS

I had the exact same scenario with the young one and The Graduate. Except that the Graduate is a timeless and amazing movie so she was completely enamored with it.

so…win.

but in general, it’s really hard for the younger generation (i can’t believe i’m using that phrase even) to lose them selves in books and movies when the internet, wikipedia, facebook, offer them so much simulation. it’s hard for books to compete.

“….the fact that it knows ever last stinking detail about the world, whereas my books only know the minds of their authors”

1 12 2010
leverman

“Now I know how my dad feels when he tries to force me to watch “Laurence of Arabia,” and I fall asleep during the opening credits.”

That would be “Lawrence” of Arabia. Sheesh, why not assassinate the name of the bets epic movie ever? 🙂 Give it another try. It won seven academy awards. The American Film Institute reated it fifth best film ever, third best score and first best epic film.

I would not agree with third best score, it should be number two (ahead of Star wars but still behind Gone With the Wind).

The four movies that beat it out were Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind and Godfather. How is it every other list has Citizen Kane numnber one and I have not seen that movie? I just put that on my list of things to do.

What I do not get is how AFI can make Gone With the Wind the second best movie ever, but rate it the fourth best epic movie. They but GWTW behind Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hur, which I guess is arguable. You would not in a milion years guess the number three epic film………Schindlers List. I like Schindler’s list okay, but can not even figure out how one would call it an epic.

If you truly like dialogue, history and music, you should give Laurence another chance.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_of_Arabia_(film)

1 12 2010
Offended and 17

Wow. This explains why you continously glanced back and forth from the screen to me during the entire movie…I could’ve sworn you were more into me than you were into Robin Williams, and that’s saying something. To be honest, I’m a little offended. Yes, I was texting during a great scene, but for what it’s worth, the text was very important (no, not just by a 17 year old’s standards). You may be surprised to hear that not only did I have a deep conversation with my English teacher about the movie yesterday, but I also used the short blanket image (which, I believe, is in the video you linked…ironically, I don’t know for sure because I’m typing this from my IPHONE) two separate times to make two different points.

I agree…Most 17 year olds can be satisfied with gratuitous violence (Saw), insane special effects (The Dark Knight), and bawdy humor (Jackass in 3-D), but seeing as The Graduate, Scent of a Woman, A Few Good Men, and even Dead Poets Society are some of my favorite movies, I deserve a little credit. We don’t all listen to Justin Bieber and complain about puberty…just the vast majority.

11 12 2010
Timur

Wow, this post generated some lengthy replies. Apologies for the tardiness of mine, I was without internet for a few weeks. I agree that over stimulation has some impact on the ever thinning attention span, but as a child whose parents only bought into cable when they discovered American Movie Classics I sat through endless nights of movies I couldn’t quite get excited about, until now. Perhaps having a sister, brother or parent who provides one the opportunities for intellectual exposure along with the strongbad emails and xkcd strips is what leads them to one day seek thoughtfulness on their own.

I can’t believe no one made an O Captain comment.

5 01 2011
Jenna

Secret Garden is NOT horrible.

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