Having become a father not once but twice in the last 3 years, my time for movie watching has gone way down of late. Infants and then toddlers tend to require some sacrifices, and going to movies has been one of mine. However, I can't say I feel like I've missed much in the theatres. Every trailer I see feels like a remake of a movie I've already seen.
Since I've been staying in a lot more I've been doing a lot more movie renting, and since the selection is so horrendous when you are looking for good writing, good acting and good characters, I've had to expand my horizons. Thankfully, a brother and a friend have combined to open my eyes to the wonders of foreign film. I can't say I'm an aficionado of any sort by now, but I would like to take a moment to recommend three movies that I've seen in the past couple years which are still making appearances in my head-space.
While the whole E-Talk world seems to be oohing and aahing over the same old special effects and TV adaptations I feel like I've been enlightened, and seen what movies can be. Not just movies, but films: Moving pictures that leave a mark, that tell a story in a compelling, artful, and intelligent way. Its still entertaining, but not for the same reasons. It feels like it is improving your life, not dumbing it down. Don't get me wrong, I like vegging out in front of the tube once in awhile, but if you ask me that's what sitcoms and sports are for.
I just don't feel like I need to see the A-Team on the big screen. I'm sure its just a matter of time, and to be honest it is something I would have liked to have seen as a kid, but I don't know, I've moved on. It would be mere novelty, and if I want that I'll buy a whoopee cushion.
And how many times do we need to see the White House obliterated by a tsunami or a tornado before we look around the theatre and ask ourselves: "Why are we here?" Not "why are we here" like existentially, but why are we wasting 2 hours of our lives in this theatre watching the glamourization of mass destruction when we could have actually saved a life or two overseas or in New Orleans by saving the money we sent on popcorn alone and giving it to Red Cross?
I know not everyone agrees with me. That's okay. I know I'm looking for something different in a movie than most people. I knew that the day I saw Armageddon. I went with four guys and we got the last four seats, but not together. We could hear each other guffawing in the darkness from all over the theatre. I was marveling at the record high cheese-factor in that movie while all around me people were clapping. Yes. Clapping. In a theatre. Since then I've known I was going a different route than the whole Ben Mulroney crowd.
So, if you've read this far, and are with me even to some degree, allow me to recommend the following three movies to you:
Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu
Winter Light by Ingmar Bergman
Elephant by Gus Van Sant (Yes I know this isn't a foreign film)
Each of these movies in their own way touches the soul. Tokyo Story and Winter Light are both subtitled and in black and white, but I'm not sure I've ever laid my eyes on better movies. Stick with them. Soak the characters in. Enjoy how they are filmed. Watch how the simple yet profound stories unfold. Notice Ozu's framing and the subtle build to the climactic familial statement. Watch for Bergman's long close up monologue from which you cannot remove your eyes, and the fascinating discussion of Christ's passion. It puts Mel Gibson's attempt in a fuller perspective. And watch Elephant with this warning: it is disturbing. It is disturbing, but it is real. Not glorified. Just real. And for some reason it just made me love teenagers.
Quite frankly, real is the way I like it. Chesterton said that "truth is stranger than fiction, because we have made fiction to suit ourselves," and with pop fiction becoming so repetitive and blatantly formulaic in its sense-bombardment the last couple decades it seems the truth is stranger than ever. Stories can speak truth in ways that you just can't shake, and those are the movies I love. I find them profoundly entertaining. If you see any of these, or others like them, let me know what you think.