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I hate, hate, hate people who look at movies–especially older movies–as just a step in the line to the movies we have today.  It’s a slap in the face to life, by extension, and I will explain why. (Foswi, this is primarily for you.)

I am a staunch historian, and I thoroughly believe in the value of studying history.  If you do not, you might as well stop reading this blog.  We’ll just never get along.  To that extent, is it useless to study ancient warfare in a modern context?  Are there no pracitical applicable lessons to be learned from tactics that defy era, technology, or weaponry?  I think you out there in someplacewhereyou’restaringatacomputerscreen should be thinking to yourself, “No, there is value in knowing that stuff…”  Because  you’re right.

Or, let’s think of this in terms of books.  Does it make sense to stop reading  Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Lord of the Rings, Black Boy, Brave New World, Romeo and Juliet, The Giver, etc. just because there are the Harry Potter series, the Twilight books, the Time Traveler’s Wife, and various James Patterson and Stephen King books topping the New York Times Bestseller list?  Should we leave the past behind and only allow only what is new and pretty and shiny to be let in?

I think not.

The problem is the genre of film allows this to easily happen.  And many people who watch movies (or passively read about movies) tend to think only the little that is said without thorough investigation into the actuality of history.

Point 1: Michael Bay is awesome…but not really.

The Island

Michael Bay, as many know, is the champion of all things pretty, and mind-numbingly explosive.  After all, you don’t make a name for yourself with blockbusters like Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, Transformers, and Transformers II (directed all by Bay) without some level of skill.  I mean, seriously.  That’s an impressive list of movies, with impressive DVD sales, and everything.

But let us be honest.  The movies star nice looking people, blow a lot of things up, include heart-racing, adrenaline pumping, action and car chases (or meteorite destroying drill malfunctions, what have you), and fun technological advances.  They’re like James Bond films…just without James Bond.

These movies have made millions.  They have loyal fans of adults, teenagers, and children alike.  They’re fun to watch, made millions in the movie theaters.  But they suck.  They have no deeper meaning, make me thoughtful in no way, and generally make me dumber, because I actually could have been learning something while I was wasting time watching pretty people run around.

Point 2: There is more to history than just history.

Citizen Kane

A friend of mine (after reading a former post of mine) responded thusly:

I’ll disregard the opinion of anyone who thinks Citizen Kane is great for anything more than its innovative transitions and camera angles.

While said tongue-in-cheek, there is, I know, a part of him that believes this to be true.  And this is why I am angry.  I love Citizen Kane, in the same way I love Schindler’s List.  Sure it’s a little on the long side, but the story is great, the acting is believable, the direction is flawless, and the overall impact: unforgettable.

The ease with which Americans, modern people, I’m not sure who this list should (or actually does) include, forget the past when it comes to movies is disturbing.  Yes, movies are more entertaining today.  Movie from yore are a little boring.

Except that’s not true.  I defy anyone to watch The Apartment and not be complete enraptured.  Peeping Tom is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen.  (If you have a Netflix account, I believe it is streaming live.   You should go watch it now.  Better than Drag Me To Hell.  Creepier.  Stranger.  More interesting.)  And you know what, It Happened One Night is the quintessential romance that cannot be improved upon in a modern way.  There are just old movies that age well, and have stayed good for a reason.  Citizen Kane is one of them.  Beyond the transitions and camera angles. (We’ve all heard the “Oh my gosh, there’s a ceiling” reaction.)  But let’s talk about the role the dining room table plays in the movie.  Did you ever think about that? Or how about the scene where Welles types out the rest of a horrible review of his wife’s disastrous operatic debut?  The acting is top notch, better than Sean Penn in Milk.

I am struck by many things.  Here’s a short list:

  • People today seem so averse to watching older, or just pain old, films.
  • People tend to devalue the impact of older movies because modern counterparts tends to be more engaging, which they equate with “better.”
  • People tend to devalue the fact that most older movies have a deeper theme than most modern movies, even modern movies based in classic stories.

This is why the market for older movies should be booming, not dying away.  This is why people should actually sit down and become their own movie reviewer.  If you take the time to watching a movie a week, you’ll watch AFI’s Top 100 movie list in less than two year.  Probably less than a year, considering you’ve seen a lot of them.

Why is it people are so ready to agree, or disagree with the statements of critics and film historians, but are so rarely willing to make their own original statements about the movies themselves.  People, you, staring at your own screen.  Say what’s on your mind.  Be willing to say Citizen Kane sucked, but don’t you dare say it’s boring without backing it up.  I’m not about opinion’s with no evidence.

Just have an opinion, and make it your own.

Precious Movie Poster I would not expect a movie starring Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, and Mo’nique to be very good.  I would expect it to be a slightly better version of Glitter.  But when I saw the previews for Precious, even the all star cast (with a not so great acting reputation) couldn’t convince me not to see the movie.  It was too relevant to a teacher in an urban area.  It was too exciting not to see, especially seeing the hype surrounding the movie, and a 90% ranking on RottenTomatoes. Watching the preview, I thought it would be a movie I would hate.  It would be a movie that had too much drama.  Too urban.  Too far away.  But it wasn’t, not at all.

The movie is about an overweight teenage girl, who goes by Precious, in New York City.  We first see her in math class in high school.  She likes math class, she likes her math class teacher.  She doesn’t do anything in math class, and her teacher doesn’t seem to notice.  Then she is called to the principal’s office, where we discover the real issue.  This movie is not going to be an inspirational movie about a girl who loves math and eventually goes to Harvard.  This isn’t Dangerous Minds, and it certainly won’t be Freedom Writers.

We find out Precious has a child.  We find out she is pregnant with another one.  And, a few minutes later, we find out her father is the father of both of her children.  And Precious’ mother hates Precious for being “given” more children by her husband than she was.  Precious lets it slide.  She lets a lot of things slide.  She feels a lot of things, and her frustrations with her mother are not the most important.  She is still dealing with rape, incest, being not only a teenage mother, but a teenage mother with two children.  Life for Precious, in other words, ain’t been no crystal stair.

And that’s the point of the movie.  We see her go to a new “alternative school,” where she does a little more work than she did before.  She meets new friends.  Has a nice nurse when she has her baby.  Has a lovely teacher who works for her to try and help her.  But her mother still throws glasses and potted plants at her neck.  She even hurls a TV down the stairs at Precious and her child.  And Precious loses her home (for the better).  Precious finds out her father, the one who raped her, dies, a small victory.  But it is immediately undercut by the news that he had AIDS.

Now Precious has two children, one with Down Syndrome, AIDS, and no home of her own.  And with that same expressionless face she keeps moving through her life, without taking anything for granted.  She revels in her children.  Reveals the truth of her pregnancies, begins to come to terms with it, but in the end, her life still sucks.

It sucked from the beginning, and it sucks at the end.  The film has a sense of uncompromising honesty and dissatisfaction to it that it hurts, in places, to watch it.  It is not an easy film to watch.  Precious is a girl who isn’t great to look at, but she is impossible not to watch.  When she is tripped, and falls flat on her face, it hurt.  The care for her child still in her was already a real concern in my mind.  The movie’s sense of brute force with so little hope attached is what I like most about it.  It makes no promises to its viewers, and I only promise to hope it is good.

It was good.  It was really good.

4/4

5/5

10/10

I get it, (wo)man. I get it. You know, it’s a reality. This TFA Induction business is awkward territory all the way around. Especially for an area like Philadelphia that’s a little large with approximately 180 new corps members. And, we’re only given one highly-structured week to maintain involvement with all the demanding–and sometimes useless–sessions that we have to go to all day long, but are also expected to meet each other, many of us looking for potential roommates. It’s just awkward.

Every introduction goes like this: “Hey, how’s it going? What’s your name? Where are you from? What school did you go to? Oh! Really! That’s cool. I had a friend who went there…yeah, did you know Jane Doe? No? Oh well, your school’s so big I don’t know why I thought you’d know her. Oh me? Well, I’m John Doe, and I’m from State 51, and I went to University of State 51. Yeah, it is really far away, but I really pref-ed this city because I wanted a real change of scenery and a big challenge. Yeah. It’s cool. Yeah. … … … OK! See you later!”

And really, you found out nothing. You could learn more looking up people’s facebook profiles, but it’s not like we have time for that. Because let’s be honest. I don’t care about where you’re from or what school you went to. I care about if you’re cool, if I could possibly live with you, if you think you’d want to live with me, and how soon can we start looking for a place because I want to find a nice one and that’ll take some looking around.

That’s what’s important. And I haven’t been asking about what books or movies or music people like (because it’s not like people even give honest answers about that anyways, deferring to Latest Indie Artist Person X Heard About [Shearwater], or Fashionably Intelligent Foreign Film from Oscars [The Diving Bell and the Butterfly], or Atypical Novel from a Surging Popular Author [All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy, because everyone’s been reading The Road or No Country for Old Men], and they’re just being impressively independently fashionable in a self-conscious way, and if they really said [boyanswer/girlanswer] Miley Cyrus/Coldplay, The Little Mermaid/The Departed, and Anything Dan Brown/Twilight they’d be embarrassed about how people would judge their really favorite things so they don’t let them out to this world of strangers) because that search is usually fruitless, honestly.

But seriously, if one more person compares this to how awkward their freshman orientation was, I will get so annoyed I’m probably going to choke an Asian baby. That’s how mad I’ll be. I’m tired of that analogy more so than the darn same introductory question I’ve been using for the past two days. Geez, it has only been two days and people are already stating self-conscious ironies as a way to make awkward moments less awkward.

Note: That never works.

PS. It’s great to be a Florida Gator in Philadelphia. Go Marreese Speights!

You’ll have to forgive this entry if it is uninteresting, but I keep coming across the topic of stars in my reading (as I roll through the Young Adult section of Borders) and in the music I listen to and I wonder if I’m reading too much into things, or if this is legitimate.

One can generally assume in Western Literature that if it’s a reference it probably comes from one of three places: Shakespeare, the Bible, or Greek/Roman myth. Right? Right. These are the three pillars of Western literature pretty much. There are others, of course, but these are the Big Three, if there were any at all. And, at a cursory glance, the stars in the night sky seem to pop up a lot as symbols for practically everything. They are a big part of the current world’s modern mythology, for more than a few reasons.

So just chew on this for a moment:

  • Probably one of the earliest references would be in the Bible’s first book Genesis (15:5, KJV) when God commands to Abraham–currently childless–to “Look toward heaven and number the stars if you are able to number them… So shall your descendants be.” So initially stars symbolize a promise, and they symbolize the future, and they symbolize fertility. All at once in those two little sentences. But there’s more–much, much more.
  • And according to Ovid in the Metamorphoses when a god created man he created him upright with his head towards the stars in the heavens, and not like other animals whose gaze is constantly directed at the ground. And then, in another creation story they become the sign of man’s intelligence, of his higher being, or his status as master over the animals, of his privileged place in the world, and of that which man can accomplish, even–that being anything. Limitless potential.
  • The stars are also the symbols of astrology and take on the role as guides of fate and fortune.
  • And then there’s Shakespeare. I could write a thesis about all of his references to stars, just in his tragedies, and all that they mean; but I’ll take one of the more popular references: When Romeo begins his little “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” as Juliet appears on her balcony he continues on saying “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven/Having some business, do entreat her eyes/To twinkle in their spheres till they return.” Getting us to the more basic symbol of beauty, not getting into to the lengthy discussion of eyes as the portals into the soul and what starlight in those eyes could mean…
  • And, just to get more modern more quickly, there is the classic Walt Disney animated motion picture Pinocchio where “When you wish upon a star” … and I’m assuming you know the rest, where the stars here are promises for the future, wish granters, almost representative of gods you could pray to and grant your deepest desires.
  • And just to give these bullet points a nice symmetry, I’ll just end with the reference from Lois Lowry’s book Nubmer the Stars, the title she borrowed from the passage in Genesis, about the Jews of Denmark in the escalating years right before and in the beginning of World War II. There the stars are the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, the people who were represented the Star of David, the fulfilled promise from ages before.

And then I hear a song like “After Tonight” by Justin Nozuka. Here are some select lyrics

There’s something in your eyes
Is everything alright
You look up to the sky
You long for something more

Darling, give me your right hand
I think I understand
Follow me and you will never have to wish again

(Chorus)
I know that after tonight
You don’t have to look up at the stars
No, No, No, No…

And I can’t help but wonder if he’s consciously or unconsciously taken in all of those cultural references about stars, even if just from watching Pinocchio as a kid, and the power that they seem to hold in and out of literary, cultural, and collective imagination.

I will admit up front I am a sucker for books that win prizes. If you couldn’t tell from my earlier post, however, I’ve become suspect of those awards over the years. But because Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road won the Pulitzer Prize, (also chosen for Oprah’s Book Club) I picked it up and scanned the first few pages. I liked it, so I bought it (a few days later at a used book store) and used it as my recreational read during school. And I was glad I did. The man alone has a great vocabulary, had me running to the dictionary more than a few times, and a really great style. He is also the author of No Country for Old Men, which is a really good movie.

Because of that I looked into his other works and picked up one of his other novels Blood Meridian. And I did that entirely because of the quotation from the review on the front cover which says “‘A classic American novel of regeneration through violence. McCarthy can only be compared with our greatest writers, with Melville and Faulkner, and this is his masterpiece.’ – Michael Herr” (I know, this is the perfect example of me judging a book by its cover, but seriously, covers can be informative. But I’m still not sure who Michael Herr is.) But that’s a serious recommendation if I’ve ever read one, so I decided right then and there I’d buy it and read it. And I did. And I was amazed. It is unlike any other book I have ever read.

The first thing about the book is it’s style. Particularly because it’s style is probably unlike anything you’ve ever encountered before. Cormac McCarthy is smart and you can tell immediately. He writes words you’ve heard but never seen before. He writes with the confidence of genius in his voice. He references mythology and the Bible in his language and plot. The closest book I can possibly compare in uniqueness alone has to be Beloved by Toni Morrison, if only because they are such contained novels both in this world but certainly only of their author’s imagination.

This is why, finding myself in a rare mood, I will take the plunge and say Cormac McCarthy the author is a man worth reading. Even though I have not read all of his books, or even half, or even a quarter, from what I have read I have only been astounded. And you have to discover them for yourself. His books are simply one of a kind creations that you will not find anywhere else.

I found this in his wikipedia article:

B. R. Myers, in his article “A Reader’s Manifesto“, identifies McCarthy’s writing as an example of what he believes to be the “growing pretentiousness” of contemporary American literature. Myers comments specifically on word repetition, “parallelisms” and “pseudo-archaisms” present in McCarthy’s works.

He criticizes McCarthy for muscular prose, and “an unpunctuated flow of words.” But his criticism I find partly (which he argues against) is seeing the trees and not the forest. And especially in the case of some instances a sentence that simply packs a large amount of action connected by “and”s reinforces the intended projection. Because it is not very important, all of the actions were shoved together into one sentence altogether, nothing emphasized and therefore nothing important. I find the overall effect of McCarthy’s prose to be infective and expansive.

This man’s body of work is definitely something to read.

Rule #1: Don’t settle for mediocrity.

It seems, the further and further I delve into British literature, that the Booker Prize is really just a more British version of Oprah’s book club. They ooze this latent angst of middle-aged women, British restraint, and demand either that post-imperialist feel of old lands in new times or the distinctly reserved British home life.

I’m also convinced that each book picked for the Booker Prize in the last ten years was a cop out. A good book, doubtless, but ultimately a questionable book. And a book that was picked because that all couldn’t agree on one book, and so they had to settle on another. Or do you think they have the discussion of “We should make this award accessible, instead of literary…”

I’m of the opinion that they do. That all the selection committee (an ever shifting group) just picks a book they think the populous will like. A book for the housewives, and small time businesswomen who have a long ride on the train to work. The women who handle small businesses during the day and read those books for lack of anything better to do.

What is great about he award is the grandiose way those who award it treat the Booker prize. They take the books they’ve already awarded and say “That’s not good enough. Let’s give an ultimate Book prize.” which they gave to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. That was a good choice. But now they’re doing it again, and I can only imagine that since J. M. Coetzee won the Nobel prize for literature that the second ultimate Best-of-the-Bookers-Booker-Prize will go to Disgrace, even though I’m having trouble discerning the magic in his words.

Maybe this is all just a sign that the world of words is going to crap. Or, maybe it’s just the awards for literature that are going the way of the west wind. John Banville, a winner of the Book prize, said in an interview with the Village Voice “…the Booker Prize and literary prizes in general are for middle-ground, middlebrow work, which is as it should be. The Booker Prize is a prize to keep people interested in fiction, in buying fiction.”

I think he hit the nail on the head.

Here are the winners of the Booker Prize to date:

2007 The Gathering by Anne Enright

2006 The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
2005 The Sea by John Banville
2004 The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
2003 Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
2002 Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2001 True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
2000 The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
1999 Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
1998 Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan
1997 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
1996 Last Orders by Graham Swift
1995 The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
1994 How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman
1993
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
1992 The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (co-winner)
1992 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth (co-winner)
1991 The Famished Road by Ben Okri
1990 Possession: A Romance by A. S. Byatt
1989 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
1988 Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
1987 Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
1986 The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis
1985 The Bone People by Keri Hulme
1984 Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner
1983 Life & Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee
1982 Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
1981 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
1980 Rites of Passage by William Golding
1979 Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
1978 The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch
1977 Staying on by Paul Scott
1976 Saville by David Storey
1975 Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1974 The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer
1973 The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell
1972 G. by John Berger
1971 In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul
1970 The Elected Member by Bernice. Rubens
1969 Something to Answer For by P. H. Newby