Sunday, June 24, 2007

Movie Magic

This post by Greg Sandow from a few weeks back set off a wonderful series of comments from his readers. Their discussion about trying to get people to enjoy classical music also brought to mind Matthew Guerrieri's recent post on that topic. I'll let those comments speak for themselves to any who have time to read them, but I was most particularly drawn to the long Pauline Kael quote that made up most of Sandow's initial post. Kael's basic point is to talk about how naturally people in our culture take to movies and great moments in movies, and how what draws them in is often quite different than the more technical, intellectual sorts of things that academics say about movies. Sandow compares this to the absence of such a natural culture for the reception of classical music. As I embark tomorrow morning on teaching a Form & Analysis class for the first time, I'm particularly interested in the problem of getting lost in the academic side of explaining things, but that's not really what I came here to blog about either.

No, Kael's quote reminds me of one of the reasons I've kept my long lists of favorite movies over there in the MMmusing margin. For starters, I think I put the lists there because, when the blog was brand new, I desperately wanted to have some content on-site. I also imagined that one by one I'd eventually post about each movie and say why I loved it. I now realize I haven't done that, and I probably won't. (By the way, for the 0.05% of my readership that overlaps with the Sports Guy's readership, you may have noted that several years ago he started off an attempt to write columns on his top 75 [or some such number] favorite sports movies, but has only written about 10 of them, and the project seems to have died.)

A reason I probably won't is that I don't really feel a need to talk about these movies at a critical level. That's not my field and, as Ms. Kael's suggests, I don't naturally respond to them in a high art sort of way. I liked putting the lists together because the only real rule was that the movies had to be important and particularly satisfying to me. I realize that sounds kind of anti-intellectual, but I don't mean it that way. Many of the movies are probably worthy of long written tributes, and I could probably write decent reactions to them, but the truth is that my reasons for liking them often have more to do with my associations - what the movies meant in my life. For example, I've kind of snobbishly kept Chariots of Fire only on my honorable mention list because I know people snicker sometimes at its earnestness and manipulativeness. It seems to have a rep as one of the less deserving Best Picture winners, but I know it deserves to be in my top grouping.

I can't really pretend to be objective about it. Like I mentioned before with the HBO broadcast of Camelot on Broadway, Chariots of Fire intersected with a peculiar moment in my family's history when we'd first gotten cable TV but did not yet have a VCR. If a movie we liked was on HBO, my siblings and I would watch it every chance we'd get, because you could never be sure when you'd see it again. (Ironically, with Camelot, there ended up being a loooong wait to see it again.) So I watched Chariots of Fire -which had completely bored and confused me the first time I saw it in a theater - over and over, and it's now like a part of my family.

It's also finally (as of 2005) out in a widescreen DVD version with two excellent documentaries that I watched this weekend. Seeing them (and the movie a few weeks back) has convinced me to move it to my top 13 14 favorite movies list. The movie is so beautiful in so many ways and such a part of my life, why should I pretend I'm too cool to love it? I also keep trying to convince myself that A Fish Called Wanda doesn't really deserve such exalted status, but you know what? I'm not sure I can think of a movie with four performances as picture perfect as those delivered by Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese, and Michael Palin. So it stays as well. And maybe I'll someday write well-crafted essays in which I argue for the merits of these two very different 80's flicks, but it's useful to remind myself that there's no need to do that.

Unfortunately, there is a need for me to think about analysis as it relates to Bach, Beethoven, etc. I just hope I don't kill them in the process. (Oh yeah, they're already dead.)

[QUICK UPDATE: Another way of saying this is that thinking about how I react to and enjoy movies provides a nice counterbalance to the tendency to overthink my way about music. I'm most fundamentally interested in why it is that music is meaningful to me and others, but sometimes one naturally gets lost in explanations that are too intellectual. Here's a recent Dial M for Musicology post that addresses that problem in a different way.]

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