Friday, July 21, 2017

what makes me who i am

1. I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets today, and while it had some awesome visuals, the overall plot was fairly standard fantasy fare. Entertaining, sure. But, nowhere as original or as memorable as, say, The Fifth Element.

2. While I have ended my obsessive, extended time with Sing Street, I don't plan to return to the dystopian films to finish out the month. Instead, I think I'm just going to go with whatever comes up. My summer classes are over and I've got time.

3. Despite that image. I'm not sure I want to write about Valerian, really. In fact, the links to Rogue One yesterday got me to thinking more generally about films. Like, what do I want from them> What do I expect from them? Why do I embrace them such that I could, in Fever Pitch-style, outline my life according to the movies I saw at certain times--Cliffhanger on our senior trip to Maui; Say Anything (not the first time I'd seen it) in a motel in Los Angeles with my then-future now-ex wife; walking home from seeing Cocktail and getting picked up in my family's new car, purchased while I was out; watching The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising with my D&D friends late at night after a game night; watching Born Yesterday after trying to sneak into Indecent Proposal as a teenager; going out with a high school group of friends that would exist just for that one night in a weird, almost teen-movie-ready fluke to see Sleepwalkers and only getting in because one of the girls in the group lied about her age and flirted with the ticket booth guy; leaving the Sunday Los Angeles Times movie page, open to the full-page ad for Project X on the floor in front of my dad while he watched tv to subtly hint that I wanted to see a movie that particular Sunday (and, we did go); seeing Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in the afternoon, opening weekend, having some Chicken Littles at Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner, then seeing Halloween 4 again that night because my sister wasn't able to come earlier...

And the specifics here might not even be fully accurate, but what matters is that this is how I remember things. And I actually wish that I'd seen more movies with friends, growing up, now. Lately, I've seen a few with my D&D friend Jared. In high school, I saw a couple movies with my nerdy friend Alain (like Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country after a half day of school and a trip to the ice skating rink). But, mostly I have seen movies with various sisters of mine. The youngest two--Bobbie and Brooke--we've probably seen the most together, including a lot of bad horror films rented from Now Playing, a video store that was just a few blocks from the house we moved into when I was 17. As a teen, I also spent nights at my sister Stacey's house or my sister Susan's house, watching whatever looked interesting at the rental store. (It wasn't my rental store, so I don't remember the name.) And, I saw a lot with my mother as a kid, including a lot of movies at the local second-run theater The Academy and a lot of tapes rented from the Wherehouse. In my late 20s and 30s, i.e. when I was married, it would be a few movies here and there with my wife, more as she got more interested in movies, and a lot of rentals from Blockbuster, then Netflix, when it was all discs by mail. And, now, between Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, not to mention HBO, Starz and Showtime, I can find pretty much any movie the day I want to watch it. Or, I'll go to the theater, at least once a week. Thousands of films, many more thousands of hours, spent in the dark, watching a screen, watching someone else's story...

Sometimes, I'll admit, it's because my own story is just not as interesting or exciting. But, it's not just that. I'm not one to list escapism as the primary reason I watch movies. I think it's not that other stories are more interesting or exciting, but that they are more clear, perhaps. Like, just by dint of being contained within their cinematic confines, a set runtime, with opening and closing credits, it's simpler, easier to follow, easier to invest energy into. In real life, I've always had a hard time planning too far ahead. (I've explained before how my religious upbringing at the end of the Cold War fucked with my impulse to plan.) In movies, I can see where it's going, I can see how the plot will be resolved, and then it is resolved, and that's so much...

Better isn't the right word. But, picture it: I watch a romantic comedy, girl meets guy, they get to know one another after some meet-cute, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way, they overcome it, and end up happily together; meanwhile, in reality, I'm like a timid teenager still, most of the time, hesitant to act on an attraction, afraid of being rejected, afraid of not being rejected, girl meets another guy, or another girl, and they end up happily together.

Picture it: I watch a movie about some inspirational teacher--Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, perhaps, or my favorite, Dead Poets Society--that teacher has a hard time at first, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way of connecting with the students, then suddenly the students get it, the teacher gets them, and they pass that big exam or make bold life decisions, the music rises, the action crescendos, and the credits roll; meanwhile, in reality, I teach a lot of college freshman, taking a course they are required to take and don't really want to take, and I want it to be something important, like I want to teach them public speaking skills because I want them to be able to express their identities and put their big ideas out into the world, and I want my Mr. Holland's Opus moment where all the old students come back for an emotional reunion, or I want my students to step onto their desks and call out, "Oh Captain, My Captain" but really they barely do the work, manage some basic speeches on some generic topics and most of them are forgotten by me almost as quickly as they forget me.

Picture it: I watch a nice family holiday movie like Home for the Holidays or Christmas Vacation and there are squabbles, maybe even serious fights, maybe some hilarious antics, but a lesson is learned and all (or most) is well in the end; in reality, though, my family's holiday gatherings tend to be boring, at least until an interesting board game comes out, except for maybe once when one drunk sister got into an argument with... Oddly enough, our mother who was already asleep at the time; it was a very one-sided sort of argument. Christmas gatherings (never a thing growing up with my family, but a thing in recent years) offer up opportunity for karaoke, but I can do that elsewhere, when friends are up for it. Or I can watch a crappy pseudo-karaoke film like last year's Sing!... Actually, that is an awful plan. Though a good musical film is a nice option.






Last year, one of the things I considered when ending this blog--if you're confused because this blog clearly still exists, get over it--was a podcast or YouTube thing with me and someone else discussing movies after watching them. Never found someone to do that with, so I did YouTube reviews myself for a few months. Then, just as I was actually getting better at editing those things quickly, I was getting frustrated with the lack of views. (And, now a couple friends of mine are doing a podcast talking about movies; go figure.) When I took a Media Theory class in grad school, the teacher, ostensibly a film and television teacher not a communication studies teacher, was shocked when I told him I wrote over a thousand words a day about movies. "Do you want to be a film critic?" he asked. Best I could say in response was that I wouldn't mind it, but I also wouldn't know how to get into that. If I could make a living watching movies, I would probably jump at the chance. Or, I'd hesitate just long enough to miss my chance, because that's what I do.

But seriously, I don't imagine giving up movies. When I hear people talk about the handful of movies they saw this year, I can barely fathom it. Like, why would you just exist in your own life all the time like that? Or is your life that exciting? (For the record, though, if all of my classes were as full of eager students like the Upward Bound classes I taught this summer, teaching might feel as exciting in practice as it does in my imagination.)

For now, I need my movies. I need my television. I need my boardgame and RPG time. And, more so lately than maybe ever before, I need my friend time. And, my kid time, of course. When any of these things overlap, that is just a magnificent bonus.

all we did is survive

My friend Shari mentioned that one of her problems with Rogue One was that lack of character arcs. And, then I went out to see Dunkirk. And, while I'm all for characters getting arcs and getting their own little stories--and I think I've made the point more than a few times in this blog that I can appreciate the arcs of characters beyond what the finite limits of a particular film allow--but sometimes, 1) I think that a certain kind of story doesn't necessarily need characters to really change as such and 2) you really shouldn't look to Star Wars movies for serious character arcs, anyway. (Sure, characters have their plot arcs, but their changes are shallow, more plot-driven than personality-driven.)

And, Dunkirk makes fantastic use of its actors, and offers up characters that are easy to follow, relatively easy to care about, and situations that are both simple enough to follow and surprisingly complicated at times, with sequences cut together out of order just as the story gets more complex, more difficult for the characters...

I should explain that.

Let me backtrack.

Nolan's latest starts with a bit of the stuff that I'm starting to get tired of in film--a bit of text to describe the setting, because the general audience is apparently made of idiots. Except, Nolan actually plays with the text a little, by intercutting four lines of text, one at a time, with the opening action, and the last couple lines are something like "waiting for deliverance" cut to action "waiting for a miracle" and it's clear before we've even really seen the horror of all of these soldiers stuck on the beach that this isn't going to go well. (My primary complaint with Dunkirk, actually, is that the film doesn't follow enough characters who don't survive... And I guess that's a minor SPOILER. Oops.)

So then, we get a few subtitles early on, setting up three interconnected and eventually overlapping stories: "1. The Mole | one week" "1. The Sea | one day" and "3. The Air | one hour." Essentially, each of these stories takes as long as it says, and they all end at about the same time... Well, the "sea" story extends past the others (and past its "hour") but the times all connect together just before the end of the film. Nolan's choice to overlay these differently paced stories on top of one another as if they are concurrent (when anyone paying attention will figure out fairly early that they are not) creates a strange sort of beast. A few times, we see scenes we've already seen, but from a different perspective. Other times, we see characters--notably Cillian Murphy's "Shivering Soldier" (so many of the characters go unnamed, which adds to the effect I'm about to describe)--already changed (but not in a character arc sort of way) by events we have not seen yet... Actually, another minor SPOILER, Murphy is tangentially connected earlier to the "one week" story, but we never actually see what happens to him to get him to the "one day" story; we just know it was bad, the ship he was on went down and he was the only survivor. We see well ahead of time (in the "one hour" story) what will happen with the young men fleeing the beach in an abandoned boat in the "one week" story, but it doesn't ruin the story, because this story is not built on the cohesiveness of its time, nor the specificity of its characters. It is built on something more like the idea of the chaos (including the chaos of time and the experience of it) surrounding these events, which are a series of repetitive attempts to leave Dunkirk and attacks stopping those attempts. Young men fleeing a war their losing make it onto ships, then those ships go down, and those young men have to find a new way to leave. It's simple. And so is its repetition, and the cycling of these three layers over each other adds to both the simplicity of understanding and complexity of presentation of the action.

And, I hope that made sense.

Nolan explained it to Premiere like this:

For the soldiers embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; and if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel.

To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; even if the story, one again, is very simple.

Coming back to the top, though, Dunkirk doesn't need characters to change through the action. These are human beings afraid for their lives, or setting out to defend others (afraid or not). There is no act one setup to establish characters before the action gets going. Tom Hardy's Farrier, a fighter pilot in the "one hour" story, starts the story setting out to protect other soldiers and continues to do just that. There are plot arcs but his character doesn't change. Even--bigger SPOILER, but slightly vague--the very end of his part of the story doesn't really represent a change, because we had no reason not to expect that he might sacrifice himself in such a way. Mark Rylance's Mr. Dawson sets out to rescue men from Dunkirk and does that. We get to know him a little better as the action goes on, but that is not the same thing as a character arc. Fionn Whitehead's Tommy and Aneurin Barnard's Gibson start the film wanting to flee and spend the film trying, again and again, to do so. These are soldiers. Or good men (and women, though we barely see them) going to help soldiers. There doesn't need to be scripted depth. There doesn't need to be arbitrary arcs put upon them separate from the action. I had a thought, perhaps unfair, after the film. Pearl Harbor is what happens to a story like this when you put arbitrary character arcs onto it. You get cheap romance, shallow interpersonal conflict, and the historical action--arguably the point to making the movie in the first place--gets shunted to the side...

That being said, playing soldiers and the like too simply results in crap like the ending of Behind Enemy Lines where Owen Wilson randomly decides he really likes being in the Navy because reasons. Kenneth Branagh's Commander Bolton, for example, sticks around at Dunkirk in the end (not much of a SPOILER) to help the French troops leave, which is nice, but somewhat arbitrary as we've spent no time getting to know Bolton, and this action is not a surprise, or something out of character. It's just good soldier is good solider, too simple. And, could actually use a little more depth to the decision (or maybe Bolton is based on a real guy and that choice was a big deal in history; I don't know enough about the history here to be sure.)

As I said, I love a good character arc. I love a film that takes its time and let's characters grow and change. And, while I liked Rogue One, it was definitely a flawed film. I imagine a longer version, in which we really get to know Jyn and understand why she was a criminal, why it makes sense to turn from criminal to rebel (separate from the obviousness of the plot point of seeing her father killed), get to know Cassian and see how this guy who murders a guy in his first scene (and, like Han Solo, who kinda did the same so many years before, there is little reason for him to be a better man later; it just happens), get to know Chirrut and Baze and appreciate their relationship even more, see why their sacrifice makes sense... I'm reminded of Glory, a very different, historical film, but one that also ends with (SPOILER for a two decades' old movie, and for history) the characters all dying, but there has been more character-driven buildup, we've gotten to know Shaw and Trip and Forbes and Rawlins and we've come to care about them... Then again, that's a problem generally with newer films compared to older ones--storytelling has changed, simplified, because so many of the beats have been hit so many times in so many films that we don't need to linger on them anymore. But imagine a version of Rogue One that does linger on its beats, that spends time with the main characters on that ship, having just seen Jedha City destroyed, and they actually have to deal with that fact, deal with what it means, and let the gravity of it sink in. But even that is not a new problem. Alec Guinness had some gravitas to him, to be sure, but Alderaan is destroyed and all we get is one old man having to sit down? Old men sit down all the time. Where is the meditation on the horrific reality of an entire planet being destroyed, millions of lives being snuffed out? Similarly, in The Force Awakens, multiple planets (or moons or whatever; don't go to Star Wars for science that makes sense) are destroyed and they might as well just be a handful of deaths. Or one. The film has no time to really consider the impact of most, if not all, of its horrors.

Dunkirk, on the other hand, by keeping most of its characters nameless, or nearly nameless, universalizes the various attacks to create a very repetitive horror in vivid detail. Not much gore, but plenty of explosions and men drowning. And, the sound design--some of the scenes are hard to watch, and rightly so, because of the way gunshots and explosions and the creaking of metal tears through the silence. (And some sequences go virtually without dialogue, so there is a lot of silence as well.)






And now, I kinda want to watch The Lord of the Rings again, all half a day of it, or however long it takes to watch all those extended versions. Because, there's a fantasy film that (because it's a trilogy) takes its time, lets its characters live a little, and also pauses from time to time to linger on the horror of what's going on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

i often wonder what she's thinking about

It's in one of those melancholic scenes I was talking about yesterday that Brendan says today's title. He and Conor are sitting on the stairs watching their mother out on the porch. Seems she rushes home from work every day to sit in the sun and read her papers, and she has a drink. Then the sun goes behind a nearby tall tree and she goes inside. Brendan says she wants to vacation in Spain but their father won't take her. And, he wonders what she thinks about.

Earlier in the film, Conor spelled out a similar notion, except it's not about the wondering, it's about imagining, deciding for the version of another person inside your head. He tells Eamon,

When you don't know someone, they're more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But, when you know them, there's limits to them.

Eamon says that doesn't make sense, and in some handwritten notes I scribbled sometime last week, I said of Eamon's response, "Clearly, he's never fallen for someone." He's got his rabbits and he seems to easily attach himself to Conor, but seriously, for someone capable of such creativity, he is lacking in imagination. I mean, that's just basic stuff about other people. You never know everything in their heads, especially if they're strangers or just acquaintances, or someone new that you wish was something more--you have to imagine what might fill in the gaps in what you can see. If you're lucky, or if you're particularly clever, you'll turn out to be right about what makes the person who they are...

Darren, for example, seems to know a lot about Raphina considering he tells Conor that she never talks to anyone. Has he imagined it? Has he talked to her before? Did she reject him? When Conor tells her that kid behind him is his producer, is that a look of recognition on her face because she's met him before?

The same works 1) for movies, for characters in movies, and 2) in real life.

A movie can't tell us everything about a character. It gives us what we need in order to understand the character's role in the story, and maybe it throws in a little extra--again, like Eamon and his rabbits, or Penny sitting in the sun with her papers--but so much of their internal lives is left for us to imagine... or, unfortunately, for a lot of us to not even seek because we just aren't that interested. But, I'm interested. I imagine what characters are doing when they're not on screen. I imagine what characters were doing before we meet them at the start of the film or what they're doing after the credits roll.

Maybe that's weird. But, who hasn't fallen in love with the love interest in a movie? Or wished for the same weird best friend as the protagonist?

Like in real life, too. You know that scene in so many movies, the new couple is together on the train or in the park or some place public, and it's like they don't want to get to know each other directly just yet--too nervous--so they imagine together what nearby people are doing, who these strangers around them are. I do that. And, I've described before how I play out whole conversations before they happen sometimes. I wonder what people are thinking, what they're doing, when they're not around me. Family members, friends, with lives of their own. Of course. I mean, of course they've got lives of their own. But, I guess I'm jealous sometimes. Inappropriately, maybe. But, I am.

Jealous of people in movies, too. Like Conor and his friends putting their band together, I would have loved to do something like that when I was that age.

People in movies, they have clearly defined goals most of the time. Clearly defined motives and obvious signs as to when they've made it. Guy gets the girl. Girls gets the guy. Guy gets his dream job. Girl gets a promotion. Or saves the world. So many levels to it, but so clear. Life is not nearly often enough so clear. Even if you know what you want, you don't always know how to get it. Or maybe it's just impossible. In a movie, there's some way around the impossible. A way to get the guy, get the job, win the fight, whatever. Anything is possible.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

you're not happy being sad

Sing Street--and, I think I'm about done with this film, I swear--begins with Conor playing guitar and making up lyrics on the spot, mostly basing them on the phrases he can hear his parents Robert and Penny yelling from downstairs. Then you get a news report about poor folks from Ireland migrating to England to look for something better. Then, Robert and Penny gather their three kids together to announce that they're having money troubles and Conor has to transfer schools. He was going to a Jesuit school but now he's headed to the Christian Brothers (Catholic) school, Synge Street. In passing, we also learn that Brendan has dropped out of college. In the first three minutes, we know so much about what's to come. It's a great example of how to set up the status quo quickly. Conor is a musician. His parents' marriage is coming apart. Brendan is a slacker. And, Conor is headed to a new school. The plot is in motion.

That opening bit with the singing and parents yelling, specifically, though--that one is brilliant because it sets up story beats and sets a mood. Sing Street is a decidedly optimistic film, but it is built on a melancholic foundation. I think this is why I like it so much; I can relate. I'm optimistic, or I try to be; but I am also so very often a cynic and a pessimist. And melancholy is certainly one of my settings.

(Like if you were all watching my version of Inside Out, there wouldn't just be Sadness but also Melancholy, and they would team up sometimes (like last night while I was writing this blog. But there's also Joy, or at least some version of Happiness. And, I think I've got a Dreamer in there. And, my Anger probably sits around in the control room thinking about current politics and the state of the dishes in the kitchen sink...

And, that was an odd tangent.)

Thirteen minutes in, we've met Brother Baxter, we've met Barry, we've met Darren, and now we meet Raphina. In the next few minutes, we'll meet everyone else that matters, Eamon and the rest of the band.

And more of that Irish melancholy. Eamon's father is at Saint John of God's, "a place alcoholics go to get off the drink, stop beating up their wives and kids... And neighbors." We already know Conor's parents aren't happy. Barry's parents are drug addicts and we see his father hit him. Raphina has no parents, and while she is never explicit about what happened with them, it seems that her father abused her sexually (and he was later hit by a car) and her mother was sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, there's Brother Baxter, whose jobs it is to teach the boys at Synge Street to be good Catholic boys. And, he shoves Conor's face into a sink full of water, and rubs soap on his face as well, to get makeup off of him, and the scene is briefly quite violent and then quite sad.

Twenty minutes in, the band is together, the band is named--Sing Street. Ten minutes later, they shoot their first video--"The Riddle of the Model"--and everything is in place. Well, I suppose there's one more piece, but Raphina's boyfriend is less important to the plot than her dreams of being a model are (and he's introduced just a couple minutes later, anyway.)

But, what is really great here is not just that Sing Street puts all its pieces together so efficiently, but also that each piece connects to the plot. There are superfluous details, to be sure--like Eamon's rabbits, except even that bit of characterization fits with his friendliness and his eagerness to please. For comparison, I saw 47 Meters Down today, and like last year's shark movie, The Shallows (which I reviewed on YouTube, they throw in some big life moment that's going on right when all this shark business happens. It's unnecessary, it adds very little in The Shallows and adds nothing to 47 Meters Down. But here--here all of these little things add up to a surprisingly cohesive whole. All the abusive or damages parents produce a situation ripe for someone like Brother Baxter to be the asshole that he is. And, it sets Ireland, or at least Dublin, as a place where of course dreams are worth following because all that normal get-married-and-have-kids bullshit clearly isn't working. Why not run away when there's no reason to think staying will amount to anything?

Monday, July 17, 2017

start up the time machine

Let's go back in time to when everything was okay.

Surely, that's a time that exists. Movies call us back, make us remember the past in very specific ways, offer up rose-colored glasses and limited perspectives to make the past be just a smaller version of itself. If it can fit in a script, fit on a screen, then we don't have to remember how it really was, don't have to remember that life was always difficult. As kids, sure, we didn't know enough to know enough about what was wrong. Or maybe we grew up in a cult that told us the world was ending and all those Cold War news stories and movies were going to come true so we never really figured out how life was supposed to work, never imagined the far off future would really come. And, now it's here. And, I just want to watch this nice little movie set in the 1980s because sometimes it feels like this future I've found myself grown up in is too far outside my control to be any good. Don't get me wrong; sometimes it's wonderful, sometimes I have great times with my kids, or play fun games with friends, sometimes I get to spend time with amazing people, an amazing person, someone who makes it all seem better. But, sometimes... Sometimes, a good day can twist into a bad day in naught but a moment. And, I need something like Sing Street to untwist it...











I think back on my own private school, wooden paddles and overbearing teachers. Ridiculous demands based on some imaginary god's rulings from longer ago than most of our societal norms were even put together yet. I remember getting into trouble a lot. I remember having fun. I remember being sad. I remember being happy. I remember playing games on the playground, climbing on and jumping off the bars. I remember having crushes on girls and finding stupid ways to let them know... or not. I remember being enamored, enlightened, enraged, energized. Mostly I remember being afraid to express myself a lot of the time because I knew someone was going to punish me. A teacher with a paddle. God. Someone.

O wish I had an outlet like a band in high school. I wish I had something more... normal? I'm reminded sometimes that I'll never be normal, that I've never been normal. There's no point sometimes to making certain changes because they won't work or won't stick. I am who I am. I thought years ago I was past the point of thinking I didn't deserve good things in my life. Then, in a stray unpleasant moment, I'm reminded of that feeling. And, I'm not surprised.

What I want is to go after the girl, go after the dream, run away on a boat for England and all that. Well, not really a boat, and not really England. The real girl is too good for me. So, I imagine the movie girl--Raphina today--and the real one can live her life, I can life mine, and we don't have to ruin it. I don't have to ruin it.

This is why this blog persists. It doesn't matter how few people read it. I need somewhere to talk to myself, if to no one else, about movies, about life. Most of the time, it helps.

Other times, it's like my kingdom for a time machine. I could go back in time to the real 1980s, tell my young self to keep dreaming big, to start ignoring all the bullshit in church and school sooner and actually imagine the future.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

what tyranny could stand up to that?

In her review of Sing Street, Sheila O'Malley points out, "There are pitfalls everywhere in a coming-of-age period piece like this one." She argues that director John "Carney avoids them easily, keeping the film on its proper track" And, she explains how this works: "It's extremely confident: It knows what it wants to be, what story it wants to tell."

And--coming back to the advice of the the other day--that's what a person needs to be, too. Gotta be confident. Gotta know what you want to be. Gotta know what story you want to tell, the story being you and how you present that self to the world. Easy to fake on the Internet. (I wrote a whole master's thesis about it.) Harder to fake in the real world. And, I mean real confidence, not the pathetic arrogance and ego-centrism that pretends to confidence online or, lately, in politics. Party lines draw people into corners where they're quicker to defend their positions out of the illusion of confidence rather than any actual measured logic or thought. And the bullshit piles upon itself in both directions... All directions.

What we need is people who actually take the time to think. Or at least to dream. Something beyond, or better than, bullshit rhetoric stolen from online echo chambers... And, I'm drifting back into politics. I've been avoiding politics as much as I can lately. That's why Sing Street for over a week now. I had a list of dystopian, politically-inclined films for the month. And, I just couldn't. Because, I'd rather dream than tear down. I'd rather think than react. I'd rather love than hate.

O'Malley describes something important about this film. She writes:

While "Sing Street" is often hilarious (in a darkly honest way), it's also so full of heart that by the end you've seen a film where dreams really do mean something, where escape hatches exist, you just have to be old enough and imaginative enough to take a chance.

The kind of thing we need more of, not just up on the screen--movies are full of dreamers--but in reality. Dare to dreams that life might be better for people who aren't white cisgender males, dare to imagine that those who have might actually be good enough to help those who have not. That women and minorities can have power.

For example, today I woke up to the announcement about the new Doctor in Doctor Who--Jodie Whittaker, and a bunch of frightened little men going on about how it's about tradition, not gender, the most bullshit argument there is. Your tradition, you sexist jackasses, is about gender, is about bigotry and sexism, and you need to stop being frightened when someone dares to take a little of your power away.

And, my dreams get me arguing politics again.

Maybe I just can't avoid it.

Not without, say, chasing after a few dreams myself, occupy more of my time with things new and exciting. Let the world burn as long as I can enjoy my little corner of it, I suppose. Except, that's exactly the worst way to think about it and just what might actually help. A bad dichotomy.

We do need to believe that escape is a possibility, that hard lives can be left behind, that whether you pick yourself up or get help from someone else, you might actually rise up from whatever drudgery is keeping you down. We need to both operate as if, and absolutely ensure the truth of it as well, societal prejudices and norms can be overcome. And, we need to operate as if we could actually find consensus if we tried. That arguing is not all. That being the loudest doesn't mean you're right. And thinking you're right doesn't mean you can dismiss everyone who disagrees with you.

Me--I like art. Movies especially. Beautiful things set up to reflect the world. Sometimes the reflection hurts. Sometimes, the reflection is better than my immediately reality. But, there's always something to see. (Even a bad movie can show you something useful if you look at it the right way.)

Sing Street inspires me to want to want to be better, to try some things I've been pretending for a while I haven't needed to do anymore.

The world needs more inspiration. Like the Doctor Who thing... I wish I could find one of my friend's Facebook posts so I could credit who said it, but I'll just have to paraphrase it anonymously. The gist was this: the new Doctor is a woman and the world won't end, but in ten years a bunch of little girls worlds would have gotten bigger. That's the exact notion that frightens far too many men, and too many women as well, I bet. But, it's what we need. I mean, it's not like men have done such a great job with it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

hitch a ride on a dream

Asked by Tasha Robinson at The Verge, in regards to the end of Sing Street:

It's clear the scene in the gym [i.e. the band's performance of "Drive It Like You Stole It"] is a fantasy, because it's got that bright candy color, and things happen that are so obviously unreal. But in the boat crossing [i.e. Conor and Raphina running away to England at the end of the film], you spend a lot of time establishing the physical danger of what they're doing. It seems like if it was just a romantic fantasy, you would have just had them sail off together. But there was a point where it looked like it was going to end with them both dying in the Irish Sea.

director John Carney responds:

I wish they had, in a way. I'm sorry! But there is a side of me that wishes they had. Given the difficulty of people who are making journeys, and end up dying...

I don't think it's supposed to be a fully real sequence. I think they're supposed to be quite brave, setting off. But it's supposed to be... it's funny. Maybe I do want to have a winning sequence, but... there's an element of it that could be a music video, or a fantasy. They're in a boat together, and it's dangerous, and they're being rocked by the sea, and he's like the brave captain, but it's kind of all in his head.

The thing is, Carney is wrong.

Don't care if he wrote and directed it. I don't even care if he wanted them to actually die in the end--he's being a little flippant, there, so I think it's safe to assume he doesn't mean that he really wanted that, just that he thinks of the end of the film as one more fantasy. Of course, it's a bloody fantasy. The whole film is a fantasy. It's a bloody film, you spanner. It's one big fantasy. Poor kid makes good, gets the girl, follows his dreams. It's the stuff dreams are made of, the stuff films are made of. This is your counter, essentially, to how your Once ended. That ended with the relationship being finite, wrapped up in the music they made together. This one allows for something more open-ended, something with more possibilities. That is not a bad thing.

Besides, if you wanted to play it like it's a bloody fantasy, you don't have the ferry there, you don't have them getting splashed by the cold water; those are elements of reality, the difficult of their life in the near future writ in simple metaphor. Ferries full of people will get in your way. The weather will be out of your control. (Just ask Phil Connors.) Life is never going to just hand you what you want, even if you do make the effort to follow your dreams. But, this is film, this is Hollywood--well, Ireland, but still, Cinema, capital C. It should, unless the point of the film is something like the opposite, be a little easier to chase after your dreams in a film, a little easier to win the love you want, to sing and be applauded, to steal away to England in your grandpa's boat. These are things, in the language of cinema, that actually work. The fantasy sequence before is distinct because in that moment, Conor is disappointed by Raphina not coming, and we see the video that could be. As that scene ends with Conor saying, "Okay, let's shoot it," the little bit of actual performance and actual dancing that we see isn't even a part of the actual video they make. We're even farther removed from the reality than Conor is there. And, it matters because we fall for Raphina just like he does, we fall for music and music videos just like he does, and in that moment, we need the fantasy as much as he does. In the end, though, we don't need the fantasy at that level anymore. And we certainly don't need them to fail either. We need the reality of what that boat trip entails. We need the reality of what that boat trip means. Because this is our fantasy. This is our film to watch, to take in, to form our own version of in our heads (a la Benesh (2011)). Director or not, he doesn't get to change that after the fact.

Also, I think this version he's imagining, where the sequence is still fantasy--that wouldn't work. He admits the interview that if they had died, "It wouldn't have been anything... It just wouldn't have been a film. It just would have been a joke, or a twist, or something." As a lover of film, as a lover of this film, I say, if they didn't really run away to England, it also wouldn't have been a film. It would have been a joke, a wasted opportunity to let the fantasy play out as a reality.