Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Unapologetic Love Letter to Movies

I love movies, and it is good to be reminded of that. This past week I caught a couple movies on TV whose greatness I had largely forgotten. I came in the middle and only watched a few minutes, but I simply could not peel my eyes away.

The films were Good Will Hunting and The Limey. (The latter was actually being played at the homeless shelter! A resident asked me if it was like Pulp Fiction, a favorite of his. Oh, cinema, how I love you.) The former, which you are likelier to know, is directed by Gus Van Sant, starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Robin Williams. I hadn't seen it in years -- I used to own it but seem to have misplaced it -- but sitting with my wife I was speaking lines with the characters, anticipating coming scenes, utterly transported and transplanted into the world on the screen. I cannot say enough about it.

The Limey is a devastating tale of revenge directed by the brilliant Steven Soderbergh and starring Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda. No need to say more, other than that it is brutal fare while beautiful somehow, simply arresting in every frame.

That was the word that kept coming to me: arresting. I mentioned in a recent post how much I am not watching movies lately, which is surely a healthy discipline for a cinephile like me, but catching even brief moments of those beloved films I realized how much of an absence it has become for me. My great love, gone for a third of a year! Sometimes I feel the need to apologize for sounding so ridiculous about something so potentially trivial, but movies are art, and those particular movies reminded me that sometimes it is okay to be head over heels in love with art.

And, my God, I am head over heels in love with movies.

There are moments when watching a movie in a theater, as part of an engaged audience, that are transcendent. Not just aesthetically or crowd-pleasing, but truly magnificent. A moment that you cannot forget.

There are films from which you honestly cannot remove your eyes even for a moment. Don't blink! That frame is essential!

My directors, those who speak my language, whose films demand and own my eyes for 90-180 minutes without fail each time out, are the poets and the entertainers, and often the best kind of mix:
  • Steven Spielberg and his profound populism;
  • Stanley Kubrick and his singular vision;
  • Quentin Tarantino and his precisely attuned cinematic drunkenness;
  • Darren Aranofsky and his immanent transcendence;
  • Steven Soderbergh and his unpredictably engaging eclecticism;
  • Spike Jonze and his quirky attentiveness;
  • The Coen brothers and their wacky absurdism;
  • Christopher Nolan and his uncompromising psychological depth;
  • M. Night Shyamalan and his unmediated, fierce personality;
  • Terrence Malick and his steady, free, meandering, meditative lyricism;
  • Paul Thomas Anderson and his wildly controlled, larger-than-life widescreen;
  • Martin Scorsese and his frenetic, epic, messy vistas of dangerous lives;
  • David Gordon Green and his wholly humane studies of imperfect people.

We see Malick in Green, Altman in Anderson, Kubrick in Aranofsky, Hitchcock in Shyamalan, much in Spielberg, most in Tarantino, all in Scorsese. Serious and funny, action and silence, far away and zoomed in, story and character, grand and tiny, pastiche and unique.

Every single one, amidst a thousand others, an artist, an auteur, a master. Painting in moving snapshots life, human and otherwise, past and present, real and imagined, realistic and fantastic, bare bones and balls out.

Perfect is the word. Arresting. Our lauded poets, and rightly so. And I love them for it. Quite simply, I love movies. They are a good in life unmeasured by statistics or survival or standards we know, because they are art, and art is not qualitative. It is felt, it is loved, it is hugged and treasured and adored and scrutinized, like family, like a lover, like an irascible ancient god always on the move.

Speaking for myself, I love 'em to death. Like basketball and Texas and theology and Wilco and Mexican food and the Spurs and Austin and the guitar and trees in autumn and holidays with family, I love, love, love, love, love movies. It is the kind of thing, the kind of gift, that makes life good. So I am thankful, and express my undying love, for the wonderful gift of the world of film.

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