Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hellboy, I love thee

I have never been completely moved by a movie.
I've been excited, thrilled, scared, even provoked (intellectually) but moved, I mean deeply, mortally, life-alteringly touched? Nope. Don't get me wrong. I like movies. Some have left indelible marks - Apocalypse Now immediately comes to mind, changed the way I think about war, even the human condition. There have been memorable characters and performances, even in mediocre films like Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men (yes, I thought it was a mediocre film - actually worse, a narrative disaster, and Brolin's performance was more memorable than Javiar Bardem's.) But have I been changed by the experience? This is the question I've been asking myself as my wife and I have recently started making semi-regular trips to the video store to catch up on films we've missed in recent years. I've been mostly disappointed. I've always considered myself an intellectual sort of guy, a cultural elitist if not an outright snob. So, why, suddenly do I realize that when it comes to movies the ones I prefer are technicolor, smash-em-up, bang-em-up thrill rides? The recent spate of Hellboys and Batmans and Hulks and Harry Potters seem to me to represent filmmaking at its apex. And now there is this piece from the National Post which goes some way to explaining why I'm feeling this way. There are certain things that movies do well, violence being one of them, slapstick comedy and melodrama being two more, and certain things movies don't do so well, telling moving stories for example. It's the nature of the medium, a cool one that is incapable of generating the warmth, tone and intimacy required for telling a story that really gets under your skin. But here is the problem, and it's alluded to in the very last quote of the Pauline Kael piece; what happens when movie-culture becomes the very definition and standard of culture in general? An answer: It changes the art being produced across the board. Which seems to be one of the reasons why the Harry Potter books have been such ripping successes. They approximate the film experience in style and content. Unfortunately, books like Harry Potter do poorly at approximating the reading experience ie. as novels they make great films. And then there are Michael Chabon-type novels that attempt to meld popular genre (comics) more suitable for films with literature. In the desire to achieve commercial viability novelists have been trying to reach audiences by encorporating filmic strategies and standards and have abandoned the elements of narrative that make reading literature a uniquely sublime, multi-layered, intimate experience. A vicious circle ensues - with audiences and writers reenforcing these tendencies, and marginalizing everything that does not fit. So here's one safe prediction: The Hulks and Hancocks of this world will continue their ascendency at the box office, as will the Will-Ferrell-type goofball comedies. This is a good thing. Long live Wall-E! And here's another prediction: the fiction bestseller lists will increasingly feature books that have filmic qualities, magic, fantasy, adventure etc. You'll find me at those movies, but I'll be reading other books.

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