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Betty
07-07-2006, 12:44 AM
So I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for my food and found a newspaper to peruse, etc. I was reading this random article and it seriously made me laugh out loud two or three times, in a public place, which is totally impressive for me. Although, you might have to be Canadian to get half of it. The kicker was when I got to the end and read the little blurb, I almost died.

Link (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060706.SUMMER06/TPStory/?query=R.+M.+Vaughan)

Forget art films, I'd rather watch stuff blow up

R.M. VAUGHAN

It's summer, also known as the silly season as far as cultural offerings go. This kicks off a series of columns on the banal, inane and just plain silly entertainment options out there and why it's actually the most wonderful time of the year.

My friend P is an Important Canadian Filmmaker. His films are subtly acted, lyrical meditations on daily life, deftly spiced with sly, urbane whimsy and the occasional bout of frantic, Godard-esque cinematography. Of course, you have not seen any of his films, for all of the above reasons.

Like many Important Canadian Filmmakers, P is a world citizen of cinema. He has never met a sombre, poorly lit domestic drama about oppressed Uzbek strawberry farmers he didn't love. The arrival of the latest documentary from Belize or a new movie from Quebec about Catholic families behaving badly (i.e. any movie from Quebec) sends him into a glee spiral. The harder the watching, the happier he is.

When P and I meet, we inevitably talk about films. I treasure these chats because I learn all about non-linear rom-coms from Iran and Stephen Soderbergh's latest digital experiments -- subjects I later regurgitate with authority in conversations with other smart types. P saves me a lot of seat time at the movies. Seat time I can, and do, put to better use watching movies about ghosts, vampires or women with a deadly affinity for cats. Let P go to the quality pictures -- those movies need the box office -- I prefer watching stuff blow up.

I've tried to explain to P why I'm drawn to so-called crappy movies, but he just doesn't get my need for speed. Crappy movies are good for you the same way eating an entire bag of ketchup chips is good for you -- it's a release, an indulgence, a bit of bad-boy behaviour in a world where life's tawdry pleasures are becoming outré. So what if you feel a bit leaden in the pit of your stomach an hour later? You had a good ride. Man cannot live on organic whole grain bread alone.

I suspect the reason P and other clever sorts don't enjoy bad movies is that they don't know how to properly structure their movie-going experience.

There are obvious rules to movie going, such as don't go to the movies hungry and don't go to the early show (too many kids), but above all don't take serious friends to silly movies. Whom you see a movie with is as important as what you see. For instance, last summer, I paid good money to see The Dukes of Hazzard, and enjoyed every wretched minute. I sat between two inattentive friends. We talked all the way through the film except for those magical five minutes when Jessica Simpson delivered (one really can't say acted) her lines -- a dog-playing-the-piano marvel we watched the way some folks observe solar eclipses or visitations by the Virgin Mary. Thus, the context in which you see a movie is way more important than the movie itself.

This works the other way too. Watching Robert Altman's messy A Prairie Home Companion, my friends and I realized about 10 minutes into the film that we were the only audience members under the age of 60. If we laughed at the Stuart McLean-ish folksy humour, we got that sinking feeling you get midway through Christmas dinner, when you realize you haven't sworn, farted or told a dirty joke for hours.

All those cheerful seniors sucked the joy out of the film. Damn their abundant goodwill and hard-won inability to process irony. If the place hadn't been full of content minds numbed by Postum, we could have laughed at the film instead of pretending to laugh with it. The whole experience reminded me of watching Air Farce with my mother.

Thankfully, there's Superman Returns -- a film so spectacularly overwrought and melodramatic that it sucks in kids, oldsters and everyone in between. Don't believe the action-packed trailers, because this movie is really The Lake House with better special effects.

Grownups may resist Superman's charms because grownups know that people can't really fly or catch runaway airplanes with their bare hands. Grownups also know that if alien life does exist, it is unlikely to resemble a West Hollywood underwear model. Men in tights, adults understand, are either Celtic step dancers or Madonna fans, or both.

But such reservations miss the point of the movie, which is to watch three not-very-good actors emote their tanned brains out deciphering one of life's most absorbing questions: what to do when your super-hot boyfriend comes back after being away for years if you've hooked up with another hot (but not alien-sex-hot) man? Jerry Springer has built an empire on such pressing dilemmas, and he has been on TV forever.

Watching Superman Returns in a sold-out theatre (itself a rarity today), I again realized that people flock to large, wobbly melodramas because they are one of the few remaining distractions best experienced in crowds.

So much of our entertainment today is meant to enjoyed alone that people crave a collective emotional experience, even if (or, especially when, I would argue) it comes packaged as a kids' superhero spectacle. There are moments in this film so charged with operatic pathos that you could set a stink bomb off in the theatre and nobody would move.

I've already forgotten most of the breakfast cereal homilies on offer in A Prairie Home Companion, but I'll never forget the scene in Superman Returns when Lois Lane revives a comatose Superman with her dewy kiss (highlighted with the most sparkly lip gloss since Wigstock), or the way the dreamily vacant Brandon Routh channels Kirk Douglas, acting like his triple-dimpled chin is hooked to a team of horses.

Earnest, important films have their value -- kind of like reading The Economist -- but movies everybody enjoys, the popcorn and butter of the industry, are iconic. Just ask those luckless Uzbek farmers. Last weekend, they put their berry-stained soums down by the fistful for Poseidon. Quality pictures may be timeless, but crap is universal.

R.M. Vaughan is a Toronto-based artist, novelist, poet and playwright anxiously awaiting the release of Snakes on a Plane.

Little_Miss_1565
07-07-2006, 08:01 AM
Society's love of melodrama is well-documented for the last few hundred years--now it's just moved from the stage to the screen. Of course a poet and artist would appreciate it. :)

Vera
07-08-2006, 02:09 AM
I wanted to say something to this but I really don't know how to respond.

I like entertaining movies. I like movies that are purely made for their entertainment value. I also like artsy movies, but only when I know what they're trying to say. Sometimes even that doesn't matter if I can be entertained. (Yes, even art movies should be entertaining in that "interesting enough not to make me fall asleep" kind of way.)

Melodrama.. Well, you all know of my Indian film love. Bollywood, the most melodramatic cinema of them all, perhaps. I'm not sure if melodrama would work for me in a Western package aka Superman Returns. The thing about Indian films and emotion is that they have always been emotional. Blah blah blah, roots in Indian stage drama and dance, where emotions are shown very emphabetically and every classic dancer in India is basically also an actor. It fits the mainstream entertainment films because it's a part of the cultural landscape. It can be ridiculous and Indians themselves joke about it because at times the melodrama is just crap, but other times it makes for such moving. humane cinema. The melodramatic tradition often allows a more touchy, emotional approach, there's no cold distance to characters, the film forces you to feel with the characters.

Mota Boy
07-08-2006, 03:08 AM
Spoilers! Ack!