by Ashley Naftule
We’re just a few days away until 2016, that murderous sonofabitch, shuffles offstage and Father Time dumps another plump Baby New Year on our planet’s doorstep. Just a few more days until the ghost of Dick Clark is granted a one-night-only reprieve from hosting “American Bandstand In Hell” to rise up from the infernal Abyss and drop the big ball on Times Square. Just a few more days until we can all get drunk on cheap bubbly and swear that this year we’ll change, this year we’ll be better people, this year we won’t die in a nuclear blast at the hands of a lunatic tangerine realtor.
“I’ve got the best nukes, the very best, they’re HUGE, you’re gonna love ’em.”
Ok, well, there’s probably not much we can do about that last one. I know that the next few years are looking pretty uncertain right now. It can seem downright silly to talk about movies when a hilariously corrupt administration is about to take office, when most of the world seems to be backsliding into authoritarian politics, when beloved and vital artists & other public figures are dropping off so fast that it makes even George R.R. Martin want to say “Damn, homey, take it down a notch” to the Grim Reaper. But in times like these, it can soothe the soul to be reminded that there is still great beauty and magic in the world – that flowers do rise up through shit.
When you’re making resolutions for the new year, consider making one about movies. People will often resolve to read more books but rarely do folks take any thought into how and what they consume as movie lovers. Films aren’t just great for entertainment; I’ve never really been a huge believer in that “art as an escape from reality” crap. They’re also ways of broadening our horizons, learning to see the world and each other in a different way. We get to watch other people’s dreams play out on screen and adopt them as our own. After living through a year that’s killed more dreams than we count, it’s even more important that we make the ones we watch count.
Here a film resolution that’s worth making in the New Year:
Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Singing In The Rain
Is there a genre of film that you hate? Or that you haven’t given a chance? A type of movie that inspires almost an instant gag reflex? Something that just seems lowbrow (or TOO high brow), corny, goofy, or weird? Consider giving it another chance.
I used to hate musicals. HATED HATED HATED them. I thought they were corny and flashy and saccharine. The only musicals I could tolerate involved cross-dressers and glam rock. But then I saw “Singing In The Rain” in a film class. It’s an undeniable classic, so great a movie that even my musical-despising ass had to acknowledge its greatness. And once I could see what was wonderful about “Singing”, I started to see it in other musicals. I could sit down and watch Vincente Minnelli musicals and appreciate them; even if I disliked the music, I could take great pleasure in the stunning visuals.
Meet Me In St. Louis
I had a similar distaste for Westerns: “Ah, it’s just hokey John Wayne bullshit.” And then I started watching a few John Ford movies because people whose opinions I respected wouldn’t shut up about him and I learned to love Western movies. Sure, there’d still be the occasional bits that made me cringe, but I focused on what worked and ignored the stuff that was outdated or cheesy.
It took a little bit of work but watching movies that initially made my hands itch for the remote paid off. Not only did it greatly broaden my horizons and teach me to appreciate entire genres that I used to dismiss out of hand because I thought they were old-fashioned or moth-balled, I felt that it also gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the people who made these movies AND the people who enjoyed them. Rather than try to push all that history away, I gave it a fair chance to sway me and it did.
My Darling Clementine
Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t just mean going back in time to watch older films. It could mean watching things you feel you’re too dumb/smart to appreciate. While I tend to write about “artsy” stuff on this blog, I LOVE so-called lowbrow movies. From early Steven Seagal “beatin’-up-truckers” joints to stoner comedies and kung-fu movies that looked like they were filmed in a dojo’s backyard, I dig watching movies that are all Id and no-brains. People who just watch Oscar fare and turn their noses up at Nicolas Cage revenge movies are missing out on one of life’s most simple and sublime pleasures.
The opposite is true, too: No one should ever feel that a movie is too “weird” or “intellectual” for them. Experimental cinema and the avant-garde can be just as fun and full of lulz as grindhouse fare. Our educational system ruined us by teaching us that we have to understand and analyze art, instead of just enjoying the rush of it and not trying to pick it apart. Art films are like poetry: If you appreciate the sound and look of it, it doesn’t matter if you can decipher every single line or tease out all its mysteries. If you enjoy the overall experience, that’s far more important than “figuring it out”. You don’t have to be able to discern all the ingredients in a dish or understand how it’s made in order to appreciate it; Art should be no different.
So the next time somebody suggests watching a romcom or a direct to video Jean-Claude Van Damme flick, give it a shot. Don’t pass up on watching a weird Bulgarian art film cause subtitles intimidate you. Enjoy a silent movie, even if the idea of a movie with zero dialogue seems completely alien to you. Right now we live in a time when a tremendous range of film history is available at our fingertips. We can consume films from almost any decade and country, whenever we want to. Who knows if that freedom of choice will last? Who knows if the films we don’t watch today will be available tomorrow?
The Library of Alexandria is still open, folks: Check out as much shit as your eyeballs can stomach while you still can.