Friday, February 10, 2012

Feelings...Nothing More Than Feelings

George Costanza:  (after finally seeing Titanic)
"So that old woman...she was just a liar!?"

Jerry Seinfeld:  "And a  bit of a tramp if you ask me."

Great films need staying power.  A film that can have an affect on you in the theater, might have you feeling totally different later.  Is this a fair judment of the picture, since you had an emotional response to a moment or scene,  previously?

I give you Titanic.  And this will be a bit of a confession.  Like revealing a skelton in my closet but here goes.  

I liked it.  Kind of.

Right up until I didn't.

Is this fair?

You dont get much more emotional ammunition in making a film as you do than when the subject is the most famous shipwreck in history, with many lives lost.

I remember my experience as follows:

Titanic was all set up to be a bomb.  It was the most expensive film ever made and it had to be great (well a huge hit) to even break even.

I was half expecting it to be bad.  And as it got going I thought, "man the critics are gonna crucify this picture."  The dialogue was often hokey and sappy.  The Billy Zane character was ridiculous.

But as I was thinking "this is no great film" I actually remember hoping critics would be semi kind.  Because I didnt find it boring.

Then there was the ending.  When you imagine people freezing to death after surviving the initial sinking and someone in a lifeboat keeps asking if anyone is alive only to hear nothing in return, well thats kind of a big emotional moment.  You would be an unfeeling jerk to not feel anything, right?  And I did feel what James Cameron wanted me to feel.  I felt sad. 

And when the film was over I thought, "hey that wasnt so bad, maybe it can break even."

Well of course enough people saw this film and thought the same way that it became the biggest box office champ of all time.  (Until Avatar)

So then you are left with, "wait, it wasnt THAT good!"  Not by a long shot.  But hey its a popcorn film really at its soul.  You can like popcorn movies and realize they arent great art.  But then it won Oscar after Oscar, including best picture.  Critics I respect gave it 4 stars and with all those awards I guess you'd have to admit people considered it a masterpiece.  It tied Ben Hur for the most ever Oscar wins.  Really.

Then became the backlash where you can't find many people (at least male) that admit to ever liking the film at all.  My answer to the question is usually "I liked it while sitting in the theater."

Do I like it now?  Well, as a better than expected popcorn film, yeah, kind of. As a masterpiece of cinema, heck no.

But wait, you had an emotional response!?

And this is where things get interesting.  

How much does that matter? Least in the long term.

A job of a film is to manipulate your emotions.  Cameron did well at least in that scene previously mentioned.  But I often get a song stuck in my head and thats also a score for the musicians.  That doesn't put "Mickey" in the same category as "Eleanor Rigby."

Oh Mickey you're so fine/ you're so fine you blow my mind/ Hey Mickey!

But the thing is, I'd be more than happy to never hear that song again.  I don't want it in my head!

Critic Jim Emerson gave Dead Poet's Society a scathing review.  He refers to it as one of his least favorite films ever. 

He also admits to crying during the last scene.

"Even as my eyeball oozed, I was thinking about what a hollow, dishonest picture this was before me. The movie did not give me the option, the freedom, of actually feeling anything. It squeezed that liquid out of me as if it were a juicer and I were some form of citrus.

If I'd been one of Pavlov's dogs, I would have just salivated at the sound of the bell. But when a movie reduces perfectly decent emotions to stupid pet tricks like this, I also find myself feeling something deeper. Something like anger, resentment."  (1)

But the films that keep you wanting to see them again, those are the true epic films.

And yes even a so called "popcorn movie" can be a masterpiece of sorts.  Because what is it the film was trying to do?  And do you keep going back to it even years later with similar joy?

I give you the 1986 "masterpiece,"  Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Before the recent ad was unvieled for this year's Super Bowl, we got this teaser.

Now just this slight bit of nostalgia made me cheer. It is a film of its time that still holds up years later.

Does Titanic hold up as well? In my opinion, not nearly.

Its almost as if awards for one year should be awarded 5 years later. When people have gone over the films again and truly studied them. Of course this would never happen and is a bit flawed as well, but how often would awards change if we had a do over?

The point is, just how did a film manipulate you?  In an honest, original way that you want to see again, or an obvious, trite way that is like shooting emotional fish in a barrel?  Do you look back and quickly realize you have seen that scene before.

There is a reason so many documentaries about The Holocaust win Best Documentary.  It is one of the saddest parts of our world's history.

But I can't think of any of those titles off hand.  Now think of the documentary, Crumb.  If you have ever seen it, you probably will never get it out of your mind.

So I leave you with two examples. One is the ending of Patch Adams. The other is the opening of The Apostle. Which scene works best? The most emotionally  honest.  Which scene would you want to view again, years later?

1:  Emerson was the inspiration for this entry.  "When Bad Movies Happen To Good People."
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