Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nostalgia III

Ryan is sixteen now. We went to a lot of movies together when he was a kid (I think he is still a kid, but he demurs). We started with “Charlotte’s Web,” and worked our way through computer animated stuff like “Antz” (which was pretty good, I must say) up to heavy duty superhero stuff—“Thor,” “The Avengers,” and “Iron Man.” We also saw (unfortunately) “Hot Tub Time Machine” (which they made a sequel to, which to me is like bringing back The Inquisition, the Pet Rock, or even, God forbid, the mullet). We even saw “The Way,” with Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, when he was twelve. It was sad, too sad, I worried, but when I asked him what he thought, he said “it made me sad, Uncle Mikey, but I was happy to be sad.” Wiser than his years, that one.

Movies nowadays are an expensive and elaborate proposition, accessed only when you can get a ride to the mall and you are flush with cash. When I was a teenager, I would just walk downtown to the Rialto and plunk down four bucks on rainy weekend days and watch whatever was playing. I saw “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “The Sting,” “Take the Money and Run,” and even Mel Brooks’s less remembered but still funny “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother” and “Silent Movie.” And then there was “Mr. Majestyk” and “The Mechanic,” Charles Bronson grind house classics, along with “Hard Times,” one of the great tough guy movies of all time.

It was my sanctuary, that movie theater, a subterranean refuge, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, safe from the worries of home and school, the only place I felt I could lose myself except on the basketball courts behind South Ocean Avenue Middle School, a block from the Rialto, and in the library, a block in the other direction. I don’t think it is that way for Ryan. To him, the movies are merely another gaudy distraction in a life full of them, another shiny bit of video voodoo to demand his attention, as if he was a fish and entertainment a glittering lure. Why go to the movies when you could be playing that video game where you slaughter Nazi zombies, a game you can play “interactively” with a kid from Australia or Myanmar of Pakistan if you want to.

The movies made me question who I was, and the world I lived in. In my solitude, there was contemplation. It was a time alone freighted with thought, not filled with images of cartoon carnage, but with imagination.

I’m not sure what movies do more—tell us what to think and feel, or reflect what we already think and feel. The “Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now” either reflected judgments we had already made about Viet Nam or helped us make those judgments, or both.

Movies nowadays don’t seem concerned with judgments, or in making any kind of analysis of human, political or social nature that is anything but glib and superficial. Sports movies don’t explore the exploitation of student athletes, and war movies are jingoistic exercises in cheerleading that never question our justification to be at war, much less whether war itself can ever be justified.

Romantic comedies progress formulaically form the cute-meet to the block to love to the reconciliation and reuniting of the lovers and on to the happily-ever-after, which was never seriously in question in the first place. “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” explored the exhilaration and complexity of love and its sad, bittersweet and doomed nature, and nothing out there now is as sophisticated or funny.

And what of satire? Where is “MASH,” where is “Dr Strangelove”? (“Gentlemen, there will be no fighting in the war room”). Now movies explore how many ways you can get hit in the gonads (the “Jackass” franchise) and how many ways you can leeringly euphemize about coitus and farting. High Art, all that.

He still likes the movies, to a point, my nephew, but now there is tweeting and twittering and Facebook. If he wanted to he could live all alone at home in a kind of electronic bunker. Thankfully, he has his girlfriend and football to keep him in contact with other actual flesh and blood people.

I was a baby boomer, and like my fellow boomers, I spent what I could of our nation’s post WWII prosperity on books, records and the movies. And the movie and music industry somewhat catered to the teen. But they didn’t condescend to that teen. There were no young adult movies—you either went to see Bambi of you went to adult fare like “Annie Hall” or “The Deer Hunter.” Now, there is a huge industry that sells mostly to that teen, “tween” market. And it’s all about the end times, the Apocalypse, and being a teenaged vampire or werewolf, and what that does to your chances of getting a date to the prom. And the irony seems to be lost on most people that there is an incipient environmental and economic apocalypse that is threatening to take place for real, and not as some kind of silver screen metaphor about how hard it is to be a teenager (boo hoo).

It’s not that I object to apocalyptic and fantastical stuff. It’s fun, to be sure, to take the old horror standbys and turn them on their heads, to express teenaged social confusion through a ghostly and ghastly prism, but it gets old. How many “Mockingbird” or “Mocking Jay” or Mocking whatever movies are there going to be? I am presently working my way through THE WALKING DEAD, on TV, and truly enjoyed TRUE BLOOD on the tube, and “Fright Night” with Colin Farrell was a vampire movie that gave me both chills and the giggles. And Harry Potter was great. But why focus on this creepy crawly stuff to the exclusion of everything else? It’s boring, and condescending, as if we are a bunch of dolts, young and old alike, that never tire of the same old tired trick. Besides, Stephen King did it all better in “The Stand” and “Salem’s Lot.”

they are inane idiocy about how being in love or having a thirst for justice, or being on the right side of whatever issue is popular a particular year, allows you to conquer all. My movies were a little more complex. I think of Rocky (the first one, anyway) in connection to this—he’s got right on his side, and yet he is a realist, knowing that for a bum from the neighborhood you need to set your sights low, and he even tells Adrienne “I know I can’t beat him—I just want to go the distance.” And he does, but he doesn’t somehow pull out the kind of upset that just would not occur in real life. That happens in Rocky II, when the franchise went the way of the future.

Nowadays, there are no movies where the victory is merely moral or symbolic, or existential—you have to live happily ever after, your self-sacrifice must be rewarded, which of course renders it not a sacrifice at all, but what the hell.

Next week—music and books.

© 2015 Mike Welch

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