Thursday, December 25, 2014

My xmas list

Older Daughter, the film major, came up with an inspired Christmas present request this year: she asks each family member for their favorite movie, on DVD, along with an explanation. It's a challenging assignment. I've narrowed my candidate list to five (Groundhog Day just missed the cut):
5. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967). "Yes," wrote Roger Ebert, "there are serious faults... but they are overcome by the virtues of this delightfully old-fashioned film." I saw it when I was ten, at a matinee, with my mother. I think we both cried, tears of sadness and of joy. It opened my young eyes to the stupidity of racism, warned me of the hypocrisy of untested liberalism, and perhaps saddled me with the unsustainably romantic notion that love conquers all - "as long as there's the two of us" etc. etc. I love the hilarious scene at the ice-cream stand, though the cool kid's disrespectful "stupid old man"  now has an unwelcome resonance for me that it lacked back when I couldn't imagine ever possibly being one. Tracy and Hepburn are magnificent, and the theme's romantic message remains sound (or at least unshakable): "you've got to give a little, take a little, let your poor heart break a little... that's the glory of love."
4. Sophie's Choice (Alan J. Pakula, 1982). Great novel by William Styron, great early performance by Meryl Streep. Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz. What I might have set down with more accuracy would have been: Someday I will write about Sophie's life and death, and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the world. Auschwitz itself remains inexplicable. The most profound statement yet made about Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response.
The query: "At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?"
And the answer: "Where was man?” 
3. Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979). I don't know much about cinematography but I know what I like, and I really like the old-timey look of this picture, and the Gershwin soundtrack, and I love the List scene:
"Why is life worth living? It's a very good question. Um... Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh... Like what... okay... um... For me, uh... ooh... I would say... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... uh... um... and Wilie Mays... and um... the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony... and um... Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues... um... Swedish movies, naturally... Sentimental Education by Flaubert... uh... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra... um... those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne... uh... the crabs at Sam Wo's... uh... Tracy's face..."
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968). Arthur C. Clarke's story famously infuriated premier attendees including Rock Hudson ("Can anybody tell me what the hell this is about?!") and mystified me too, near the end. But this was the year before Neil Armstrong's "one small step," and I really thought there'd be Martians (from Earth) by now. This movie captured and amplified my generation's dreams of cosmic exploration. The recently-released Interstellar has been called this generation's 2001, but that's silly. Oh, the echoes are there alright. But in 1968 the idea of space as our beckoning "final frontier" had real credibility. Or so we thought. “Unlike the animals, who knew only the present, Man had acquired a past; and he was beginning to grope toward a future.” More groping, please. Open the pod bay door, Hal.
1. Life of Brian (Monty Python, 1979). It's not the most profound picture ever, nor possibly the funniest, but I saw it in Columbia MO with some of my fellow philosophy major pals. We were the right audience. It taught us the importance of philosophizing with a proper portion of serious nonsense. We're all individuals, we're all different. Except for those who are not. Blessed are the cheesemakers (but don't take that literally, silly fundamentalists). Above all, "always look on the bright side." Darned good life wisdom, if you ask me.

If life seems jolly rotten

There's something you've forgotten

And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing

When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle
- that's the thing.
And...always look on the bright
side of life...

According to The New Yorker, it is the most requested song at British funerals, edging out “My Way.”

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