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Some accidental analysis.

22 January 201110:12AMreviewrants

Before I start: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR MOVIES ON THE LIST. If you have any intention of watching these movies (and you should), DON'T READ IT. You have been warned.

So I'm 3 movies into The List, and just when I thought I'd finally shaken the annoying habit I've gained from 2 years of Lit and Media of analysing everything... I'm already starting to notice some common themes or threads or what-have you. I was kicking myself about this a bit, thinking "Goddamn it Rockwell, why can't you just enjoy the movies??" And then I thought about it a little more, and I realised I was enjoying the movies, a lot actually (I'll come to that in a minute) but that maybe enjoyment and analysis weren't necessarily mutually exclusive, and that in fact, maybe just a little analysis might make me enjoy it more. Which sounds nerdy, but think about it like this: All through Europe, I was visiting art galleries. Now, the art I saw over there was very famous, and a lot of it was very good looking (you can imagine me winking at the Mona Lisa there... ;P). But while I liked it, I really didn't feel like I was appreciating it. I had no knowledge of art, no previous exposure to things like this, and my knowledge of history stops in the BCEs, so I didn't even know vaguely what was going on when these things were painted and (to my shame) had to turn to the condensed history in the front of the guidebook to get some kind of idea of what exactly was in front of me. To me, I didn't really get the most out of these works of art - didn't 'appreciate' them - precisely because I had no knowledge of art.

So why is it such an alien idea that, when specifically setting out with the purpose of viewing films which are highly (or at least widely) regarded for their artistic merit, as exemplars of the medium, I should try to avoid engaging with them in a more complex way just because the mental tools I'd use to do that I learned at school? If I'd looked up the history of art, and Leonardo da Vinci, and the renaissance before I visited the Louvre, or even had taken Art at school and done research as part of that, I'd just be 'making the most of my visit', and everyone (even people my own age, I'd wager) would think it was a really good idea - but when it comes to watching movies that kind of thing is to be avoided? Especially when I'm watching films of this calibre -it seems I wouldn't be 'making the most of' my viewing time if I didn't subject them to some level of scrutiny.

So, moving on from that little rant/justification/whatever you want to call it, here are a couple of thoughts which I've picked up watching the first few movies on The List.

Firstly, they're all really good. (It turns out that when a movie is generally and widely regarded as good, then it may in fact be a good movie. Shock horror.) I was expecting this to be a little bit of a trek, but I've been riveted to every single one so far, even though they're way outside what I consider my interests to be. This means that some combination of the following must be true: that a) my tastes are wider than I thought they were, or b) a well made film is going to be interesting to watch whether it's 'about' your interests or not.

Actually, that brings up something else. Of those I've watched so far, none have been 'about' anything. This is going to make more sense if I explain something first- one of My Hobbies (xkcd-style) is attempting to summarise plots in four-word 'headlines'. For example, Harry Potter becomes BOY WIZARD FIGHTS NEMESIS, Twilight, 'VAPID TEEN DEVELOPS DEPENDANCE'. The point is, it has to be 4 words. Anyway, one thing all these films had in common is that they could not be 4-word-headline'd. The closest I came was RELUCTANT SON BECOMES CRIMELORD, but that's really only a fraction of the Godfather's plot, and I'm not even sure that Michael was what you could call a main character. These movies don't limit themselves to just having a plot. They have lots and lots of characters whose stories matter, like The Godfather, or seem to meander through a segment of life with no real direction, like The Shawshank Redemption, or just plain don't make sense and seem to be a bunch of loosely connected episodes, like Pulp Fiction. There's definitely a correlation there between unconventional plots and interesting movies.

While I'm talking about plots, one thing I noticed was done particularly well in The Shawshank redemption was setting up plot points throughout the movie. The conclusion is where all these threads which had been scattered throughout the movie are suddenly drawn together and you realise what shape this whole thing is, and it works amazingly. Although I must admint, I found dismissing the rock hammer as impossible to escape with so overtly and then using it anyway to be a little blunt, but thinking about it, there's probably no other way to do it, since the idea of using for that anyway in a show of blind persistence is somewhat drilled into the genre. Not mentioning it again the way they did was probably the best thing to do... Everything comes up exactly once, and then is brought in to play by the end when its purpose becomes clear- not its purpose as intended by the characters, but its purpose to the narrative. It's almost like an accidental heist movie in that respect, only more meta.

The Godfather was much more about the characters, to me- at least that's what I found myself thinking about when I was watching it. Specifially, how the Mafia mindset depicted in the movie works. It's very honour-centric, and family-driven (obviously), but doesn't seem to adhere to any rigid code, no overarching, guiding principle. There's no 'screw me once, I forgive you, screw me twice I threaten you, screw me three times I send men to your house to kill you'. That would be too straightforward. The Godfather is as likely to forgive you and thus leave you indebted to him as he is to have you shot. It leaves you wondering as to his motivations- does he do it on a whim? Or is there some test- no, not a test, that's too straightforward- but some assessment of character, of value to the Family, of loyalty? And if so, what principles are you assessing these against, since there don't seem to be any, at least not externally inferable? It's very much based on relationships, on something human, and while I'd hesitate to use the word emotions, it's certainly not governed by logic. Instinct, perhaps, is closer (and there is admittedly something more than a little primal about their kill/forgive black and white response). It's intriguing to wonder what would the godfather do given a situation. I should turn that in to another game: "What Would The Godfather Do?"

Although I'm sure there's a lot of meaning to it (and could probably extract some of that meaning if I really wanted to), all I could think while watching Pulp Fiction was, "Damn, these guys are badass". The entire movie is like baddass exhibitionism, seeing how much badass you can cram in to one scene. (The answer is a lot, especially since Samuel L. Jackson is involved.) Also, "I just shot Marvin in the face!" for some reason is the funniest scene I've seen for ages. I don't even know why. More evidence that humour comes from having your expectations suddenly... shot in the face.

Since I started writing this post, I've also watched two more films. I have less to write about these two.

The strength of Schindler's list comes from it being a true story. It's a little sentimental, but given the subject matter that's understandable. I still found myself cheering when Schindler saved the women from Auschwitz. Also, its treatment of its 'shock value' footage was very powerful- the footage mostly is allowed to speak for itself, almost like a documentary, without too much "THIS IS TERRIBLE" pasted on.

The best thing about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was the theme music. In a word, iconic. And the scene where they blow up the bridge, which introduced me to the idea that Westerns are in fact about adventurous shenanigans, and are very entertaining to watch. And I don't think you could get away with 5 straight minutes of guys staring at each other these days, even though it works amazingly as a way to build suspense. Which makes me sad for the film industry.

This is already way too long, so I'll wrap it up. I might write more, I might not. I suspect I'll find it difficult not to be exposted to this much quality stuff without writing about it at least a little. We'll see.

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