Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Allegory of the Man Cave

The boy loves music. He does not have the words to describe this love, nor does he know many words at all. He just listens to what his parents play in the car, at home, on the patio. He plays some of these songs, by ear, on the family’s grand piano, takes music lessons and learns the alto saxophone. He grows up and curates his own playlists, filled with songs his family and friends cannot stand. He loves this music and likes that he does not have to justify this love with words, even now. To him, music just is.

Meanwhile, he watches movies. He loved Star Wars as a kid because, sheesh, how can you not. He enters high school with a curiosity to catch up with the rest, so he looks to the IMDb Top 250. He checks out Platoon, Fight Club, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator — guy flicks. He cannot believe how much blood and guts he sees. He knows these are not horror movies, where such cheap “splatter” is expected. He is watching serious stuff, with real carnage and no discernible continuity errors.

He lets himself be taken away by the experience of these movies, with their breathless battle scenes, plot twists and Hans Zimmer soundtracks. He declares a movie to be the best ever made if it gives him uncountable goose bumps by the end. He finishes watching a movie and knows, like that, whether he loves it or hates it — especially if he hates it. He hates movies that bore him or do not “make sense.” He hates movies that do not show their violence in slow motion, limbs-flying glory. He also plays a lot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare around this time, by the way.

He goes to college. He realizes how wrong he was, though not before falling asleep during a few silent films. Okay, he realizes how wrong he was and still sleeps through some silent films since he always manages to watch them at like three in the afternoon in a stuffy room with comfy chairs and always insists he does not need coffee, since his love of cinema will valiantly get him, sans chemicals, through the classics.

But he loves the classics. He loves the purity of this kind of storytelling, which treats plot as a means to engage with themes and not the other way around. He picks up on some radical ideas, on religion, suicide, sex and so on, these filmmakers subtly and persistently floated without bucking the strict censorship codes of their time. He takes notice of how Hitchcock moved his camera or how Kurosawa arranged characters within a frame or how Murnau laid images on top of one another. He does not just “take in” a movie but searches, while watching it, for a system of form, theme and inter-textual reference to tie everything together. He often fails to unite all these strands when transcribing an argument to print, but at least he feels this whole mental process has gotten easier.

He cannot watch the movies he once loved without jamming them through this intellectual crucible. He concludes, with arrogant certainty, that some of these movies, like American History X, are jejune, melodramatic slogs. He is relieved to see Total Recall again and discover a deliberate, gleeful deconstruction of action movie tropes. He is incredibly happy to report that Non-Stop, the latest Liam Neeson anti-AARP advertisement, is not only badass but also an intelligent and measured commentary on post-9/11 security. He knows, now, that some of this entry-level cinema is genius and much of it is overrated crap. He takes comfort in that.

He enjoys what once bored him. He would rather sit through a four-hour documentary about University of California Berkeley than that new Spider-Man movie, though he cannot and will not resist the chance to spin stupid jokes out of the latter. He appreciates the artists out there who see things that provoke them and probe back, whether through documentary or fiction modes. He watches Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up and wraps his head around the fact that perhaps the greatest movie he has ever seen was made for less than Simon Pegg’s Star Trek Into Darkness salary. He cherishes the original, coherent philosophy behind such a film. He esteems, above all else, how filmic the work ultimately is, unable to be replicated in another medium or summarized in a Wikipedia article.

He demands more and forgives easier, like when a film meets those demands only halfway. He believes that effort, effort to elevate thought and raise questions, is what makes the world a progressive and livable place. He sees this as the highest function of film, due to its narrative, humans-telling-stories nature. He continues to love music, all this time, without devising some elaborate theoretical framework in which to place it. He needs some time off, when he can just close his eyes and see something beautiful for what it is.

This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location here.

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