Monday, June 11, 2012
Boing Boing Essay Series: Mind Blowing Movies
You can see all the entry essays so far in the series here. The writers include, but are not limited to, Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling.
This morning after el V had performed his daily BoingBoing perusal, he asked, "Right now off the top of your head, what's the most mind-blowing movie you've ever seen?"
Ahhhhhh .... Hmmm.
"Cleopatra," I said. "Not the greatest or best movie I've ever seen, but the most visually impressive, which is what they mean, probably? There's nothing like her entrances on her Nile barge and the Spectacle of Spectacles, her Introduction to Rome. Elizabeth Taylor carries a whole lot of what made that movie the most expensive at the time right where you can most appreciate it, on herself, as Taylor comfortably feels entitled to. Burton -- all the men -- look like the idiots they feel in togas, soldier tunics and sandals, and Burton emotes as usual as if he's on a nineteenth century theater's stage. But Taylor's herself in the cosmetics, the wigs, the jewelry, the costumes, the worhshipping crowd scenes, the sets. There is nothing remotely like it still, because it's before CGI, so it's all real! I probably appreciated it all the more because I saw it when I was more than an adult. And now I've even got the DVD."
We discussed this for a while. I would put The Ten Commandments in second place, because I saw it as a child with my mother at a special screening during Lent in the church basement. I was so excited by the creeping green fog that killed the wicked Egyptian pharaoh's son. Third would be El Cid, because castles in Spain and swords and Moors! Too bad about the Charleton Heston part. El V then asked how I'd felt about Ben-Hur.
"Not in the running," I said. "I've read the novel a hundred times at least as a kid and teenager and the movie left out all the good parts and my favorite character. Not to mention the Charleton Heston part. But to make up for Charleton Heston was The Vikings! With Kirk Douglas running the oars and going to Valhalla via the wolf pit -- and I saw it first with you, because you love it too! We've seen it together at least three times that I remember."
Next I'd add the three Godfather films, and particularly the third one, built on and around an opera, which most people seem to believe is an much inferior product. This is the only one el V saw -- predictably, he hated it, as I recall all too well. I've watched them solo ever since as I do almost all movies, because another person tends to confuse the experience. These films created a mythology for Italian American identity that has played out in U.S. culture and entertainment ever since, whether you have Italian background or not. To flip the script then on the Godfather, is American Gangster.
Finally, the animated Cuban music film, set in 50's and 60's Havana (the same Havana of Godfather 2!) and New York that was up for an Oscar in its category this year, Chico and Rita.
Making such a selection was nearly impossible for me since movies never blew my mind, so to speak, even as a child, though I loved watching them. The attitude of everyone around me growing up was that movies were recreation, which was an extension of of playing "cowboys" as all we farm kids did -- well maybe not the girls, except for me, and often I got the other girls to play too, though it was easier to get them to play pirates -- however, none of them would play spaceship with me, not one, but then, neither would any of the boys, except my wonderful brother!
As an adult, surrounded by people who not only take FILM seriously, as will people who direct films, act in them, write them, produce them, compose music for them, I watch movies generally within a cultural, political and historical context. Thus, my abiding fascination with Westerns, which was the dominating movie context in the culture in which I grew up, as Westerns were from their own beginning which in turn was a primary part of the film industry's beginning and continued so for decades. Among my most memorable were The Searchers, Fist Full of Dollars, as well as the bonkers Johnnie Guitar and The Outlaw Josie Wales. So, still, probably, the most mind-blowing film for me in all contexts is the vile Birth of A Nation, because it is what it is, which has distorted our popular notion of national history via film, and particularly the western, ever since.
What movie would you name from off the top of your head as the most mindblowing you've watched?