A Jerman Perspective

Learning, sharing, and discussing about film, the tech industry, and foreign policy, among other things.

The Critics Eye

I’ve made my way through most of Robin Williams’s movies recently, and settled on a new favorite: Good Morning, Vietnam. Looking back at Roger Ebert’s thoughts on the movie I discovered the first movie review that actually made me cry. It’s hard to believe this was written over 25 years ago. I encourage you to read the whole review, and to watch the movie, but here’s the bits I found most remarkable:

Like most of the great stand-up comedians, Robin Williams has always kept a certain wall between himself and his audience. In concert, he tries on a bewildering series of accents and characters; he’s a gifted chameleon who turns into whatever makes the audience laugh. But who is inside? With George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, we have an idea - or think we do. A lot of their humor depends on confessional autobiography. With Williams, the wall remains impenetrable. Like Groucho Marx, he uses comedy as a strategy for personal concealment.

Prophetic. Can’t believe this didn’t get more attention in the wake of Williams’s passing.

In a strange, subtle way, “Good Morning, Vietnam” is not so much about war as it is about stand-up comedy, about the need that compels people to get up in front of the room and try to make us laugh - to control us.

Why do comics do that? Because they need to have their power proven and vindicated. Why do they need that? Because they are the most insecure of Earth’s people (just listen to their language - they’re gonna kill us, unless they die out there). How do you treat low self-esteem? By doing esteemable things and then saying, “Hey, I did that!” What happens to Williams in this movie? Exactly that. By the end of the film, he doesn’t wisecrack all the time because he doesn’t need to. He no longer thinks he’s the worthless (although bright, fast and funny) sack of crap that got off the plane. In the early scenes, the character’s eyes are opaque. By the end, you can see what he’s thinking.

This represents the best of what critics can do: draw attention to the remarkable which is so easily missed by the untrained eye. By spending their lives studying stories, critics gain an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge. This gives them an unparalleled ability to identify and draw out that which deserves our attention. Sometimes this involves recognizing the essential humanity in a film, others what Anton Ego described in Ratatouille as the “discovery and defense of the new.”

With so much unremarkable flooding in, it can be very easy to get cynical. Picking apart lesser work is easy and fun, but it’s often painfully counterproductive. FilmCritHULK made a great observation in a column about the Transformers movies:

THE TRANSFORMERS MOVIES ARE NOT ONLY CRITIC-PROOF, BUT ACTUALLY DEPENDENT ON CRITIC-SKEWERING FOR REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY… TO ELICIT ECHOES OF “THIS SOUNDS SO BAD I HAVE TO SEE IT!” FROM THE PUBLIC. IT MAKES CRITICS INTO A BUNCH OF FINGER-WAVING NINNIES TRYING TO SUCK THE FUN OUT OF EVERYTHING.

It’s important that critics always remember their most basic edict – not to measure quality, but to direct our attention toward that which deserves it. For this, we need them. Oh, how we need them.

Another Room in the Same House

This past week I’ve used Twitter Direct Messaging a lot more than usual. As much as I love Twitter’s simplicity, the DM service is really starting to show it’s age. Thing is, I don’t think the feature has ever had a strong sense of purpose. It has always been on the side, almost like an altogether separate product. Yet, the way I found myself using it this week made me realize how well it could complement Twitter’s main service.

I’m reminded of MG Siegler’s piece from a few weeks back, “Twitter’s Small Chance to Maim Email”:

A few weeks ago, I tweeted about a simple option I would love as a part of DMs: the ability to easily talk about tweets with friends. I do this already on a daily basis, I simply do it on other messaging services. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be done on Twitter.

This is very similar to my usage of Direct Messaging recently. Each exchange stemmed from a specific tweet, and I was effectively taking the conversation into another room. There’s no reason that separate, private room shouldn’t be on Twitter.

Siegler notes that this could be much like Pinterest’s messaging service. An article by The Verge sites Tom Watson, the designer of Pinterest’s private messaging product, saying that “it’s more of a conversation around an object than just a quick hello.” This strikes me as the perfect model for Twitter.

What Twitter needs is not to join the messaging app wars. Twitter’s core product is the Timeline, a public feed that’s all about the global conversation. That shouldn’t change. Twitter’s Direct Messaging should bolster that main service by integrating with it directly. It could simply be included in the “More” option on every tweet, with the choice to start a conversation with the author of the tweet, or with others you’d like to discuss it with. Raising, or lifting entirely, the character count might help too.

The article from The Verge about Pinterest’s messenger closed with this:

Even if you don’t particularly care about Pinterest, its messenger is worth checking out. It’s a lesson in how a company can build communication into their app in a way that emphasizes utility instead of novelty. And it’s a challenge to companies like Facebook and Twitter to make their own messengers as useful as this three-month old experiment.

Twitter’s public service starts amazing conversations. It’s time they took that a step further.

A Semblance of Maturity

There’s one last bit from Film Crit Hulk’s Bond columns that I’d like to share. At the end, when Hulk discusses Skyfall, he takes issue with the tendency to use darkness to give the illusion of depth and seriousness (emphasis added is my own):

PEOPLE WHO ALREADY LOVE JAMES BOND LIKE THE SERIOUS TONE THING BECAUSE THEY NEED THEIR LOVE OF JAMES BOND TO BE VALIDATED. THEY SUBCONSCIOUSLY NEED TO MAKE HIM AWESOME AND BADASS AND MODERN AND REAL TO EXPLAIN TO THE OUTSIDE WHY THEY WANT TO BE HIM SO BADLY… AND ONE SUREFIRE WAY TO DO THAT IS WITH GRITTY NONSENSE. […] WHEN A MOVIE FEELS GRITTY AND HAS SHOCKING MOMENTS AND STUFF IT GIVES THE OKAY FOR AN AUDIENCE TO FEEL THAT WAY, REGARDLESS OF WHAT IS HAPPENING… BUT THINK, WHAT IS JAMES BOND ALL ABOUT? HE’S A VEHICLE FOR MALE INDULGENCE. HE’S ALL ABOUT FUCKING AND FIGHTING AND BEING A REBELLIOUS JUVENILE BADASS… SO TO TAKE ALL THAT AND PUT THOSE KINDS OF POINTS IN TONE OF “HEY! THIS IS REALLY, REALLY SERIOUS STUFF!” AND IT IS NOTHING BUT MASKING JUVENILE THINKING WITH “ADULT” AND “DARK” CONCEPTS.

INSTEAD OF TAKING THE SILLINESS AND PLAYING IT STRAIGHT, YOU’RE GOING A STEP TOO FAR AND TELLING THE AUDIENCE “THIS ISN’T SILLY! THIS IS REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT! TAKE IT MORE SERIOUSLY!”

He later expands on this misunderstanding with the shinning example of the modern blockbuster done right:

WHAT MADE THE DARK KNIGHT SUCCESSFUL WAS THAT IT WAS A THOUGHTFUL, INTERESTING MOVIE ABOUT HOW MODERN SOCIETY WORKS. YEAH, EVERYONE WAS HAPPY BECAUSE THEY WERE MAKING A GRITTY, MORE ADULT BATMAN. BUT IT WASN’T POSTURE. THE THEMES BROUGHT BATMAN INTO A BIGGER, TRULY ADULT WORLD. CORRUPTION. TERRORISM. FEAR. SOCIETAL MOB BEHAVIOR. IT ALL MADE SENSE AS ONE GIANT BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF GOTHAM AND THE CHARACTER OF BATMAN MADE REAL SENSE WITHIN THAT BATTLE. IT WASN’T ABOUT HOW COOL HE WAS. IT WASN’T ABOUT PROVING BATMAN RIGHT. IT WAS ACTUALLY ABOUT THE IMMENSE COST OF DOING THE RIGHT THING. IT WAS ABOUT HOW SAD AND UN-INDULGENT REAL HEROISM CAN BE.

Not every action movie needs to be The Dark Knight. The themes that movie addressed were appropriate for the Caped Crusader, but they aren’t for everyone. What struck me about Guardians of the Galaxy was that it never tried to be something it wasn’t (except for that stupid villain). It took on themes that were appropriate to the characters, the setting, and the overall vibe, all making for an exceptional movie.

Countless others have failed on this front. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the most recent (and dreadful) offender. Granted, there are a lot of other issues with that movie than just mismatching the themes with the material or mistaking darkness for depth. Still, one of the core problems with the movie is that it throws in bite-sized doses of major societal quandaries like vigilantism and our susceptibility to EMP’s, all of which are painfully out of place. The intention is never to actually address a major theme, rather to give the illusion of significance.

All of this is made all the more harmful when this mask is covering something rotten. We accept the mask and let crooked ideas slip right into our minds. This isn’t something that can be taken lightly.

As Hulk closes this argument, he provides a solution:

PEOPLE WANT DESPERATELY FOR THEIR CHILDHOOD FANDOMS TO BE VALIDATED. TO BE MADE ADULT BECAUSE IT JUSTIFIES CONTINUED INTEREST. WHEN REALLY ALL THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IS A SIMPLE ACCEPTANCE THAT THERE IS INDEED SOMETHING SILLY ABOUT BOND, OR THE TRANSFORMERS, OR NINJA TURTLES OR WHOEVER. BUT IT’S NOT FORGETTING CHILDISH THINGS AND LEAVING THEM BEHIND, IT’S ABOUT REALIZING THE CHILDISH NATURE OF THINGS IS OKAY. SILLY THINGS ARE FUN. AND INDULGING YOURSELF IS OKAY WHEN YOU KNOW THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE DOING. BUT WHEN WE DESPERATELY WANT VALIDATION FOR THEM IT ALL GOES WRONG.

Hurry Hurry, Faster Faster

I recently decided to start an ongoing experiment: sit down, shut off all my electronics, and watch movies without any distractions. Based on my class schedule, I decided to block out Tuesday and Thursday nights for this. The first week of my experiment was enlightening, emotional, and just all around magnificent. I’m not ready to share my thoughts on the experiment yet, but I would like to share a bit more from the article that helped compel me to do all this. Here’s another excerpt from Matt Zoller Seitz’s “A Quintessense of Dust”:

The ethos of modern commercial cinema is hurry, hurry, hurry, faster faster faster. It’s as if contemporary movies are made to please some hypothetical cigar-chewing old-movie boss type whose favorite phrase is, “Don’t waste my time, kid.” Because time is so very important to the viewer, you see. Because American moviegoers are so very busy. Busier than any generation in the history of human civilization, apparently. Doing what? Things that are much more important than contemplating a silent pause or admiring an intelligently framed shot, apparently. Like taking pictures of their food, or arguing with strangers on Twitter. I digress. Perhaps it’s better not to speculate.

But we do have a pretty good idea of what people, by and large, are not really doing much of anymore, relative to a generation or two ago: taking long strolls during which they spend a great deal of time admiring the play of light on buildings and the sound of wind rustling through trees; reading novels and poetry; discussing science and philosophy and considering those conversations a kind of entertainment.

Incidentally, the last bit of that is an approximate plot summary of the two movies I watched this week: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. I’d already seen the third in the series, Before Midnight, and loved it. Sunrise and Sunset turned out to be the perfect way to start my movie-watching experiment. It’s just two people walking around European cities, contemplating life and relationships.

This hardly sounds like something the average viewer could get in to, and it’s certainly at odds with the “ethos of modern commercial cinema” described by Seitz. Yet it has proven to me a few essential things: (1) what drives films is emotional drama and personal conflict; (2) relentlessness is far from the key to engrossing and effective pacing; (3) the more a movie reflects or parallels life, the better it tends to be.

Maintaining Epic Scope

On day 4 of FilmCritHulk’s Bond columns, he tackled the most recent movies. After very high praise for Casino Royale… well, we got Quantum of Solace. Here’s the kill shot:

WE THINK OF CONTINUING A STORY INTO A SEQUEL AS MAINTAINING SOME KIND OF “EPIC SCOPE” ACROSS MOVIES, CREATING CONTINUITY AND IMPORT. BUT THAT ONLY WORKS IF YOU ARE TELLING FULL STORIES WITH EACH MOVIE. SO INSTEAD OF FEELING LIKE THE NEXT CHAPTER IN A LARGER STORY, QUANTUM IS MERELY A HALF-ASSED CONCLUSION TO A PREVIOUS STORY… LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THIS IS THE DANGER OF SERIALIZATION. YOU BEGIN TO USE TV CLIFFHANGER THINKING AND THE IDEA THAT YOU CAN JUST TEASE THINGS OUT OVER TIME. THIS IS A COMPLETE FAILURE OF REALIZING THAT MOVIES ARE DIFFERENT. THERE IS SO MUCH TIME BETWEEN THEM THAT CLIFFHANGERS DON’T WORK. THE EMOTION DRAINS OUT. YEAH, CONNECTIVITY AND EVOLUTION IS GOOD, BUT YOU STILL NEED TO GIVE A FULL-COURSE MEAL THAT IS GOING TO SATISFY.

If the purpose of the movie is to deliver some exhilarating action sequences, Quantum generally delivers (though not quite, due mainly to the lack of any weight to the events). If it’s to depict the dismantling of a fictional organization by a beastly man, mission accomplished. If it’s anything beyond that, I’m afraid you’re in trouble. Welcome to modern franchise films. Just because you make one good, powerful, meaningful movie doesn’t automatically imbue any sequel, prequel, or offshoot with some deep significance.

However, as Hulk notes, maintaining continuity can be used to great effect if each chapter has it’s own unique purpose. The best example I can think of is the Before series. The three movies focus on the same two characters, but each analyzes a very unique set of circumstances and challenges. It’s not some pile of inside jokes, and you can watch any one individually and fall in love. Continuity is used not as a cop out, rather as an opportunity for even deeper investment in the characters, and to provide perspective and understanding possible no other way. Never is it stretching out a previous installment, instead building on itself just as life does.

A movie world has no intrinsic right to exist. Each chapter of a saga must justify itself.


As a side note, it reminds me a bit of this gem by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic, which I actually discovered in another excellent piece by David Carr in The New York Times:

“it is easier to read ‘Ulysses’ than it is to read the Internet. Because at least ‘Ulysses’ has an end, an edge. Ulysses can be finished. The Internet is never finished.”

About a year and half ago I fell asleep during a movie for the first time in as long as I can remember (during one of the duller parts of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows). A little less than a year ago I asleep in a movie theater for the first time (Enders Game). In the past month or so, I have fallen asleep in the middle of movies about 6 times. All this has been accompanied by a consistent urging to multitask while watching movies, as though I’m just watching to check it off my list. Next thing I know I’ll be watching multiple movies at once. This isn’t me. A few days ago I read a piece by Matt Zoller Seitz reminiscing on a filmgoers perspective, and with it, a type of film, that seems to have disappeared…

films that seemed to assume that if you’d bought a ticket and were sitting in the theater, you were willing to surrender to somebody else’s vision for a while, and go with their flow, whatever it was, and not demand continual, obnoxiously aggressive stimulation as recompense for their half-paying attention.

At some point I let this go. The result has been a dramatic decline in my appreciation of movies. The love that once burned bright has sputtered out. I am determined to reclaim it. From now on, I am going to save watching movies for only when I can block out the time. I’ll shut off all my electronics, set aside any other potential distractions, and do everything I can to stifle my expectations and predispositions. In short, I will surrender myself fully to the whims of the filmmaker.

via https://dayone.me/Hjyz4p

Wants vs Needs: The Character Arc

One of my favorite parts in FilmCritHulk’s Bond columns shows up as he moves on to one of the series’ lowest points: Diamonds Are Forever. The great flaw he draws out is the utter lack of character psychology:

WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT BUT HOW WE DEAL WITH THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT WE WANT AND NEED (ALONG WITH OUR ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE THAT DIFFERENCE) IS ACTUALLY WHAT GIVES US EACH OUR OWN PSYCHOLOGY. WHICH JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE THE THING THAT MAKES US A FULLY-REALIZED PERSON, WHICH JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE THE SAME THING THAT MAKES SOMEONE A FULLY-REALIZED CHARACTER ON THE SCREEN / PAGE / WHATHAVEYOU.

Once again, Hulk highlights what has become so severly lacking as characters become driven by indulgence and entertainment value, rather than real humanity. He goes on:

THE OTHER REASON THESE TWO QUALITIES OF WANT & NEED ARE SO IMPORTANT TO STORYTELLING IS THAT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE WHERE MOST GREAT STORY CONFLICT COMES FROM. NO, IT’S NOT INVADING ALIENS OR MENACING TOUGHS, IT’S OFTEN JUST OUR INTERNAL CONFLICTS, WHEREIN WE LARGELY CREATE PROBLEMS FOR OURSELVES AND HAVE THE CAPACITY TO RECTIFY THEM. IT’S NO ACCIDENT THAT THE RECTIFICATION OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT WE WANT AND NEED OFTEN SHOWCASES HOW WE REACT TO EXTERNAL CONFLICT, TOO. AND WHERE THIS BIT OF INSIGHT GETS REALLY COOL IS WHEN YOU NOTICE THAT THOSE BIG SWEEPING THINGS WE CALL “CHARACTER ARCS” ARE REALLY NOTHING BUT AN EXAMPLE OF HOW A CHARACTER GOES FROM CHASING WHAT THEY WANT, TO STRIVING FOR WHAT THEY NEED. ISN’T THAT REMARKABLE? THAT THE THING THAT MAKES FOR GREAT, PURPOSEFUL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IS THE SAME THING THAT GIVES RISE TO REAL-LIFE MATURITY? HULK LOVES THE IDEA THAT WHAT SATISFIES US IN LIFE IS THE SAME THING THAT SATISFIES US IN WATCHING A CHARACTER’S DRAMATIC, STORY-BOUND LIFE TOO.

Indulging viewers is all about giving them what the want, not what they need. The entire idea of the character arc is that throughout the story, the character progresses more and more toward discovering and chasing what they need. Then, in the climax, the character makes this grand realization and is transformed through it. Instead, nearly every modern blockbuster uses the climactic final segment to give people what they want: entertainment, in the form of the typical barrage of fights and explosions. This is devastating.

I don’t want to get too presumptuous or critical, but I sincerely believe that much of the reason this can be so difficult to appreciate for some audiences is because they fail to acknowledge its application in the real world. If you don’t embrace the need for distinguishing wants and needs in your own life, and the contribution that has to our own development as humans, you’ll never be able to appreciate it in the storytelling world. Of course, the story can teach us this crucial lesson, but that becomes much harder when we think of film only as entertainment.

THINK OF IT LIKE THIS: IF A MOVIE GIVES US WHAT WE WANT AND INDULGENCES US, IT FEELS REALLY GOOD IN THE MOMENT, RIGHT? OF COURSE IT DOES. BUT IF A MOVIE GIVES US AN EXPERIENCE THAT WE SECRETLY NEED? WELL, THAT MIGHT MAKE US FEEL GOOD, TOO, BUT THAT MOVIE DOES NOT ONLY PLACATE US IN THE MOMENT. INSTEAD, IT WILL BECOME THE KIND OF POWERFUL EXPERIENCE THAT STICKS WITH US FOR A LONG TIME. … YOU KNOW THAT SENSATION YOU GET WHEN YOU SEE A MOVIE AND YOU SORT OF HAVE A WEIRD FEELING COMING OUT OF IT AND MAYBE EVEN DISLIKED IT - OR MAYBE IT SHOCKED YOU AND ROCKED YOU TO YOUR CORE? BUT DAYS OR EVEN WEEKS LATER YOU FIND YOU ARE STILL THINKING ABOUT? STILL REALIZING THE WAYS IT’S MAKING YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT LIFE? CHANCES ARE THAT IS A MOVIE THAT HAS GIVEN YOU SOMETHING YOU DIDN’T REALIZE YOU NEEDED, AND HAS PROVIDED SOMETHING THAT HAS HELPED FEED YOUR SOUL IN SOME SMALL WAY.

This, I believe, summarizes one of the toughest challenges viewers and storytellers face. Non-indulging, challenging, and moving films are often seen as being for those who are “into film,” or else for some other limited demographic. The idea of the “character-driven” movie being some specific, distinct category strikes me as the most telling evidence of this. There is no reason why that should be the case. The world doesn’t indulge us. It challenges us, and those challenges are often moving. Therefore, these kinds of films are not film-geek stories – they are human stories.

Bond and Indulgence

About a month ago the brilliant FilmCritHulk published a series of columns on the Bond movies. In the four columns he provided fascinating analysis of Bond as a character and franchise. It was a lot to digest, but it’s filled with gold. I finally got through it about a week ago, and would like to share some of my favorites bits.

Here’s some great stuff from the first column:

IT KEEPS GOING BACK TO THE TOTAL INDULGENT CELEBRATION THING. BECAUSE IF WE WERE STUDYING ALL OF THESE POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE BOND TRAITS IN FILMS THAT WERE CONSTRUCTED AS ANALYTICAL CHARACTER PIECES, THEN IT WOULD BE ALL WELL AND GOOD. MAYBE EVEN FASCINATING. BUT AGAIN, THE BASIC PROBLEM COMES DOWN TO THE FACT THAT WE ARE NOT STUDYING BOND IN THESE MOVIES, WE ARE INDULGING IN HIM. AND WE ARE INDULGING IN A VERY SPECIFIC, NON-DISTANT WAY. FOR…

RARELY DO WE SIT BACK AND THINK ABOUT JAMES BOND.

RARELY DO WE EVER REALLY EMPATHIZE WITH BOND.

INSTEAD, WE JUST WANT TO BE JAMES BOND.

This is all too true, and not just of Bond. It seems to be the case with the vast majority of modern blockbusters, not to mention that much broader category of crowd-pleaser, feel-good movies. Hulk goes on to diagnose this from a viewers standpoint:

THE PROBLEM IS THAT RIGHT NOW IT REALLY SEEMS LIKE MOST OF THE POPULATION CONSUMES MEDIA IN AN INDULGENT, PORNOGRAPHIC FASHION. THERE ARE ENTIRE SECTIONS OF THE POPULATION WHO ONLY WANT MOVIES TO DO WHAT THEY WANT. WHO VICARIOUSLY PLACE THEMSELVES INTO THE SITUATIONS AT PLAY AND WANT ONLY GRATIFICATION FROM THEM. FORGET ABOUT THIS EFFECT ON DRAMA OR STORY, IT’S ABOUT WHAT WE FEEL WE’RE OWED. AND IT’S HOW WE GET A SERIES OF IMPOSSIBLE AND UNSTOPPABLE BADASS HEROES. IT’S HOW WE GET HYPER-ATTRACTIVE LADY-PLACEHOLDERS TO LOOK AT. IT’S WHY WE HEAVILY REWARD EVERY DESIRABLE BEHAVIOR AND RENEGADE ATTITUDE.

BUT HEY, MAYBE THIS HAPPENS IN MOVIES/TV BECAUSE LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH THEM IS SO DAMN EASY. WE JUST SIT IN THE DARK AND LET THESE FILMS LIVE IN OUR BRAINS. BUT HULK CAN’T QUITE SAY THIS IS EVIL OR ANYTHING, BECAUSE HULK WILL ADMIT THAT CONSUMING MEDIA IN A PORNOGRAPHIC WAY CAN BE A FAIRLY INNOCUOUS ENDEAVOR IN AND OF ITSELF… BUT IT CAN STILL DEFINITELY LEAD TO PROBLEMS WHEN WE WORSHIP IT.

PUT IT LIKE THIS: ON THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM, WE HAVE PURPOSEFUL ART. HULK’S TALKED ABOUT THE REFLEXIVE, EVASIVE NATURE OF TRYING TO DEFINE ART BEFORE, SO LET’S DO THE SHORT VERSION. YES ART CAN BE ANYTHING AS LONG WE CALL IT ART, BUT HULK IS TALKING ABOUT THE SPECIFIC FORM OF ART THAT IS AT THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING IN OUR LIVES. PURPOSEFUL ART IS THE REASON WE TELL STORIES AND ENGAGE IN THIS COMMON EXPERIENCE. IT’S HOW WE SHAPE THE STORIES OF OUR LIVES AND PROVIDE CONTEXT AND MEANING TO THOSE LIFE STORIES. AND THAT KIND OF ART ISN’T REALLY ABOUT WHAT WE WANT, BUT INSTEAD WHAT WE NEED. IT GIVES US CONFLICT, AND CHALLENGES OUR NOTIONS AND INFORMS LIFE’S GREATER NARRATIVE. IT MAY FIND ITS WAY INTO OUR HEARTS AND MINDS THROUGH AN EMOTIONAL AND VICARIOUS EXPERIENCE, BUT THEN ART HAS THE ABILITY TO ACTUALLY TRANSFORM US WITH ITS THOUGHTFUL WAYS. ART MAKES US AWARE AND IT NEVER OBLIGES US.

Studios constantly talk openly about including scenes, characters, and even entire plotlines to “please fans.” This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, but when it comes to guide the filmmaking process we slip far away from the “purposeful art” Hulk talks about. Indulging like this must be kept in moderation.

Of course, this is how money is made: you give people what they want. Yet, amidst all the clamoring of studios racking up box office numbers, it’s critical that we appreciate the value of purposeful art. We need it as human beings and as society, for the betterment of both. It may not be as instantly gratifying, but it is far more rewarding in the long run.

Films have immense power to both good and ill. The impact of what is put on the screen is felt.

WE OVER-VALUE FILMS WITH INDULGENT PSYCHOLOGY AND THEN TRY TO CLAIM MOVIES DON’T INFLUENCE US, BUT FUCK THAT NOISE. OF COURSE THEY DO. WHY DO YOU THINK SO MANY PEOPLE ABHOR AWARENESS AND CEREBRAL MEDIA CONSUMPTION IN GENERAL AND COMPLAIN WHEN THINGS “TAKE THEM OUT OF THE EXPERIENCE”? WHY DO PEOPLE GET UP IN ARMS WHEN THEY WANTED CHARACTERS TO DO SOMETHING ELSE? WHY DO PEOPLE GET MAD AT THINGS WITH SAD ENDINGS? DAGNAMMIT, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT.

Movies matter. We can’t afford to pretend otherwise. I know not everyone is into film in the same way. Some people just go to the theater for entertainment. I’m not saying that’s a terrible thing, just that you have to be careful what you’re really looking for and getting.

At the beginning of the second column, while discussing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Hulk makes an essential distinction:

ACTING LIKE A REAL PERSON MAKES BOND A WORSE VEHICLE FOR INDULGENCE AND WANNA-BE-COOL FANTASY. A HUMAN BEING WHO SOMETIMES GETS SAD AND STUFF? WHO WANTS TO PRETEND TO BE THAT!?! AGAIN, THIS IS THE KEY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INDULGENCE AND ESCAPISM. YOU CAN WATCH INDIANA JONES FALL AND FAIL AND BARELY CLIMB HIS WAY OUT OF DANGER AND DISASTER, AND YET YOU HAVE STILL ESCAPED FOR TWO HOURS INTO A LIFE FILLED WITH ADVENTURE AND EXCITEMENT. BUT WITH JAMES BOND? IT SEEMS THAT A LARGE AMOUNT OF VIEWERS ARE PUTTING THEMSELVES DIRECTLY IN BOND’S PLACE, AND THUS FOR TWO HOURS THEY GET TO BE KINGS OF THE MUTHAFUCKIN UNIVERSE AND GET ALL THE CHICKS OR WHATEVER.

There’s nothing wrong with escapism, and certainly not with having a good time at the movies. All that fun stuff can happen in the context of real, human characters that teach us things through their trials. What we have to be careful about is using movies as an outlet purely for our own flawed pleasures without consciously acknowledging what’s going on. Know what’s good for you and aim for that stuff.