16 September 2008


I like the movies. In fact, I like them so much I'd rank them in my top four of likes, along with literature, music, and dealing with clothing. Here in England, however, the movies are called "films." I cannot call them this, because "films" are precisely what I do not like: I like movies. I also can't use the other British option and say I like going to the cinema, because I feel that others would then find me hopelessly pretentious. So I have decided to solve this issue by calling them "the pictures" from now on. I like going to the pictures.

I'm not exactly sure what it is I like. I don't get drawn into the pictures in the way many people have said they do. With very rare exceptions, I am aware that I'm outside what I'm watching, and I'm aware at some level that it's acted. I find going to the theatre alone very depressing, and you would think, given the similarities of the two activities, that I'd feel the same way about going to the cinema alone. But I never do. I think this may be because there is always a full or near-full audience at the theatre, and there is rarely a full or near-full audience at the pictures. In addition to this, the picture itself is so shiny. It's all glossy (even if grainy), and slightly hyper-bright, and because the screen is so big the experience is always at least slightly surreal. So I suppose the pictures retain a certain kind of magic for me -- plus there's also the fact that I become involved with another world for at least a couple of hours.

It turns out that Cambridge has quite a good picture house. Indeed, this is what it's called: The Picture house. Because term has not yet started, and I'm slightly at a loose end, I have made use of the Picture house twice in two days. The first time was an accident: I was wandering along the road and saw that they were showing Badlands, which I've never seen on a big screen. The second time was intentional: one of the Badlands previews was for a picture called Jar City, and it looked so intriguing that I decided to go.

Let us leave the discussion of my adoration for previews for another day.

I have seen Badlands twice on TV, once because I happened upon it and once because I rented it. Both times, I thought it was a weird movie. Now I've seen it on the big screen, and I think it is a weird movie. It's a realist film, in the same way that Madame Bovary is a realist novel, but the result of that realism is a curious kind of disinterest on the film's part. Stuff just happens (that's really the best way to put it). Martin Sheen shoots Sissy Spacek's father, and that's a little odd, as is the fact that he then burns down their house as a way of concealing the crime, but because Terrence Malick doesn't give these actions import or a frame - as indeed they would not have in real life - I am left feeling adrift, and curiously passivated. Badlands ends up being a really good movie, but part of what makes it really good is that no one involved with it seems to be very invested in its action: not the nominally real participants, not the director of the film, and not the viewer of the film. Somehow, though, this lack of investment is what makes it so riveting.

Also, I spent much of the film being astounded at how young Martin Sheen was. I've largely only seen him as a man in his 50s and beyond (except for Apocalypse Now, I suppose, and occasional other glimpses), and on a large screen his youth was truly arresting. Sometimes he would look like a man in his mid-thirties (as indeed he was when the picture was made), but at other times he just looked so young: younger than I had ever been able to imagine him being. I find there are certain people who look as if they've always looked the way they do, and Martin Sheen is one such person. Here, however, he looked, although recognisably like himself, nothing like the way I would have imagined him to look when young.

I kept being struck by this, and each time struck as if anew.

My second picture, today, was Jar City. It's the first Icelandic murder mystery film I've ever seen. I do not think it will be the last (assuming that this is a genre). It was complex and deeply surprising - not in its solution, which I got about halfway through, but in its commitment to intelligence and quiet thought. Thinking about it now, I see that it, too, was realistic. There was very little soundtrack, and there was very little drama. For the most part, it was a picture that was content to be human. Even the solution to the mystery turned out to be pretty human, pretty logical and everyday.

Not bad for two days' viewing.

In other news, the building in which I'm living seems to have few other occupants, or at least very quiet ones. As a result, when I went to the kitchen tonight to stash my milk in the fridge and paused on the central staircase landing (where there is a large open circle that looks down to a statue of Prince Albert), I had the sensation that I was living all alone in a gigantic house, isolated amongst all the long corridors and empty space. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Such a feeling.

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Gorilla Bananas said...
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