June 08, 2009 | Ronda Jambe

Everything I need to know I learned at the movies

Truth is, there isn’t that much I really want to know. Not as a proportion of what is out there. My filters cut in last week when a somewhat misleadingly titled lecture provided more details on the aerodynamics of wind generators than I care to consider, so we crept off before the questions.
The literate, educated and affluent have access to near infinite respositiories of information, but only small bits seep in and become part of what we really know. This is the dilemma of epistemology in an information soaked age. But movies are an endless treasure box of what we could know, what we might want to have, experience, or run from.
Movies are the shadows in the cave, the reflections of what we collectively know, individually treasure, and secretly dream. They also call forth our nightmares. Thelma and Louise were Everywoman, but not the ones we know, we all thought thankfully as we watched. The Virgin Suicides were likewise far outside most experiences of puberty, although some of us have been lucky enough to have met cads and lads like that. But even extreme chick flicks reverberate from real life.
And exaggerate it, to offer the world not as it is, but to remind us how we really want it to be. Conflict, redemption. Junkies get better, and show up looking like Cate Blanchett, Abby Cornish, and Ann Hathaway. But bad guys die badly, at least until recently.
Nowadays bad guys are more likely to slip away, like the arms dealer in Lord of War, or more currently, the bankers in The International. Family cannot be allowed to betray, as Power and Glory made clear. When movies present realities that conflict with received wisdom, they tell us that values are in flux. More and more, they nibble at the edges of change, as the above 3, and many more, including Blood Diamond. Biopics and semi-biopics give us more or less accurate portrayals of more or less real people, and are often inspiring, like Ray.
And that’s just some of what movies tell me – their impact on other cultures, and their movies impact on ours expands the phase space of vicarious learning enormously. Is there anything that can’t be told through film?
How can one separate the actors, directors, musicians and all the rest from their product? Without becoming a stalker or a autograph hound, it is still possible to develop an imaginary dialogue with lots of favorites: who wouldn’t want to talk to Arnie about almost anything, or with Daryl Hannah about her work in Equador? Can anyone not feel warmth towards the rascally Jack Nicholson? People enter our lives through open pores. Even if we don’t know them personally, they can give us a glimpse of excellence or decadence seldom met on the street. They can frighten us and make us laugh at ourselves and our preoccupations. Didn’t Borat want us to feel embarassed as we howled at his antics?
The looniest extremes of the Coen brothers offer worlds that beguile and entertain, even as we shake our heads in astonishment. Beyond that, we marvel at the pure genius, the creative spirit and the enormous collaborative success each movie represents. From the sublime to the ridiculous, from Orson Wells to the most trite teen gore movie, we have to acknowledge the achievement of getting a movie made, just to tell us that story, in their way.
The movie is clearly the art form of our age, not least in sheer ubiquity. It embraces all else: vision, sound (next will be smell), all the technologies that define our civilisation, and all the manoeuvres that link Hollywood to worlds of high finance and the Holocaust. They are even part of the environmental movement, as the studios in LA have just agreed to stop using disposable dry cleaning bags. Ha! Bet you thought I’d given the green line a rest this week.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 8:03 am | Comments Off on Everything I need to know I learned at the movies |
Filed under: Arts

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