Sunday, August 9, 2015
Much more than just a rarefied vacuum of a shared obsession
It happened to me again last weekend. At my cousin's birthday party, which I had not expected to be a stinker by any means but honestly had neither expected to put me in a state of being all fired up about anything – no offense, cousin, and many happy returns – one of the party guests and I discovered that we were both cinemaphiles or shortly cinephiles. ("Movie freaks" is probably the term everyone else in attendance would have used, but we wouldn’t have heard them call us that or worse, because we were operating in the rarefied vacuum of a shared obsession.)
And suddenly there was one of those moments that all of us movie freaks simultaneously crave and dread: "All right," said my cousin’s friend, giving me a sly look as if he had my number and it wasn’t as great as I thought it was (We love that look!), "Night on Earth."
What the look and the identification mean, loosely translated, is as follows: "It seems to me from my interaction with you thus far that your film creds check out and that you are at least of mammalian-level intelligence. I now wish to bring our collegial vibe to a slightly higher frequency and either build a sense of case-specific solidarity with you or see with what bonhomie and pluck you are able to argue your opposition to my perspective. The film I have most recently named is one which, for some reason which I will later describe, resonated powerfully with me. Without having clued you in to that reason, I will now judge you based on your response to the same film"
Got that? I will judge you. I’m not judgmental, we say, and Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Mostly this is true. You like dogs? I prefer cats, big deal. But it’s the case that in some ways it’s easier for me to be friends with someone whose politics I almost loathe, for instance, than with someone who thinks that Robert Altman's Nashville is boring and dated. And, as Don Corleone said, it’s nothing personal – this film meant something to me, note emphasis, and if it left you cold, then I am left with a practical tool, a partial map of what you and I won’t have in common. Why shouldn’t I have that? Why shouldn’t I want it?
Sometimes a movie is more than just a movie; sometimes it is a thing to go to battle over. It’s as if I’m both dictator and loyal resident of a peaceful, neutral republic (work with me on this metaphor, if you would), the boundaries of which are constantly being redrawn.
I can give you directions to get there, I can brief you on our constitution, but I can’t promise you a visa. For that, you have to be of some proven use to me and my country: a friend of the cause, or something against which I can set myself and look all tough and purposeful and not impotent. (Do I take myself way too seriously here? Please go ahead and judge me, judge me right back.) When confronted with a circumscribing challenge like I was at the party, I similarly have two options, diplomacy or nationalism. "It was all right; on the whole I enjoyed myself," I can say when I don’t want to risk being offensive (or when I don’t want to bother engaging an uninspiring opponent in a skirmish), or I can channel the spirit of Tom Paine and start declaiming. On the basis of my fervor, I declare my due citizenship.
Back to the party. It so happens that yes I do have strongly held beliefs about Night on Earth, and about one segment in particular. At a cozy family party of all places, where I didn’t know any of the non-family guests, maybe I should have just bowed and smiled. Instead I swung the bat hard, and I can still hear the whistle of it slicing through the air. Times like that remind me all over again why I love movies. Thanks for stopping by. Let us know what you think. A.G