Sunday, May 21, 2017

Strange Comforts

I'm still feeling blue, but I've been finding some comfort in a strange place-- YouTube videos of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's At The Movies show.

They appeal to me for various reasons:

1) They belong to the recent past (eighties and nineties)-- a period I've always found fascinating. I don't mean specifically the eighties and nineties-- I mean whatever the recent past is, relative to now. The recent past isn't history, but it's not the present either. It's a kind of limbo. Somehow, I find that strangely tranquil. The controversies of the moment have died down, but the controversies of history haven't flared up yet. (For instance, it's strange viewing their review of JFK and remembering what a hullaballoo there was about that movie.)

2) I like the fact that they were both Chicago film critics. As my previous post shows, I'm very interested in the concept of place recently-- especially cities and towns. I have a friend who's fascinated with Chicago, though that might have had more to do with the Chicago gal he married.

3) I like the theme music.

4) I like the opening montage, which shows them leaving their respective newspaper offices and going to the cinema. Imagine having, not only one great job, but two great jobs!

5) I like that the show had its own traditions. There's the famous thumbs up and thumbs down, of course, but also the fact that they would say: "Until next week, the balcony is closed" at the end. They also did "worst of the year" and "best of the year" shows.

6) The show incorporates one of my favourite things in the world-- an empty cinema, which serves as its set. Obvious, but effective. In fact, the background images on my computer diary, on my laptop, on my work computer, and even on my gmail are all cinema interiors-- some empty, one with an audience. I like them in both cases, but especially when they're empty-- the idea of a private cinema, or even a private screening, is delicious. I think the mind is a kind of private cinema-- it's my favourite metaphor for consciousness.

Another thing I like is the whole cinema "aesthetic"-- it's so easily evoked. A red upholstered seat evokes the cinema, as does a heavy red curtain, the spotlights on the ceiling, or a stylized projector or movie reel. It's as easily evoked as Christmas, or the horror genre. I love such things. 

7) I like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel themselves. There's something quite avuncular about them.

Interestingly, neither of them were bowled over by Groundhog Day.  They both give it a thumbs up, but they don't speak of it in nearly the sort of adultatory terms they use for some other movies. I had the same reaction-- I liked it at first, but not that much. In fact, Gene Siskel says it "grew on him", presumably in one viewing. I know Roger Ebert's regard for the movie increased over time.
(This is what he wrote in his retrospective review of 2005: "Groundhog Day" is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is. Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation. But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like "Groundhog Day" to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.")

I'm tremendously moved that the last words of Ebert's last blog post, two days before his death, were: "I'll see you at the movies". As someone who didn't believe in an afterlife, I wonder what exactly that meant to him. 

To change subject completely, I tweeted this aphorism today: "With God, suffering is mysterious. Without God, suffering is meaningless." I thought that was quite well put, but it didn't get any reaction. Twitter doesn't seem to like me as much as Facebook did.

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