Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to dream as a Cinephile

I read this article today over at the website Mubi written by Doug Dibern, and it's sparked in my mind about how crucial it is for a cinephile to keep on dreaming about movies, and those particularly never seen or wanting to see, or maybe never to see at all.  It's a powerful thing for a cinephiliac (if that's a word) to keep on imagining about other movies and to keep harping on what they might be like, even if they turn out to be hellish wastes of space by the likes of Hershel Gordon Lewis or (gulp) Uwe Boll.  It's the kind of essay that keeps me plugged in to why it is that I keep at finding films, but also the importance of expectation and want and desire and (that dirty word) hope.

Yes we can... dream about movies.  What, healthcare?  Uh... (runs off)
The article was mostly about the lust for fantastical glory over finding the missing print of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons, but there was also a mention of a book, Film as a Subersive Art by Amos Vogel that caught my attention.  I read through the book, or the sections that looked most interesting, some years ago and it's the kind of movie guide that any serious cinephile should procure.  It's an essential guide to films that are underground, independent, or just "dangerous", and has reviews of both capsule-Leonard-Maltin length and full on essays.  Some filmmakers were known to me quite well, like Godard and Bunuel and Dusan Makavejev (director of WR Mysteries of the Organism), and others, not so much, mostly from the NY Underground and films like Oh Dem Watermelons (click on the link, it exists, I dare ya).

The thing that I related to in this article, and I had known it before but hadn't seen it articulated quite so well in sentences and verbs, was this:

"I’m not talking about the experience of watching a movie and being disappointed. I’m talking about the notion that when you see a movie that you loved but hadn’t yet seen, you’ve erased an aspect of your identity that once nourished you. Each of those movies either fulfilled or frustrated my expectations, but by seeing them I diminished myself as a human being. There was a void now where once those movies used to breathe."

It's such a fascinating thing, and something that is a profound thing for a movie-goer who searches high and low for movies that are just under the radar or obscure.  Dibern's journey through movies has taken him to a point where he's more philosophical than I would have been years before.  But I can understand it: once the hill is conquered, it's not quite the same.  I'm sure I could try and find many of the obscure lot of films from Vogel's text, some of them in museums, some in the deep dark pits of Ebay, some now just surfacing on the back catalogs of the studio's vaults.  And maybe finally seeing that obscure movie takes away that part of myself that was there, hoping, wanting, not sure but with a piece of my mind that was secure to myself, uncorrupted by the actual dream on celluloid (to get all pretentious about it)

Still from a movie I don't remember, but wish I've seen... maybe.
But the other facet to the article I can also relate to is hope.  Not to get all Obama on you, but it is good to hope for something, at least when you have a geek-like passion on a subject or piece of entertainment or escapism or, especially, art.  And it's getting tougher to hope in an environment that is becoming easier and easier with access to things; at the same time I was reading this article, I also came across somewhat unrelatedly an essay written by comic Patton Oswalt about how "Geek Culture" as those of us over the age of 25 would know it, is dying, or has been dying for a while as anything can be found at any time online.  While his observations mostly extend to those small passions that have now become part of the mainstream (i.e. the passion of a D&D fan the same as a Desperate Housewives housewife sect), I think it also extends over to motion pictures.

It may seem futile to find certain things after so much time in the face of a world where so much is available, if only by bit-torrent (albeit me being not-so technically inclined trying to track down, for example, Andy Warhol's Blue Movie on a download site and not being able to figure out how to download the fucker is even more infuriating).  And it may also be counter-intuitive given this past month being Netflix-month - a month dedicated to going through the files available on a service where eventually everything could be conceivably available there.  Maybe a part of me wants to lose some of the hope in finding that one movie I hadn't seen before and had been searching for years and lo and behold it's right there and just a click away and I can rate it later if I so choose.

Orson Welles tries magic to find the missing Ambersons print and turns up... Rita Hayworth, bah, who needs that?

But it's a feeling that should be nourished, if only for a little while.  The 'Ambersons' anecdote he tells is vivid and incredible, like one can picture Welles digging film cans of his sophmore treasure into the ground with the fervor and urgency of Harry Lime running through the sewer in The Third Man.  There were movies like that for me, and as I ponder them writing this it does become sadder, a little less fruitful.  There never stops being a time when I search for new-old films or old-new films, but there were acquisitions over time where now there is a void.  I remember finding  a used-battered VHS copy of Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear and... oh holy hell, it's still a WTF forever and ever.  But as I watched in agape horror at Woody Allen rambling poetic nonsense at the end over slow motion of a horse running on a beach, I should have known it and know it better now: I can never quite relive that again, even as a horrific experience sitting along and clutching my pillow to dear life at the agony of it.

So one just has to keep on dreaming about films, and those unseen, and maybe the film built up is better than the one that will be revealed.  On my facebook I have a photo album of "Where in the World is This Movie?" and the list is about twenty-strong, but could dwindle tomorrow.  One such movie that was on the list up until a few months ago (though still unwatched) is Alejandro Jodorowsky's Tusk.  This is one of those works that some movie fans drool over and others raise an eyebrow in 'huh' anticipation.  It's a movie about the friendship between a little girl and an elephant in India directed by a man who previously had a gunslinger and his naked son killing people across Mexico (El Topo) and a woman who uses her son's arms to exact revenge (Santa Sangre).

I can imagine so much potential with something like Tusk, or such disaster.  I see a lot of psychedelic colors flying about and music out of Satyajit Ray booming out as a little girl does somersaults on the top of an elephant as it rushes across a village.  And I also see Jodorowksy playing a guru with a beard as long as Mandingo's dick writing scripture on a tablet and pontificating about this and that and the other.  I can dream those things... and yet also I know deep down it's not true.  It's very likely a dull movie, and one that has perhaps stayed in such obscurity for a reason (I procured it under a stroke of luck by a bootleg seller online, though the quality of the DVD-R leaves much to be desired).  Perhaps the paradox is that if a movie were as crazy as I might try to imagine, I would have seen it already, or it would be more readily available.
Actually, this may be even more entertaining to imagine now that I think of it as it will never exist.  Holy shit this could've been awesome.
There are other movies on the list I count off- Fellini's Voice of the Moon (his last movie!), Visconti's The Stranger (this one baffles me as it's a director of some note plus Albert Camus plus Marcello Mastroianni), Fassbinder's Desire, which also boasts writing by Nabokov and Tom Stoppard.  Such possibilities and maybe, just maybe, they should stay that way.  It's an interesting disposition to have, that dichotomy of Hope with a movie, of it being seen some day, and then actually seeing it and that experience being something else.  As a collector, as a geek I treasure that, of venturing off to, say, the Film Forum in NYC and finally after years and years of searching to see a screened print of Samuel Fuller's Park Row.  It's hard to equate the pleasure of that, and the hope likewise that the film will be great.

But it's another thing to not have that, for the hope to keep itching, that the Great White Whale of an Ambersons is out there somewhere, or the dream of it.  This is the kind of thought process from this article that would make me want to dream more about those films, my "own" versions playing in my mind (or, more succinctly put in the essay, " order for us to nurture that aspect of hope that is tied to our cinephilia, it seems that we must keep some films in the realm of the imagination."  Or, in Donald Rumsfeld speak, the "known Unknowns", the things we know that we don't know.  Or, as I would like to put it, my dream vs. their dream, a steel cage match in an imaginarium.  Point is: keep on the search for movies, but for those that are so elusive that seem impossible to find, make up your own story or version.  Your mind is a thing to waste only on alcohol and Jersey Shore, and maybe only the first one in moderation.

Or to put it one last way that might resonate with some of you more 'mainstream' moviegoers as some of the other examples might be too "arty" for some, think back to around 1998, early 1999.  Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace had been announced that it would be released in the summer.  Oh joy of joys, one might say! Finally taking one back in the Star Wars universe, and more crucially for us SW geeks the stories not yet told of those Clone Wars and years where Anakin Skywalker was a young, great star-pilot, cunning warrior and good friend of Obi-Won Kenobi in the Old Jedi Knights Banana Republic Club.  Such dreams to have with that, about what planets they visit, what creatures from that period, the battles, the languages!  Or how they handle the mother of Luke and Leia, a strong woman who is given very little back-story in the original trilogy.  And the dark side, and the rise of Palpatine to power (Elect Palpatine Now!)

If little Ani sees his shadow, does that mean he go back in his slavedom forever?
Every one of us going into it had some kind of hope about it, and no one's hope was quite like the other's.  Then we all saw the movie... and it took a while for some to sink in that this was NOT the dream, at all, that any of us really had, and we had to conform to it.  There is always the chance that the prequels or just the entire series could be rebooted one day, and maybe it could be improved upon to just give some good stories and characters that are well-rounded and have some interesting features.  But there is no way to go back to those initial dreams and hopes.  A million dreams cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced one day by George Lucas, some sooner than others.  Maybe sometimes being a geek kind of sucks.  And some times the dream can backfire.  It would be incredible to find someone today who has only seen the original trilogy, and who has their thoughts about what episodes 1-2-3 would be about... or maybe just (pleasantly for them) blank slates, unnecessary to fill as 4-5-6 were made just so.

Make some sense?  Dreams do feel real, don't they?  It's only after we wake up (or go see the projected ones) that we realize something was strange....

the flooding end of dreaming

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