It’s time. Gotta do some fresh thinking. New ideas. New words.
We’ll be back soon.
It’s time. Gotta do some fresh thinking. New ideas. New words.
We’ll be back soon.
Thanks once again for following the meanderings of Zephyr throughout the year. People have asked where I come up with this stuff — though happily, never why, which is kind. But it is actually fun, and I suppose it would have to be that way, since I’m hardly getting rich from the effort.
What about 2011 and the pluses and minuses? Did I get a promotion? Well, yeah, I’m now the editor-in-chief, along with being the publisher and Grand Sage of this humble blog. Is Kris now CEO of her airline? Nope, but she continues to charm the passengers on every run. Never mind about this year’s crop of tomatoes.
And the world? It seems to help if you mainly watch, with a ready sense of humor. I’ve always concluded that our nutso country inevitably returns to the surface because of a 200-years-old set of orders and procedures that can be counted on to work, despite the crazies who presume to run the place. You could argue that we don’t deserve it — and I’d agree — but there you are.
So on we go, with Kris and I convinced we’re the luckiest two people on the planet. And hopefully, you feel you could launch a serious challenge to that, as well.
Merry Christmas and a wild New Year.
Kris and John
Final in my movie series.
And what if they don’t speak your language? Ah, but they do, if you just watch.
Actually, when you think about it, there is no such as a “foreign film,” given that even major movies made in Hollywood are dubbed for overseas release. Or more to the point, Swedish films are not considered foreign when viewed in Stockholm. Then again, if the same audience is watching “The king’s speech” with Swedish subtitles, well…and so forth. .
So indulge me as I champion films that are originally written and produced in a language other than English, remembering that movies are stories told in pictures, with dialogue serving a support role.
Alright, alright wordsmiths. Settle down. The words are important, and crappy dialogue can kill the whole effort. But on the other hand, take away the pictures and you’ve got radio. And if you really want to appreciate the point, download, say, an Italian-produced movie and see how completely the pictures carry the story, even if you tire of reading.
Too true, plus a strange thing happens, especially if the subtitles are well done: you can sort of kid yourself into believing that you can — in a rudimentary fashion — understand, say, Italian. Context plays a part, of course; as the plot progresses the characters will portray the emotions — the drama — that you expect them to. Aiding the viewer is the job of the translator, which is why some subtitles work markedly better than others. Years ago I saw a German film called “Das boot” (“The boat”) and the subtitles were so well done that I could have sworn I picked up German by the time I left the theater. Not only that, seeing the film that dramatized the trials of a German u-boat crew in WWII in the native language enhanced the story immensely.
Long before that I watched my first “foreign film,” a little black-and-white beauty called “The virgin spring,” directed by Ingmar Bergman. The spoken language was Swedish, supported with English subtitles, but visually it was so powerful that the scenes still remain — and haunt — me to this day.
Here’s something you could do if you can stream Netflix: download the Swedish version of “The girl with the dragon tattoo” and stick with it to the end. Then add the new English-language version to your holiday viewing list, and compare the impact of both. You may actually prefer the original production, especially since the story was by a Swedish author and set in Sweden.
As it turns out, what you’re experiencing with a non-English movie is a sense of what conversation would feel like in a non-American context, which means you really have to go with the flow. In the first place, if you try to speed-translate to English as the story moves on you’ll get hopelessly lost. Plus, figures of speech or idioms are very tough to translate in a literal fashion. (Interestingly, Rosetta Stone bases its approach to learning a new language on visual cues; i.e., instead of saying the French word for a horse is cheval, you see a picture that says this is a cheval).
So in its best sense, a foreign language film — set in a foreign locale — is a transporting experience. The very language aids your entry to the new place, even as the pictures complete the task.
It took me some time to get to that realization, but it was well worth it. And what’s really striking is how common emotions are on a world scale. The laughter in French or Italian is just the same as that of American. And the tears are just as moving. You just have to get in tune.
If the scene above was dubbed for a showing in Rome, Rhett Butler would be famously assuring Scarlett, “Francamente, mia cara, io non me ne frega niente”.
More from my series on the movies. This time we move outside.
DRIVE-IN MOVIES, AKA, “the passion pit.” Where “what was on” had only marginal relevance. Your friends would give you the Monday morning blow-by-blow that was never a review of the film. The point was opportunity, either consummated or not, and with whom. For my own part, I can’t claim to have ever scored a home run, but there was some success in working the basepaths.
Looking back, it was amazing what you put up with in terms of discomfort and lousy performance qualities — and I’m not talking about l’amour. You viewed through your windshield at a screen that was at least a hundred yards away, and typically featured random stains from life in the great outdoors. The audio came to you through a speaker that was hung on the side window, with sound that was far inferior to your own car radio — at least until someone figured out a way to electronically connect both. And if you needed to get or eliminate nutrition, there was that very long walk to the back of the “theatre.”
But it was cheap. At the Del-sego Drive-in near the small town where I grew up, you could go to “buck night,” usually on a Thursday, that would cover a carload. Enterprising high school kids would even throw a couple of rough riders in the trunk, who would come up for air later. Then too, for young parents, the price was ideal, since you could take the kids with you and avoid the cost of a babysitter. Plus, with any luck the younger ones would conk out early and you could enjoy the show. An added bonus: the era of the double-feature was extended, allowing you to load up from the snack bar during the break between movies.
In my early days in California there were four drive-ins in the San Fernando Valley and over a decade I managed to visit them all. All four are gone now, supplanted by swap meets or the ever-growing housing tracts, but when the projectors lights were on, the convenience was outstanding, and did encourage early arrival. You wanted to be there well before the sun set in order to secure a space near the front.
In southern California, of course, it was a year-round deal, although snow country drive-ins did experiment with in-car heaters, which I really did try — but only once. Locally, the winter-time trick was to run the engine only long enough to clear fog from the windshield.
Still a theatrical experience was maintained, albeit with the seats a bit further apart. And unlike viewing inside, you weren’t restricted to what was offered at the concession stand: you could bring your own. One-time friend, Jack C., back in the ’60s, enjoyed his beer, and there was the night that Jack rolled his modified Ford up beside mine at the drive-in and wasted no time diving into a six-pack. Through the first feature what you heard was a pfsst! as he opened each beer, followed ten minutes later by the clink! of an aluminum can as it hit the pavement. Sharing was not presented as an option. We talked the next morning when I called to make sure he made it to his driveway in one piece.
It’s hard to say what killed drive-ins. It may be that patrons for once decided that they didn’t have to spend every waking moment in their cars, or that production values — as opposed to those that were now available in a “walk-in” — such as grainy images were no longer good enough, to say nothing of sound that croaked through a three-inch loudspeaker. Then again, perhaps the novelty — after nearly sixty years — had finally worn off, along with a slowly emerging trend toward the low-brow.
I haven’t been to one in years, but the nostalgic appeal is still there. There was something incredibly easy about saying to your paramour, “Hey, let’s go to the drive-in,” and then firing up the car. And as you moved into the family genre, there was that convenience of what to do with the kids, always an easy sell, depending, of course, on those sinister “suitability” ratings. But it got you out of the house, and in a crazy way, was mildly exciting.
And more, for an insatiable film nut like me, it was a terrific deal: at the drive-in, you got two features for the price of one.
I can hardly imagine that there’s any argument with the notion that movies play an important part in the culture, in public attitudes, in the advancement of art, and truly in our lives. I got to thinking about that the other day, to the point where my small brain began to smoke. Bear with me for the next several posts as I describe what came to mind.
WITHIN MOST PEOPLE’S LIVES, especially here in the United States, movies are a primary cultural factor, with amazingly powerful influence. And when I say movies I include every aspect of visual communication, which would mean television, smart phones and all of the media that implement and lean on pictures of one sort or another. Where would newspapers be without photographs? Now, as always over the last century-plus, it all goes back to a fascination with pictures, notably the kind that move and simulate real life.
Growing up in a small town, the local movie house was my connection to the larger world, both in the stories I saw and the supplement of the newsreels. We were a reading family, to be sure, and constant patrons of the town’s library. There was never a time in those early days that my brothers and I did not have a book on the nightstand, and there more beside a recliner where mom spent two to three hours every day consuming books at an impressive pace. But the world of adventure really seemed to come to life in the darkness of the movie theater, with the sound of hooves, music and shouts, and it was available in those times for a quarter. And more, it was an invitation for delicious empathy: for a couple of hours you could ride along with your heroes and win the girl.
There is much that is arguable about value here; that goes without saying. And whether film truly reflects life as it happens, as it so often claims, is a matter of personal judgement. In telling the story, the movies more often augment facts, leaving reality far behind, but the drama is rarely missed, even when poorly told. Back in the day, Marshall McLuhan asserted that the medium was the message (curiously leaving out the phrase “in fact”), while Newton Minow declared that television was a vast wasteland. People smiled and agreed with the second observation, even as they turned on their television sets. But as a recurring look at who we are and what we are, “moving media” remains unsurpassed, even as the movies are modern manifestations of the stage plays of old, the key here being the availability to audiences, even in a small theater in a small town to a small boy.
For more times than I can count I was there, obediently sitting in the row next to the exit — at mom’s instructions — soaking in a world that was untold distance from the large house on Clinton Street. It was a love affair, of course, that has never vacated, and it remains one that is shared with people in the hundreds of millions. Because the experience is one that we can see, hear and feel.
So movies matter. They are a connection to romance — if only vicariously — to adventure, to history, and most importantly, to life as others live it. And they do count for aspirations and ambitions: Haven’t you at least once said to yourself, “Wow. I’d like to do that or be that,” and smiled? And this is to say nothing of sharing that experience in the company of maybe 500 or 600 other people.
And maybe that’s the whole experience at its best. For sure you can sit at home alone and watch a blockbuster in your home theater with 7.1 sound and a 40-inch flat-screen. But the shared movie house mode is best: you can cheer and laugh at the very same moment. You share life together.