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One of the wonderful things about living in Los Angeles is the abundance of movie theaters that play old movies, on film, for no particular reason other than that’s what they do. The American Cinematheque operates two such theaters – the amazing Egyptian in Hollywood and the Aero near my neck of the woods in Santa Monica. The New Beverly is a run-down but cherished city landmark responsible for probably half of my film education while going to school at AFI. There are others that have midnight screenings like the NuArt in West LA. Cultural institutions including the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (The Academy), as well as the Skirball and the Arclight partner with (my alma mater) the American Film Institute curate old classics so film geeks like myself can see the movie on a real movie screen.

So, I would get the calendars and schedules for these theaters and programs to see what plays each month and see which ones also are on my “to see” list. Often, I was fortunate to see great films that I had missed (including Night of the Hunter, Before Sunrise, East of Eden, Harold and Maude, The Last Emperor, etc.) the way they were originally intended to be seen. I even saw Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law featuring the late great Rudy Ray Moore in all its glory on the big screen – probably my favorite terrible film of all time.

And – thanks to you, Los Angeles, and specifically the Cinematheque – I was able to watch, in 70mm film, Lawrence of Arabia at least five times in the theater over the past 10 years. (Written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson and directed by one of my film heroes Sir David Lean.)

I don’t exactly remember the first time I saw the film in its entirety. I would always catch chunks of it on AMC or something, but never from start to the finish. So when I moved to LA and discovered that these old classics play in the theater now and again, I made it a point to see Larry of Arabia (as the Aero’s small marquee writes it) in the theater. (I’m familiar with TE Lawrence well enough that I feel comfortable calling him Larry.) I believe the first time I saw the film was with my long time roommate and friend-since-the-first-grade Tom who moved out to LA with me after growing up together. Since then, I saw it alone a couple of times, once with my now-fiancee, and again last summer with friends who were visiting me from (sweet home) Chicago.

Volumes have been written about the stunning cinematography and wide open vistas of the Arabian Desert. And still enough cannot be said about it. It’s truly astounding seeing the film in a theater on a beautiful 70mm print. I refuse now to catch it on television, even though it’s one of my all time favorite movies. (So please pardon the poorly captured YouTube clips. Some of them have the aspect ratio all wrong and other things just as bad as copyright infringement.)

What’s almost as amazing as the film itself is the sheer production logistics that have to go into hauling a massive film crew and a massive Super Panavision 70 film camera, into the middle of the desert nearly 50 years ago. That’s an ambitious assignment with modern travel, cell phones, lighter equipment and scene replacement to help bail out the production team. Without all that, it takes an incredible amount of production coordination that makes my head hurt.

But all their planning still couldn’t prevent a production truck backing up into a pristine desert landscape thereby ruining an entire day of work. (I tried to find this story written somewhere online but it might be apocryphal – though I’m pretty sure it is not as it is often repeated in film industry circles).

The first time Lawrence enters the desert on camel with his guide, there isn’t a single footprint, not a single sign of humanity as massive mountains loom all around. We are entering this desolate, wide-open space just as he does – with awe and humility.

The film is based on the story of the actual British officer who sought to unify (and perhaps modernize) the Arabs and fight the Turks in the early 20th Century. While the film is overall historically accurate, it’s accurate to the extent that any biographical movie is – liberties are taken, multiple people are consolidated into one, and so on and so on. But all of this is entirely beside the point. TE Lawrence and his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom tell the historical story. Lawrence of Arabia illustrates the legend.

Lawrence of Arabia is a very definition of a vast, sweeping epic and at its center is an enigmatic man involved in extraordinary historical circumstances. A man who becomes a legend bigger than himself, who starts to even at one point believe in the legend. And a man who has a deep questioning of his own identity. British, or Arab? Legend, or just a man?

Lawrence – portrayed by the slight and effeminate Peter O’Toole (in perhaps the greatest screen debut in movie history) – begins the movie as an Arab specialist in the British Army. He’s told to go and meet with Prince Feisal and advise them. So how do you get a man in a British Army uniform inside their base out to the desert, cinematically speaking? You do it with one my favorite edits in any movie:

Catch that? It’s a close up of Lawrence, doing this thing where he lets the match burn to his fingertips. It’s very close up. The first real close up of the entire film, probably 10-15 minutes in. Then, he blows it out and it cuts straight to the wide wide wide open desert just before sunrise. It’s something you can do in film that is harder to get away with in literature where there would be so many details missing of him getting ready to go, getting a camel and guide, packing for the desert, then leaving, etc. But here, like the snap of the finger or the flicker of an ember, we’re already out there in the desert. Like how our memory operates – only the relevant bits.

The juxtaposing of the close up of the face, the flame, and then the flame-red sunrise is why it’s so striking. Not to mention the music builds and introduces that legendary theme for the first time right after it. We watch the sun just start to burn the morning desert sky with its crimson fire.

And then we see the desert. The incredible wide expansive vistas and two tiny souls on camels inching through. It reminds me of Breton Fisherman’s Prayer, Oh Lord, thy sea is so vast and my ship is so small. But with a beautiful crane move. With Lawrence and his guide resting in the desert, we get a first taste of Lawrence’s romanticism and dedication. He won’t take a drink of his water if his Bedouin guide doesn’t drink from his.

The first half of the movie, we see Lawrence trying to prove himself, especially to Sherif Ali (the intense and deep Omar Sharif), that he’s genuinely interested in the Arabs unifying. Lawrence arrives just in time to see an aerial massacre by the Turks against Arabs on horseback with simple guns, leaving Prince Feisal (Ben Kenobi, er, Obi-Wan, er… Alec Guinness) beside himself.

Oh, brief historical interlude. (Forgive my over-simplification of this era. I’m sure Wikipedia will be more than happy to fill you in on the details.) At the time the events of the film take place, the early 20th Century, the Middle East was a collection of kingdoms, princely states, and nomadic tribes – much like South Asia and oh probably a lot of the non-Western world back then. No real modern nations as we think of them today existed after the fall of the Caliphate, except for the Turks who were German allies in World War I. (Much of this era and the support of the “Arab Revolt” was a proxy for European conflicts over colonial territories and spheres of influence and part of England’s infamous “divided and conquer” strategy that served them throughout the former colonies… but we can save that discussion for after class. Fist shaking is encouraged.)

The Arabs, however, were not an organized single entity. They needed a unifying force. Lawrence (the real one) would help lead them.

“I ENJOYED IT.”

First, Lawrence (the movie one) has to prove himself worthy. And to do that, he has to figure out how to drive the Turks out of the region. The big problem is that the Turks have these massive guns that point to the sea, so the British won’t use their naval fleet to invade from the water. What lies between Feisal, Ali, Lawrence and the coastal Turkish-run cities of Arabia is a lengthy trek that may prove fruitless.

So Lawrence has to come up with a solution – and there’s this fascinating “thinking” sequence where he drifts out into the desert at night. But we see the scene through the eyes of his two stable boys who watch him think. Lawrence is out in the desert alone, just thinking. This is essentially a major screenwriting and filmmaking no-no. Which is why it’s awesome. We watch Lawrence think – there’s no dialogue, just some reactions from the two kids, and the music. The music! It represents his thoughts! It builds as and comes together as he hatches a plan. And it ends with one exclaimed word:

“Aqaba!”

Lawrence hatches a plan. He says they will lead a handful of men on camels, defy death by passing through the Nefud Desert, the “Devil’s Anvil” – a nearly impassable stretch of wasteland – and take the coastal city of Aqaba from the side the Turks are not defending: land. Because who would be foolish enough to tempt death by crawling through the hottest place in the world with a band of Arab mercenaries? Aqaba’s only defense, those huge canons, point away from the desert and to the sea. Sherif Ali reluctantly agrees to the hare-brained scheme and they lumber off.

The trek is tedious. It’s filmed that way – long searing, blown-out landscapes. Heat rising off the desert in waves. The band sleeps during the day when it’s hottest and ride at night, gathering other tribes of Arabs along the way. After probably 20-minutes of on-screen travel, they’re finally about to exit the Nefud.

But Lawrence sees in their long train of camels and men that one of the camels is without a man. A man named Gasim (I.S. Johar) fell asleep on his ride and fell off. Sharif Ali says they should go on, he’s lost. Lawrence wants to go back and get him. Ali tells him – “Gasim’s time has come, Lawrence. It is written.” When Ali says that if he goes back after him we won’t be in Aqaba, Lawrence points to his head and says, I shall be at Aqaba. That, IS written. In here-” pointing to his head. So he goes back into the desert! And Ali is pissed.

The next sequence is awesome because we don’t see Lawrence for a long time, just as the caravan doesn’t. We see Gasim, stumbling along alone in the desert with the heat beating down. We see a close up of the sun beating down. Back to Gasim.

Back to the caravan. What will happen – will Lawrence survive? The best way to show that is the way Sir David decided to – through the eyes of Lawrence’s sidekick Daud, waiting with hope towards the endless horizon.

And then a speck on the horizon. Followed by a shot of a completely cloth- and sand-covered Lawrence with Gasim draped across the back of his camel. (Note: I couldn’t get these clips below to embed, but you can click to the site – the clips are well captured.)

I love this scene…

http://movieclips.com/yTjHC-lawrence-of-arabia-movie-the-nefud-desert/

… partially by the way his sidekick pronounces “Lawrence!” (More “Or-runts!” than “Lawrence.”) But especially by Ali, clearly amazed by the accomplishment, brings water to Lawrence – now his peer, an equal, and maybe a hero. And Lawrence says, throat completely destroyed by the heat and dust:

“Nothing is written.”: http://movieclips.com/cHf9M-lawrence-of-arabia-movie-nothing-is-written/

Badass. Lawrence’s legend begins.

The man is now in – he’s one of them. Ali acknowledges it: ” Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it.” They even give him his own set of Arabic robes. And this really begins the theme of identity that Lawrence grapples with throughout. He has revealed to Ali that while his father is an English lord, he is not because “my mother never married my father.” Ali says that means Lawrence is free to make his own name, his own identity.

And while Lawrence’s skin is white and he’s English, he identifies with the Arabs as if he’s one of them. He’s so taken with his new clothes that he starts prancing around in them, only to be caught by regional warlord Auda Abu Tayi (played by the gnarly and garrulous Anthony Quinn, “a river to my people!”) – who soon joins the band of fighters.

But we’re still not yet at Aqaba! Before we get there, there is another scene to illustrate the difficulty in unifying the various Arab tribes.

They’re getting closer to the coastal city, and then one night there is a confrontation amongst the Arabs. Someone from Ali’s tribe has murdered someone from Auda’s – blood spilled because of an ancient feud. So Auda and Ali say the man has to be executed. But if he’s executed by one of the other tribe, then everything will descend into chaos and the entire campaign will be lost. Lawrence comes up with a solution – he’ll pull the trigger since he has no tribal allegiance.

He holds up the gun, and then, we cut to his point of view – there’s a crowd of people around the offender and they clear. Lawrence’s reaction says it all:

“Gasim?”

The man he saved in the desert is the one he has to execute. O’Toole as Lawrence is so good here because you see a mixture of rage, confusion, disappointment, fear – and then he shoots.

Auda asks what’s the big deal? When told Lawrence had to kill the man that he saved in the desert, Auda shrugs, “I guess it was written.”

Finally! They get to Aqaba. And it’s this incredible wide pan that starts left and pans right with the men on horse and camel rushing towards the city, and then the pan ends with the sea on the right.

And in the foreground are the massive guns. Unmanned, useless, and silent. That’s the battle. It’s over and done in just that one beautifully composed shot as the music rises and we see the sea glimmering in the distance.

After the pillage of Aqaba, Lawrence and Ali stand at night at the sea, victorious. But it’s not over for Lawrence – he decides to take two sidekicks with him in the desert, trek down to Cairo, and tell the British Army the news, that they’ve driven the Turks out of Aqaba.

But it goes poorly. Sandstorms, the loss of Daud in quicksand, abandoned outposts. Rendered nearly insane by the journey, he sees the top of a big ship, a boat, rising above the sand dunes. It’s a seemingly surrealist departure from Lean’s usual traditionalist visual expression – but it turns out to be the Suez Canal. They’ve made it down the Sinai Peninsula back to Cairo.

At the British base, everybody looks at him with rank confusion and borderline racism. He’s in full Arab dress, face a deep brown, dust-covered, walking with his young sidekick into this British officers’ boys club. There’s this great scene where he asks for lemonade. His voice quivers and says, “it’s for him!” pointing to his friend.

Lawrence reports that he’s taken Aqaba. They think he’s gone mad, but he describes the operation and is immediately promoted and promised weapons to start a guerrilla campaign in the desert.

But here’s the major part of this section that gets me, and why I love this film so much. He tells General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) that he had to kill a man in the desert and describes the execution of Gasim.

And the camera moves in as he says, “I enjoyed it.”

There’s something within Lawrence – either a destiny for greatness, a inner restlessness, a demon, a longing for an identity – but something that he continues to grapple with throughout. Is he Arab? Is he British? Is he a legend? Is he just a man?

Lawrence of Arabia is a personal journey and self exploration film cloaked as an epic. And it’s written over O’Toole’s face throughout.

I can’t imagine going to pitch a film to Sony Pictures Studios and say, Yeah, I need $100 Million Dollars to explore the nature of human savagery, racial identity, and ambition. Oh and there will be Arabs and most will be good guys. (Actually, I can imagine doing it, and I can easily imagine the response…) Incidentally, Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, LA is where they have the David Lean Building complete with really great making-of photos from Lawrence of Arabia adorning the walls. But I digress…

Following a Shadow

The first half of the film is Lawrence ingratiating himself to the Arabs. The second half of the film is him running amok in the desert as a guerrilla warrior. There’s of course this great cut and scene of him blowing up a train:

http://movieclips.com/VZvT8-lawrence-of-arabia-movie-come-on-men/

(Don’t you love the “shooting” of guns and the “shooting” of the camera juxtaposed?)

Lawrence clearly is having fun. And he is now a legend. How do you illustrate a legend visually? Sir David knows how.

After successfully derailing the train, Lawrence is almost killed by a soldier’s bullet. Unflinching, he waits for the man to shoot him, as if to test his invincibility – but he is killed from behind by Auda. Then, Lawrence walks atop the wreckage as the heroic music swells and they cheer “Lawrence! Lawrence!” After the photographer takes a snap, we cut down from the train – not to the train top as you would imagine. The focus instead is on his shadow. The shadow’s robes flow in the wind and he seems to dance along. And everyone cheers and follows it. The image is powerful and beautifully conceived because it says so much – people aren’t just following a man, their following his essence, his aura.

He is mythic: http://movieclips.com/x8sp-lawrence-of-arabia-movie-a-prophets-shadow/

But of course, he is mortal. While scouting a Turkish held city, Lawrence is captured. His white skin gives him away, so much so that the guards, after stripping him naked, grab at the white flesh on his shoulder. He is set up to be tortured and the scene ends with the audience understanding in a nudge nudge wink wink way that bad things happen to Lawrence. They don’t say he’s sexually assaulted or raped, but it’s very strongly  implied.

After being dumped back out onto the streets, and back to grappling with if he’s a legend or just a man, Lawrence decides to go back to the British base in Jerusalem. At the base he awkwardly tries to fit in. It’s great, he’s fake-smiley, his uniform fits poorly, he tries to prance around with perhaps a touch of hamming it up.

But General Allenby insists that Lawrence head back out to the desert and help their big push on to Damascus, Syria. Lawrence, tormented, finally gives in. The blood starts to emerge where he was whipped on his back. But he’s returning to feeling like he’s legendary, that he’s one of the Arabs. When Allenby says they’ll be given all the money there is, Lawrence says, “Not that much.”

“They won’t be coming for guns or money. They’ll be coming for me.”

And he walks in front a sculpture relief, a low-angle heroic shot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=gdSz8WsNSYY

Immediately after that, we’re back in the desert. And they have come for him. Lawrence has pristine white robes and seemingly distant to his old friend Ali. Lawrence’s band comes across a retreating band of Turks who have just slaughtered a tribe of people. Lawrence and the crew see the wounded Turks in the distance.

This is the most chilling scene of the film. There’s a wide long shot point of view at the Turks. Then back to the line of Arabs atop their horses. Ali tells Lawrence to go around, it’s not worth it. But what of the slaughtered village? Then one Arab says, “No Prisoners” and charges on his own. He’s shot down by the Turks, his blood on the sand. And then a close up of Lawrence, eyes crazed, literally shaking with rage. He shouts.

“NO PRISONERS!!! NO PRISONERS!!!”: http://movieclips.com/W9ps5-lawrence-of-arabia-movie-no-prisoners/

Man, it gives me goosebumps. He storms down with everyone else and they just mercilessly slaughter the Turkish soldiers. It’s the bloodthirsty Lawrence who “likes it.” As if no longer in control of his senses, he shoots people left and right. The violence is so striking that Ali yells out to Lawrence who looks back and shoots an expression of either embarrassment, disbelief, or confusion.

Lawrence and his Arab army take Damascus and immediately try to set up a working government. But these are nomadic tribesmen from rival tribes and no one is willing to work together. Soon, many of them give up trying and hand over the city to the British.

Lawrence, being neither Arab enough to take over the city for the Arab cause nor a British diplomat, he is soon cut out of the picture on how to rule Damascus. Again, Lawrence is an in-betweener. He is given a promotion and told to go home. He’s chewed up, callously, his seeming usefulness over in the eyes of politicians and ordinary men.

The final scene is the punctuation on this theme of dual identity we’ve seen throughout the film. Lawrence, in his British officer’s uniform, is in an open-topped car being driven on a desert road. The solider driving him, in a great cockney accent asks, “Home, sir?”

Just then a few Arab nomads on camels saunter past and Lawrence is transfixed as we zoom past in the modern car. The driver asks again, “I said, going home, sir?”

The question hangs in the air, unanswered as the picture ends.

ARAB SPRING

The reasons I love the film are evident by the appropriately epic weblog entry here. But I do want to bring up one interesting thing that is certainly not shocking to anyone who has lived in the US from oh let’s say 1979 to present day. There have been dreadfully few positive images of Arabs in popular Western culture. And I dare say that nearly all of them are in this film. Ali, especially, is a fully fleshed out complex friend to Lawrence. He clearly loves him. It’s easy to speculate that he and Lawrence were lovers (T. E. Lawrence was believed to be homosexual by some scholars), but that’s irrelevant – they were clearly friends and Ali is at pains when Lawrence does not act like himself.

Jack Shaheen, film historian, has compiled a very thorough study of the stereotyping of Arabs in Western media, including in his book and documentary Reel Bad Arabs. He writes: Arabs “consistently appeared in American popular culture as billionaires, bombers, and belly dancers.” The numbers of positive, fully-rounded characters are grim. I’m trying to find online the actual numbers because I saw it once, but it’s obvious there are almost no positive portrayals of Arabs.  That can lead us to believe one of two things:

  1. Arabs are really bad so that makes sense, or
  2. We’re probably not seeing or depicting Arabs as fully fleshed out humans.

I’m on Team 2.

But Lawrence of Arabia also is interesting to re-watch given the most recent decade of watching geopolitical events unfold in the Middle East – especially this past year and the “Arab Spring” uprisings in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya. The origins are all varied and complex, but I’m sure this is in some way the logical tail end of T. E. Lawrence’s era – arrogant colonial rule that carved out poorly drawn modern borders, the placement of truly evil men to rule, and also the difficulty of unifying people across tribal lines. All of these are hinted at or explicitly shown in Lawrence of Arabia made nearly fifty years ago about events nearly one hundred years ago.

So watch the film again (or for the first time) with that in mind. But still, it’s an epic tale that masks a deeper question that the film explores through Lawrence/O’Toole: Who am I?

My junior year of college, I finally took a film production class. Before that, I was pre-med and miserable in it. Biochemistry 330 was the final nail in the coffin and I jumped ship second semester. Although I didn’t or couldn’t put words to it, that winter of ’97-98 was an incredible turning point for me, leading me down the path to… well, not exactly glory. But not yet ruins, either.

No longer saddled with extra science courses, I stocked up on film theory and production as much as I could in my final three semesters of college. One theory course I took was taught by Professor [first name redacted… I mean, forgotten…] Cohen, who conducted, still to this day, the most interesting Film Theory course I’ve ever taken. It was a lecture course and simply called “Introduction to Film.”

At the beginning of the first class, Professor Cohen said something to the effect of: “If you like going to movies and might be concerned that knowing how movies are made will negatively affect your enjoyment or viewing of them – drop the course.” I love this advice. It’s like knowing how a magic trick works, I guess. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain… er, camera.

The films we watched in that class were incredible. They ranged from the elegant Chinese film Raise the Red Lantern to the elegant American film Terminator 2: Judgment Day. (There are painfully few Austrian body-builders in Raise the Red Lantern, I must say.)

Several of the films I watched in that class fit into my requirements for re-visiting. But one stands out in my mind as a personally transformative piece of cinema – High Noon. Directed by Frank Zinnemann and written by Carl Foreman (who was booted from the production and fled to London after being blacklisted by cowardly jackasses).

The title of this weblog entry (seen above) is taken from the Oscar-winning original song that plays in the opening credits – “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'” the refrain goes. And I can’t even think about High Noon without hearing that song in my head. It’s old-timey and sounds like it would be from the era in which the film takes place. And the musical score, a variation of the theme, is used to incredible effect in the film – more so than almost any film I can think of. (I don’t really know how to describe music in word form but I’ll do my best.)

The score (also Oscar-winning) is very methodical, a precise beat that prods and moves along, unyielding. It’s used throughout, but as the film progresses, the beat increases tempo (look there – a musical word!) as the tension increases.

This is probably true in other films but the reason why it works in High Noon is because of something the title itself implies: Time.

The film takes 85 minutes to tell. The events of the film are in real time and take the exact amount of time to unfold on the screen. It is incredible.

This is before computer editing (obviously) that allowed for trial and error. So aside from the extremely tight storytelling, this is an amazing feat of technical filmmaking, especially for 1952.

Time. Time is everything in the film. (Even the judge’s last name, as seen on a sign, is “Mettrick.” This must be deliberate, a subtle reminder of a steady and measured pace.) In 85 minutes, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is coming off the noon train and he’s pissed. And Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the man who sent Miller to prison, has to gather forces to make sure the outlaw doesn’t return and destroy the peace Kane created.

Which would be easier in normal circumstances, but it’s Kane’s wedding day to Amy Fowler (pre-Princess Grace Kelly) and he’s about to leave town. After the ceremony and right before he and Amy get ready to leave, Kane expresses concern that the new marshal* hasn’t yet arrived. Moments later, the telegram arrives warning that Frank Miller’s a-comin’. Everyone knows it’s to kill Kane – the man who cleaned up the town, a hero to the citizens there.

Kane and Amy are quickly scuttled away, put on their packed-up wagon, and in a flash they’ve left town. But Kane stops before he gets too far and realizes that this is his fight. He cleaned up this town, he’ll be damned if the man he kicked out comes back and everything us undone. So he assumes, in the 80 or so minutes before the train arrives, he can gather up a posse of citizens to join him and fight. But as he goes around Hadleyville trying to amass a force, he’s met with scorn, incompetence, and worst of all – indifference. After all, Kane is technically no longer marshal as of that day and Miller’s beef might be just with Kane. If Kane goes, then perhaps Miller won’t do anything at all. So the church goers, the saloon patrons who miss Miller’s lawless reign, and even his deputy who said he would help – all of them turn out to be unwilling or unable.

The only one who wants to fight is a young boy, and there’s no way Kane will let a boy risk his young life. So the clock ticks, and it’s just Kane.

(*Did you realize “marshal” is spelled with one L? Doesn’t that look weird to you?)

“I’VE GOT TO, THAT’S THE WHOLE THING”

Kane is one of my favorite film heroes in any film ever. His main character trait is commitment to duty. He has a job and an obligation and is bound by it – to the point of his own destruction. This reminds me of how I was raised to understand Lord Rama, hero of the South Asian epic “The Ramayana.” Having grown up in the Hindu tradition, I studied and was really drawn to Rama – a celestial incarnation who has superhuman powers but is mortal and bound to a deep sense of duty.

In “The Ramayana,” Rama is frequently described as dharma personified. “Dharma” is “duty” (“Dharma” is also the name of a bad ’90s sitcom character and probably countless children of hippies). Rama’s dharma is as a prince, a son, and as a warrior. But this frequently puts him in a sticky situation, this deep commitment to duty. Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, (against his own wishes but for reasons that are too complex to get into here) asks Rama to go into exile to the forest and renounce the throne and riches and everything. Because he’s bound to follow his father’s wishes, he goes without hesitation. But Rama’s father soon dies from heartache and an old forgotten curse.

Kane, in High Noon, is bound to protect the town. But he’s also bound to his new wife. What about her? If he protects the town, if he chooses to abandon her on their wedding day and risk his life, his wife won’t fight with him. She’s a Quaker, sworn to nonviolence (hey there – another connection to Hinduism!) and potentially will be widowed. He chooses an earlier, “greater-good” obligation and duty. But that doesn’t make it easier to swallow for Amy.

This question of duty is fascinating in High Noon and doesn’t only apply to Kane. What’s Amy’s responsibility? Should she stand by her man? What about her own faith and moral compass?

A great character in this town is the Mexican businesswoman/former Kane lover, Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado). She scolds Amy thusly (again – WordPress’s best effort in script format):

HELEN
What kind of woman are you? How can you leave him like this?
Does the sound of guns frighten you that much?
 AMY
I've heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn't help them any when the shooting started.
My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That's when I became a Quaker.
I don't care who's right or who's wrong.
There's got to be some better way for people to live.
Will knows how I feel about it.

So now – we have Kane in town and no one is going to help him. His wife is going to leave on the same train Miller’s coming in on. Kane goes to the church and it looks like people are going to rally behind him, reminded of his work cleaning up Hadleyville. Then, steadily, people say – hey, it’s not our job to fight. The minister throws in his $0.02 and it comes up as so:

DR. MAHIN, MINISTER
The commandments say 'Thou shalt not kill,' but we hire men to go out
and do it for us.
The right and the wrong seem pretty clear here.
But if you're asking me to tell my people to go out and kill and maybe get themselves killed, I'm sorry.
I don't know what to say. I'm sorry.

Even his former Deputy Sheriff (Lloyd Bridges), mad at Kane for not giving him the promotion to marshal, tries to convince his old mentor Kane to leave town – to the point of drunken fighting him to get his point across (it doesn’t work).

So Kane is alone. Amy is at the train station – she sees Miller’s gang waiting for that same train to arrive with Frank Miller. Kane thinks he’s going to die. He even sits down and writes his final will. And then, this incredible montage sequence happens. It’s triggered by Kane’s initial scratching on the paper. THEN, holy cow, it’s really intense. A driving, pushing crescendo of a montage – the music rising more and more as the cuts (still shots almost) get tighter and tighter, giving us an overview of everyone we’ve met in town – the folks at the bar, the church (some with expressions of regret or fear), the people betting against him, Miller’s criminal cronies, the inn keeper, the judge who sent Frank Miller away, Helen, Amy, different intense angles of clocks and pendulums, all building up to the dolly in we saw earlier of the chair Miller was sentenced in. And then the train whistle!

The train is here. Frank Miller is here. And it’s time. Then the music is over and it’s back to Kane, finishing up the last of his final will and testament.

Holy cow it’s awesome, don’t you think? Note the composition – the arrangement of people in the frame (also called blocking). Everyone is mostly still and really cramped together. This blocking creates a sense of tension, a subconscious claustrophobic effect that amplifies the excitement, especially when coupled with the driving, metronomic music. And as we return to shots (seeing Miller’s gang a second and third time), everyone is even closer together. This is directing at its finest, and a masterstroke of editing, done without flash or fanfare. It’s the one time in the film that is taken out of the real-time context in a way. It’s happening now in present tense, but they are almost all happening simultaneously as opposed to in linear, time-forward sequence.

THE TIN STAR

Professor Cohen, in that great “Intro to Film” class I was talking about, illustrated one shot in this movie that I always think about in my own work. It’s perhaps the greatest shot, or one of the greatest, in American movie history. I say this knowing full well that there is no way to rank this sort of thing. But as a filmmaker, one tries to best use the tools and language of cinema to illustrate emotion through technical means. A great shot is a great shot if it can communicate an emotion but does not draw the viewer out of the film to say “wow that’s a great shot.” If you notice it’s great, it’s probably only doing part of the job it’s supposed to do – too technical, not enough emotional.

Will Kane goes out into the middle of the main street of town. He sees the carriage with his wife go by. He stands in the middle of town, awaiting his fate. And then, the camera starts on a close up of him. And then it pulls back and rises away and up. The music is wary – what’s going to happen next? – and by the end of the shot, we’re looking down at a wide stretch of the town. Kane is the only person there. He’s tiny in the frame, looking around nervously.

He is utterly alone. And he’s screwed.

(Shot starts at 1:10)

The shootout goes on and Kane would definitely have been toast – had it not been for his wife. Amy, who has relinquished violence, hears the first gunshots and runs from the train station back to town. Kane fights in the street and we don’t know where Amy is at all. And then, suddenly, one of Miller’s henchmen goes down. Shot in the back. It’s revealed that Amy pulled the trigger. We see her from behind, and all she does is slump her head. It speaks volumes – for love, she went that far. She violated one of her own principles to save her husband. But not without a personal cost.

Even though this is a singularly unique Western, the good guys still defeat the bad guys. But the end is so good that it cements the film’s place as an unconventional entry into the American Western genre and movie history in general. The townspeople come out after the shootout is over. Kane looks at them, with something like contempt, and throws down his tin star badge. It’s like spitting on the ground in front of them. (It’s badass.) And he takes off with Amy finally – changed, jaded perhaps. He fulfilled his duty, his dharma, as a marshal.

I watched this film recently with my fiancée, who hadn’t seen the film before. She was incredibly surprised that no one came to help. She thought for sure the townspeople would’ve come out in the end, to say something positive about the spirit of community, of people standing up for this heroic figure. You know – good American values that one might expect to find in a traditional Western including loyalty, teamwork, heroism. But the fact that the town people didn’t is what makes this film a true work of literature. Perhaps it says something about human nature, about how we’re willing to send people off to die but less willing when the reality is closer to home.

What’s interesting to me I just discovered is that people from all sides of the political spectrum have claimed Kane as their own. The film was considered Un-American when it came out seeing that it showed American townsfolk as cowardly – and also possibly an allegory of the McCarthyism and the Red Scare. (The screenwriter was blacklisted, for crying out loud.) John Wayne tried to sink this film because he thought it was the “most un-American thing I had seen in my entire life.” I read that the film was used in Poland’s Solidarity movement to rally support against the Soviet-backed Communists in the first partially free elections there. And now some on The Internet claim Kane as a true American – someone who will go to fight (read: go to war) despite being convinced not to, and that not fighting (like the rest in town) is un-patriotic.

All of this is hooey.

How on earth could this film be both Communist and Anti-Communist, as well as un-American and uber-American simultaneously? It’s either the most muddled film ever made, or people are idiots. (Okay there’s probably a third category in there someplace…)

But seriously – have these people actually paid attention to this movie? Will Kane is scared! It’s written on his face throughout. He’s not sure if he’s doing the right thing the entire time. He questions himself, isn’t sure if he is right. He thinks he’s done good in town but everyone seems to think otherwise. Gary Cooper as Kane is not a big shot braggart like John Wayne in pretty much every movie The Duke is in. Cooper’s Kane is deeply conflicted and scared but is bound by dharma, (like Rama) and that is what drives him. He’s not boldly growling, “Hey, I’m going to save this town, bitches! YEEEHAW!!!!” He’s saying – “Crap – I’m the marshal. Which sorta sucks because it’s my last day, but I’ve got to do it. Who’s with me? Wait – no one? Seriously?”

If he was truly a win-at-all-costs guy, he would’ve gladly taken the help of that kid. And he would’ve insisted the deputy sheriff stand and fight instead of saying, “Go on home to your wife and kids, Herb” after Herb gives the old hey-I-thought-there-would-be-more-of-us-look-I’ve-got-a-family-to-think-about excuse. Kane isn’t someone who wants to fight, this is someone who now has no choice.

Arguably, if Kane had left at the beginning and Miller comes into town, causes some mischief – the new marshal will come in and fight Miller off, most likely. I don’t think Miller could restart a reign of terror in a few short days. But Kane makes a choice that he’s still marshal and, ultimately, finds out that it’s all on his shoulders for real. If anything, this is an exploration of personal fear and duty. He ultimately is courageous, standing up to true, primal fear we see in that great high angle shot and in close-ups throughout. But it’s not without a recognition of his own frailty, morality, and a questioning of himself. He falls back on his dharma and fights.

I think we can all relate to Kane. Most of us have found ourselves with something on our plate or down the road, coming on a metaphoric noon train, that we are terrified to do. It’s unavoidable and it might hurt or destroy us (again – speaking metaphorically here). But we have to face it. And often we have to face it alone, like Will Kane, and confront our fear.

For those of you who know me (which I assume is all six of you since you’re reading from the inception of this weblogging endeavor), the obvious pick for me to begin writing about my favorite movies would be Star Wars. But it’s so obvious that I’m going to have to hold off on it for a few posts to get warmed up.

So instead, let’s go to 1994 – which, astounding to me, is now seventeen years ago.

It was an incredible year for movies, one of the best in recent memory for American studio and independent films. A sampling:

And lesser greats including-

The above lists can only be followed by this: !!! That’s right – three exclamation points. (Several of the above movies will be written about in the future…)

It was also the year of the legendary Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s White followed by Red, ending his renowned “Three Colors” Triology. I assume this is a great trilogy, since I was required to watch all of them before starting at the American Film Institute. I am ashamed (proud?) to say I have seen zero of them and made it through 2-plus years of film snobbery. (Kieslowski’s work remains on my ever growing to-see list, especially The Dekalog.)

But the one film I didn’t include in the above 1994 list (!!!) is the one I’m going to talk about – The Shawshank Redemption (written and directed by Frank Darabont based on the Stephen King novella).

In 1994, I began my senior year of high school and started to spread my movie-viewing wings. My parents had a long-standing and quite firm policy of not allowing me to watch R-rated films until I was 17. Which meant I only saw R-rated movies at my friends’ homes – and usually consisted of the high brow cinematic antics of Booger Presley in Revenge of the Nerds or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early pre-governor one-word-title art house fare including Commando and Predator.

So in 1994, with drivers license in hand, the occasional use of my parents’ car, and no movie-viewing-age restrictions tying me down, the film floodgates opened – so much so that I saw Pulp Fiction at the dollar theater seven times. And so began my long ascent (descent?) into the a life as a filmmaker. It was a good year to start, as you can see.

The Shawshank Redemption may seem like a trite mainstream choice to begin with for a film school elitist snob. After all, it’s on TNT like every other Saturday or something. I just caught it for a few minutes the other day. Holy s***[*edited for TV*], was it hard to watch with commercial interruptions.

But take yourself back to the first time you saw the film, before you knew what happened, before you knew of a place called “Zihuatanejo” or the name Andy Dufresne. Before Morgan Freeman was lampooned for narrating one too many movies.

It’s hard for me to actually remember when I saw it the first time because of TNT and all, but it was definitely during the film’s opening run in the theater in 1994. I remember seeing it in 2004 in Los Angeles at the great Arclight Theater in Hollywood for its ten-year anniversary re-release. I was at the Arclight for a screening of AFI thesis films, and afterwards snuck out of the reception to see The Shawshank Redemption. I hurried down and asked, “are there seats left for Shawshank or is it sold out?”

The guy at the ticket counter seemed confused at the question, and only when I got into the theater did I realize why – the theater was almost empty. Man, f***[*edited for TV*] TNT network!

But don’t blame its cultural pervasiveness against the movie itself. It is truly a masterful piece of cinema that brings together taught storytelling, elegiac cinematography, and a classic score that ties everything together. The film is textbook filmmaking. (And – because these things matter somehow – it is No. 1 all time on the IMDb user ratings list.)

The narrative device, first of all, has always reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Red (Morgan Freeman) is the narrator but is not really the main protagonist – that’s Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins). In Gatsby, Nick Carraway tells the story of Jay Gatz. As far as my college English-major recollections go, this was a novel (pun intended) narrative  device for a work of fiction at the time. It’s not totally unusual for a narrative film to have this structure, but it is less common than the first-person standard way films are told. At AFI, my graduate school, they beat it (literally?) into us – “whose story is it? Whose story is it?!” (And then the beatings. The beatings…)

In Shawshank, it’s Andy’s story, but it’s also Red’s – just as it is Nick’s and The Great Gatsby’s. And in the beginning, the movie seems like it’s going to be a more conventional style. The opening credit sequence intercuts the courtroom with Andy on the stand, the night of his wife’s murder, and the verdict. It’s incredibly efficient – it covers the crime, the conviction, the possibly wronged defendant (Andy) and ends with the judge’s gavel and a cut to black.

But then! It goes to a different character who starts narrating! After a long dolly shot in from medium close up to Red’s face ending with a “Rejected” stamp after his parole hearing, he begins his voiceover: “There must be a con like me in every prison in America.” Everything from here on continues with Red and everything is from his point of view. We never learn anything that Andy is doing to steadily, quietly escape until the very end – because it’s Red who tells us and he knows barely more than we do. When Andy escapes and there’s that incredible shot looking up at the Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), and the camera recedes down the shaft revealing the tunnel and the warden’s face getting smaller – we learn about Andy’s escape the same time Red does.

Back to that opening scene in the prison, though – it’s is one of the many scenes that give me goosebumps when I see it. After Red says, “So when Andy Dufresne came to me in 1949 and asked me to smuggle Rita Hayworth into the prison for him, I told him no problem” the camera flies over Shawshank in a super wide aerial shot that swings over the prison as the inmates flood out into the yard while the prison bus arrives into the gate.

The shot accomplishes a few major things. First, and most basic, it gives us a layout of the place. This is a massive fortress, the world we’re going to live in for the next two hours. And second, as an extension to that, the shot gives a contrast to Red’s boast that he’s going to bring Rita Hayworth into this place – how will that even be possible? It’s as if the film visuals are throwing down the challenge to a stated goal by our main character.

And third, the music played over the shot creates the feeling of an elegant, graceful film. This isn’t the gritty Cool Hand Luke or Orson Wells’s version of The Trial – this will be visual poetry.  And it is.

EVERY LAST MAN FELT FREE

There is one moment early on where this second person narrator slips to a first person, and that’s when Andy enters the prison for the first time. There’s this textbook point-of-view shot that illustrates what our character is up against. Andy is entering, shackled, and he looks up. We then cut to his point of view, what he’s seeing, as he looks up and the overbearing, imposing, impenetrable stone walls of Shawshank Prison loom over him. It’s a tilting up and dollying forward shot, so the feeling is of the building rising up and over us, enveloping us completely.

It’s something you may not have noticed explicitly, yet it’s a filmmaker’s dream to have a shot that good in a film. It says so much, may never be remembered as being anything spectacular, but in the language of cinema, a shot like that speaks volumes on a subtle level. The viewer can feel its effect without really knowing it.

There are a handful of these incredible shots in Shawshank, so I’ll only mention a couple otherwise this will go on forever. The scene where Andy locks himself into the office and broadcasts a Mozart aria over the entire prison yard is another one that the emotion of the scene perfectly matches the shot selection and execution. The music soars (as Red’s voiceover says), and so does the camera – a very wide shot that rises up from the ground as the people stand in place, listening and looking somewhere. The camera continues to move until it reveals, in the foreground, a speaker playing the music, cut together then with close-ups of people’s faces just listening, not moving at all. The grounds, lined with prisoners standing to listen, is a shot that’s part otherworldly, part magical, and incredibly beautiful. It feels as if it’s lifted above the timeline and reality of the film. Here’s the line, in the best screenplay format WordPress can do:

RED (v.o.)

I tell you, those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away…and for the briefest of moments – every last man at Shawshank felt free.

(Please excuse the Korean subtitles if you are, like me, unable to read them.) Which is one theme that’s explored throughout the film – how do you feel human in a place meant to strip you of humanity? (Red: “They send you away for life, and that’s exactly what they take.”)

Early in the film, Andy and Red are tarring the license plate factory roof. Andy overhears guard Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown) complain about some inheritance tax problems. Andy walks over and the guards draw their guns, and Andy asks – “Mr. Hadley, do you trust your wife?” Now, knowing that Andy was put in jail for the murder of his wife makes this even more tense and unusual – but what launches it into dangerous territory is that he’s nearly thrown over the roof because of it. There’s a high angle shot overhead looking down at the ground below that then moves down, changes to a profile shot of the two of them, and then swings around them as Andy explains a tax loophole that will allow Hadley to keep his money.

Andy asks for payment:  beers for him and his “co-workers.” Andy:  I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds. That’s only my opinion. Sir.”

RED (v.o.)

And that’s how it came to pass, that on the second-to-last day of the job, the convict crew that tarred the plate factory roof in the spring of ’49 wound up sitting in a row at ten o’clock in the morning, drinking icy cold Bohemia style beer courtesy of the hardest screw that ever walked a turn at Shawshank State Prison. We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders, and felt like free men. We could’a been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the Lords of all Creation.

By recognizing Hadley’s humanity, Andy was able to get Hadley to recognize the prisoners’. The scenes are almost too perfect to bear – first the camerawork and editing while they’re tarring the roof. Then the sun-bathed drinking their beers in near silhouette on the roof. Heartachingly beautiful stuff.

Okay, I’ve done it – I didn’t quickly list the shots and sequences I love. I went into extreme detail. I’ll try to wrap this up, but one more thing I want to talk about…

REHABILITATED

One thing that makes the film really click as a work of art is it’s symmetry. Symmetry, when used poorly, can feel too controlled, too stifling or paint-by-numbers. When used well, when used to emphasize the repetitiveness of prison and to establish a pattern – only to change it ever so slightly at the end – is incredibly satisfying.

Take, for example, the three scenes of Red before the parole board. Each time, it’s a long slow dolly into to his face, starting from a medium-wide shot to a close-up of his face at the end of his speech. Then, a cut to a close-up insert of “Rejected” with a picture of Red as a young man on his prison file. And repeat. That is, until the end when he finally is granted parole. The shot stays longer in a close-up on Red’s face – he’s changed over the years, not going to give the answer the parole board wants to hear but what he actually has learned in Shawshank. It’s wise and earnest and shows true “rehabilitation.”

Parole granted. And what makes it snap and even more satisfying is the symmetry of those scenes. The “approved” stamp is that much more rewarding on a deeper level because we know the repetition, the same negative result before. We know what he has gone through – and to have a new result and not the same is a big relief for the character and the audience.

Then, when Red goes out into the world, his life is almost identical to that of Brooks (James Whitmore) when earlier in the film Brooks, an old man, made parole. Both Brooks and now Red have become “institutionalized” – can’t live on the outside of Shawshank. Red living on the outside has dialogue that’s almost identical to Brooks’s. Red even stays in the same half-way house that Brooks stayed in, including the ceiling cross beam with the inscription “Brooks was here” he wrote moments before hanging himself.  We have this fear that Red’s fate will be the same.

Red looks up at the cross beam where Brooks hung himself, and Red says, “Get busy living – or get busy dying” – and we’re not totally sure what’s going to happen. Or at least since we’re watching a movie we’re hoping he’s not going to do the same thing.
But then, he says, “That’s goddamn right.” And we see him walking out and the camera tilts up as he passes to see the “Brooks was here” only to have the addition: “So was Red.”

This symmetry of scenes and shots and moods sets up a familiarity for us, an expectation subconsciously that the outcome will be the same as before. So when it is not, it’s a huge relief. This attention to detail, the similarity and affinity of one scene to another, enhances our feeling of satisfaction and relief when the result differs.

The relief continues on and the film rolls downhill, a gushing torrent of beauty and graceful filmmaking – textbook dénouement or “falling action” – as Red then buys at ticket to Fort Hancock, Texas, says he’s guilty of parole violation (the dialogue mimics Brooks’s from earlier, too), until we see the Pacific. The voice over and imagery still give me chills (emphasis mine):

RED (v.o.)

I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain…  I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. (beat)

I hope.

Now this is the way to end a film – on the white sands of Zihuatanejo along the blue waves of the Pacific, contrasting the grey prison of Shawshank, with Andy working on a boat and the wind blowing – two friends free men under endless sky.

To end a movie that way – well, you might as well retire from filmmaking after that. It’s just too excellent and no matter how many times I see it, I well up with tears and fall in love with movies all over again.

I think one of the reasons I love this film so much is that it reminded me of the Chicago stage production of The Count of Monte Cristo I saw as a teenager a few years before. This was an early connection I made as someone who thought about literature and art and the parallels we try to find in archetypal storytelling across genres. My eventual English-major self was proud of my high school self (especially since the film makes an actual mention of the Alexandre Dumas novel in the movie).

In The Count of Monte Cristo, the wronged party exacts revenge in precise and equal amounts of those who wronged him. And rewards those who were good to him in his pre-prison life. It’s incredibly satisfying, this Karmic retribution. Shawshank has that same feeling for me. Perhaps it reaffirms my personal spiritual belief – not always confirmed in reality – that what goes around comes around. So this spoke to me, directly, and said, Yes, the Golden Rule has not yet been repealed.

Throw in the incredible visuals captured by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (robbed of the Oscar in 1995 and other years) and Thomas Newman’s score – let’s just say if it’s on TNT next weekend, I’ll probably sit down and watch it until the end as always.

Deep sigh of satisfaction. Roll credits.

Coming Attractions

My first memory of going to a movie is Bambi. It was 1982 and the film was being re-released for its 50th anniversary – a detail I only now know. The only thing I remember is that we never actually made it in to the movie theater. The line snaked around the block of the one-screen neighborhood theater as rain poured down. I have very scant memories of the day, but I do remember the line, and driving around it, seeing people holding umbrellas around the Tivoli Theater. My parents said something to the effect of forget it and we went and saw something else.

In my memory, that “something else” was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. It’s entirely possible since that was the year of E.T. – though I don’t have a memory of actually being in that theater, either. I was young enough and that haze of early youth makes it plausible that I was there then, mixed with my memories of seeing the film dozens of times over the years.

But the event of going to see the movies that first time stands out in my mind as a momentous occasion. It remained that way – going to the movies were a special treat for my family growing up. We didn’t go that often, but when we did it was exhilarating for me.

That exhilaration never ended. I love movies then. I love them now. And as a filmmaker, I live for them.

In recent months, life as a filmmaker has been a crawl over the rocky lows that are the inevitable downside of the incredibly rewarding highs. I found myself in need of a way to express my love for this stuff  and help keep me going. So here, on this little page, I’m going to write about movies. Specifically, about my favorite movies. It’s going to be part homage, part narrative analysis, and part cultural commentary.

This blog will be, simply, about one of my primary reasons for living.

Let me start this endeavor by adding that I frequently find blogs to be odious, self-serving, and almost impossible to get through. Certainly not all of them, but a good many of them. So I’m someone who generally does not participate in the blogosphere (nor cares for the word “blogosphere”) all that much. So I completely understand if fewer than two people read this.

Selfishly, this space will be a therapeutic, good ol’ fashioned writing exercise so I keep the pen moving. But as a side effect, perhaps you’ll find a different angle on some old favorites, maybe add a film or two to your Netflix queue, and maybe even think about how cinema intersects with your own life or of society. And, despite my best efforts, you’ll probably learn something about me. I apologize in advance.

Gentle reader(s), you will almost certainly not agree with me. But that’s part of what makes movies so great – they are singularly personal, and each viewer has a very unique experience and relationship with that film.

Before I go any further, let me share my credentials:

  1. I’m an American human male with a discernible pulse and a set of fingers for typing.
  2. I make movies – in as far as any one person can make movies. I make them with other (mostly) wonderful people when someone (or something) gives me the means (money) to do so. In between, I make aspirational movies, or “screenplays” as they are known in the film industry. In that, some day they will become movies, or else remain movies in my brain and/or on 100 sheets of three-hole-punched paper with brad fasteners.
  3. I’m a film nerd. I have a Masters degree in it. I have deconstructed films, had my own scenes deconstructed, and have reverse engineered sequences and shots to understand how other filmmakers made what they made and how they made it. It is the work of film nerds. (It only barely qualifies as work.)

But way before all this, before I knew that movies were actually made by people and before I knew how to analyze a movie scene or what that even meant – I went to movies to simply watch movies. This space will give me a chance to reconnect with that primal desire to be whisked away into a story for a couple of hours.

MOVIE SELECTION CRITERIA

I’m not ashamed to admit this (okay a little bit ashamed), but The Internet Movie Database is my browser homepage. I discovered it in 1998 when a college friend told me about a website that has every movie ever made listed in a massive database. This then eliminated any remaining free time I had.

Also… you can rank movies on IMDb. Which is dangerous. I have ranked more than 1200 films on a scale of 1-10, which is, as far as I know, all the films I have ever seen. Therefore, the first and really only criteria is that I’m going to write about films that received either a 10 or a 9 on my personal IMDb ranking. That leaves a scant 200 or so (and counting, of course) for me to write about.

My tastes are generally “Top 40,” to put it in the words of a producer friend of mine. I’m a product of 1980s and 90s suburbia, raised on mainstream American studio films. But my tastes are broad, and I have a fondness for a wide range of cinema, including independents, foreign films and the occasional obscure title. So it will be a good mix with only a hint of film snobbery. This will not be true film criticism because (1) I’m not a critic nor trained in formal film criticism and (2) these are cherry-picked favorites so it’ll be really more fawning than anything critical in that sense.

GENERAL STRUCTURE

I’m going to start each post with a film and recount when I saw it and my memories about that first viewing. And then I’ll explain why I think it’s a great film and why I personally love it. Hopefully this will allow me to explore film aesthetics – composition, editing, cinematography, performance, music, sequences, and overall execution as it relates to emotion and the narrative. I will keep it accessible and as un-film snooty (snotty?) as possible. There will be spoilers, be warned.

Gentle reader, are you still with me? If you’re still reading this, then that suggests you are in fact still with me. I thank you. And I think your eyeballs have exceeded the usual time spent on a blog page. (And don’t you hate the word “blog” too? Just curious.)

My next entry will be our Feature Presentation – an actual film will be discussed as per the above criteria. Coming soon.

I hope you enjoy the show.