Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Favorite Movies: Film Platypus

I roomed with film majors in college and in grad school and picked up a few things along the way.  That aside, however, I only have mild pretensions to being a film aesthete.  All comments about film on this blog should be taken in that spirit.  With that out of the way, we can move on.

I had a truly enjoyable evening last night with my wife and a couple of friends eating expensive cheese, drinking Martinelli's, discussing Charles Williams, and watching Terrence Malik's "Tree of Life."  Now I have loved Malik's work since I saw the "The Thin Red Line" between the end of high school and the beginning of college.  It was the first movie that really opened me up to the potential film has as a vehicle for discourse.  I don't think "The Thin Red Line" did that just for me either.  Many of the young aesthetes intellectuals Freshman year had had their cinematic awakening after watching Malik's masterpiece.  College is a time for affectations and fads (has Evelyn Waugh taught us nothing!) and not everything I thought was cool or important back then has worn well.  In that light, I'm glad to find that I'm still enjoying Terrence Malik's work after twelve years.

Where am I going with this?  Several years ago, I posted a list of my three favourite books.  I love reading and have no qualms about giving my opinion on almost any book under the sun.  In the matter of film, however, I'm far less of an expert and I've often, though certainly not always, hung back when it comes to commenting on that field of artistic endeavour.  Malik has inspired me now, and I think it's finally time I take a stab at listing my favourite films.  So, without further ado, here it goes:

  The Thin Red Line: Terrence Malik uses the battle of Guadalcanal as a backdrop for reflections on the nature of good and evil.  Malik often has his characters ask questions in the dialog that he then answers symbolically in the visuals.  One of the things I like about Malik is that he really has taken to heart that film is primarily about showing, not saying.  He lets the film speak for itself without using dialog to lead the audience by the nose.  The score by Hans Zimmer is absolutely haunting and I love the pieces done by the Melanesian Choir. I always find talking about Malik's films a bit difficult.  They remind me very much of George MacDonald's fantasies in that you can't really reason through them, you have to experience them and allow them to do their work in a way that transcends linear reasoning.

Princess Mononoke: If "The Thin Red Line" opened up to me the possibilities of film in general, then "Princess Mononoke" showed me what could be done with animated film.  "Princess Mononoke" feels like a Greek tragedy.  It has all the resonance and power of a modern myth.  Everything that Hayao Miyazaki does is filled with mythopoeic power; even the children's stories.  In a naturalist world, he seems like a man who still remembers the gods.  I've still never seen anything in film that can compare with his theophanes.  If someone was going to adapt C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces," I'd want it to be Miyazaki.  Like Terrence Malik, I pretty much love everything this guy does.

I think I'll leave it there for now.  I might want to add "Labyrinth" or "The Dark Crystal."  "Gladiator" has been a favorite since college and I do think something ought to be said for the original Star Wars series and "Raiders of the Lost Ark."  Then again, what about "Band of Brothers" or "The Seven Samurai."  They're all worthy choices, but I think I'll still stick with the two above.  I may not watch these films very often, but they're the ones I keep returning to.

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