Thursday, April 10, 2008

something worth taking a moment out of your day for

i don't usually post links for their own sake, but my brother in boston just sent me this.

it's one of the most moving short films i've ever seen.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

saved by the bell

ok friends

you can rest easy.

after last week's threat-filled dilemma, i'm back to my usual self.

having feared for the very life of cinema itself, i spent almost six hours in two separate darkened rooms today, watching a brand new movie, and one that's over a quarter of a century old.

both were magnificent.

i had never seen bergman's 'fanny and alexander', so when the opportunity arose at the rather lovely duke university free screen society to see it on a nice public screen, i made plans to be there. i need to think about it for a while before i say anything else, so let this suffice: i think i saw something wonderful tonight, and imagine i feel somewhat differently about the world than bergman. the notion that you can never be free of your ghosts seems to me not to chime with reality. people make peace with the past all the time. i hope that bergman's life was less debt-ridden than his art.

and the other film, much less serious than bergman's, but nonetheless beautiful - scorsese's rolling stones' concert film 'shine a light' - an exhilirating, exuberant, often hilarious and incredibly exciting film. i was the only guy in the audience and was delighted. the sound's great, and the images are utterly cinematic - i couldn't quite figure out why this movie was restoring (some of) my faith in cinema, but then i realised that these boys are ultimately some of the world's consummate performers. they belong on a movie screen.

charlie watts is the eric morecambe of rock'n'roll, doing comedy huffs and winks at the camera, and needing to be helped down off his rostrum. mick is old enough to be your grandad but more alive than most teenagers. ronnie wood is the sniggering kid, hiding his smokes from his mum, and looking down girl's blouses. and keith - well, it's easy to lionise the guy (and demonise too), but i'll stay out of that. let's just say this: he knows he's lucky to be alive, and seems to spend most of his time in a state of stunned enjoyment. there's a moment at the end of the movie
when the music is done, and he's kneeling on the ground, holding the neck of his guitar, his eyes closed and lips pursed in an obvious prayer. in four years' time, the stones will have been together for fifty years. there's not a lot about their music that could be called socially mature, but they've been expressing truth and angst about the human heart for as long as i've been alive, and half as long again. and scorsese has made a gorgeous, thrilling film about them.

and in a weird confluence, both of the films i saw today are in some part about the same thing: the role women play in men's lives. it's been a very good day at the movies for me.

Monday, April 07, 2008

the complexity of charlton heston

Charlton Heston died this weekend at age 84, following Roy Scheider and Richard Widmark as the latest in a series of powerful cinematic actors to pass away -- although Heston was probably best known to a younger generation as the old guy who walked out of a Michael Moore interview in Bowling for Columbine. His was an ambivalent life – living through 14 presidencies (and personally befriending several of the most recent occupants of the office), supporting civil rights when it was unfashionable, switching his political allegiances, and latterly becoming identified with right-wing causes. Not often a subtle actor (although you could do worse than watch his performance in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil as a tribute), he represented a particular kind of vanishing screen presence who, like John Wayne, represented a vision of American greatness that depended far too much on the suggestion of invulnerability.

So, now that he is gone, what do you say about Charlton Heston? Something simple: He shouldn't be judged on the basis of one interview, given after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease to a door-stopping filmmaker known for his pranks.

He should be judged on his contribution to the movies -- doing gravitas better than anyone else, standing as our image of Moses, Ben-Hur, various military captains, the head of the CIA, and ultimately a particular kind of god figure. I never saw a Heston performance that didn't entertain me on some level.

And, in the interests of full disclosure, he should also be judged on his political activity. The simplistic analysis of the relationship between personal freedom and gun ownership offered by the National Rifle Association, which Heston did so much to bolster, seems outrageous to my Northern Irish ears. In his speeches to and on behalf of the NRA, Heston also sometimes seemed to lack empathy for the victims of gun crime, in his attempts to promote his contentious understanding of the U.S. Constitution.

At the same time, he was an early supporter of the civil rights movement, and even picketed a screening of one of his own films because it was being screened in a racially segregated cinema. He also made several films, such as Soylent Green, The Omega Man, and Planet of the Apes, that endorsed environmental and anti-nuclear causes at a time when it wasn't as easy to engage the public mind in these matters.

To continue reading this post on the God's Politics blog, click here.