My Year Well Spent - Andrew's Anniversary for Can't Stop The Movies - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
17Apr/111

My Year Well Spent – Andrew’s Anniversary for Can’t Stop The Movies

Andrew COMMENTARYHow did I get here?

 

 

You have to write a screenplay by June.

All good writing comes from a deeply personal place. Antwone Fisher certainly did.

So I was told on an exceptionally cold walk in January and I was inspired for the first time in years to really become a writer.  Now the screenplay itself hasn't happened, at least by the measure that was initially set.  I'm nearing completion of one but it's a very personal project that I'm sure nary a many critic, including myself, would call "self-indulgent".

Rightly so, but it's something designed for me to get my feelings out in the most appropriate manner, in the medium that I know how to communicate best.  But it's not horrible (at least by Jay Andrews standards), and I take comfort in the fact that "self-indulgent" is one of the most meaningless criticisms that anyone professing to know movies can put on something that they don't like.  Anyway, while I only got rudimentary progress started on any number of screenplay ideas, I was at least writing and thinking about movies with some renewed vigor.

I was thinking about the pipes puffing out clouds of smoke in the North Carolina home of David Gordon Greene in All The Real Girls.  I was thinking about the dancing puppet pretending to be God and still inspiring awe and fear in a young boy in Fanny and Alexander.  I was thinking about a young girl leaning over a counter and telling a little boy that she's going to love him until the day he dies in It's A Wonderful Life.

Then I was thinking about Antwone Fisher, in the film of the same name.  Here is a man that I should have had little in common with, army training and skin color be damned, but we do.  It's not the scenes where he confronts his adolescent tormentors that connected us, though I wish I could have that moment.  Or the scenes where he has tender conversations with the woman who's helped heal him, though I miss those.  Or even the scenes with his mentor where he hashes out what he wants to be when he grows up, none of those moments hit me the hardest.

It's near the very end, when he talks to the mother that he hasn't ever known and barely wants anything to do with him.  He tells her about the man he's become, about the good person he is (not tries to be, but is to be), about the life that he wants to lead, and about the direction he hopes to take her in along with him.  We hurt, we get pushed back, but most importantly we reach out to the ones we love until our bodies cave in on themselves with pain and hope.

That moment affected me far more than when I was reading the memoir that it was based on (Finding Fish).  When you are reading a novel the images and words have to be filtered through your perception of words and the individual meanings that you place on each phrase.  But when confronted with a movie, with images, there is very little to mediate the transfer of meaning from projection to brain.  Those images when edited in just the right way, with a performer that knows what the truth of the moment is, form a perfect collusion of shape and movement bypassing any intellectual resistance that I had and I long to join Antwone in his final meal with his family.

It's the same as seeing someone on-screen that, for a second, we think is as real as the person sitting next to you.  It's about watching just how hard it is to shoulder on with the scars petty folks have inflicted on us time and time again.  Film triggers a response that is so pure and honest that you can't help but think through the memories that connect you with that movie.  No matter how painful or private, the right image can cut through all of your defenses and connect you what's real about living here.

It's not that movies make me stronger, they just remind me of how much I've changed and how far left I have to go.  That's part of the reason why I'm still writing about them.  But that's not the whole reason as to why I'm here today.  Sure I had some old writings where I was trying to pass myself off as a real critic, but they ranged from awkward to bad.  In years past, I think it's because I was still writing about them just to prove that I was good at something.

My passion was there, my drive was inspired, but my philosophy still needed some work.  That would change, on one very special night, after screening one of the most quietly intense and sad films I've seen.

But I don't want you to die.

Rewatching A Single Man brought up a number of complicated emotions, but it's amazing how strong and alive I feel recalling them.

I was bundled up, as was my then partner, then those eyes came pleading at me.

We had just gotten out of A Single Man with Colin Firth in the lead as a privately gay college professor trying desperately to keep himself sane.  His lover died in a car accident some eight months ago and every morning it's the same routine, the same cold face, the same "Just get through the damn day".  Interest in literature aside, I don't have that much that should connect me with a tortured gay man in the 60's.  Neither, I thought, did my partner but I was very wrong.

So what was it that triggered that kind of display, especially from someone so guarded?  Love had a lot to do with it.  Because, really, we don't go around to strangers on the street telling them that we don't want them to die (though that did happen once on my old campus and it did make my day fantastic).  We cried for a while, and when I went to bed that night I started thinking more about the process of how film works on the audience a lot harder than before.

This is roughly what I came up with the next day.

The director, Tom Ford, had made some key decisions with A Single Man that helped to wrap us up into teensy little emotional waterfalls.  He kept his visual compositions elegant and spare, self-consciously so and drawing attention to the specific posturing of George in his world.  For someone who had to maintain such rigorous control over his surroundings and emotions as George, this made perfect sense visually to start drawing us into his emotional state.

Ford creates the world further with the dream sequences.  They're just as mannered as the real world where George has to maintain a disguise, but there's the slight twinge of danger as the faded eyes of his dead lover haunt George while he sleeps.  The way that stare makes it's way into the real world is sometimes subtle (the suspicious glances that we sometimes see people throwing at George) and sometimes daring (the huge eyes of the Psycho billboard featuring Janet Leigh that watches George has he nearly engages a young man in a tryst).

Then there's the matter of Colin Firth's absolutely perfect performance as George.  He doesn't let the mask slip once, until the very end, when he allows himself two smiles.  One of those smiles is for the young man who saved his life today, and the other is for the memories and emotions that he's chosen to embrace and live with instead of lock away.  The conclusion of that ending may seem mean or intended to jerk the audience around, but it makes perfect sense with the way George changes over the course of the movie.  Unafraid to let himself desire again, he can rejoin his lover, even if it's not in the way that we might have hoped.

His emotion, his longing and desire for his dead lover, is George's enemy.  Social pressures aside, George has made the decision that ending his life will end his desire and his emotions, affording him some measure of peace.  For someone who has looked at their emotions as the enemy for a long time and hates encountering them, this could be quite the potent film to watch.  I saw more hope, love, fear and longing in those eyes than at any other point in my life and I know that wonderful naked moment was brought about through our shared experience and the movie.  That is part, and only part, of what I saw that night and I was struck with the urge to desperately communicate how beautiful this moment was to everyone.

Out of that grew a renewed philosophy about film that I've carried with me over the last year.  I don't want to write film critiques that are just for me, that's selfish.  I want to write critiques as a way of introducing the complex emotions that we all feel going into and leaving a movie.  The very best critics all have a way of helping you see different things inside the same movie.  The important thing is that it's not "Here's what I found in the movie" it's "Here's something new we can share together".

I accomplish this probably less than 10% of the time I'm writing reviews.  But I keep trying, I want people to feel like there's something new that can connect them to total strangers through film, and explain how in ways that they (hopefully) may not have thought about.  Then we can all embrace the fact that a band of people, alone in the dark, all shared the same experience regardless of where they came from.

My philosophy set, it was time to get to business and now the uncensored formation of Can't Stop The Movies...or at least my view of it.

Now you'll think of your favorite movie every time you log into the website.

Ugh, thanks a lot Danny.

Danny and I had been talking about forming some kind of movie website for a while prior to the launch of Can't Stop The Movies last April.  We'd been roommates for a couple of years and enjoyed chatting about all kinds of films.  Sometimes we'd be in heavy agreement over something (Brick, (500) Days of Summer) and other times not so much (Tideland, Superbad).

So we had, and continue to have, a pretty awesome bond where film was concerned.  He had some experience writing about them professionally (or, at least, for a school paper) and we had the general know-how and connections to get things started.  But we still didn't have an idea about what it is that we wanted to do.

Enter Ryan, who at least got us a little more jazzed about writing even if the idea for the site was kind of shaky.  Initially, me and Danny were going to join Ryan and some other folks on this website called Cool Points.  The idea of it was interesting but a bit...convoluted.  Allow me to try and explain.

We would have different categories, TV Shows, Directors, Performers, Composers and so on.  For the sake of attempted simplicity, let's pick Ingmar Bergman.  So I would go through and review each of Bergman's movies and as I wrote about them I would assign each film a score.  Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky, the cool points were assigned either as a 5, 3, 1, 0, -1 or -5.  Each person in each category I was evaluating would have a specific Cool Rating that was the average of the score I gave each movie.  The idea was to penalize outright failures (which is why there is no -3) and offer more leeway for partial successes or just kind of dull (the 0, 1, 3 spread).

So after an initial attempt at getting all that together me and Danny just stared at each other through the expanse of the internet and simultaneously went, "Yeah, don't think that's going to work for us."    So, on a particularly ambitious night in late February, we finally decided to bite the bullet and just register a domain name.  I don't even  remember what some of our earlier attempts were but somehow Danny managed to convince me to name our website after one of the most dreadful movies in existence, the Village People biopic You Can't Stop The Music.

So we were born and the rest is slowly becoming history, subject to revision and different points of view depending on the person.  What isn't up for debate is just how green the website used to be.  I look back in my mind and all I can picture are giant blocks of uninterrupted text and waves of vomitous green.  I'm still impressed that the nine people that came to the site initially stuck with us in the long run under those conditions.

But here we are.  Our readership has grown more than 10 times what it was when we started a year ago.  Apparently, a lot of that has to do with the internet's unflagging love of Three Men and a Baby.

I suppose a lot of folks just really adore Tom Selleck.

I've written almost 200 articles for this site, over 150,000 words and found dozens of reasons to fall in love with film again and again.  I'm a lucky man.  An unlived, selfish life devoted entirely to studying cinema won't make a good critic and I've been fortunate enough to have experiences with friends, family, and loved ones that have further enhanced my appreciation of film.  Then, sometimes, we're able to bond further over a roaring good movie.

To those of you who inspired me, pushed me, encouraged me and empowered me to take these steps to becoming the writer I want to be - I thank you and I love you.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. The exact conversation, as I recall:

    Me: “Okay, I have some ideas for names for the website. My first, and I know there’s no way you’re going to say ‘yes’ to this one, is Can’t Stop the Movies.”

    Andrew: “I love it, Danny! Let’s do it!”

    Me: “… really?”


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