Tuesday, June 23, 2009


There’s a computer at Neflix somewhere that’s going crazy, I hope. I’m trying to make it do that. The Netflix solution to marketing, like the Amazon solution, is to get all the products into categories, then get all the customers into categories and then match them up. Their major failure with me so far has been telling me which DVD’s were most often ordered in Great Falls, in hopes that I’ll order them, too, since because I live here I must be like them. But I look at the titles with horror -- I have never seen those movies and never intend to in the future.

The other bust has been trying to make me award stars to movies according to whether I liked them or not. I refuse to do this, even when they set it up so that I can’t progress through the movie ordering system without designating a star. I don’t do it because my opinion of a movie is not based on “liking” it and I think a value judgement of anything that is just one dimension is unfair, untrue and unuseful. When I failed to pick a star for a used book, the book dealer his/her self sent me a wounded email claiming I was ruining his/her life, because it affected his ability to sell books.

For a long time I was ordering BBC murder mysteries. There are endless numbers of them and my “default” choices are generally MI-5 these days, which they couldn’t call “Spooks” (It's Brit name) because in the USA that word doesn’t mean ghosts. It means roughly the same thing as “shovels.” Blacks. One learns a lot while ordering movies and even more if the DVD has international explanations included.

Then I got tired of that and went to costume dramas, the big sprawling epics of history, which led the computer to believe I might want to watch musicals, but I didn’t. Then I fell into Brit Indie movies, largely produced by FilmFour which is the government BBC channel #4, designated for alternative “serious” stuff, like social comment.

So the red envelopes I threw in the mail this morning included “John Trudell,” which is an American “serious” documentary. You could tell because heavyweight liberals like Robert Redford and Chris Christopherson had a lot to say. Trudell is actually one of the most appealing AIM leaders. I had not known that his house was burned down with his family inside, probably arson, and quite possibly the FBI. Consider PUSH, WACO, and lately the NA artifact bust that was so violent that one elderly man’s toes were broken. At least he wasn’t burned alive. Trudell sank into immense sadness, far beyond depression, and then resurfaced -- a poet. It’s hard not to admire him, even like him.

The other two films were BBC. “Pierrepoint” is the story of the last “King’s” executioner, a hangman whose father and uncle had also filled that post. Excellently cast, beautifully filmed, it is a horrifying subject that is really about how decency and care should shape something basically barbaric into something at least bearable.

The executioner, played by Timothy Spall, was a real person and events really happened. Spall, well-known as a character actor, brilliantly channels compassion and civility. “I will take care of you,” he tells the condemned and he means it. Some of the most powerful moments come AFTER the hanging, when he carefully washes the body, puts a shroud on it, and lays it gently in a coffin. This was not the shameful debacle of hanging Hussein. When at Nurenberg, there are so many bodies that they run out of coffins, he is outraged. His wife takes an economic point of view: she is determined to remain a proper wife, but even she is not much interested in his physical needs. He’s no prince, but he has a good job.

“This Is England” features another protagonist of dubious charm, this one a little boy with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (if you’ll allow such syndromes) brought on by the death of his father in the Falklands. The movie gives the story an impressive historical frame with newsreels and still photos, both from Maggie Thatcher’s era in England and the shadow events of WWII that somehow get entangled in immigration and welfare. The boy, mocked and bullied whereever he goes, is picked up as a sort of mascot by a gang of skinheads, the whole bunch of them infected with ODD. They love to smash and vandalize. Then a new leader arrives from prison and things get entirely out of hand. It’s not the most charming movie, but it does tell a vivid story that anyone ought to understand. I have NEVER heard the F word so many times, not even in “Platoon,” though they pronounce it "fokking."

We seem to be in a time when we’ve not been able to throw off the past, even as we enter into the dystopic situations of our own times and of the predicted future. Over and over the themes are conformity, prosperity and authority. Forget about cars that can fly and the cure for cancer. These issues are where the action is. But I can only bear these polemics for so long -- then I need a different kind of movie.

Some people would be best served by movies categorized according to how many explosions they have or how many sex/love scenes. Maybe a lot of people would rather watch movies about animals. I have a kind of penchant for movies that are nothing but long conversations, like “My Dinner with Andre.” There aren’t many of those around. My cousin loves haute couture and often recommends movies about Paris designers. I wanted to see “Aria” but it has become mysteriously unavailable.

My newest addition to my Netflix list, which I’m told I will have to wait a long time to see, is “Battlestar Galactica.” I do like sci-fi, but I didn’t get interested in Battlestar until yesterday’s NPR story about how the sound track for this show, which was meant NOT to be like the John Williams orchestra score for Star War. It took on such a powerful influence -- I guess using sort of “earth music” or “space music” more like Paul Winter -- that it actually began suggesting the plot. This I’ve gotta see! That’s what MY life needs -- a better sound track! Luckily, I have a lot of Paul Winter CD’s. Prokiofiev will do in a pinch.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

You're right about the Battlestar soundtrack, especially in the last season of the show, in which some soundtrack elements became like virtual characters in the show, and plot points began to turn on a key theme introduced at the end of season three. This was great fun for me to watch, being a composer myself who's interested in films, and it was very fulfilling to watch the music become so very essential to the story's overall arc.

A lot of this is detailed on the blog kept by Bear McCreary, the BSG soundtrack composer. His blog is fascinating reading, although ti does contain plot spoilers, so beware of that.