If you think the quote in my title refers to an infamous and iconic line from the even-more-infamous 1989 movie “Road House”, you are correct. So, for our last installment of this month’s Valentine’s-Day-themed series, let’s take a look at more things I truly love–in this case, let’s take a trip to the movies.
Ever since the Lumiere brothers screened their first public movies in 1895, we have lived in a world dominated by moving images–which is, as you should know, an allusion. What we are watching, of course, is a series of moving photographs. This was easy to understand when movies were made of celluloid strips with still pictures in each frame, but much more difficult to imagine now that what we are watching is a string of 1s and 0s. Don’t worry, this won’t be a technical column.
Movies and music are my two most deeply ingrained passions, as you have seen if you have followed this month’s series. My favorite movie generally is the one I happen to be watching at the moment, and I am definitely not a movie snob–you know, the kind of person who separates the subject matter into “film” and “movies,” with the latter being those offerings that are beneath the snob’s taste level. While such a snob will sit through a “film” like Bergman’s “Virgin Spring,” he or she will never in a million years consider watching the “Sharknado” series. Film snobs are pathetically devoid of a sense of humor, but I digress. Today, let’s forget these ridiculous categories and consider how we might grapple with the entire history of movies in one very short column.
The problem some people have with watching and appreciating movies–from those first Lumiere clips to the latest Lego Batman production–is their possession of a very narrow perspective that applies one standard judgement to all movies. For instance, if you judge all your movie experiences by a “Citizen Kane” standard, you will never be able to tolerate, much less appreciate, a “Sharknado” or “Bad Grandpa.” The same can be said about all those stuffy music critics, but let’s save that subject for another day.
I have picked three movies–”Road House” (1989), “Persona” (1967), and “Arrival” (2016)–as springboards for discussing types of movies in general. They are representative of categories into which we might place the entire history of film/movies (although I am not fond of such categories). I know this is a very ambitious statement, but I am willing to be a little adventurous here.
“Road House” is a masterpiece of its genre, which resembles a classic Road Runner vs. Coyote cartoon more than anything else. This mini-masterpiece tells a very simple story, according to the IMDB blurb–”A tough bouncer is hired to tame dirty bar.” This gives you, in eight concise words, all you need to know about the plot. Dalton (first name not given, but rumored to be James), a former philosophy major and played to perfection by the late Patrick Swayze, does his nasty job while reading Jim Harrison’s novel, “Legends Of The Fall” (the literary basis for the 1994 movie) while making philosophical bouncer love to the town’s apparently only physician, played by Kelly Lynch. Ben Gazzara, in what is arguably the greatest role in the history of the cinema, plays an evil town boss named Brad Wesley (apparently villains have complete names). The truly enigmatic question at the heart of this bouncer-as-philosopher movie is how Mr. Wesley has gotten so rich by skimming the profits from a town that has only four, and very small, established businesses–an auto parts store, a car dealership, a used tire lot, and a rough bar–the Double Deuce–that hires Dalton to bring order, and mullets, to town. Maybe Wesley has managed to pad his wallet by also extorting money from the hospital where Dalton’s love interest works. Throw Sam Elliott and a stuffed polar bear in for good measure and you have one of the truly worst can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it movies ever made–meaning that it’s entertainment on a grand scale, and not to be missed (unless, of course, you prefer “films” to “movies”).
Next up is a film a true snob can love–Ingmar Bergman’s much-analyzed “Persona”, starring Bibi Andersson and Bergman sidekick Liv Ullmann. These two world-class actresses portray an actress-gone-mute named Elisabet and her nurse, Alma. Beginning with a montage of seemingly random images that remind us that we are indeed watching a movie, “Persona,” goes on to present a very perplexing story that dramatizes why movies should be considered an art form. In a very real sense “Persona” is a movie about the process of watching movies. And it provokes us to ask troubling questions about identity and existence–a Bergman speciality. Needless to say, this movie has provided lots of fodder for satires and homages, particularly in selected Woody Allen movies/films.Consider this the anti-Road House movie if you will. And essential viewing.
“Arrival”, just released on disc and streaming services, is a movie situated somewhere in the middle of the first two. While not as over-the-top as “Road House” or as artful (although it is visually arresting) as “Persona,” this movie is an example of how sheer entertainment can also be provocative and thought-provoking. In many ways, this sci-fi thriller is a hybrid of thoughtful 1950s sci-fi thrillers like “The Day The Earth Stood Still” and more recent alien invasion fare like “Independence Day.” On the surface, this movie is about a linguist named Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who has recently lost her daughter to the ravages of cancer, and who is taken from her home in the middle of the night by military personnel to accompany them to Montana, where she is given the task of communicating with the octopus-like aliens who inhabit one of twelve hugh elliptical spaceships that hang in place only a few feet from the ground. Can Louise learn to communicate with the creatures in time to avert a world disaster? I won’t answer this question if you haven’t seen the movie. On a deeper level, “Arrival” is a mind-altering and eloquent (no pun intended) exploration of language, grief, and the meaning of time. It is a movie that reminds me–if I need reminding–of the many reasons why I love movies so much.
I hope you will watch or rewatch these movies soon, and will find contrasting movies that represent your own history of movies (and film). And, as you watch, remember that “pain don’t hurt.” And beware of stuffed polar bears.
See you next week.