Thursday, June 19, 2003

Here goes... 

While it's true that over the years news programming has moved more and more towards entertainment, how much has the entertainment taken the initiative (and opportunity) do lean itself towards more "real" plotlines in their stories? The reason that the news has become so much faster, so much snazzier and energetic, is because that's what's effective in reaching their audience. Why? Because it's simply mirroring the way that we think - not so much live, as think we live. Ideas connect, and disconnect faster and faster in our times; what used to be cool is quickly obsolete. Conflicts rise and fall at an alarming rate. Heroes become villains, and villains heroes between the morning paper and the late edition. Decisions need to... well, you get the idea.

So where does that leave the film and television industry? It leaves them puzzling over special effects, hype, status, clichés, and shock value. All kinds of words apply here - self-indulgence, myopic, pornographic, shallow, dull, dreadful, idiotic, simple, formulaic - the list goes on and on. We all know it, have all accepted it, and all support it with our hard-earned dollars. Why? Because in our minds is a fantastic newsreel of interesting twists and turns, chivalry, altruism, epic battles, and subtle defiance in the face of overwhelming odds. This is our life, the way each of us sees it. And when we watch a movie we put all these themes into it. We feel for the characters, and essentially, we enjoy most the movies that make our own struggles resonate; so we don’t feel so alone as we trek our way through life. (This is an interesting rant on my idea of Buddhism - one that suffering is not so unbearable as the idea that we suffer alone – which I may pursue in future blogs if there is any request to do so.)

Yet what usually happens? How many of the time, after the movie is over and the lights come on, do we kinda shrug our shoulders and head back into the world without an ounce of motivation? How long can we spin the television dial without any signal at all trying to get us off our asses and do something energetic with our time?

That’s what this blog is not going to be about. I’ll try to avoid going on for too long about the misery that is most of the entertainment coming at us. Instead, I’ll be highlighting those movies that actually make a difference in our lives; those times when after the lights come on we actually feel different about ourselves, and some part of us screams to be let out. These movies come in all different flavors; from highly stylized (Memento, Koyaanisqatsi, Fight Club, Pleasantville, Matinee, Bound, Hair, 6th Sense, Manufacturing Consent, Breaking the Spell, You are a Target Market) to special effects (Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon, What Dreams May Come, Matrix, Forest Gump, Walking with Dinosaurs) to traditional (BackBeat, Swept From the Sea, The Velocity of Gary, Mississippi Masala, Jerry McGuire, Fluke, American Beauty, Fearless, A Long Nights Journey Into Day, Thin Red Line, Casualties of War, Indochine, Kippur, Liar Liar, My Fellow Americans, Ed Wood, Permanent Midnight, Max). Please let me know if you’d like me to blog any of these, or suggest your own.

What unites all these motivational movies is that they are able to stir something up in us and leave us with a desire to take a message into the world. I remember sitting in a run-down bar on Khao San Road in Bangkok, along with many other tourists, expats, staff, and local Thais; all watching a pirate copy of Fight Club on a busted cdrom player; all of us slowly inflating our balls and posing and sizing each other up as the film went along. It’s no wonder that actual Fight Clubs started because of the film. Who after didn’t feel the desire to smack our head into someone’s fist as hard as it’ll go? The message in that movie is that physical pain is nothing compared to mental pain; so why be so afraid? And The Matrix: In a world where the only difference between real humans and robots (or zombies) is that living beings can actually die; who doesn’t feel like seeing how a bullet “tastes” after watching that movie? After watching Liar Liar; I wanted to try just telling the truth. Forest Gump... running. All these different desires coming straight from the movies.

So good or bad, motivational movies leave us with something, the courage to be real; and a feeling like it’s okay to do something most people are terrible afraid to even consider – let alone ever try. In these difficult times when most of the information coming at us is to blame and disconnect, motivational movies serve a very important role in inspiring, suggesting, reinforcing, and encouraging us to look forward; and in keeping the industry alive.

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