It’s that time of year again. No, not the holidays. The end of year windup to the February Oscars. This year brought some good flicks, but there was an awful lot of rubbish, which there always has been, but this year seemed to have an abundance.
There's nothing inherently wrong with going to the movies for fun, but it's like a diet of Wonder Bread, deceivingly named being devoid of wonder and lacking even meager nourishment. I go to a lot of movies for a variety of reasons: to learn about other worlds/people/times through fictions and documentaries, to measure the zeitgeist, to ease a 100°+ summer day, but my primary desire is to experience the art of cinema, a remarkable art that, even more so than the stage, incorporates all arts.
My friend and film mentor Jerry Holt says, "Good movies are CHURCH." That's the point. Scorsese's Mean Streets opens with Harvey Keitel's Charlie in voiceover: "You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it." Then the Ronettes' Be My Baby kicks in as a home video reveals the first glimpses of the story's characters.
In Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, the elder in Angel's village explains to Pike Bishop, "We all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us. Perhaps the worst most of all." That's grace. That's forgiveness. That's the redemptive, transformative power of art. No one – unless you're Oscar Wilde – talks like that in real life.
Art distills the chaos of lived experience – through structure, order, composition, sensual experience, poetry, rhythm – to teach us something about the human condition. It universalizes individual experience. As a culture, we seem to reject creative experience in favor of empty calories, entertainments, amusements, Pascal's divertissements. Rather than confront our condition we seek diversion at every turn.
I go to my dark, flickering church every Sunday. Sometimes the homily works for me, more often it does not, but that doesn't change the fact that I am always seeking something – call it salvation for lack of a better word.
Let’s begin with some of the best – foreign films – starting with a film that arrived here a year late…