Tuesday, November 28, 2006

UNCOOL ART

When I was a teenager, one of the more pathetic things about me was that I let my sense of being “cool” affect the music I listened to. Even if I liked a song, I would talk myself out of it because it wasn’t “cool.” And yes, I realized that I wasn’t alone in that regard. Fortunately, as we get older, most of us grow out of that stage. That means we can admit enjoying things a lot even if they’re ridiculed by others.

My last blog-post involved two movie directors (Kubrick and Tarentino) whose movies are, most assuredly, cool. People who don’t like their movies almost have to apologize for “not getting it.” By contrast, many Hollywood flicks are so commonly insulted that it’s embarrassing to admit to liking them. You Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle are examples. Fortunately, I hate those movies. J What I don’t hate, what I in fact like a fair amount, is James Cameron’s Titanic. It’s not a cool movie – in fact, it’s quite uncool – but I find it compelling just the same.

From a critic’s standpoint, Titanic is easy pickings. Let’s begin by the fact that there has to be something seriously wrong with any movie about a horrible human tragedy that a TV network (TNT) could show three times on Thanksgiving weekend. (What are we giving thanks for – not being on that boat?) Titanic is a little too artificially upbeat for my taste, given the situation. I’ve always been put off by Hollywood’s “Happy Holocaust” movies that want to talk about all the “inspiring” stories that emerged from the Holocaust; I’m definitely more of The Sorrow and the Pity kind of guy when it comes to my people’s greatest tragedy. And I would have preferred more despair and less pseudo-uplift in the making of Titanic.

I also can’t help but mention the singer of the anthem that is played at the end of the movie. If I had to be honest about my taste, I find Celine Dion’s music generally nauseating. Her singing alone makes the movie uncool. And yet … I have to admit that I really like that one song. In fact, playing that tune on the trumpet while standing on the back porch of my house during the remnant of a hurricane a few years ago was one of the best little pleasures I’ve had in a decade.

Yes, “my heart could go on” insulting the movie. Too much romance. Too much schmaltz. Too much Hollywood. Too much pop pablum. But for me, all of that is outweighed by various images that I found compelling.

The portion of the movie that I loved the most was the time after the boat hit the iceberg. That’s when the human drama truly unfolded. There were so many images that show people at their most disgusting as well as at their best – and for the most part, I found those moments delightfully realistic.

My favorite moments in the movie involve the shots of the elderly couple lying in bed, holding hands, surely knowing that in a few minutes, they were about to drown. Maybe I’m crazy, but I actually can imagine people in that position behaving just the way they were behaving – as if the only thing they experienced in life is a romantic love devoid of all ephemeral infatuation and nourished almost entirely by the understanding of, respect for, and contentment in, each other’s spirit. Of course, if it were me on the boat, I’d be way too neurotic to be able to peacefully lie with my wife. But not everybody is a type A personality, thank God.

A similar, but wonderful moment involved the mother reading to her children – all of whom were about to drown. Yes, that’s a shame that she didn’t run for the lifeboats, as the three of them presumably would have survived. But I mention the example because it was another situation where we saw a person being willing to live the rest of her life expressing nothing but love for other human beings. Pure love. And it’s totally realistic that a mother in that situation would feel not a selfish bone in her body until she breathes her last. Sorry, but I find those last two sets of images pretty damned moving.

And what about the conduct of Jack and Rose when they were floating on the surface of the water after the boat sank? Realistic? In a sense, yes. Jack hadn’t met Rose until a day or so before, but I could imagine teenage infatuation being so strong that all a young man would think about is saving the life of his beloved girlfriend. She personifies beauty to him, and to save her would not only affirm his self respect but reflect a love of beauty that all healthy people have in spades … if only they allow it to flourish.

Still another magical moment of love involves the string quartet. Do you remember when the leader of the quartet mentions that “It has been a privilege to play with you tonight.” What a great word choice: a privilege. Dude is about to drown, and the combination of his affection for music and his appreciation for finding other likeminded people makes him feel privileged. What a cool thought – Spinoza and Nietzsche would love it! If we’re truly enlightened, we could find a positive emotion for any occasion. And then there is the designer of the boat – never resentful, always classy, and unlike the bumbling but ultimately decent captain, never without a modicum of poise. His character was also well done.

OK. There were dark characters in the movie too, and you better believe they lent the flick some realism. Rose’s fiancé was a total schmuck and, for the most part, believable. True, it was an inappropriate Hollywood-like touch to make him try to shoot his fiancé and her new boyfriend with a gun … and similarly unnecessary to tell us later that he put a gun in his mouth and shot himself during the Depression. But it was hardly unrealistic to show him ignoring a crying baby until he realized that the baby would be his ticket to survival.

Similarly, I loved (to hate) the character who demanded that the boat speed up in order to break some record. Yes, in this tale, he was primarily responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, and he knew it too. Yet that SOB couldn’t bring himself to go down with the ship. Even realizing that there were only enough lifeboats for a fraction of the passengers to use, he weaseled his way onto a lifeboat. And the look on his face was perfect: “Yeah, I know I’m a weasel. But I don’t have the courage to die. And if that means I’m a classless bastard, so be it. I’d rather be ugly, truly ugly, then dead.” Again – very realistic.

Is Titanic one of my all-time favorite movies? No. It was too flawed, too Hollywoodish, for that. But few over-the-top Hollywood vehicles have enough going for them to allow me to look past their inadequacies. And Titanic is definitely in that category.

I forgot how old I was when I started to resent the concept of cool. But I remember that it was one of the most liberating feelings I ever had. And then it hit me: what cool really means is to not give a damn about what others think is beautiful. The sooner you do that, the easier it is to open your eyes to beauty … and enlightenment.

4 comments:

Finding Fair Hope said...

It's okay to be uncool here? Okay, then, I'll bust myself. I love those romantic movies you hate -- and my favorite moment of Titanic was that ending, when everything was all right, Rose's life was okay after all, and when she died she went to the heaven she had known in life, the glittering ballroom of the Titanic, with all the people (including herself) ageless, beautiful, and in love.

Oh, barf! I also like grim movies like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Crash and Hustle and Flow. And I don't apologize for not getting Tarantino. I get him, I just don't find much there entertaining.

Daniel Spiro said...

I haven't seen any of those movies you mentioned in the second paragraph, perhaps because writing has definitely taken a toll on my movie watching. I'm mean I'm WAY too busy to watch a lot of movies. (Of course, I'm not too busy to continue to watch zillions of hours of football; after all, that's an addiction, movies are merely a pleasure.)

Truth be told, I enjoy some romantic movies -- just not a huge percentage. For example, I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love and West Side Story.

Finding Fair Hope said...

If you liked Shakespeare in Love, try Stage Beauty a romance that takes place in the world of the theatre of the Restoration, when women were allowed to play female roles. Claire Danes and Billy Crudup, both first-rate actors, do a great job with a much more convincing script than Shakespeare In Love, but then I don't even believe that guy from Stratford wrote the plays.

I think you would like Crash, which was good even though it did win an Oscar; it dealt with the moral dilemmas of today's world. A really complex and quirky film that I consider one of the best of last year is The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. All of these, although a little more challenging than football, have a measure of entertainment in them

Daniel Spiro said...

Thanks for the recommendations. As for movies being more challenging than football, I doubt that.

The teams I root for stink. I assure you, few things are more challenging than watching them. Then again, one must be loyal ... :)