Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sit Back, Relax, Watch a Movie

I've been watching a lot of movies lately. It's been quite an achievement - at least one film a week. Nothing much relating to work or to school really: it becomes a place to unwind, the move theatre a womb of lights and sounds and story that shows you another place lets you forget your own skin for awhile. I think that's my measure of a good film: the one that makes you forget your own name in the space of two hours, that forces you from your seat and makes breathe the same air that the story is breathing.

Ever since I got here, I'm running down to the movies every weekend. There was Babel and Miss Potter, Epic Movie and The Illusionist. I have a list of things I still want to see - promised M we'd see Notes on a Scandal and I want to see The Fountain as well as Music and Lyrics. I'm sorry to have missed Pan's Labyrinth during its run around here, though; I expect I shall have to get a copy when I go back home. And I know there's a host of other films I should see: Little Miss Sunshine, for one, which I totally missed while it was showing here since it had come in just when school was starting to get hectic last semester and I had to stay in and finish papers.

But I know I'm not a movie buff, in the sense that I'm not a total snob when it comes to films. I know someone who hates Jim Carrey and totally missed seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or who can't stand Adam Sandler but missed the point of Click and Spanglish. And I know someone who's pushing for Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction even though in my mind he will always be the carrot-headed weirdo who wore green tights. My movie criteria is always based on narrative: how the story flows, what is the basic premise, how is it different from other stories. I think it's because that's what I find fascinating about film - it's another medium to tell a story, and it uses the tricks that only cameras and lights and movement are capable of in order to tell them. It's how the tradition of oral storytelling has evolved from the man under the tree, telling a story to a bunch of captive children sitting under the shade. Except that now, we are the captive children, spellbound in our seats, while the filmmaker uses the screen to show us the world in a new and mysterious light.

I'm not much for actors either - I don't have a favorite actor or actress, though I am aware that there are a number who chooses their parts well enough to make a difference, and that there will always be a new showstopper along the way, emerging once in a while to make a difference with the way stories are told. You know the mark of an excellent actor when you forget their real name and just refer to them in your mind as their character. And there are times when I try to see the trick of the light, of how one momentary tremble of the hand can spell the difference between a successful portrayal or a devastating turn. It's these clues that remind us how we are mirrored on the screen, how film is a powerful form of empathy that reaches across vast boundaries of time and space.

And yes, I'm one of those people who would prefer watching a film in a movie theatre rather than the comfort of one's home. There's something special about having to go out, dress up nicely (well, at least not in your pajamas), and sit inside a movie theatre with the screen filling up your field of vision and the surround sound penetrating your body with tremors. And I love the collective experience of watching a movie - of how the audience fidgets or sits through a particularly nerve-wracking experience, or of collective gasps or bursts of laughter, a shriek of fear when the monster finally emerges from the shadows. It reminds you that you are not alone in experiencing the story, that there are always others beside you.

Of course, we all know, at least in the Philippines, there will always be complaints about rude movie patrons who talk too loudly or give a running commentary on the film, or of that EXTREMELY ANNOYING cellphone ringing just when the movie starts getting good, or of parents bringing in their children into movies that are totally not appropriate for them, of the sticky floors in ALL SM movie theaters and that icky vinyl seat covering that makes you feel as if you're sitting on a condom...the list goes on. But it's also a testament to how good the movie is when, despite everything, you are still drawn towards the screen.

My favorite place to watch films will always be the UP Film Center, which has gone through so many name changes that now I don't know what it's official name is, but to me, it will always be the Film Center. It's the only theater I've sat in where, after a particularly excellent film, the audience stands up and applauds. And it's an amazing feeling. And this, to me, is precisely what a movie experience should be like. A fleeting, momentary shimmer in the distance, majestic in beauty and grandeur, like the Northern Lights or a sunset sending out the final bursts of light across an endless, rippling horizon.

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EDIT: Today's the Cultural Studies presentation. If I don't come on tonight on YM, expect my obituary in the local papers tonight.

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