Sunday, September 14, 2003

Shadows on the Wall

So last night, I went to see Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

Now my wife and I have discerned four types of movies:

1. The Movies you will never ever watch, not in a million years and will probably go out of your way not to see. This constitutes about 75% of films made these days. Iíd give examples but that would take forever.

2. The movies that look like theyíd be fun to watch but youíll wait for them to come out on DVD. They arenít great cinema, or Oscar contenders. Just an amusing way to spend two hours. Now, in the past, we might have been inclined to go to a matinee, just for the visceral fun of sitting in a theater and watching a fun film; a peculiar sort of fun, to be sure but if youíre as big film geeks as my wife and I, you know what Iím talking about. But with the rising prices of movie tickets, even matinees, it simply costs too much to have that little fun.
For us, this is usually those oh so fun romantic comedies my wife enjoys and for me, the sci-fi fiascos that never quite fulfill their promises. But for $3 bucks to rent, thatís a cheep date.

3. Interesting films that look like they are thoughtful, intimate creations by genuine artists of the medium, possibly foreign. Given the economic investment in going to see a movie these days ($16 minimum, and thatís without popcorn and a soda, which is simply an uncivilized manner to view a film) we might like to see these in the theater but are willing to wait three months for them to come out on DVD. That way, we can rent them for $3 and if we like them enough, buy it for our collection for about $20 or less. Rarely there will be a film by a favorite director of ours that weíll buy unseen and never regret it. Thatís how we saw Frida. Given that we can then see the film as often as we like, anytime we like, this is a bargain. Now, Iíd like to be able to support Indie films by seeing them in the theater but somehow the thought of trying to enjoy a nuanced film experience while babies are crying and cell phones are ringing, isnít that appealing. Besides my living room is far more quiet.

4. Then there are the films that simply have to be seen in the theater. Epic films that must be seen on a giant screen with the sound turned up too loud because you know they will be a joy to see, even if the occasional baby cries or cell phone rings. These days, this is extremely rare, and not just because of the prohibitive cost of spending $20 bucks to see a film we know we then spend another $20+ to buy, but because there simply arenít that many films that are simply that spectacular, even though every film that comes out, from Dumb and Dumber on up is sold to us as the greatest film ever. This week. Though some films genuinely live up to the hype, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But these films are all too rare.

The fact that the majority of films these days fall into category 1 instead of category 3 or 4 is due in no small part to the pervasive monster, advertising. Film companies spend millions a year trying to sell product to teenagers, not to tell stories or express a creative urge.

So where does Once Upon a Time in Mexico fall? Normally, Iíd say category 2. While I like El Mariache and Desperado they arenít the greatest movies of all time. Though I did realize something while sitting there, watching the first scene: Robert Rodriguez has constructed a series of action fairy tales. Like the Arthurian legends or Snow White, The El Mariache trilogy are remixes of the same basic story. The same characters make appearances, and time moves forward and back, reality gives way to fantasy and there are similar reversals, changes and progression in character traits. Sometimes the versions donít quite jive, factually but thatís not the point. The point is the theme of the story, in this case, the conflict between love and the desire for revenge. And the movie has a life, that's fir sure, evoking grander things than the mere happenstance of plot. Sure, the action takes presedent at times but that can be said for a lot fo great filmic versions of legends, like Excalibur where the score of Carmina Burana sweeps over the battle scenes like a force of nature. So maybe Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a category 3 film instead. Or maybe, we should enjoy movies for what they make us feel and think instead of trying to analyze the hell out of them, looking for validation in a few hundred feet of silver nitrate and pixels.


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