Saturday, August 15, 2009

Film At Eleven

Last weekend, my dad brought up the topic of "best movie ever." Not favourite movie, which is different - favourite movie totally has more wiggle room. You can see the point of all different kids of serious, high-brow, important movies, but still cop to loving Back To The Future more than any other flick (as I unabashedly did. "Dad! George! Hey! You on the bike!" is probably the best line ever filmed). There are tons of favourites that are silly,

In 1998, the American Film Institute published a list of what they considered the 100 best movies of all time. Only eight were released after 1985. After Schindler's List, which came in ninth, Silence of the Lambs led the pack in 65th place. The top ten were all classic movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Gone With the Wind, both of which always seemed like gigantic snores to me. There are some late-model movies on that list - for example, I enjoyed The Graduate immensely, and Pulp Fiction is great.

But most of those movies evoke a different era. Not just the majority were produced before I was born. The humour is different, the pacing is statelier and the styles have changed. I'm not saying that they're bad or anything; I'm maybe pointing out that festishizing the past, especially in the arts, ain't no way to get any juicy new geniuses out there.

I mean, sure: Tarantino and his generation are good filmmakers, but they're mostly reinventing the wheel. David Foster Wallace has pointed out that true imagination doesn't always get rewarded - mention Blue Velvet, and there's a 50-50 chance someone will shudder in horror - but it seems like the ability to take interesting, difficult work and transform it into a quotable exercise in esthetics (which Tarantino does) will net you serious cash. Someone like Wes Anderson has done this a half-dozen times: assemble a bunch of quirky characters, sprinkle with nostalgic name-drops (The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Jacques Cousteau and A Charlie Brown Christmas, for starters), and serve to an adoring audience.

Actually, I do adore Wes Anderson movies: he has a gift for creating (or, you know, re-creating) gorgeous visual tableaux. His characters aren't so much characters as they are costumes...and that's kind of okay, you know? It's just not great film-making.

If movies are going to reach past entertainment and strive for the status of True Art, critics and audiences both need to stop reaching for easy 99-minute stretches or digestible facsimiles of challenging work as the height of American cinema. (As far as Canadian cinema goes, forget it. Quebec has a successful film industry, but Canadian movies are either Toronto dressed up as Boston or Bon Cop, Bad Cop, which, like, no.) I'm not saying there's anything wrong with presenting movies like Requiem for a Dream or Annie Hall as interesting entertainment, but art? Really?

Which is why the "best" movie is such a tough question. Do we judge on entertainment value? Avant-garde vision? Use of film stock? Use of Bruce Willis (and has anyone checked out the insane shoot he did for W magazine?)? The AFI's criteria was based mostly on outside influences - awards, cash and praise - and less on what the films attempted and how successful they were.

My favourite movies change daily - I can usually find a soft spot for The Big Lebowski, though, because that movie is awesome. My most-loathed movie is fairly constant: The Heart of Me was a wretched failure, starring Helena Bonham Carter's pitiful and emotionally unstable haircut. Someone else (someone blind, probably) loves that movie, and thinks I'm a loser who "doesn't get it." Fine. There are people who don't understand the humour of Harold and Maude, the visual glory of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the sheer gee-whiz coolness of Toy Story, the wackadoo weirdness of Being John Malkvotch. None of those movies really falls under the "art" banner, though. Fine! I'm not asking for the best movie of all time - I'm asking for the next favourite way to kill 120 minutes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Building Blocks

Maybe I'm lucky or asymptomatic, but is anyone else getting the vibe that the Do-Good Express has been roaring through our generation something fierce?

I'm not sure if it's a byproduct of living in co-operative housing for a fifth of my life (which, like, huh), but it seems like my tribe has a real tendency to work in non-profits, advocacy, education, social justice, the arts, and all kids of other hippie-dippie slices of the workaday pie. I'm not trying to be smarmy or self-congratulatory about the trend: I mean, work is work, and just because you run writing workshops or Grassroots doesn't mean your life is any freer/easier than the people who run investment seminars or Chevrolet.

Of course, being the age we are now, we also have a tendency to get those low-man-on-the-totem-pole jobs, which, no matter what sector you're working in, all seem to be the same. Answer the phone, send email, file stuff, lunch. Drive the truck, pick up the stuff, haul stuff around, lunch. Man the desk, greet the people, set out lunch, lunch. But somehow, even though we'd be doing the same tasks at a non-profit gallery as we would if we were working at some huge bedroom-community anchor, it feels different.

I've held very few corporate jobs in my life: I worked for six months at a chain bakery, and was mortified the entire time (I think mostly it was the truly injust all-white uniforms). Before and after, it's been mostly indie restaurants and co-op jobs. Small operations feel homier. If my boss's boss's boss lives in Vancouver, I'm going to have a hell of a time with the corporate hierarchy. If, on the other hand, the guy who started the place in 1991 still lives on the Danforth with his kindergarten-teacher wife, I'm going to feel like he's a little more connected to my community, and by extension, to me.

That's simplistic, for sure: there are zillions of other ways to measure a job's own personal value to the person doing it. However: my generation was raised by children of the 1950s - people who were in their narcissistic 20s when the Me Decade rolled around, but who simultaneously started the Environmental movement. My generation has been raised with the idea that we can do anything, and that things are going to hell in a handbasket.

So, working in the non-profit sector really speaks to something for us, you know? Something I love about Judaism is that there are certain inalienable responsibilities that must be attended: you must provide education, for example. It's just how things are. In the hedonistic and self-centered secular lifestyle that, like, 97% of my friends and family lead, there are very few "responsibilities" aside from tending to ourselves and our nuclear families. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of cheesedogs is what makes us happy, apparently. Which feels...kind of shallow.

I'm totally not shitting on people who work for The Man - like I said before, work is work, bills pile up, and sometimes it's really fun to in a crazy office building with hot interns and cantankerous mid-level executives and inappropriate co-workers with whom you can gossip. Plus, where would we be without The Office? I get it. Totally.

However, one demographic I always enjoy seeing on the street is that of the Balanced Older Lady: the woman in her 50s with the linen pants and the cashmere wrap. She seems to know things about Nia and fish oils. The BOL isn't vegan-strident, and she's clearly invested in making her life about feeling good and doing good...which are qualities I admire. I'd like to be like that, both in that mythical "someday" and, you know, right now. While I can't afford the hypoallergenic bee pollen that wards off arthritis (yet), I can work at jobs that make me feel connected to things other than a paycheck. If I'm going to spend one-third of my day doing something, I'd like it to be something I feel good about.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Room of My Own

Even though it's completely declasse to talk about money, can I just maybe allude to the fact that having a non-full-time job in your twenties, with things like rent and groceries and phone bills lighting up like neon in your braincase, is not the delightfulness I was envisioning?

When I was a kid, memorizing Archie comics and ignoring my sister, I stumbled upon this one Veronica story that was entitled "THE GROOVY PAD" or something to that effect. I was a) eight years old in 1991 and b) had no concept of a "pad" being something you live in, rather than something menstrual and therefore discomfiting to the max. (This dated-slang phenomenon also perplexed the hell out of me when I read The Hardy Boys, who were always shouting "good night!" when it seemed like they were going to bite it. Confusing? You bet.)

THE GROOVY PAD was a story set in (when else?) the 1970s, starring 16-year-old Veronica as the spoiled rich girl who got her very own apartment. It was full of period details like burnt-orange shag carpeting and whorish purple eyeshadow that just impressed the hell out of me. Obviously, when she went to bed, the GROOVY PAD turned out to be in some improbably seedy part of Riverdale: smoking (!) men in trench coats and gusting wind equaling "you will get raped," clearly.

But, like, awesome? Her own place? All the whorish purple eye makeup she can shoplift (not that Veronica Lodge needed to, but it seemed like she would - the whole narrative had an huge undercurrent of seediness and trashiness)? It seemed like the glammest thing in the whole world, a total extension of the this-is-my-treehouse vibe little kids confer on basically every space they can.

I remember childhood as a hugely public affair. I am still basically an introvert at heart, so to spend eight hours a day with kids - most of whom I didn't like/was afraid of/wanted desperately to be accepted by - and then go home to my family, where the person closest in age was my terrible sister (oh, don't worry, we're friends now), was massively stressful. My parents, who were saddled with this stressed-out nine-year-old, were probably kind of mystified. I felt exposed all the time. All I wanted to do was hide: I read a lot, ignored 85% of the normal growing-up socializing, and made forts out of every space smaller than 25 square feet.

You can imagine the type of lightbulb-over-head moment THE GROOVY PAD inspired. A whole apartment...for me?! What's weird is that I didn't just march into the post-highschool world and get my own GROOVY PAD. No, first, I lived in residence. Then I lived with fifteen housemates. Then I got my own place.

I'll tell the (terrible) residence and (for all intents and purposes, very fun) fifteen-housemates stories some other time. For now, I'll just mention that living with people is much less expensive than living alone. It's strange: you trade one psychic burden (people-stress) for another (money-stress) when you decide to swap out living arrangements. I, for one, like it both ways: it's really nice coming home to someone. On the other hand, it's really nice to cook dinner in you GROOVY PAD wearing nothing but whorish purple eyeshadow. It's all about choices, you know?