Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Simple Choice

I watched the film You’ve Got Mail last night on TV. Shutup.

Anyway, I have to admit I enjoyed it this time around about as much as the first couple of times I saw it. Shutup.

There is one scene—scene transition, actually (I took a film class in college)--that impressed me the first time around and stuck with me.

It’s where the little bookstore has closed, and Kathleen Kelly’s dream, the only life she’s known, has died with it, and all is dark and dreary and sad in the winter night. Fade to black. Then fade into blue sky, trees blossoming along the sidewalk. The hope of new life (and love?) returning. Springtime in New York.

I think I would’ve caught the significance even without the film class. It’s pretty obvious, actually. Textbook. Downright corny, even. (This ain’t Ingmar Bergman, folks).

But then, a lot of good things in life are obvious, textbook and corny. For example, I have fond memories of family holiday gatherings where my grandmother cooked a big turkey meal and stayed so busy fussing that she seldom sat down to the table where we were all crammed in (and loving it), catching glimpses of the Lions playing on TV, and chatting up a storm…followed by the men mostly relaxing, the women mostly cleaning up and the kids amusing themselves as they do. And on our departure, my mother saying “Y’all come to see us,” and the liturgical response of “Y’all come see US,” knowing they probably wouldn’t come see each other until next holiday at grandmother’s, and would probably be OK with it.

Obvious. Textbook. Corny, even. But I wouldn’t trade it for “cool” at all (although I admit the Christmas dinner I had on a Hawaii hotel terrace watching the waves with new friends was pretty nice, too. But that’s beside my point).

In so many films, by contrast to this Hanks/Ryan gem, so much of the budget is dedicated to special effects and so little on character and story (I’m talking to you, Transformers and the latter Star Wars films), that they feel more like roller coasters than movies. And leave me cold. If I want thrill rides, I’ll take my great-niece to Lake Winnepesaukah again and try to forget how even welded steel can break and metal bolts can fail and turn a good time into the next YouTube horror show. (But it was fun, Katelyn, really. Although next time I may take a kid who’s too short for certain rides).

“Cool” (whatever that may mean to you at the moment) is hard to maintain (and expensive to produce, usually). It’s exhausting to keep up with it. Which is why I don’t really regret missing out on “Lost” (I didn’t think it was a good idea to watch a plane crash every week before I went to Africa in 2004, and I never caught up). What is “alternative” today is on the shelves at Wal-Mart tomorrow, at rollback prices. And if you have to make a lot of effort to attain cool, you’ve already failed. Part of maturity is learning to own your tastes and preferences, and not feel pressured to conform to the trends. I believe those who are brave enough to “embrace the corny” in their own lives and in others’ are happier (in contrast with those Goth people—so much makeup!). And eventually the deeper things in a person’s life may surface of their own accord, expressed in a natural eloquence and simplicity and originality. As a songwriter I can say from experience that “simple but meaningful” is an achievement. This is not to be confused, by the way, with “simplistic”—that would refer to an incomplete expression of an idea, where “simple” implies wholeness with brevity.

I’m not saying every choice should be for the obvious (see the previous post); we just shouldn’t be afraid to make it if it’s right.

Unfortunately, TV people are bound by the obligation to show commercials and look for places where they can go to breaks without violating the flow of the material. Given that most directors stay up long nights (and keep many other people up with them) considering and reconsidering how they’ve arranged every second of their work, if you ask them, they’d probably say finding good places for commercials in their films is a little like finding the right time during a eulogy to pass gas. In the case of You’ve Got Mail, inevitably the commercial comes right at the aforementioned fade to black (TV people are masters of the obvious choice—been there, done that), and by the time the ads are over, the uplifting effect of the coming of Spring is fairly diluted, if not destroyed. But thanks to Netflix, this is an easily avoided problem. So look for it, and you’ll see what I mean.

Or am I thinking of Sleepless In Seattle? When Harry Met Sally? Oh, well, you get the point. Shutup.

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