Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Power of Choice: or the Pleasure of the Least Resistance

No one wants to hear someone talk about “the good old days” because there never was any such thing: all our memories are pure personal nostalgia, so I won’t bore you with recollections. I do, however, want you to consider a profound change in movie viewing over the last thirty years. Because this change has happened over time, its impact is particularly perceptible by someone who has seen it “over time.” For those of you born after 1990, the way movie viewing is now is relatively close to the way it has been since you were aware of movies, but trust me when I say there has been a profound change in “movie delivery systems.” (I just made that up.)
So this will not be a retrospective of movies in general or their content specifically, but rather a contemplation of viewer access to movies and movie making itself. The choice that viewers now have in movie viewing has had an impact on our sense of self, on the market, and our movie-viewing habits.
In the early 1970s, I was a child living on a military base and walked to the theatre every Saturday afternoon and watched whatever was there. It was a movie, not a choice. In fact, I didn’t even know what I was going to see until I saw the marque when I went to purchase the ticket. There was no choice at the ticket office except go to the movie or not. The concept of the megaplex was just a twinkle in the eye of some corporate visionary. The effect of this lack of choice was that the audience member was a passive consumer of movies. To see or not to see was the question.
The VCR, video tape, and Blockbuster stores created the element of choice. One could skip seeing a movie in the theatre and wait until it came out on tape. As a consequence, the movie theatre sought to enhance the movie-going experience. Big screens and surround sound made going to the movies an experience that could not be replicated at home, especially for big action pictures. In fact even today, I go to the theatre exclusively for action/adventure movies. I would never go to the theatre for a contemplative film or an art piece, although before it went out of business, I did frequent a place called The Cinema and Draft House, which is now the Roxy for smaller films; its allure probably obvious.
When Blockbuster began charging outrageous late fees including a charge for “failure to rewind,” DVD rental seemed to be the answer, but still…those pesky late fees. Big Box Stores began selling DVDs at reasonable prices – cheaper than a DVD three days late. The paradigm has again shifted with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and the reimagined Blockbuster. This element of choice has been empowering, and at this point, it seems appropriate for me to share with you my personal experiences in movie choice.
Once I had movie choice, I began re-watching the influential movies of my past, and it was easy to see how movies affected my sense of self.
• My sense of humor: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Large Man with Dead Body: Who's that then?
The Dead Collector: I dunno, must be a king.
The Dead Collector: He hasn't got shit all over him.
• My hatred of senseless bureaucracy: consider Jack Nicholson’s famous chicken sandwich scene in Five Easy Pieces
• My idea of what mature relationships are: Annie Hall (Watch this movie and see how Diane Keaton’s character has influenced my speech patterns. It’s scary.)
• Star Wars (the original) I don’t know which one it is now. What I thought cool royalty would be.
• My first real woman action hero (you know, don’t you):

I went through a period of watching movies with food as a theme:
• Babette’s Feast (my favorite: Every artist needs an audience.);
• The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (One of the most bizarre murder scenes you’ll ever see. HINT: it involves a book.);
• Chocolat (scrubbing the floor becomes sexy), and
• Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee directed it. Here’s a link to a powerful opening scene that represents a metaphor for the movie if you have the stomach for it.)
•Should I whisper when I say that I really enjoyed Ratatouille?

I watched all the films by my favorite directors.
• Everything Quentin Tarantino directed,
• All of Woody Allen’s work (Don’t hate.),
• Alfred Hitchcock, and
• Joel and Ethan Coen (“All for a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here you are. And it’s a beautiful day. ” Still one of my favorite ending lines in any movie.)
Magical realism (You must watch Grand Canyon, Magnolia, and Like Water for Chocolate if you haven’t seen them yet.)
Tricky endings: movies that make you want to immediately watch it again. Fight Club, Memento, The Sixth Sense, and Run Lola Run.
Baseball movies, foreign films, and, and, and...
We have gone from viewers of film to DJs of our own movie contemplations.
Furthermore, filmmaking is now a possibility for all of us. It is a power no longer reserved for capitalistic forces, but for each of us. On vacation this summer, my eleven-year old son wanted to make a movie. With a flip camera, he directed my videoing of him in a movie about a boy who accidentally gained superpowers: fast running, cool boomerang throwing, feats of strength, and so forth. In my lifetime, I have gone from being a passive receiver of whatever the industry wanted me to see, to programmer of my viewing, to maker of movies. It’s a cool time to be alive.
I would be interested to know if any of you reading this have every watched a particular theme of movies. How have you controlled your movie exploration?

-Dr. Susan Satterfield-Ryan

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