Thursday, March 08, 2007

really / bad movies / really good movies

This recent talk of books & films is making me hungry…..

But I've been thinking about it at a little more depth than I usually dig, & I realise that I was shaped by the experiences of others, & much of that was vicarious. There is a period where that shaping occurs & the outline of the sculpture appears. What we do after that is polish it, mend & amend little bits, perhaps give it a friendly coat of paint once in a while.

Sure there are changes; but in the absence of some individual act or experience that is life-threatening or –changing, most of the changes are progressions. Exposure perhaps gives us the ability to strike balances. I gained social skills at the same time as I learnt not to suffer fools. I lost my belief in God the same year I learnt to drive — omnipotence takes many forms. I became a man, but I was a child before that & did not necessarily put away the childish things.

I said in a post below that there is no beginning. Instead, time frames. The personal; 10 to 25 years of age. The historical; 1950-1965. That was the period that made me what I still am today. The influences that affected me then are the journey lines I follow now. The odd block & beam have been replaced but the structure remains.(I also have a theory that the personal paradigm changes roughly every 17 years, but I'll save that for another time.)

I come from a family of readers. My parents every week to the Public Library, mainly detective stories; but their personal library was full of other things. Nineteenth-century novelists, adventure stories, Bullfinch's Mythology, reference books, dictionaries. My father was a Freemason — books on/of William Blake abounded (& the pics below show why that was.)

My brother, twelve years older than I, grew up in that environment & discovered science fiction, read indiscrimately. His library left with us during some years of absence as he went from small to slightly larger town working for the Public Service. It was SF that shaped my political beliefs though I didn't realise it at the time. The writers I liked inevitably had what I later came to realise were left-wing views & the division between them was quite distinct — think Philip K. Dick & Blade Runner & then think Robert Heinlein & the fascism of Starship Troopers. In a time when Joe McCarthy ran riot in the land where most of what I was reading came from, writing SF offered some concealment — & not just SF; think Spartacus in another genre.

My mother & I listened to the hit parade. Bill Haley came along in the fifties, but because there weren't the same prejudices around in New Zealand, Little Richard & Fats Domino followed not too much later. There was an electrical store by the tram (later trolley bus) stop where I changed routes to go home & the guy there was crazy about jazz, modern jazz. Church & the hymns that were de rigeur at the High School I attended exposed me to another, classical, form of music. (& then there was the afternoon I came across Mstislav Rostropovich rehearsing in the school assembly hall for a concert he was to give that evening. Again, another story….)

But it was the movies that really shaped my tastes. In a time sans tv, going to the movies was an essential activity. News, documentaries, cartoons, serials, trailers — & that was just the first half. I discovered the sophistication of slapstick; the detective stories I'd read lead me to film noir, Olivier gave me Hamlet. Those were the things that prepared me for the next step.

I liked movies, all movies, but a coincidence of things in the few years either side of my 20th birthday both broadened & narrowed my likes. I'm not sure which of two circumstances came first, & now, from this distance, I'm not too sure what belongs where; but the formative shapings were the local film society which had monthly showings, & a double-feature continuous movie house that changed offerings every two days. Writing that it must have been the double-feature first, because I saw my first Bunuel — Robinson Crusoe — before I saw my second — The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz.

I didn't get to see every change. The movie theatre was part of a triangle — the other two points a pool hall (billiard saloon we called them then) & a pub — at an intersection in the CBD close to University. I'd play cribbage two mornings a week at University for threepence a point, get enough from that to go down to shoot pool & get enough from that to support my drinking & moviegoing for the next few days. I didn't care what movies were on, but, just like the SF, I came to recognise my likes. Apart from Bunuel I first saw Les Enfants du Paradis there, & Orson Welles, as well as seeing every American International film made during the time, & all the film noir without the big stars,. Plus there were a lot of strange movies that I might never have otherwise seen. Including one produced by William Conrad — yes, the same guy that was Cannon on tv — called The Ride Back starring Anthony Quinn & Conrad & parts of which still stick in the mind. It was financed by Conrad from his bit & early tv roles because he wanted to make a Western homage to Ingmar Bergman. Think the cinematography & the darkness of The Seventh Seal with sixshooters.

The continuous movie house was primarily contemporary American with a little bit of cheaply-priced older foreign thrown in. The film society was classic European — Eisenstein, Renoir, Cocteau, Vigo — with a little bit of reasonably contemporary Asian — Kurosawa & Satyjit Ray — thrown in. Add to all that a short-lived University film society which managed to show the two Bunuel / Dali collaborations L'Age d'Or & Un Chien Andalou & Cocteau's Le Sang d'un Poète.

But all this was spasmodic, occasional. It wasn't until Fellini's La Dolce Vita broke the commercial barrier, & the film distributors, though realising that that movie's success was probably a one-off, recognised that there was a market out there & converted a smaller theatre to a menu of — where do you want to start? Bergman? Antonioni? Fellini? Kurosawa? Godard? Resnais? Bunuel? Polanski? Visconti?

That was the world view that I was shaped by. The entries to the eye. Augmented by Francis Bacon & the U.S. art scene that was coming alive. Add to that the journies from the ear to the heart by Ray Charles & Miles Davis &&&&, & from the mouth to the same destination of all those in The New American Poetry.

& all around it the local scene, everybody living within walking distance of one another, the poets, the painters, the musicians, the actors, the gays, the hipsters. Overlaps. Everybody knew what was going on in the other spheres. The political activists would come down from Auckland to be recharged. Some of us would march to Ban the Bomb — unsuccessful — but also to stop a racially-segregated rugby team being sent to represent the country in apartheid-era South Africa — successful.

For me this was the golden age, not the supposed age of Aquarius that came after.
OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!

My only regret is that we did not far enough. At some point we rested, thinking we had won, had changed the way of the world. I have come to realise, in these later days, how wrong we were.


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