Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rocking Horse Review

Film: Midnight in Paris, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and The Tree of Life

It has taken me a while to process all three of these fantastic films, hence the lateness of the following review. I was lucky enough to see all three within the course of one week, after a spell of seeing relatively few movies in the theater (mainly because of the high ticket price here in New York). The trio proved to rank among my favorite film experiences of all time.

I am not a gusher. When I don't love something, I think the best thing to do next is forget about it. There are so many innovative pieces of art being made every day, and not enough time or brain space to take them all in. So if something is sub-par, I'd rather not have it lingering around, taking up space in my psyche. So I prefer not to write negative reviews. They are easier to spit out, but why bother? I've already forgotten the stories that wasted my time.

These three films are anything but time wasters. They are all great in ways that both differ and converge. I think Woody Allen, Werner Herzog, and Terrence Malick are all very different in their directorial styles, but I was not necessarily surprised by their collective success. They're all forces to be reckoned with in their own ways. In these films in particular, all three of these aging directors boldly came forward with unmasked proclamations about the real meat of life in all of its quaking beauty, elevating their respective stories from theater to poetry.

Yet for all their unifying depth, each film certainly left me with a unique lingering mood. Midnight in Paris made me feel grateful to live my own time. Of course my mood danced and soared with all the sweeping nostalgia of early 20th C Paris, aglow with the light of literary and entertainment giants. But after being sufficiently caught up in the romance, I felt my feet being gently but firmly planted in the glorious potential of the here and now. When the lights came on in the BAM theater, I was able to look around appreciatively at the space I live in, and as I poured out into the street among the Sunday afternoon crowd who had been seeking shelter from the June heat, I found myself smack in the middle of a Caribbean food festival in Ft. Greene and rejoiced in a familiar neighborhood pulsing with life here in 21st C Brooklyn.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams left me in an absolute trance. I felt all sense of time orientation dissipate into the richness of 3-D imagery that allowed me to be enveloped in the prehistoric cave itself. The mesmerizing detail of the animal paintings made by artists thousands of years ago, backed by Herzog's dry, existential narration and interviews helped me feel what every idealist educator dreams his or her students might feel during the glow of a well-prepared lecture: reverence and gratitude for the gift of exploration. I suppose it is impossible to ever enter that French cave in person, but after Herzog's tour, I feel that not only have I been there, but I got to go in with the weirdest of guides: a man inclined to compare the human artistic impulse to the fragile, freakish existence of albino crocodiles lazing in a thermodynamic pool. After the film, everything and nothing seemed strange anymore.

The Tree of Life, it should be admitted, is easier to appreciate from a Judeo-Christian perspective. I have friends, for example, not of this philosophical persuasion, who found the movie somewhat irritating. Being a lover of eternal questions, patchwork plots, Imax-worthy cinematography (think Science Center films), and the Biblical book of Job...I was in love with this film from the opening scene. It also helps that, although I did not grow up in Waco, TX, where Tree of Life was filmed, I did grow up in Florida, so the ubiquitous sunlight filtering through oak branches dripping with Spanish moss was a surprise cinematic homecoming. The innocence and loss of childhood is actually grappled with here--not explained, just acknowledged for the devastating conundrum that it is. I appreciated that Malick was brave enough to alienate some viewers by painting a picture that so many others could and needed to see themselves reflected in.

So if you haven't already experienced these films, search them out. Revel in some of the best stories you'll ever hope to meet.