Monday, February 07, 2005

Movies, movies

Instead of tuning into the Super Bowl -- and to tell the truth, I had forgotten that it was going on, which probably says a great deal about me -- anyway, instead of that, my daughters and I watched a couple of movies. These were from our dusty shelves of VHS tapes, and my girls had seen neither of them before.

The first was Roxanne, the Steve Martin version of Cyrano de Bergerac. This movie does have its flaws. Let's face it, Darryl Hannah is not convincing as a graduate student in astrophysics. But Steve Martin is just stupendous, and it has some of the best lines ever. ("Worms, Roxanne! I'm afraid of worms!" Or "It isn't like she's a rocket scientist." "Actually, she is.") So, even with the lovely Ms. Hannah standing in for someone who should be brilliant and witty, this one is on my list of great movies.

The second movie was Big Trouble in Little China, in which truck driver Kurt Russell gets involved in ancient Chinese sorcery while making a produce delivery to Chinatown. My wife and I saw this in graduate school. It isn't a good movie, let alone a great movie, but it's a hoot, and the movie makers are smart enough not to take things too seriously. This one goes on the list of movies that I like a lot, but know in my heart aren't really good.

The distinction is interesting to me. The categories of "movies I think are good" and "movies I like a lot" are quite distinct. Neither is a subset of the other. Thus, there are no-good movies that I dislike and good movies that I like, but also no-good movies that I like (e.g., Big Trouble in Little China) as well as movies that I think are good but which I do not like. An example of that last category might be Sunset Boulevard. Not only is this reputed to be a great movie -- number twelve on the AFI's "top 100" list -- but even I can see why it is included in a list of great movies. And I love William Holden in just about everything. So why do I not like it?

Part of it may be related to genre. I like movies that go BANG and have a fast pace and a bit of humor. I prefer intellectual complexity to emotional angst, when offered the choice. But my appreciation of movies is highly visual. I like seeing things and thinking about things that open wide vistas in my imagination. Gloria Swanson may be ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille, but I want a movie that pulls back and shows me something bigger.


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