Catharsis: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea

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Some people argue that movies are supposed to provide entertainment or escape. That’s true of some movies. But film is first and foremost art, and the purpose of art is to illustrate (or demonstrate) what it is to be human. Pick any of the superhero movies – those are escape, because it’s human to fantasize what it would be like to be something other than boring old human. Then of course there’s the flip side, the movies that remind us what it is to be human. What it is to feel.

The film features an idea by Jon Krasinski and Matt Damon turned into a 137-minute meditation on grief by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan. It’s a story about a handyman living a banal life, who is summoned home to take care of his nephew following his brother’s death. He left his hometown Manchester-by-the-Sea to run away from something, which is revealed during the course of his story. After the movie, I characterize Casey Affleck’s character Lee Chandler as a man that’s unable to find his catharsis.

I picked the poster above for a reason. Michelle Williams, who plays Affleck’s ex-wife Randi, has a total screen time of maybe ten minutes but serves an important purpose. In a pivotal scene towards the end she becomes a mirror against which we can hold Lee up to. Some people can find their catharsis, move past traumatic events and continue to live life. Randi has, Lee has not.

I believe that this is the key element of the movie that the people who rate it highly appreciate. They see the humanity in the characters, particularly Lee, maybe Randi, and this reminds them of their own losses, their own grief and journeys towards catharsis. Perhaps viewing the film even serves as a moment of catharsis for some, which may explain the people who cry upon viewing the movie. Such is the power of art.

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Here’s to the Fools Who Dream

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“She told me
A bit of madness is key
to give us new colours to see.
Who knows where it will lead us?


And that’s why they need us.
So bring on the rebels,
The ripples from pebbles,
The painters, and poets, and plays.


And here’s to the fools who dream;
Crazy, as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that break.
Here’s to the mess we make.”

Breathtaking, colourful, exhilarating, melancholy, hopeful. La La Land is a movie for anyone with a streak of art in their soul. You root for the protagonists to make it, both in the entertainment business and in their own hearts. The file harkens back to a time when the movie musical was king, when films like Singing in the Rain and An American in Paris were the greatest things on the silver screen. But what gave the film life were the performances of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and the vision and skill of writer and director Damien Chazelle. I thought Whiplash was a triumph. I believe that La La Land is a landmark film for this century. You owe it to yourself to see it, if you haven’t yet.

One with the Force

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Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia Organa
October 21, 1956 – December 27, 2016
She drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

The most ubiquitous picture of Carrie Fisher is that of her as Leia Organa, clad in a golden bikini, laying at the feet of Jabba the Hutt. The second most ubiquitous picture of her has Leia with a blaster in hand. Thus, Carrie Fisher was the original Star Wars princess, that was adept at both harnessing her appeal without a sex scene, as well as taking out the bad guys. She was succeeded by Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala, Daisy Ridley’s Rey Skywalker (wink) and Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso. I suppose it’s unfortunate that it all begins with the iconic golden bikini, but everything that follows is Carrie Fisher’s legacy. She played Leia with strength, courage and wit, and was not the typical damsel in distress of the 1970’s. While a legion of young boys worshipped her for her looks, a legion of young girls worshipped her because she kicked ass just as much as Luke and Han.

Of course Carrie Fisher grew out of the Princess Leia role, and as evidenced by the work she’s done in the past forty years that had nothing to do with Star Wars. It’s a full circle moment though that she had just completed her work on Episode VIII of the new post-Lucas trilogy before her death from a heart attack. Gone at 60 years old, far too young for the greatest Princess of my generation, the Star Wars generation.

She is one with the Force, the Force is with her.

30 Songs – Me

Sugar asked me to participate in a Thirty-day Song Challenge. Happy to join in with her and post more music. I’m going to alter my participation parameters a bit and only post after Sugar posts hers. (Note: Wow, a long time between when I completed the draft for this and when I finally published it. Sugar resurfaced and sort of skipped this one, but had a post on it here anyway. No, I’m not doing this without her.)

The next item is a song that describes me. Ha. I have a few songs on my life soundtrack. The song that I consider my personal theme, Five for Fighting’s Superman, I posted back in the Karaoke version of the Carousel. It’s a great “read between the lines” song. Took to it immediately after hearing it. John Ondrasik has a lot of good stuff; I’ve been following him since America Town in 2001.

Since I don’t like repeating songs on the blog, this is a worthy runner-up.

Duncan Sheik – Half-Life

Maybe, I need to see the daylight
To leave behind this half-life;
Don’t you see I’m breaking down?
Lately, something here don’t feel right;
This is just a half-life;
Is there really no escape,
no escape from time
of any kind?

Half-Life can come across as a song of missed opportunities, of doors not taken and regret. You can also flip it on its head and it reads as a plea or quest for something (or someone) to complete you (which I concede is how most people will interpret it). Either way, it’s a song that’s never left my regular rotation since 2002.

A note on the embedded video – Half-Life appeared on the soundtrack of the 2003 movie What a Girl Wants, starring Amanda Bynes. Amanda has become a poster girl for missed opportunities, which makes the song’s association with her movie all the more poignant.

 

Lights, Camera, Action

It was 1977. I was six years old. My mom was an occasional movie reviewer for a niche publication, so she got free passes to movies. I’d been with her to a few, but I couldn’t really recall seeing any of them until that one.

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Back then you got a ticket, found a seat in the theater, and could stay there as long as you liked. I remember pleading to see Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star again. I got to see “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away” twice on that day. I was hooked on movies. There were two more films in 1977 that I can recall seeing at the theater. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Rescuers. After each one, I remember asking “who made that movie”? So at six years old, I knew that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney made movies. (It’s ok mom, at that time no one would have easily known that John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman and Art Stevens were credited as co-directors of the Disney classic. You didn’t have IMDB!)

The director is the auteur of a film, superseding even the writer. Sure, the actors are the stars and make the most money, but the director is the single person that you can point to as being the one that “made” the movie. He controls everything: the perspective, the mood, the characters’ point of view and demeanor, the pacing, the sequence of events, every detail is within his jurisdiction. In most cases he can even rewrite, add or delete scenes of films where he didn’t write the screenplay (often ending up with a co-writing credit under the rules of the SGA).

Today, directors are recognizable from their imprint on the films they make. It can be as simple as Michael Bay’s gratuitous explosions, George Lucas’s campy dialogue or Paul Verhoeven’s gratuitous sex scenes. It can be as technical as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s long, seemingly cutless tracking shots, or Tim Burton’s signature surreal fantasyscapes. And that’s just the mainstream. (I consider old masters like Hitchcock and Kurosawa as reasonably “mainstream”.)

I used to buy DVD as much for the features as for the movies themselves. Expansive material as was seen on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy DVDs kept me awake nights, marveling at the ludicrous amount of work that they lovingly put into those movies. I listen to director commentaries, enjoying their explanations of why they chose to shoot from certain angles, or why certain scenes were cut out, or why they went with the particular take of a particular scene, or why the musical score is the way it is, or how they shot a scene in the middle of a storm or blizzard.

It’s all amazing to me. The director is a conductor of a massive orchestra, that keeps playing rain or shine over months or even years. I can see myself doing that.

Here’s an interview with Cameron Crowe, director and writer of Almost Famous, one of my favorite movies. It’s about an amazing scene, where the main characters are on a bus and spontaneously start singing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. He talks about how they approached shooting the scene, how important it was to both the story and the directory, and how Elton reacted to it after seeing the movie.

I’ve wanted to be a film director since I was six. Almost forty years later I still do.


This post is a response to the Daily Prompt of March 30, 2015.

If you were involved in a movie, would you rather be the director, the producer, or the lead performer? (Note: you can’t be the writer!).

 

And may their first child be a masculine child.

“Any news?”

“No, nothing new since you last asked two minutes ago.”

Sam paced across the dark, dusty room. James sat on a crate, fingers tracing the duct tape that held the battered handheld radio in his hand together. Soft static occasionally emanated from the radio’s speaker, but nothing else.

“They’re late,” complained Sam.

James looked at him, annoyed. “Stop that, you’re making me nervous.”

Sam shot him a an angry look and continued to follow his own tracks in the dust.

A voice squawked from the radio suddenly. “Nest, we have a tail, we’re trying to lose them. Inbound in five, if we survive.” The voice was urgent, under stress.

James and Sam looked at each other. “Fuck,” said Sam. “Fuck me all to hell.”

“How’s Angel?” said James into the radio.

No response. James repeated his question seconds later, louder. “Is Angel with you Tom?”

“Negative!” Gunshots in the background came through the static. “They have her, if we tried to move her she would have died. Lost too much blood during delivery.” More gunshots. “Mark’s hit! We….” A burst of static ended the transmission.

James tried to raise them back on the radio, but got nothing more.

“We need to help them,” said Sam.

“We don’t even know where they are,” replied James. “We’re staying here, as agreed.”

Minutes passed. They seemed like hours.

Sam and James heard the trapdoor open. Both rolled behind crates and drew their guns.

A heavy weight fell down the stairs, thumping as it bounced across the steps.

“Tom!”

Sam moved to cover the stairs. “Clear,” he said, “for now.”

“Hurry,” came the voice weakly. “There’s no time.” Tom pushed something wrapped in thick cloth towards James. The cloth was stained red.

James knelt by the package. Tom was bleeding from several places in his back. Blood dripped from his nose and mouth. He reached out and gripped James’s arm, weakly. “Mark’s dead. You know where to go. All hope is in your hands.”

The light went out in Tom’s eyes.

Picking up the cloth package, James moved back among the crates and gingerly unwrapped the cloth. Two bright green eyes looked up at him. The baby cooed.

“Fuck me,” said Sam, looking over James’s shoulder while continuing to glance up the stairs at the trapdoor. “Is it?”

James cradled the baby, and inspected. “Girl all right,” he said in awe.

“First fucking baby girl in three years and change,” growled Sam.

The package was a modified carrier. It had been reinforced with a plastic shell. James strapped it across his chest while Sam pulled as much ammunition as he could carry from their weapons cache. “This is going to be a hell of a trip bro.”

James looked at his brother grimly. “We need to make it. For Mark and Angel. For our niece.”

“Our new niece is going to make us the most hunted men on the planet,” said Sam. “You have a plan?”

“Yeah,” replied James. “I have a plan. And I have hope. That’ll be her name. Hope. Let’s go.”

Sam nodded and started up the stairs, assault rifle at the ready.


This post is a response to the Daily Prompt of February 9, 2015.

“Take a quote from your favorite movie — there’s the title of your post. Now, write!”

The post title is a quote from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

Luca Brasi: Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home on the wedding day of your daughter. And may their first child be a masculine child.

After writing the story, the way it turned out kind of reminded me of Alfonso Cuarón‘s Children of Men. Haven’t seen that movie in a long time. Should rewatch it soon.