Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Shame

Have you ever had the experience of taking in a piece of art and then, once you have either finished watching, looking at or listening to it, you think to yourself "I have no idea what I just experienced?" I used to be ashamed of that feeling. I was under the impression that if I didn't get it or if I didn't understand what understated, metaphorical artistic meaning the creator of said piece of art was trying to communicate that that meant I was an idiot! Well, I had a wonderful experience a couple of days ago that finally got me to think a bit differently about these experiences.

But before I get to that I want to highlight a number of experiences I've had which resulted in the aforementioned feeling of shame. I consider myself a relatively intelligent individual. I comprehend a majority of the things I read, see and hear. I can have fairly intelligent conversations about politics, art, culture, food On occasion I am even able to give a wise piece of advice to someone who needs it. So, why is it that someone in Hollywood can produce a movie with a strong narrative, solid characters, thoughtfully shot sequences and clever dialogue that at the end leaves me scratching my head and wondering if I'd be better off sticking with Sponge Bob?

One of the first experiences I had this feeling with was a little movie starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. At the end of that film I felt as if someone had dumped a bucket of Shakespeare on me. I just didn't get it. Then there was Annie Hall. Next was Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and the list goes on and on. I was scratching my head and wondering what in the world I had just been through. The interesting thing was there were elements in all of these films, parts of these stories, that really struck me. I had a very real, emotional response to all of these films. So, why was it that I didn't feel as if I fully understood these stories? Why did I feel like the entire world was looking at me going "don't you get it?" Then came Vanilla Sky.

Vanilla Sky stars Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz and Jason Lee; with wonderful supporting turns by Kurt Russell, Noah Taylor, Timothy Spall and Tilda Swinton. The films' Director, Cameron Crowe, directed one of my favorite movies: Almost Famous. Almost Famous is a movie I connected with from the first frame. It's a story that I dove into head-first and was immersed in the entire time. So, why is it that I couldn't connect with Vanilla Sky? To answer that question I turn the amazing Roger Ebert. Those of you who are familiar with film critics know that Roger Ebert is to film criticism what B.B. King is to Blues. He's the godfather of film critique and he said something that absolutely amazed me. He said:

"This is the kind of movie you don't want to analyze until you've seen it two times.

I've seen it two times. I went to a second screening because after the first screening I thought I knew what had happened, but was nagged by the idea that certain things might not have happened the way I thought they had. Now that I've seen it twice, I think I understand it, or maybe not."

Roger Ebert had to see it twice?! The man they call the Movie Answerman had to see a movie twice and still might not have understood it? Admittedly, I was quite relieved. you see, when I see a movie and either don't understand it, don't like it, don't want to like it but kind of do, etc. I read Roger Ebert's review. I did the same with this movie and the above quoted text was part of what I was met with. It was kind of like a small revelation.

Certain pieces of art, and our appreciation for those pieces is sometimes more fully rewarded upon multiple views, listens, etc. I have a very close friend who used to use the phrase "it grew on me." I hated that phrase because I held that if a piece of art didn't fully affect you the first time it wasn't doing it's job. In my opinion it had it's chance and if it didn't want to give me everything it had the first time 'round I wasn't going to wait for it. I was wrong. A story generally gets better with each telling. I gain something in being able to bypass the larger more obvious points and allow myself to draw closer to the details. A well told story deserves the opportunity to reveal, little by little the beauty hidden deeper within it.

So, I'm not feeling shame now at the fact that I didn't get Vanilla Sky the first time out. I'm also not writing it off. In fact, before I return it to Blockbuster I'm going to watch it again; and I look forward to what I'll discover this time 'round.

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