When I’m not hungry for grey sludge . . .

Some movies are a waste of time and money. It’s that simple, and unfortunate. Most movies I sit down (or stand up, for that matter. . .) to watch yield at least some shred of satisfaction, enjoyment, or insight. Now I know, what’s expected is that the following be the complete lambasting of some over produced, shallow, Hollywood trash remake/sequel/serial. Instead I’ll say this. There is something to be said for personal taste.
We need stories. I realize this over and over again every day. Twice in the past week I’ve had conversations with students about how stories heal. They also preserve, commemorate, heighten, call attention, and admonish.
I’m always reading at least three books. Usually one or two of them are textbooks, or academically based non-fiction (often criticism or commentary). But those are not stories. I read them, I gain insight, I am compelled to think. They are very valuable. They are necessary. They are a part of my job as a teacher, and as a writer/director/actress/critic/etc.
But I can’t settle down with Cities of Words or The Anatomy of Film right before I go to bed, just as I can’t listen to an academic discourse on the current state of media convergence and social networking (I hope you found the link to this blog on my Facebook page . . .) while I’m on my way home from work. I need to release.
I’m not a huge fan of spectacle that denies difficult truth. We live in a pleasure-seeking culture where everything is recreation. Movies shouldn’t make you think, right? Ha ha. And yet, there must be times when I can watch a movie just to enjoy. Just to get lost in the story, and be edified, preserved, and feel at home. Stories can do that, too.
Last Sunday night I started watching the 1935 version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights’s Dream. This was a big budget Warner Brothers picture, and includes a lot of big names. . .that should never be speaking the words of the bard. Even the ever-adorable Olivia deHaviland is annoying. Mickey Rooney is, I think, in a substance-induced state and makes strange animal noises at a pace that makes me want to mute the film every time he comes on the screen. The saving graces are the special effects that are heavy on the animation department (one may be familiar with their Looney Tune series. . .) and James Cagney as Bottom. It’s not a bad movie. It’s also not that great. In the height of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the studios churned out 500 films per year. Some of them are classics, a standard. Others have been happily forgotten.
When Christian writer Thomas Merton details his transformation into the ascetic life of a Trappist monk, he describes his breath being washed clean of the yellow salt of nicotine and his eyes the “grey sludge of movies.”
I’ve seen many adaptations of Midsummer, and am constantly intrigued by the idea of the woods being a place for transformation. This is a good story. But is the film grey sludge? We need different stories at different times. I used to think I had to finish every film I started. Now, if the DVD mailed to me has sat around for more than a week, it’s time to watch it, or send it back. It’s okay to close the book without finishing it. It’s okay to not watch every minute of the movie. I can choose what enters my consciousness. I can choose what I eat. I can leave leftovers if the meal does not taste good. I can eat things that are good for me, and eat comfort food on occasion (popcorn, anyone?). Time is precious. Movies are transient. They were made to be watched. They are made for the present. They are passing moments of shadow; nothing more, nothing less. I enter into their dreams by choice, and leave when the story does not supply what my life is lacking, be that truth or trivialities.


About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
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One Response to When I’m not hungry for grey sludge . . .

  1. Jason Vates says:

    Great post Jen.

    “Passing moments of shadow.” I really like that. Quite literally light passed through the shade of a thousand thousand colors across a little strip of film.

    Talladega Nights was the first movie I turned off without finishing it. I would have barfed up what I had already seen if I could have.

    More Thomas Merton: (Kombucha for the soul 🙂

    “Certainly it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inert subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub-natural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that television should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously. Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene.”

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