Friday, February 27, 2015

"Belated Fantasy Accolade Encounter"

After the Oscars, during which Birdman was selected “Best Screenplay”, “Best Director” and “Best Picture” and Boyhood captured a single Oscar for “Best Supporting Actress”, I imagined making my way over to Boyhood’s writer-director Richard Linklater during some post-Oscars “after-party”, tapping him gently on the shoulder, and saying,

Birdman is a winner.  But Boyhood is a classic.”

I meant every word of that fake interaction.  I am nothing if not sincere in my fabricated illusions.

(Note:  You know the interaction is fake because I would never be invited to a post-Oscars “after-party”, nor would I ever tap a complete stranger on the shoulder, either gently or otherwise.)

I had seen Birdman in the theater.  It made me, as I wrote earlier, extremely uncomfortable – a clichéd story of show business redemption gussied up with impressive camerawork and hyperventilated acting.  (That’s a little facile, but so, to a substantial degree, is the movie, so it fits.  Which, thinking it over, is furtherly facile.  I just think I’ll move on.) 

I watched Boyhood in my bedroom.  (Owing to my consummate mastery of the DVD-playing apparatus.  I never tire of bragging about my technological advancements.  iPhone-5 – you’re next!  Even though while amassing the courage to tackle it, I have already fallen one iPhone behind.)

One evening, because Dr. M was hosting a psychoanalytic event in our living room, I was summarily exiled upstairs.  Boyhood would be required to bear the brunt of my grumpy disposition, as I did not want to be exiled upstairs.  Who wants to be exiled anywhere?  It makes you feel sorry for Napoleon.  Poor little Emperor got exiled twice!

Also, Boyhood was reputedly two hours and forty-five minutes long.  That was my evening’s agenda  – being penned up in my bedroom, watching an overlong movie I may possibly not enjoy.

And I didn’t enjoy it at first.  As you are probably aware, Boyhood, the story of a family highlighting the younger, male sibling, was filmed piecemeal over a twelve-year period, allowing the actors to age naturally while continuing to play the same roles.  (So there was no six year-old “Mason Evans Jr.” played by one actor and an eighteen year-old “Mason Evans Jr.” played by a different actor because who would believe a six year-old playing an eighteen year-old?  Or vice versa.  This way, it was actor Ellar Coltrane playing “Mason Evans Jr.” the whole time.  And all the other actors playing the same characters the whole time as well.  Because you can’t do just one.)

I don’t know why I didn’t enjoy Boyhood at first.  Maybe it was because I had been forced into watching it and I am a vindictive old coot.  Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with the family, who lived in Texas and none of them was Jewish.

No matter.  It short time, the movie grew on me, and by an hour or so into it, I was hooked.  My favorite moment? – talk about unfamiliarity – Mason Jr., having turned fifteen receives two birthday presents from his divorced Dad’s new wife’s parents – a personalized Bible and a vintage shotgun. 

The thing is, these items were presented with such generosity and kindness that a non-shotgun-shooting Jewish man cooped up in his bedroom was viscerally affected by the gesture.  Who’d have thought that a scene bestowing a gun and a Bible on a adolescent boy who had little enthusiasm for either would be so unexpectedly moving? 

Why was it moving?  There was an identifiable humanity shimmering right through it.  They may have been misguided, perhaps, but these people didn’t have to give that kid anything.  And instead, they delivered from their hearts.

The entire movie – Boyhood often reminding me of The Graduate for its ability to accurately encapsulate a cultural moment – sparkled with meaningful interactions and reverberating surprises, like the disappointed-in-life patriarch turning out to be an excellent father. 

Conditioned to expecting cinematic hackery, I kept anticipating, “Oh, here’s where she announces to the family that she has cancer” or “Here’s where the unsophisticated country boy succumbs to hard drugs”, I was instead relieved – nay, delighted – to discover that Boyhood eschews hackneyed pyrotechnics in favor of chronicling the mundane realities, a choice which for me is unceasingly rewarding. 

Opting for the “every day moment” turns out to be a deliberate strategy.  Allow me to excerpt from the recent Writers’ Guild “Written By” magazine, in which writer Lisa Rosen profiles Linklater, and his idiosyncratic storytelling process:

“The drama feels completely lived in.  Things don’t escalate the way you expect in a film because the usual plot twists don’t apply.  Because there’s no plot.  ‘Somewhere along the way it hit me, I have dumped plot completely in favor of just character and story,’ he {Linklater} says.  ‘So many movies have a structure that’s built around satisfying plot and leave no room, or very little, for these real moments.  You hear all the time, What are the stakes, what’s the payoff?  That’s all artificial.

‘When you’re going for the rhythms of real life,’ he asks, ‘are you sitting right now thinking, What are the stakes in this thing I’m trying to do?  Naw, it’s something I’m compelled to do.  I thought maybe I could do a whole movie without a plot.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense.  It’s plot that’s fake.  What’s real is the way life unfolds, the way time moves, the way things don’t always pay off in big ways.  Because they don’t.  Your life doesn’t have a plot.  It has character and story.’”

No formal plotline, yet it remains compelling to the end.  Not all movies have to be like that.  But I am delighted that some of them are.  When courageous filmmakers like Richard Linklater can abandon formula and turn people’s ordinary existence into memorable entertainment…

For me, at least,

Those movies are classics.        


Sérgio do Carmo said...

Hi Earl,

Personally I also prefered "Boyhood" instead of "Birdman". Boyhood reminded me of a letter that writer Anton Chekkov wrote to another writer named Maxim Gorky and the text is something like: "In real life people don't spend every minute shooting each other, hanging themselves and making confessions of love. They don't spend all their time saying clever things. They are more occupied with eating, drinking, flirting and talking stupidities.... Life must be exactly as it is, and the people as they are... not on stilts… So, people eat, they’re just there sitting and eating, and while they’re busy eating, their luck/happiness is decided… or their total destruction…" Kind regards, Sérgio (Lisbon, Portugal)

Pidge said...

Well, Earl, if YOU liked it, then maybe I have a chance of getting your buddy to sit down and watch it with me. I'd be delighted to watch a film with no explosions, car chases or madcap romances between chambermaids and royalty for a change. I realized that we haven't been out to a movie in months! Nothing looks remotely appealing.
Ask me if, at my age, I want to deliberately subject myself to "Still Alice", having lived through dealing with the disease in loved ones? I couldn't even bear watching "The Theory of Everything" in its entirety on an airplane (where the picture was almost obliterated by the sunshine) since I have friends who have been assaulted by MS and ALS.
To someone like moi, this isn't exactly entertaining and, having lived in the real world for quite some time, I don't need stories like these to teach me 'life lessons' anymore. I know too much!
Loved "The Grand Budapest Hotel" though.