Thursday, March 3, 2016

"'Surprise Me!' - I Am Not Sure I Can"

I am thinking about the movie spectaculars of the past that won Best Picture of the Year Oscars.  Movies with expansiveness and scope.  Ben Hur.  Dr. Zhivago.  Movies that you went to and said,

They spent a coupla bucks on this picture!”

And you did not mind paying the dollar-fifty to get in.

Movies offering “a cast of thousands”, not eleven people in front, and the rest of them CGI.  (That’s “Computer Generated...” I don’t know what the “I” stands for.  It could be  “Imitations.”)

Now a relatively “small” movie like Spotlight – I’m talking “production-wise” because it is unquestionably a big story – wins “Best Picture” and it’s like…


Followed for accentuation purposes by


And I’m thinking about the Oscars themselves – the presentation I mean, not the actual statuettes – and I am reacting similarly to that.  The Oscars seem – and have seemed to me for some time – to have become…


Yeah, there’s the gowns and jewelry, so the women are still into it.  Their sensibility projects…

“We are going to the ball!

But they’re the Last of the Mohicans in that regard.  The rest of it seems… I don’t know… “actual sized.”  I mean, hawking Girl Scout cookies?  Sending out for pizza?

Where’s the elegance?  Where’s the glamor?

Bob Hope wore “tails!

Now you are lucky if you can get them to wear a tie!

(Do you see how I’m yelling at the end of these sentences?  That is the issue I am about to address.)

And the jokes!

“When your grandmother’s swinging for a tree, it’s pretty hard to care about who won ‘Best Documentary Foreign Short’”.  Not inaccurate, but is there perhaps a tiny “taste” issue involved?

(Note:  Sarcasm is just another way of yelling.)

I miss the once-a-year style and elegance of the Oscars.  I miss the lofty stature of the participants.  Is there anyone who is Gregory Peck anymore?  Is there anyone who wants to be?

Let me stop here before the veins in my forehead explode and my voice constricts to a vituperative croak.

Inevitable conclusion from this negative diatribe:

“That’s a ‘Yesterday Person’ talking.  ‘Tradition!’  They change everything and it’s worse!’” 

The preceding is unequivocally a curmudgeonly “Pronouncement of the Old.”

“Stay off my lawn, you hooligans!  And stop messing with my Oscars!

I wholeheartedly concur with that age-o-centric evaluation. 

And that’s when I start to worry.

It is a worrisome problem.  I’m old, and, evaluating the Oscars, I made the stereotypical “Old Person” complaint:  “Things were better before.” 

What is that telling me, and parenthetically you, though to be honest, I am more interested in me?

The indisputable message is the following:

“What do you expect him to say?  He’s old.”  Which automatically invalidates my complaint.  Without examining whether the complaint is accurate or simply elderly inspired.

But that’s the smaller question.  The deeper, more significant question – herein exemplified by “old” but it could be any attitudinal determinant – is this:

If all of our perceptions are inexorably filtered through our personal histories, specific experiences and identifying affiliations, is there anything we can say, do or write that can possibly be undistorted and pristine?

In a nutshell:

What value is there expressing an opinion that is programmed and predictable? 

In an even smaller nutshell:

How do you ever say anything new? 

That question stops me dead in my tracks.  You understand why, right?  If my observation is correct, then everything I write, every position I hold, every observation I make is going to be precisely what… I mean, everyone – including most agonizingly myself – knows at all times exactly – minus the artistic flourishes – what’s coming. 

Because you know who I am, and you’ve heard it a hundred times before. 

Which leads to the inevitable conclusion:

“Why bother?”

Of course, I’m an inveterate pessimist, so that’s exactly what you’d expect me to say.

I guess the only reason not to abandon this seemingly fruitless exercise entirely – not just writing this blog but bother thinking anything at all – is…

It is possible I am wrong.

Maybe… I don’t know, by inspiration, happy accident or evolutionary advancement, I can surprise myself with an original pronouncement.

The only way to find out, I suppose…

Is to keep going.


Ian said...

Your fears about originality reminded me of something I read by Milan Kundera many moons ago - the narrator witnesses an old woman waving a greeting to someone, and he perceives the gesture as belonging to someone else, possibly even that there are no new 'gestures' but that we re-use them (or they use us):

“A gesture cannot be regarded as the expression of an individual, as his creation (because no individual is capable of creating a fully original gesture, belonging to nobody else), nor can it even be regarded as that person's instrument; on the contrary, it is gestures that use us as their instruments, as their bearers and incarnations”

Maybe saying something new falls into the same category? Maybe there is literally nothing new under the sun, and we all just repeat the same thoughts and expressions with minor changes?

But there again - and in a more hopeful tone - it's the artistic flourishes which make all the difference. I'd certainly been concerned about the sad lifespan of the humble banana before, but you managed to say it in a way that - should I live to be one hundred - will still make me smile:

Gentleman, we can do nothing for the banana.

Between that and the many other thousands of lines you've sweated over and tinkered with (both professionally and for free), I'm certain you also understand that it's not just what you are saying, but how...

JED said...

I like to think that you are offering a valuable service by pointing to the past. It would be too much if you said that we must recreate the past and nothing new is any good. But as we progress (or at least move along), we can't (or shouldn't) wipe the slate clean with each step. We need to know where we came from and what were the good things from the past - and what were the bad things, too. Then, hopefully, if we do it right, we improve things as we move along. If someone isn't saying, "Look how great the movies were then." once in a while, we'd get off the track. And maybe we have because not enough people are studying and learning from the past.

In getting my engineering degree, I had to take a certain number of humanities classes and took Philosophy 101. I immediately started my own "philosophizing" in my first paper and promptly got an F because, "You've missed the point, Mr. Dodd!" What we were supposed to do was prove that we understood the ideas of the old philosophers first. If we could truly understand what had been said by the greats before, then we could hope to add to that. I never got that far and couldn't wait to get back to my engineering classes where, guess what, we studied how electric circuits had first been designed and how motors were first developed and then, after we understood the basics, we learned how to improve them.

I know this quote is used too often but as Norma Desmond said in answer to William Holden's character Joe Gillis saying she used to be big, "I *am* big. It's the *pictures* that got small."

When I was looking that quote up to make sure I had it right, I bumped into this one that you will appreciate. Also in Sunset Boulevard, Joe Gillis says, "Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along."