Monday, January 30, 2017

Living Vicariously: film

This is a bit of a companion post to my last post in that I had another outlet besides music with which I chose to connect with the feelings I kept hidden deep within me... and that was film.

I can't remember at what point it really took hold of me, but it had to be sometime after my parent's divorce and I had consistent access to cable TV for the first time, which would probably start this at around age 14.  For the majority of my life I have functioned on very little sleep.  It was completely normal for me from ages 11 to 30 to function on 2-4 hours of sleep a night.  What cable finally allowed... was something other than paid programming to watch in the wee hours of the night, and watch I did.

I have seen literally thousands of movies.  I also delved into genres, eras, directors, actors, and actresses that I enjoyed and actively sought them out, renting everything that I could get my hands on.  The overall outcome is that I find most movies to range somewhere between slightly above average to terrible with a handful of gems that manage to reach greater heights and would qualify as "life enriching."  A film reaches this point if I feel that my life is better having seen it than if I had not. 

With that being the measure, I tend to penalize films that take on difficult subject matter, especially when it is not something I can directly empathize with.  I often viewed these as "safe" Oscar fodder and felt that if a film takes on important subject matter, it has to be that much better to truly be good.  That being said, if a film takes on slavery, the Holocaust, genocide, severe child/spousal abuse, racism, homophobia, war, and so on... it SHOULD affect us deeply.  If it fails to touch us, it was awful.  Realistically speaking, when faced with these types of subject matter, we SHOULD be appalled, we should be angry, we should be disgusted with the depths with which humanity can sink in its darkest hour.  It can be done well... I just hold it to a higher standard than films that don't take on such lofty subject matter.  The Deer Hunter's forced Russian roulette scene to this day is one of the most upsetting scenes I have ever experienced in film... but it is also something I cannot empathize with in the slightest.

While I watched many films with serious subject matter, I tended to gravitate towards films that give give an equally strong emotional response but to more normal situations.

When I wanted to feel good, I generally would lean on Capra films.  Feeling good rarely felt real and there were a limited number of these movies in existence, but the true hallmark of a Capra film is that it ends at the absolute emotional peak... as in, you reach the spot where you cannot feel any better than you possibly do and it's over.  It's an emotional high that carries over beyond the end of the film.  I tend to gag whenever something claims to be "Capra-esque" yet manages to have a cooling down period at the end... often in the form of some godawful montage of future photos sitting atop a mantle... bringing you back to an emotionally neutral state.

On the other side of things... there are two movies that stand head and shoulders above the rest in regards to making the heart hurt.  Oddly enough, they were both written and directed by the same person: Lars von Trier.  While he's sort of crazy and after watching Anti-Christ I finally accept people's views that he's a misogynist, he has made two films that are deeply touching and have the power to stomp on your heart until you want to vomit.

#2 on this list in a distant second (but a ways ahead of #3) is the 2000 film, Dancer in the Dark.  I somehow managed to see this in the theater three times.  It's about a European immigrant and single mother living in rural Washington state in the 1960's.  She has a genetic eye condition that is making her slowly go blind.  She has a son that needs to have an operation before his next birthday or he will go blind as an adult.  She has a lot of pride and considers it her responsibility to make sure that he will avoid the same fate.  This movie hurts to watch.

#1 by a wide margin is the 1996 film, Breaking the Waves.  In a small Scottish village, the main character is a slightly unstable woman that has the ability to talk to God (the religion of the village follows more of an old-testament God... vengeful and unforgiving).  She falls in love with a man working on a nearby oil rig and they get married.  Unable to bear the long stretches apart due to his job, she asks God to return him to her early...

If you have seen this movie, you know exactly how upsetting it is to watch.  If you haven't seen it, it's difficult to describe the depth of suffering that getting through it entails.  I first saw this film the first week it was released on video and it actually made me feel more alive than anything ever had in my entire life. 


  1. Where would I find these movies? I have ROKU, if that helps. As for heart hurter movies, you must check out "Away From Her" a Canadian film from 2006, or simply the face of Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice" as she is forced to make the "choice" of the title. That one scene has haunted me for years.

    1. Thank you, Lady Grey. I will have to check those out when I find the time.

      Dancer in the Dark was available on netflix but I believe it is no longer there. Breaking the Waves has a Criterion Collection release, so it may be available on Hulu if Hulu still has a partnership with Criterion.

      Dancer in the Dark is now out of print.

      The only streaming methods if available likely are on a pay per watch basis. I will check out vudu, amazon instant video and the like when I get home to try to find more definitive answers.

    2. I did some digging, Lady Grey. Here is what I found for availability. Neither are available on HBO Go or other cable network streaming. The pay services are the Rent vs. Buy prices.

      Breaking the Waves:
      Hulu: No
      Amazon Instant Video: Yes ($3.99/$19.99)
      Netflix: No
      Vudu: Yes ($2.99/$14.99 SD, $3.99/$19.99 HD)
      DVD/BD Combo Pack: ~$26 new

      Dancer in the Dark:
      Hulu: No
      Amazon Instant Video: No
      Netflix: No
      Vudu: Yes ($9.99 SD own)
      DVD: ~$15 new

    3. Thank you for the info on the films. I did receive your message in my "Comment" box, and I will delete it as it would make no sense to anyone reading the blog post to which it was attached. So, message received here and there, and once again, I thank you.

    4. You are very welcome, Lady Grey. It is a bummer it is a lot harder to track down older films than it was a few years ago. When physical media began to disappear this was a great fear of mine that has happened to come true.

      Take care.