Sunday, January 18, 2009

La vie, elle continue

There's a point in your busiest-ever semester (of grad school, at least) where you just crack. Patent laws, copyright infringement, the rights of journalists, and color-coded charts of last quarter's unemployment figures inexplicably blur. Procrastinating on Facebook doesn't make it all go away, but a three-day weekend with almost-arctic temps certainly helps to cloud those pending deadlines!

For some odd, out-of-touch reason, I didn't know Clerks was a Kevin Smith film. I was expecting a bad popular slapstick comedy (and honestly wanted one) when I put it to the head of my Netflix queue before Winter Break. Yes, it's taken that long to get around to watching it.

It was not the brain candy I craved. The existential agonies of a convenience store clerk and his video store clerk buddy were out of the blue. It was great stuff (I'm a sucker for indy flicks with characters who rant and ramble about the meanings of life), just unexpected.

The film gives a little too much weight, I think, to agency alone -- the main character's "Why me?" (or rather, "I'm not even supposed to be here!") is repeatedly answered by pointing solely to his own life choices, even though the parade of customers remind him of how his destiny, for lack of a better word (what else can counter free will?), is unfortunately wrapped up in others' life choices. There was an overt preachiness that didn't sit well with me once applied outside the microcosm of the convenience store itself. Of course, I liked it for exactly that reason! More procrastination material for snowy weekends.

On a side note ... Good Lord, did we all really dress like in 1992? And I'd forgotten that lisping was a brief fad then ... the character of the cheating ex-girlfriend reminded me of that, and it annoyed the hell out of me.

At Torgo's suggestion, I watched Man on Wire. As promised, it was brilliant.

A story of a French highwire artist's attempt to walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, the structure of the documentary itself was captivating. There are the interviews with Philippe Petit himself, his accomplices, and others; the re-enactments of the "heist"; a theatre, stand-up style monologue with Petit; and then there is actual footage from personal home videos. It's a great tale, skillfully presented. The story itself is what it is, and Petit and his helpers clearly love retelling it, recounting how the combination of the beauty and the danger of it made it so breathtaking.

Petit is clearly slightly crazy as well as a bit full of himself. But that doesn't detract from his achievement. It does, however, make the last few minutes of the film bittersweet and heartbreaking, as the viewer realizes how the pivotal act itself changes him so much. It's the quintessential dilemma in art: art for art's sake fundamentally changes when it collides with fame, and the casualties are usually very human and very tangible. As a portrait of art and a commentary on beauty and life, the film is strikingly poignant.

When I looked up the year Petit's book was published I found several references to the fact that 9/11 was deliberately kept out of the film so as not to detract from Petit's daredevil and artistic accomplishment. But realistically, all viewers were watching it with 9/11 in mind; and the fact that Petit's book about the feat came out post-9/11 also points to some retrospective attempt to inscribe meaning to the endeavor. (I, for one, also couldn't get the recent plane landing out of my mind every time I glimpsed the Hudson from Petit's vantage point atop the WTC... but that's a different rambling about the lives of cities themselves.)

The very absence of a world-changing event, of course, is still the essence of art and continual renegotiating of its meaning to different audiences. It's still art and still beautiful, but for different reasons.

Lastly, an overdue veg-out ... The Mummy films are decent, cheesy fun. (When the first one came out, I watched it for Brendan Fraser; now, I shake my head in embarrassment at my youthful folly. Why -- why??? But we live, we learn....)

Anyways, Part Three was equally as cheesy, and easily the dorkiest of the series. I chose to ignore all the various cultural stereotypes and characters (from the eccentric English nobles to the exotified Chinese sorceress), because there'd be no end. I will also admit that I was playing word games online while El Otro Cuñado watched it on Christmas Day.

Yetis help fight the evil Chinese general who wants to resurrect the powers of an ancient mummy. Yetis! That sort of puts everything in perspective.

No comments: