Monday, September 13, 2010

Soon To Be A Minor Motion Picture!

Sufjan Stevens--"Heirloom" (mp3)

We're reading The Diving Bell and The Butterfly in class, the French memoir of a man who suffers a major stroke in his mid-40's and is, as a result, trapped inside his own body, with a mind fully-capable and only a left eye that works. Works so well, in fact, that he dictated the entire memoir we are reading with that left eye.

Anyway, stuck to the front of our book is a sticker the likes of which all of us have seen. It reads "Now A Major Motion Picture."

Well, maybe in France.

But I got to thinking, 'Why does every motion picture have to be a major motion picture?' I mean, I get that it can't say, 'Now A Straight-To-DVD Video.' But what's wrong with just a motion picture or even a minor motion picture? What's wrong with keeping little discoveries and pleasures and minor tragedies and triumphs small?

The text, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, is certainly not a major literary work. It's small, it's quiet, its scope, by necessity, is limited. It's observations are often mundane, because when you are completely at the mercy of others for your total care, what happens when a bandaid or a catheter comes loose is of supreme importance. And when your senses are nearly dormant due to a stroke, the memory of a bite of peasant sausage that "melts a little on your tongue before you start chewing to extract all its flavor" is worth both recalling and savoring. When you make enough progress with your speech therapist that you move your tongue the slightest bit, all possibilities open up, however briefly.

These small observations about life and its pleasures have an impact.

I think, without trying too hard, about minor motion pictures, and the one that comes to mind is The Cooler, starring William H. Macy, Maria Bello, and Alec Baldwin. Maybe you've seen it. In The Cooler, a down-on-his-luck guy is used by casinos to bring bad luck to other people. Then he falls in love, and his luck changes. And trouble ensues.

It's not a great movie, but it's a very solid one. It's certainly not a big movie, but the acting is far more accomplished than it is in big movies with big stars.

In a major motion picture, Mario Bello could never end up with William H. Macy. Romantically or otherwise, she would have to paired with the likes of Viggio Mortenson or Bruce Willis or some other major A-list actor who has the looks or the machismo to go with her own beauty. In a small movie, a minor motion picture, though, it makes perfect sense. In the seedy, unspectular world of The Cooler, you are not pairing up Maria Bello and William H. Macy as stars of equal weight, you are pairing up a cocktail waitress who may be good-looking, but who has had her own difficult life and who therefore finds the characteristics of a good, decent man far more important than his looks or his muscles, with that decent man who seems to offer her a way out of a dead-end life. In other words, it captures the things that can happen in real life, instead of in the movies.

One of the great small joys of this early fall is the EP All Delighted People that Sufjan Stevens snuck out a couple of weeks ago. No, it isn't all focused on one of the 50 states. No, it doesn't seem to focus on one particularly theme at all, except perhaps love, closeness, introspection, something like that. And, it is only a warm-up for a full CD to be released October 12th. But, still, this being Sufjan, this "EP" clocks in at nearly an hour and most be one of the longer EPs in the history of modern music.

The instrumentation, indeed the songs, are not all that different from previous Sufjan offerings, except that he's recorded his voice differently, played up the acoustic guitars, and offered several, sometimes long, stretches of idiosyncratic electric guitar which is more choppy Neil Young than fluid Eric Clapton. A kind of deconstruction of Simon and Garfunkel, the songs, especially the title track (I prefer the classic rock version) insinuate themselves into your consciousness until you start to want them again without realizing it.

Little songs (though sometimes stretched out), forgotten movies, small statements--big results.


Hezaire said...

"why DOES every one of those stickers say that the movie is major? aren't there other people out there like me that enjoy smaller, more intimate experiences?"

i think i've asked myself both of these questions in the last 2 days. it's creepy, really, how timely this post is.

i have "diving bell" on my netflix queue. you just reminded me to put it at the top.



Billy said...

Ironically, your praise of The Cooler leaves me longing to go back and watch PT Anderson's debut film Hard Eight with Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly and Gwyneth.

Perhaps Vegas is so super-sized and two-dimensional that its best films inevitably focus on the mundane and small-scaled humanity swallowed up in it all.

Now that I think about it, damn shame there's no way to use DisneyWorld as the backdrop for similar movies.

Also recommend: The Messengers. Dunno why it comes to mind but it does.

troutking said...

One Christmas break my whole family was together in Chicago and I insisted we all go see The Cooler when it came out. I liked it. They all HATED it. Guess it was too small for them.

Sufjan isn't even in the top 50 of the decade. ;-)