On the occasion of my nephew Austin’s fourteenth birthday, I’ll offer my favorite “boy movies.” The most prominent theme in such films is, naturally, the “coming of age” mixture of adolescent wonder and terror. New freedoms, new knowledge, new powers, and new responsibilities come—but with less of the old securities and simple, satisfying answers. I have included some “younger” films, as well, because of their quality and nostalgia-invoking ability.
Rob Reiner’s take on Stephen King’s The Body, Stand By Me is perhaps my favorite boy movie. It has a fitting measure of wonder, camaraderie, and melancholy. Growing up involves a certain level of pain and loss, but reminiscing upon one’s youth heightens that sense of temps perdu. As A Christmas Story or The Wonder Years, Stand By Me is an act of such remembering, and this sort of revisiting is always bittersweet. I believe that Nietzsche remarks that man learns suffering through memory—quite a profound observation. At any rate, the movie created eternal enmity between leeches and boys everywhere, and it further taught me the useful phrase, “cheap dime store hood.”
Though geared toward the younger set, Andrew Davis’ Holes might be the most interesting movie on this list. I was shocked by how much I liked it. It has everything that makes for a good boy movie—morality tales, oppressive adults, abundant “life’s not fair” tale telling, musings on class, status, and hierarchy in a child’s world, beautiful landscapes, and blessèd liberation at the end. It also includes rather deep—for a kids’ movie—religious and philosophical signposts. The idea of providence features prominently in the story, and I would further argue that the film plays out Saint Maximus’ understanding of man as microcosm and mediator of the world. Really, it’s a good film.
Danny Boyle’s Millions is set prior to tween concerns—the main character is seven years old—and it is more of a fantasy morality tale than a boy movie. Yet, having somewhat identified with the little guy who has regular conversations with saints—religion captivated me for as long as I can remember—I had to include it.
Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society may be spiritual poison for young men, but I drank it readily before I was wise enough to see its folly. As Socrates tells us, the appetites grow stronger the more that we feed them, and my appreciation of teenage anguish, alienation, and the delights of a young intellectual’s destructive self-pity formed into an permanent feature of my soul long before I was mature enough to see the cancer for what it is. I can thank a young Jesuit mentor for having removed the blinders, but he got to me years after Robin Williams’ character John Keating did. As such, I love the pathos that the movie invokes, though I now marvel how I became such a sucker for soixante-huitard counter-cultural foolishness.
From A.D. 1963, and then from A.D. 1990 . . .
I’ll include the two film adaptations of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies by Peter Brook and Harry Hook because boyhood is not a romanticized Norman Rockwell experience. Men are largely wicked, and children are even more irrational and appetite-driven than men. They may not be as depraved as human beings who have, with more time, sunk ever deeper into vicious mire, but their innocence has more to do with the lack of power and opportunity than with inherent virtue. Both films depict this disturbing trait in mankind with their “boy as naked man” idea wherein human beings, when stripped of tradition, culture, law, and the inherited rules of society, act like beasts. I appreciate the full frontal attack on Rousseauian stupidity.
Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun is more of a war movie boy film. I love its scenery and its amazing soundtrack, which I bought as a kid. I listened to “Suo Gân” hundreds of times growing up. Plus, anything from the Second World War automatically gains a style advantage. The 1930’s and 1940’s were, in my opinion, the last time that the world had good taste.
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders is a necessary part of any boy film set. We just need to belong, eh?
Jerome Robbins’ and Robert Wise’s take on West Side Story may be more of a musical Romeo and Juliet romance—naturally hated by boys—but I’ll throw it in, anyway. Its conflict of gang versus gal loyalties is one that has played out billions of times.
Lastly, Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a Cause is a painful story—a perfect portrayal of and serving for the privileged youth of the American bourgeoisie who have been materially pampered but spiritually starved. Of course, James Dean’s death a month before the release of the film made it more interesting, in a morbidly tragic way, for its viewers.
A couple of days ago on Big Hollywood, John Nolte posted a clip from Small Town Girl that features a jolly musical number by dancer Bobby Van of Kiss Me Kate fame:
See also Van’s “Take Me to Broadway”:
Nolte’s entry—“What’s Wrong With Corny?”—laments the passing of the old-fashioned musical and wishes for corny to be the new irony. Yet, corny does not impress the folks who fancy themselves philosophical when they dwell upon macabre themes. Only cinema that exposes the demons of the soul deserves such silver screen immortality. The rest is eye candy—or so film snobs think, and they seem somewhat correct. Comedy can be very insightful, but compare the best comedy with the tragic novels of Dostoevsky, and comedy appears to come up short. Yet, Nolte does not contrast comedy with tragedy but the corny with irony. The corny has to be comic, it seems, but what then is irony? Does it deserve the respect that we have for tragedy—the high drama revered since the Greek Dionysia?
Like a skilled surgeon, a great artist may use irony to cut through our willful blindness and foolish assumptions. In our age of the less than great, however, irony has become the safe haven for mediocre minds infected with vain arrogance. Sophomoric nihilists proudly bask in their derisive cleverness at portraying human life with contempt; yet, they offer no constructive critique for the many whom they condemn. They cannot offer such painful assistance because they have not concerned themselves with trying to find an answer themselves. Their irony springs from sterile hatred rather than from a desire to perfect.
I sympathize with them. Sometimes, you simply have revulsion toward something that is wrong even when you do not know how such a thing could be corrected. This situation could lead one to create irony from despair, but I suspect that pride is still involved. Irony seems to result from a special kind of hatred in the creative mind—one that esteems itself worthy enough to play the sophist in a work of art. For irony is the sophist’s stock in trade. He is like a blind man who obtains a superiority over the other blind by haughtily mocking their ignorance—though he knows not the truth himself. As such, irony, in the hands of lesser men, is a smoke and mirrors intellectual game that allows such cowards to entertain their nihilism without accountability—without the risk of losing the status of an intellectual yet never performing the work or the duties of an intellectual. Welcome to our post-modern world. Note how it ironically serves us the inverse of true Socratic irony—a demonic joke upon mankind!
On the occasion of my brother Adam’s birthday, I would like nostalgically to revisit David the Gnome, which I would watch with Adam long ago. The Spanish cartoon was based on Wil Huygen’s children’s books. You can learn about David, Lisa, and his merry company on Faber’s fan page and on Wikipedia.
Here is the pilot episode, “Good Medicine,” which incidentally aired on my brother’s birthday:
Though a bit heavy on eco-worshiping leftist drivel, I really like the cartoon. I have a proclivity for woodland paganism in general, and the simple but fantastic elements in the show are quite fun. David frequently explains the gnome way of doing things, and mythical anthropology always fascinates me. Moreover, the cartoon stays truer to the spirit of its inspiration than I would have expected. For example, David and Lisa turn into trees at the end.
Imagine what Disney would have done . . .
This may be hard for you to believe, but until this Christmas break, I had never seen A Christmas Story. It is more shocking than you may expect—for the movie is frequently quoted in my family. It has something of canonical status, referred to like Holy Writ, Seinfeld, or The Adventures of Pete and Pete. So, I decided at Thanksgiving that I would watch it with my father upon my return to Cincinnati.
It was a bit of a struggle to obtain a DVD of the movie. The neighborhood library’s copies were checked out in perpetuity. So, we had to trek all the way to the next library—seven minutes farther away! I know folks from the West who drive five hours just to buy socks. I know boys in Alaska who take plane trips to play high school basketball. Yet, in Cincinnati, a ten minute drive is excessive for some. However, my dad was feeling plucky, and off we went into the remote regions of the West Side.
At the library, I felt somewhat embarrassed to go in for a DVD—like a Mormon boy in a porn shop. I knew that the old mare librarian would look condescendingly upon peasants who enter her hallowed hall of learning just to get a movie—and it’s not even a foreign flick, a filmed stage production, or a P.B.S. documentary. I suspect that, when the rabble isn’t around, she commiserates with her colleagues about the fall of American culture: “Hollywood’s pedestrian filth has invaded even our dear library. No one reads anymore. We must prostitute ourselves out like some common Blockbuster whores! The insanity of it all!”
Actually, the lady smiled and reminded us that we could renew our four day DVD over the phone—but secretly, in that sanctimonious abyss that exists in every librarian’s soul, she snarled with malice, daring us to break her prejudice by walking over to the literature section and checking out Middlemarch, or at least something by Wolfe . . . she would even eat crow if we took Crichton. But no—we fit the mold that she has come to loathe . . . for the love of heaven, we did not even glance at a comic book.
Well, once we safely made it back home, away from the projected jeers and derision of my fevered imagination, we watched A Christmas Story. I expected to enjoy it—I am easily pleased with movies—but I thought that it would be more of a ritualistic enjoyment, like the kick that we get out of watching traditional make believe fare, like the claymation Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the annual State of the Union address. However, I found the movie quite funny. I especially liked the Santa scene, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid. Merry Christmas!” I have loved running gags since The Muppet Movie (“Have you tried Hare Krishna?”). There are many gems in the film that highlight some of the absurdities of childhood; I remember being parka-ed like an Eskimo by my mom so that I could not even move, I remember ghoulish bullies with weird facial features, and I remember those dangerous dare wars.
The nostalgic narration reminded me of The Wonder Years and The Adventures of Pete and Pete. A Christmas Story must have inspired them, or at least The Wonder Years, given the similarities in style. Well, here is the trailer:
I recommend the film, and now I can happily follow the references to it in my family’s language community.
I never watch television in D.C., but my trips home allow me to catch up on some mindless entertainment. Freezing temperatures? No car? No problem! I just have to turn on the idiot box to take a trip back to my earliest years. Since it is Christmas time, there are cartoon marathons featuring Santa, Frosty, gingerbread men, and anyone else remotely connected with the winter feasts. Some of these shows are beyond the acceptable boundaries of taste. My IQ must have lowered some points as I watched Santa get lost in Pac-World. Yes, Pac-Man had his own cartoon. I don’t remember it—and that is a good thing. I also watched Santa become grounded at Fred Flintstone’s house—why Santa Claus would deliver gifts during the Cretaceous period is beyond me.
What I find remarkable about some of these cartoons is how I remember, upon seeing them again, that which I must have seen before I could read. One such cartoon that I watched last week is The Peachy Cobbler:
When the M.G.M. lion roared and the title was shown, no memory stirred. However, as soon as I saw the cobbler’s house, I remembered the show. It may be silly and common, but I find such recollection very pleasant. Even if it is only television, in reconnecting with a long dormant childhood memory, I find again a part of me that I forgot existed. The wholeness of human life that time and change whittle away reconstitutes itself, if only for a moment, when you remember in such a way. A similar and superior pleasure occurs when I dream what I call a memory dream. Such dreams are not necessarily replayed experiences, but they do involve places, people, relations, and circumstances lost in the past. I have no firm opinions about dreams or their significance, but I find some joy in experiencing—even in phantom sleep—some time spent among the ghosts of my youth.
I have praised South Park’s always irreverent, sometimes tasteless, but often insightful humor before. I may not be a “South Park Conservative,” but I am a conservative who appreciates South Park.
In the spirit of spoofing pop culture, ridiculing American politics, and offering a refreshing break from the stench of the campaign, South Park’s election episode, “About Last Night,” features an Ocean’s Eleven / Mission Impossible style team of the Obamas, McCain, Palin, and other stock characters who attempt to steal the Hope Diamond from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The entire campaign by McCain and Obama was a part of the heist’s strategy so that one of them would have access to a secret tunnel for the president that travels below the museum. You can watch the episode on South Park Studios (quite rated R). My favorite part occurs when Sarah Palin qua Trinity leaves her concession speech, though the portrayals of South Park’s McCain and Obama supporters are hilarious.
Yesterday, we went to see Disney’s charming new movie, Bolt, down on the Levee. One of Andrew’s pop culture guru friends recommended it, and I decided to give it a chance. It was surprisingly good—entertaining, funny, and warm-hearted without being saccharine. Maybe, some folks at Disney learnt a few things over the years from their relationship with Pixar.
If you are a dog lover, you will love the movie. It speaks the language, so to speak.
I was also pleased that a significant little portion of the movie takes place in my home State of Ohio. Indeed, I would say that several sequences in Bolt are patriotic—as our new Homeward Bound gang travels across the continent, we Americans watch something of a pride parade of our land and traditions.
There is a smattering of kiddy pop candy throughout the film but mainly in the opening sequence, especially with references to Inspector Gadget (Penny! Couldn’t they at least have made her Peggy?). Geeks and lovers of all things heroic will find the hamster rather amusing, but in that slightly embarrassing and shaming Seinfeld sort of way—when, against our wishes, we realize that there is a little George in us all.
One small element in the film that I appreciated a lot was the pigeons. The realness of the pigeons’ movement and mannerisms shocked and delighted me—one of the ancient formulae for comedy, and Bolt‘s pigeons pull it off well. Of course, such lifelike depictions will become commonplace, and future generations will no longer “get” it in the same way; no one gasped after 1939 when red shoes appeared on the silver screen. Nonetheless, I loved the pigeons. I also liked how the three sets of pigeons stereotypify New Yorkers, Angelenos, and Southerners—wonderful.
So, if you have not yet seen it and if you are not currently boycotting Disney for one reason or another, take the family to see Bolt. You’ll enjoy it.
The Onion is consistently the funniest site online, but perhaps my taste for its humor has something to do with its utter lack of social taboo and its unrefined taste coupled with rather insightful satire. Whenever I bring up my admiration for low-brow cultural fixtures such as The Simpsons or South Park, I invariably hear shock, disappointment, and bewilderment along the lines of, “How could someone like you like something like that?” I attribute those statements to ignorance of the shows—for they really are insightful entertainment. They mock what ought to be mocked, and in the process, they make some profound observations.
For instance, South Park has a cheeky episode on Mormons, “All About the Mormons?,” in which an L.D.S. family moves into South Park. They are typical Mormons—friendly, helpful, cheerful folks . . . with kooky religious ideas. The episode presents the Mormons in an exaggerated but nonetheless realistic way; it matches my own experience with Mormons over the years very well, right down to its “Family Home Evening.” It explores the peculiarities of L.D.S. doctrine, but, moreover, it explains Mormon success. A religion with absurd theological teachings can survive, sustain a society, and even grow in other societies because it prescribes and fosters sensible and good family life practices. Most people do not really care about theological truth, but most everyone is a social creature who values family, friendship, loyalty, and love. The episode is spot on, and you can watch it online (rated R) at South Park Studios.
Anyway, The Onion started a video service, The Onion News Network, last year, and it holds up to the print version’s hallmark for the “Oh, wow” factor. I’ll post some of may favorite videos in the future, but here are some timely ones for the election, “Precocious Youngster Sells Cookies to Buy Attack Ad,”
The Daily Show cannot hold a candle . . .
When I was a wee laddie, I watched a few Doctor Who episodes on the local P.B.S. station, which I found rather disturbing. I pretty much forgot about the show until Andrew in his reignant nerdiness initiated me into the forty-five year old B.B.C. cult. I dare not claim to be a real fan, but Andrew tells me that I have seen about two thirds of the show—mostly in the middle of the night with severe sleep deprivation, but such is my poison. I cannot compare with the fellow from Doctor Who Survival, who watched the whole series in less than four months. Nonetheless, I have developed a taste for the quirky British children’s show.
I am happy that the B.B.C. has brought the series back after a hiatus, and I am not simply going to judge the classic series or the new series better or worse, as the results are quite mixed. The peculiar form of Doctor Who allows for considerable diversity in the show. The cast, writers, and production crew gradually change all the time. The basic storyline features a time traveling alien who meets folks and brings them along for a spell as companions on his adventures through time and space. Each world and time period offer a different situation, usually troublesome, where the Doctor entangles himself in the messy business of the moment. Other than that general description, the show has few other constraints. There are some arching plotlines and revisted themes, ideas, characters, and settings, but one could argue that Doctor Who is more of a B.B.C. brand than a coherent unified fictional whole. Nevertheless, it is often fun. Even with the primitive special effects during the show’s first decades, it is entertaining television.
By far, my favorite doctor is the fourth—Tom Baker. Below is a delightful example of his zaniness in the most enjoyable “City of Death.” (You may wish to fast-forward to 1:11 to bypass the “scary alien cliffhanger” replayed from the previous broadcast.)
You can watch the whole episode starting here. Indeed, Captainkey’s DailyMotion account has several classic episodes that you can watch online.
The classic series has several cleverly written serials, and in the “City of Death” we see the handiwork of Douglas Adams. He was brilliantly funny.
The new series also has some remarkable episodes such as “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and “Blink”—all by Steven Moffatt. I look forward to his taking over the show in A.D. 2010.