>back to the basics


The other night I introduced my daughter Lily to the film Back to the Future (1985). Which she loved, even though some of it she didn’t entirely understand. I don’t think I had seen it for twenty years (which kinda blows me away). The truth is, although the story is deeply flawed in many ways, the film is a wonderful, maybe even great, film. One of the parts that make the film so good is the brilliant performance of Crispin Glover.

Here is an example of Glover’s acting, at the critical moment George McFly (Glover) has just punched and knocked out Biff (Thomas Wilson). In a matter of just seconds we see George reacting to the punch with a combination of surprise, elation, and pain.

Then George notices Lorraine (Lea Thompson), whom he has just protected from Biff.

George is almost giddy with excitement that he has knocked out Biff and looks to Lorraine for confirmation.

But then he realizes that she has been pushed down to the ground by Biff.

George composes himself and extends a chivalrous hand to Lorraine.

In about 5 seconds we see Glover portray a range of emotions that are not only convincing and seemingly effortless, they also have their own little narrative structure.

As I look at the various awards and nominations for the film, I see some directed toward Fox but none for Glover. This is unfortunate, especially given that Fox’s acting is good, but pedestrian, whereas Glover’s is a tour de force.

Then Lily and I watched Ghost Busters (1984).

I have to say that the film, though still somewhat fun, does not stand up to the test of time as well as Back to the Future. Why? One key reason is the lack of craftsmanship. Although the film was creatively conceived it lacks the kind of carefully crafted story telling that one finds in Back to the Future. The camera work is largely uninspired, the editing is rather mundane, and apart from its somewhat unique concept, the story arc and pacing are very predictable. What keeps it entertaining are the performances of the principle actors.

I suppose the difference in quality of the two films can be summed merely by pointing to the directors. Zemeckis, though not a genius, is a big step or two above Reitman – in my humble opinion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So… is the watching of movies really an education? Can it be counted as such? I have been introducing various films to my seven year old daughter for the sake of her “education.” Is this really valid or am I deluding myself? As far as I know the State doesn’t test for movie knowledge. Proponents of “no child left behind” would just laugh at me. If you want to get some education then hit the books, so the thinking often goes. If you want to “check out” from the day’s troubles and turn off your brain then watch a movie.

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know my answer already.

I am a bookaholic, and I am a believer in the idea of a classical education. But I believe that a classical education is not only about reading old books. It is really about seeking answers to fundamental questions, such as:
1) What is prime reality – the really real?
2) What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
3) What is a human being?
4) What happens to a person after death?
5) Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6) How do we know what is right and wrong?
7) What is the meaning of history?

All of us act from within a set of answers, more or less coherent, to these questions. Our answers, or worldview, are like a set of lenses through which we view the world and our place in it. Every film, also, is born out of a set of answers to these questions. In fact, film is one of the best mediums with which to express and explore a worldview. When I watch a film with my daughter I get to discuss with her what the filmmaker is trying to do, trying to say, and wants us to know. Sometimes the films are light and fun, like those mentioned in this post, and the discussion is somewhat light as well. Often we talk about the filmmaking process, and she then learns that films are created things that she can have an opinion about – more than just the “I like it” opinion, which isn’t actually an opinion but an uncritical reaction. Overall, films, being powerful cultural and personal artifacts, are great doorways into important discussions about all that it means to be human, and that is a good place to begin a life of learning.

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I would like to say that my blog postings have slowed down because I am on Summer vacation. Fact is, I’m not vacationing, just trying to get my thesis written, remodel the house, spend more time with the family, and well, it’s just more difficult for me to watch films when it’s still sunny outside in the evening. Plus I’ve been watching the Tour de France in my “extra” time.

2 thoughts on “>back to the basics

  1. >I’m a big, BIG fan of watching movies with my little boys, all three of whom are younger than your daughter. I’ve watched Star Wars with my oldest (and his review is here) and three of us are currently in the middle of Donner’s Superman.It’s a blast watching the films with them and the only reason I’m anxious for them to grow up is so that we can watch more movies that they’re currently too young for. But I do sometimes wonder if I’m sabotaging their love of film, so eager am I to expose them to the filmmaking aspects of it.

  2. >Burbanked,That’s great to hear. We have also gone through Superman and the Star Wars series. I think the best films for kids are also ones that hold up for adults. We have recently watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and last night we watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Challenging but still fun for a little kid. Gives us stuff to talk about. Thanks for your comments.Great review by your son Tom, btw. Loved it!

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