Watching me watch a movie is like watching someone in a trance. I can shut out almost anything that goes on around me. Believe it or not, someone else is kind of responsible for that.
I should have done this sooner, except that I didn't know he was dead, and when he died, the technology I'm using didn't quite exist yet. John Bigby, a media professor at Santa Rosa Junior College, died in 1994 at the age of 56, after falling down stairs in his own home. He lingered for nine months before passing. He was my film and media mentor in 1979/1980, and he nurtured within me the tools that I use today to watch films, to look at commercials, to really hear the message being given in a way that is, perhaps, at odds with the originators' intent.
One thing I learned from him is to respect the filmmaker, even though the story or the performances don't deserve respect. This is not to say "suspend critical thinking" or anything that stupid, but only to remember that if it's on screen, it was intended. Sure, there are gaffes, errors in continuity or perhaps a cameraman, briefly visible in a mirror, but what he meant was, the director, the editor, slave over these things to get to a final product, or they slapdash it together to get a final product, but with the number of eyes that allow a movie to make it to the big screen, everything you see on screen - they meant to do that. Which is why I can watch "bad" films as if they matter. But if something seems incongruous to you in a movie, ask yourself why the director did that? Why make that particular editing choice? Was it to cover a bad shot, or was it a specific aesthetic choice by either the editor or the director (or both)?
His classes were wonderfully opinionated. He was known to appear before us in a white linen suit with straw Panama hat, or in a cape and deerstalker. We attended four hours of classroom time twice a week, during which we usually watched two movies that were somehow related. One semester still sticks with me very much - American Road Movies and the German New Wave. This was a classroom where I saw Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum, Effie Briest, The American Friend, Stroszek and many others. I learned through him how these films related in so many ways, while many of them were crazily different from one another. Easy Rider is a pastoral of the country's temperature in the late sixties, Lost Honor is about the scourge of yellow journalism taken as truth, Effie Briest is a costume period melodrama, The American Friend is a Patricia Highsmith thriller (based on Ripley's Game - yes, THAT Ripley). They didn't fit, but they did.
Just showing up and watching the films got you a passing grade, but you had to show up, and you had to stay awake. The final consisted of him watching us watch a movie (that semester, the final was Five Easy Pieces). You could get a better grade by watching more films (six of his choosing would get you a C), and by writing about specific films (gets you a B) and by creating a project between you and him that would qualify you for an A. He treated us as students but also as adults, which we really weren't quite, yet.
I have no photos of him, and can find none on the web, a place he would have found both fascinating and appalling. However, you can hear him in the introduction to a lecture given in 1975 by Patrick Hazard. I hear it, and am transported again to his classroom, where I would weekly see movies that changed my views of the world, and gave me a deep appreciation of the art and craft of filmmaking.
Last weekend, I visited Vashon Island, WA, for the very first time in my life, and I saw something. Something that must exist in our world, yet manages to be wholly separate, and also kind of awful.
I've lived near Vashon (a short ferry ride from Seattle) for about twenty years. There was some kind of "art tour" set up for the weekend, and there were many numbered signs around town indicating galleries or shops that were participating. There were a couple of places that had what I would call "modern" pottery, with a few pieces of genuine artistic merit. Lots of fancy woodwork. But the last place we visited...
A small, unassuming tea shop on the main drag. Families sitting around, drinking little cups of tea, teapots for sale, lots of fancy bulk teas, and then there were the paintings across from the cashier's counter. Lots of pastels and glitter. Cutesy little subjects: unicorns, fairies, angels, bunnies, bunnies that are also angels, RAINBOWS, you get the idea. Her name is Claire Schlosser, and she paints at about a fourth-grade level. Lots of glitter; she says in her mission statement that her spirit guide told her to pile on the glitter. Art is only one way she makes money, though. She is also a Certified Unicorn Therapy Practitioner. Really she is. I can't explain this. I've been told, "well, that's Vashon Island."
Unicorn Fairy Light - about 8 x 10", and the red sticker means "sold"
This woman has her beliefs, and okay, she's entitled to them, but the fact that she has them in this day and age makes me wonder where she got them from, and how they stuck. I won't complain about the fact that she claims to care mostly about healing animals, since I'm a huge animal lover, and they deserve the best possible treatment. You know, vaccinations, decent food, and a warm place to sleep. I'm not sure how beneficial "Distant Reiki Animal Sessions" are, and I know you can't prove that they work. She charges $44 for a half hour, $64 for an hour for any and all of her services. (any form of Reiki therapy labeled "distant" was invented in the west, and has nothing to do with the original intent of Japanese Reiki)
Please look her up, and check out her references. It's beyond anything I have time to list in here, but it's pure awesome.
Being an atheist, I have respect for people who were raised with God and still have their faith, but only when they act in a way that wouldn't piss off God. The Christians who tell the poor to essentially suck it if they're poor, "why they hell aren't they working harder?!?" are Christians in name only, and the worst kind of hypocrites.
But what of the New Age? So much of it is rooted in the ability to delude oneself (as it is with faith healers): "I have laid my hands on you and said the magic words." "I am HEALED!" (as they fall out of their wheelchair). I believe this will help, therefor when someone says it has helped, I feel better. That's great, if you're feeling a little down, but how well does this sort of thing work with broken legs? I've seen people who believed they were cured with the laying on of hands, neglecting to remember that they also took powerful narcotics for the same symptom at the same time. "Thank you for curing my migraine with your magical hands - what codeine?" And the New Age folks who tell us that each person needs to take responsibility for everything in their lives, so, for example, the Jews somehow wanted the Holocaust to occur. I mean - seriously?!?
I grew up during the sixties and seventies and this sort of thing was re-gaining ground, long after the whole concept of scientific testing had been decided as the best way to determine if any given treatment is efficacious. I've heard about the healing properties of crystals, while understanding that anyone can say anything about them, and the practitioners of said arts will smile and nod and say, "oh, yes, that's true" to almost any healing property they might contain, without any proof other than "a friend of mine said...".
The other levels of crazy involve the whole "buffet" of beliefs that people are willing to glom onto. "Mayan healers used this silver doohickey to cure infections". Mayan priests were also pretty well known for running a long-term human sacrifice machine - should we go back to that as well? "I believe this part of the magic because it sounds good and makes me feel good about myself, but this other part, well, that was because they were primitive." How condescending is that? You wanna be a Mayan, go whole hog Mayan - don't stint the human sacrifices, because maybe, without that, nothing else works.
I don't wish to conflate human sacrifices with glitter - though if you're going to split someone's chest open, and cut out their beating heart, it would certainly be more colorful and fun with glitter. I'm opposed to lazy thinking. To lazy or convenient faith. You wanna believe something, believe it, but don't believe only the "happy" parts of that faith while leaving the inconvenient or "icky" parts behind, because without one, does the other actually work, or mean anything?