The Hunger Games Demands a Sacrifice, and Proper Analysis

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Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket (left) and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games"

Life always seems to demand a sacrifice. From the earliest civilizations, animals and humans alike were slain and offered up to the world for the fertility and perpetuity of the greater society. Every age has its dying god myth, from the Egyptian Osiris to the Christian Jesus Christ. The message seems to be that to live, someone must die. The gift of life is forged in gushes of blood.

 It was timely for me to see The Hunger Games, as I am re-reading Homer’s The Iliad, the timeless hallmark of Western literature, a gruesome account of the atrocities of war, greed, and endless human violence. This theme began in pre-history and culminates this weekend in the box office hit The Hunger Games, about a society that demands a yearly battle to the death between teenagers from the 12 outlying districts.

 The poor are the lambs on the slab for the decadent elite, the capital known as Panem, where those chosen “tributes” are taken to train for their fight. Panem is a world of color and overstimulation, where the rich aristocrats recline in languid splendor and drink while watching the next generations prepare for slaughter as if they were prepping for summer camp. Desensitization has set in, and with it comes a sort of autism, a freezing out of inner humanity, emotion, and compassion.

 With their robotic high aestheticism, they are a nation of Lady Gagas.

 Decadence is gluttony of the eye, an overload of image and carnage, upping the ante to satisfy the addictive craving for glittering beauty while banishing the messy turmoil of internal depth and murky reality. The intended victims meet their impending death in high style and blazing light, cheered by their apathetic audience. At least they look pretty.

 The parallels and metaphors are clear here, at least to me: we live in an age of gluttony when it comes to our obsession with reality TV, an ever-increasing desperation for a feeling of vicarious experience, voyeurism from our sofas, and the more shocking or outrageous, the better. More, please, we beg from our well-worn seats, stuffing our mouths to match our eyes.

 My concern is for the children and teenagers flocking to the theaters in their Hunger Games T-shirts, touting their well-worn copies of the source novels and eating up the savagery. Are they being educated on what they are witnessing? Are the teachers and parents discussing the topics and themes explored in these stories, or simply buying their kids the posters of hunks Peeta and Gabe and kissing their kids goodnight, sleep tight?

 I hope, hard, that it’s not the latter.

 Oddly, the story seems to reinforce the points it’s making; news people grin from ear to ear over the weekend proclaiming the film’s record-breaking box office receipts. Like the apathetic, decadent hosts in the film, flashing their fake teeth and feathered boas while naming the mounting list of the savaged dead, these talking heads put a pretty face on the carnage, not once acknowledging or attempting to delve deeply into what the material is all about.

 Is art imitating life, or life imitating art, or art imitating life imitating art?

 You get me?

 The Hunger Games possesses some fascinating and timeless human themes. Now it’s up to its devoted audience to properly examine and process them. Otherwise we’re no better than the desensitized robots of Panem, greedily mixing more violence and spectacle in with our popcorn and wine.

 More, please.

The Human Beauty Behind the Ugliness in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

I once heard somewhere that while life is full of people, things, events, and acts that are despicable, horrifying, brutal, and simply bad, we must all as fellow human beings realize that we owe it to those who suffer – which could someday, at some point, be each of us – to simply bear witness. Through witnessing, reflecting, and learning, we can hopefully enlighten ourselves and then pass it on to someone else. Through witnessing and internalizing lies one of our chief hopes of redemption.

From the beginning of time, women have been brutalized. There seems to be something intrinsically built into the DNA of man that compels him to exploit, expose, strip, destroy, and conquer woman. Tomes of academic and literary books have been written on the subject, which I will not belabor here, but suffice it to say that the victimization and marginalization of women has by no means been eradicated in this “enlightened” age. In that sense, we seem to have lost but a small fraction of our primitive brutality. It must be something firmly lodged in the limbic brain.

As a young man, author Stieg Larsson witnessed a gang rape of a young girl, and for years afterward suffered guilt and shame over having not intervened to save or help her. The girl’s name was Lisbeth, and when Larsson wrote his first novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, he gave the name to his main character, Lisbeth Salander, who has emerged into popular culture as one of the most nuanced, complex, and compelling female characters in literature. She is significantly female, not simply a character, because she is formed precisely through her experiences in the world as a woman. In the novel, Larsson describes her childhood as being consistently plagued by people whose life missions seem to be to make Lisbeth miserable, while she only wishes to go about her life and be mercifully left alone. When this doesn’t happen, and her person is invaded physically or verbally, she lashes out. As a result, she has been labeled a problem, a delinquent, an incompetent by the state, and is appointed a guardianship.

The misogyny and abuse only escalates once Lisbeth confronts Advokat Bjurman, her guardian in charge of her accounts, her psychological condition, her privileges – basically her life. And in return for granting her the right to her life, Bjurman demands certain favors in return. This savage wielding of power brings something out of Lisbeth that transforms her, while also confirming her long-held fear and reinforcing the fortress she has built around herself, in the guise of piercings, tattoos, and black clothes. She has insisted on committing her own exploitation, before anyone else can come along and do so. She is a self-created defixiones, a Greek word for a curse or a hex. Approach at your peril.

Her rape and retaliation propel her into the next phase of her life, and the story, of the novel and the film. When asked by disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to assist in investigating a forty-year-old mystery involving the disappearance of a teenage heiress, Lisbeth’s interest and motivation is piqued by Blomkvist’s choice of words: “I need you to help me catch a killer of women.”

Together the intriguing duo is plunged into a world of brutality, fascism, sex crimes, incest, and more hideous human ugliness than one prefers to think about while moving through their everyday. But the truth behind Larsson’s contemporary opera of the grotesque is that all over the world – but particularly, for Larsson’s purposes, in Sweden– hideous things do happen, in high places, and are swept under the Persian rugs of the wealthy and aristocratic, and just in time for tea.

One of the most compelling aspects of the novel and film is the portrayal of the Vanger family, a corporate swarm of loathsome men and women populating the desolate Swedish island and barricading themselves behind their doors to avoid their siblings, aunts, uncles, fathers, mothers. It is a nest of hate and seething, long-standing rage that if exposed may very well melt away the frigid Swedish winter, with a blaze. Standing out among them is the patriarch, Henrik Vanger (played with the usual effortless presence by Christopher Plummer), a man driven by obsession over the unsolved disappearance of his niece, Harriet. He is Dante, willing to traverse the darkest corners of the Vanger Inferno to find the truth of what happened. One gets the sense he will not be capable of going to his deathbed before finding out.

Cultures harbor within their environments a specific, personal kind of sadness that seems to run through every vein of their history. The precise malaise, depression, and other psychological states of mind influence the people of the land, and Director David Fincher smartly chose to keep his film set in the novel’s native country, rather than moving it to, say, Canada. (“There’s snow there too, right?” one can imagine an executive arguing.)  And Sweden has never looked more sharply, crisply beautiful than through the lens of a David Fincher film. The cool blues and blacks have petrified beneath their ice a hideous secret that is fighting to return to light (the lush hues of the flashback scenes hint tantalizingly at the possibility of a world devoid of sin, a kind of Eden).

Stieg Larsson captured, in his Millennium trilogy of books (including The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), a component of the Swedish underground, but it is an underground populated by judges, policemen, lawyers, and other high-standing public figures. Larsson’s contempt is felt throughout every page of his work, which invests the books with an extra layer of urgency and fascination. These aren’t just pulp novels, they are, in their way, making a political, sexual, and cultural statement. And now that the books are international bestsellers, and the American film adaptation is out, perhaps Larsson’s urgency will be felt and shared by many.

Relative newcomer Rooney Mara embodies not only the physical traits of Lisbeth Salander (described by Larsson as looking, from a distance, like a skinny boy), but also the inner fire muted by a fragility that is merely reactionary, a wall flung up at the world that seems to spit: “Stay away!” But a person like Lisbeth, for all her harsh projections, becomes increasingly a human being not only intriguing, but deeply worth knowing, if you can possess the presence of mind to earn your way into her world. And reporter Blomkvist earns his way in, without trying too hard, simply by regarding her as a partner moving alongside him through the investigation, both of the disappearance, and of what they mean to themselves and each other.

People rarely ever lose every piece of their inner walls, but if chunks can be loosened and razed, that delicate, nuanced process itself is fascinating to witness, and worthy of a story. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, both novel and film, rises above the very real human ugliness it unflinchingly depicts because of the very human relationship at its heart, two damaged souls who come together under extraneous circumstances, and through the unrelenting bleakness manage to hold onto a little bit of mutual beauty.

The Glory of Shakespeare Remains Intact in Equally Glorious “Anonymous”

Rhys Ifans becomes caught up in political turmoil as a covert writer in "Anonymous"

As the first chapter of Homer’s the Iliad is entitled “The Rage of Achilles,” so every film about Queen Elizabeth 1 could be subtitled: “The Sadness of Elizabeth.” Having never left the shores of England, she pined for tales of faraway, exotic lands and the romance of the men and women in them, albeit devoid of the politically-burdened context in which they became known to her in her day-to-day business of state. In her life, there were a few men who provided her that vicarious outlet, among them Walter Raleigh, and, according to the new film by Roland Emmerich, Anonymous, the Earl of Oxford, through his magnificent and breathtaking poetry and plays.

Now labeled, ridiculously, a “controversial” film, Anonymous, written sharply by John Orloff, posits the long-debated theory by historians and Stratfordians that the man we have come to know as William Shakespeare, author of hundreds of the best pieces of writing that the world has ever borne witness to, is in fact a charlatan, and never in fact wrote a single word. Further, according to the film, he was rather a dull-witted, opportunistic slug who was a mere actor when the powerful words written in secret fell into his bumbling hands.

Rhys Ifans, always a reliable force, plays the Earl of Oxford, a man whose political position does not allow for a side career as a writer of plays, which are considered a work of the devil by all those loyal churchgoers. Among the naysayers, however, one woman takes endless delight in his words and stories, and has since the Earl was a young boy come to court. In fact, his art so inspires and enraptures Queen Elizabeth, otherwise cloaked in her loneliness, that she orders him to her bedchambers and commences a passionate affair, one that begets a secret child born in secret.

The English are covetous of the image of their Virgin Queen, the Gloriana whose iconography paints their past and present like the image of Christ. It was shocking enough to portray the queen, in the fiercely capable hands of a young Cate Blanchett in the 1998 Elizabeth, in bed with Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester; Anonymous takes it further in claiming the Virgin Queen not only produced one illegitimate, but three, going back to her teenage years while Bloody Mary, her frenzied sister Mary Tudor, possessed the throne.

From top, Joely Richardson as young Queen Elizabeth 1, and below, her mother Vanessa Redgrave as the elder Gloriana.

Joely Richardson, daughter of screen legend Vanessa Redgrave, paces in oppressed outrage while her advisor William Cecil demands she retreat and give birth in secret, forever dismissing her young poet lover; “But I love him!” she shouts in a heartbreaking agony. One can see how the beauty of words and art has enlivened this slowly withering figure of state, so frozen behind her powder and wigs and dresses and pomp, so plastered into her role as an objet d’art, removed from all passion and flesh.

Concerned for her immortal soul, Elizabeth’s religious council is all too eager to be rid of the dreamy poet, who is compelled to pour forth the characters who rage through his head night and day, despite the condemnation of his wife and powerful father-in-law. But he has enough sense to realize he could never make known to the world his passion and recreational activities. He enlists a struggling young writer, Ben Jonson, who recoils from the assignment. The works then are hungrily picked up by equally young and ambitious actor William Shakespeare, a man more or less dismissed by his colleagues. At curtain call after the first performance of the Earl’s plays, accepting the adoring applause, Shakespeare is met with a dumbfounded shock by the audience: “Will??” they wonder, perplexed.

It is curious that the filmmakers chose to portray Shakespeare as such a nitwit, so obviously lacking in any depth or integrity, let alone the potential to render such searing, visceral insights into the workings of human nature. But the drunken colleagues around him seem to accept it and move on, except for the brooding, lurking presence of an unsatisfied Jonson, who finds himself further and further falling in love with the Earl’s gorgeous plays.

The screenplay slowly and masterfully layers the present political climate with that of the past, intercutting between the young Elizabeth and Earl, and their older counterparts. As the film mounts, the audience is presented with a somewhat plausible but wonderfully interesting conjectural explanation for what would – or at least should – be considered, if true, one of the world’s biggest and astonishing cover-ups. And what gives the film its pathos are the human dramas and dilemmas behind such a cover-up. Much more is revealed to lend credence to the conspiracy, details of which I will not expose here; but the essence of human loss, deception, painful yearning, and creative compulsion are the film’s driving forces.

A Greek philosopher once coined a phrase that goes, paraphrased, if one were to be walking and come upon a dropped royal diadem, it would not be worth the traveler’s time to kneel and pick such a thing up. The trappings of royalty, the demands and sacrifices of ruling, are a torture that should not be wished on any, even your worst enemy. In Anonymous, we see the emotional cost of such a title, in the quiet anguish of Joely Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave’s rich performances.

But such pain and loss never fail to yield up to the world, like a lamb on the slab, a worthwhile piece of art. In this case, the world was given, one way or another, a series of writings that continue to inspire, continue to be performed more than any single other piece of work, and continue to set the standard for the portrayal of human life.

Do I believe Shakespeare really wrote it all? Yes. Is there, nevertheless, some compelling evidence for the contrary? Yes. Ultimately, the truth will never be known, and it doesn’t matter; the works endure, and will be found in the outer reaches of space when Earth has long expired, taking with it the troubled and troubling race that inspired their very existence.

Take a Stab Down Woodsboro Lane in Equally Thrilling “Scream 4”

Sidney - and Neve? - can't escape Ghostface in "Scream 4."

Back in 1996, a franchise was born. But it was more than just a franchise, it was a legacy, a reinvention of a genre and cinematic phantasmagoria.

Scream, directed by Wes Craven from a spec script by then-broke writer Kevin Williamson, ignited and shot new life like a blood-soaked IV into horror films. Without getting too high falutin about it, the film (and to some extent its sequels) defined a generation (this blogger’s generation), and took to new heights audience expectations and demands. The appalling rip-offs (Saw 10 must surely be in the works) missed the point and sorely lacked the wit and sardonic tone.

My experience watching Scream in the theater marks the one time in my life where I spent a sleepless night after watching a film. Every movement and noise outside my window had me lunging up and flipping on the porch light, half expecting to glimpse Ghostface slipping through my woods, gleaming knife in hand. And the sick part? There was surely a part of me, deep down inside, that kind of wanted it to happen. We go to movies like these to safely experience our primal fears, urges, and darkest yearnings. While we no longer live with a constant threat of pursuit and danger like our caveman ancestors, we know the predator can still be out there, and a modicum of our innate self-worth relies on knowing whether or not we could outlive the danger.

What made Scream so terrifying was that it contained not superhuman beings, or aliens, or ghosts. It contained psychotic teenagers with access to weapons, free time, boredom, and motivation. It was on the cusp of the reality TV era, where the ante must keep being upped, the shocks increased, the body count higher, the blood flowing thicker, and the allure pumped to a level of excitement that is almost sexual. By 1996, “The Real World” had already been on for some time, but it may be a grey area as to which influenced which. Is Scream the chicken, or the egg? Or is it simply that from the beginning, audiences approach horror films with an insatiable need for not only violence, but a visceral release that feeds off itself, and must expand and fatten until, like an uroboros, it eats itself into oblivion?

The Scream franchise is known as much for its self-referential awareness and parody as for its violence. Each film progressively perpetuated the stereotypes and even relished them, relied on them for a great portion of their content and reason for existing. The audience became complicit, laughing along with the characters, sharing in the joke. But just as the joke begins to ease the watchers into security, the knife strikes and, all joking aside, horror happens.

And any honest Scream-goer has to admit that, at the end of the night, they’re paying to see some bodies go down, jump through some chase scenes, and experience some catharsis. Along with that eek-eek-eek soundtrack to punctuate it.

In Scream 4, Sidney is back, after having written a book that illustrates her coming to terms with her traumatic past. She joins up with the old gang, including Dewey, who has now graduated to town sheriff, and Gale Weathers, former big-time journalist who has shed her career to be wife to the sheriff, but seems none too satisfied. Pretty soon murders begin to happen, and it seems Ghostface is back for another round.

True to its uroboros nature of art imitating life imitating art, it seems that Neve Campbell, like her character, cannot get away from the Woodsboro killings. Fifteen years later, she is back in the shoes of Sidney, and back to racing out the bedroom window onto the roof, facing down the killer who by this point has become a mythical dragon, an archetypal demon of the self, staring Sidney (and Neve) in the face…or rather, in the mask. The question is, can she finally ever slay it?

If Nancy Meyers, director of Something’s Gotta Give and The Holiday, ever made horror films, hers would aesthetically match the Scream films; while all the horror and violence takes place, it is happening in gleaming kitchens, with coffee mugs and percolators, curtains from Crate & Barrell, and shiny wood floors. Everyone being hunted by Ghostface is rich or has rich parents. But that’s part of the experience we’ve been promised. Sure, people are gruesomely meeting their maker, but they’re doing so in pretty surroundings. It’s all part of the high, the catharsis that involves all the senses, including the tastes.

I have to say, of all four films, the reveal of the killers is most convincing in the first film and this fourth one. As much as I enjoyed the second and third installments, I couldn’t quite swallow the identity of the killers and the reasons for it. They both seemed contrived, but didn’t ruin the entirety of the films they were a part of.

With Scream 4, the explanation is fitting with the characters, the setting, and the timetable. I didn’t feel cheated or insulted, and it all has a sort of unity. The pacing of this newest film is fluid and frantic, with the body count ten times higher than the original or the second. I can’t quite remember the body count in the third. In this one, the killer – or killers – has an ax to grind, and needs to grind it hard, fast, and bloody. As in keeping with the rules of another sequel, the stakes are raised higher than they’ve ever been.

There is something to the bogeyman myth, the need in many of us to experience being chased down a dark hallway by the monster cloaked in darkness, who promises to drag us back to the deep oblivion of our psyches. Ghostface is us, and we are Ghostface. It’s all deeply Freudian. But it’s also deeply entertaining and good for some laughs with friends on a Friday night. In fact, most viewers won’t bother being conscious of the intellectual reasons for what draws them to a fourth go, but they will nonetheless fulfill it by their attendance. It’s been that way since the original Scream, and it continues to be that way with Scream 4. Who knows, maybe it will be so with Scream 5.

I know I’ll be in line for another go with Sidney.

BAD FILMMAKING + ANACHRONISMS + WATER = RED RIDING HOOD

Amanda Seyfried should have run from bad filmmaking in "Red Riding Hood"

What do you get when you decide to revamp a fairy tale classic, but cast it with young hotties, cover the lens in Vaseline,  and hire the director of the first Twilight film?

You get the new Red Riding Hood, a travesty of glossy, shallow, anachronistic Hollywood at the peak of its capitalistic obsession and disregard for literary classics.

As soon as I saw a glowing, too-healthy Virginia Madsen expressionless and poised over the dead body of her youngest daughter, I knew what I was in for. True, Amanda Seyfried is quickly emerging as a talent to be reckoned with, and she does the best any gifted and eager actor can with meager hack work. She showcased that emerging force in the brutal and brilliant Chloe, alongside Julianne Moore. Seeing this, the only explanation I can think of is she just wanted to explore a new genre.

Well, and there’s always the money aspect as well. Not to leap to cynicism so soon.

I should have paid attention when my friend said he thought it looked a little Twilight-y, without even knowing the director of that film, Catherin Hardwicke, is the hand behind this new version of the children’s fairy tale.

I will not belabor the finer plot points of this film for two reasons, well, three actually:

 1) It was so muddled and frenzied that the audience could not lock onto an actual coherent through-line or plot,

 2) You’ve seen this plot (girl betrothed to boy, girl doesn’t want boy, girl wants other bad boy, while battling mysterious monster) a million times, and

3) I just don’t care enough.

The optimistic side of me thought it resembled Tim Burton’s revamp of Sleepy Hollow. What price we pay for our optimism.

Whenever I see a film like this, I always think what a wasted opportunity it was. Thousands of artists came together with the intention – I assume – to tell an interesting story and produce a somewhat interesting  end product. But you know what they say about assuming.

But also I have to wonder what these people think upon arriving at the big red carpet premiere and seeing the result looming large in front of hundreds of their professional peers. Did they actually think the bad casting, bad acting, bad writing, muddled directing, and fevered editing were something to be proud of? How do they justify an exchange like “I’ll wait for you,” “I knew you’d say that”?

Hardwicke was clearly seeking for the new Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner when she cast Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons as the leading men. Nothing about these boys speaks medieval village in the middle of nowhere. I would expect to see them creating drama and getting loaded on “Jershey Shore” or “The O.C.”, shooting their smoldering dark looks and moody reactions toward the bimbos on the beach. Dialogue like “I’m gonna…” anything, does not exactly portray the village-speak of boys from that time or setting. But then by this point in the film it was clear that any attempt at accuracy had been thrown out the window, if it were present at any point early in the production.

When it finally comes to the point of “The Big Reveal,” the film has become so ridiculous and hammy and senseless that the twist and explanation fit into the overall story as much as every other element, in other words, not at all. Nothing about it fits into the jigsaw of the story, it offers the main character and the audience no catharsis or payoff, and means nothing for character or story development. It has the air of being rewritten five or six times until the filmmakers were just exhausted and settled on the latest invented scenario, thrown to the screenwriting winds.

I’m not even going to indulge myself and my own interests by connecting fire dancing scenes, paganism, and the concept of a beast preying on a village to ancient works, legends, and myths (The Golden Bough, etc.). That’s how terrible, shallow, and uninteresting Red Riding Hood was. Any attempt at redeeming aspects of the film by making such intellectual reflections is, in this case, a simple waste of time. Plus it’s insulting to the classics.

I am still puzzled by the fact that giants like Julie Christie and Gary Oldman agreed to star in this. I understand actors simply like to keep working, but there was always something like Just Go With It or Hall Pass that surely would have been more of interest to these actors. And Amanda Seyfried has been so busy these past couple years, she could have used the time it took to shoot this film as a vacation instead. She’s earned it. Better that than forever be associated with this drivel.

HOLLYWOOD HAS OUR GOLD (SHOULD WE WANT IT BACK?)

Catherine Deneuve hounded by the paparazzi

Psychologist Robert A. Johnson has written extensively about a psychological concept called “inner gold,” which refers to a tendency we all are guilty of at one point or another in our lives. It consists of projecting our own inner power and strength onto someone else, whether it is a lover, a stranger, or – as in many cases – celebrities. According to Johnson, we do this because we are not in a psychological state of being able to own and appreciate our own innate goodness, abilities, and beauty. It becomes easier to have someone else, usually against their knowledge, hold and possess it for us, and this results in their seeming to “glow” upon entering a room, captivating our admiration, respect, and sometimes obsession.

In countries like India, there exists a custom of actually walking up to this person and formally asking them to hold our gold for us until we feel ready to take it back. And the person being approached to do this usually understands this ritual and happily agrees to safeguard our inner gold for us. This ritual is psychologically cleansing and is no doubt designed to speed up the process of coming to be able to re-possess our gold.

To me, the biggest, most glamorous example of this universal giving away of our inner gold has manifested in the cult of celebrity, namely Hollywood stars. We photograph, film, admire, chase and dream about these beautiful people, plastering their god-like images on buildings, billboards, magazines, books, and immortalize them on the culmination of the Western eye, the silver screen of cinema. They become the poster children of our own exiled inner sense of self-worth.

We are all paparazzi, paradoxically hounding and pursuing the avatars of our projected inner selves, represented by the men and women racing from their limos to their restaurants, strutting down the royal red carpets while being blinded by the snap-snap of cameras; they are the prey to our predatory eye, surrogates to our malnourished self-esteem.

This mass personal anxiety has produced much great art, from Nefertiti to the Mona Lisa, and finally Angelina Jolie. Mothers and husbands and sons spend hours staring at the images of actors and actresses while their own relationships crumble, while they steadily become more and more estranged from themselves, and seek momentary solace in the vision of the utterly exposed face, body, and person of the star. They become objet d’art, contained statues of worship, frozen in a frame of composition. Through that freezing, we still our anxiety, our inner crises of identity, but it is only temporary. It is exploitation, meat on display, a new Jesus flagellated for the guilt of the guilty, the unrealized inner gold that has yet to be mined within each of us. Indeed, we are all culpable.

That is, until we can begin to reacquaint ourselves with our own innate strengths, make friends with the majesty that resides in us. While we catch up with ourselves, these stars will continue to flit across our screens, occupy our focus, and be the mascots of our inner all-stars.

This phenomenon certainly serves a purpose; the presence of movie stars, elevated to the point of being akin to the Olympian gods, is not altogether something to be done away with. However, the key is in awareness, in understanding their place and what exactly they are doing in our stratosphere.  In many ways, they are our prophets, our sages, our immortal painters. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries will leave a cinematic legacy not unlike the Sistine Chapel, an arched vault glittering with the gorgeous, the almost heavenly sybilene men and women who are the faces of our times. First Michelangelo, then Fellini.

Psychology has worked in tandem with art, pushing civilization and culture into the new phase of expression, which has been called Hollywood, Tinseltown, and Show Business. To look at the timeline of film is to see the playing out of our psychologies, inner angst, and tortured self-divinity.

Rather than attempt a conclusion here, I pose a question: what would be the next phase of cultural arts if we all took back our inner gold? Would the royalties of Hollywood be on the streets, hobos stripped of their mantle composed of their audiences’ glory?

THE SOUND AND FURY OF MODERN MOVIES: A Eulogy to Film as Art

There is something immeasurably valuable about artifice.

Having life viewed through a heightened, glossy aesthetic lens can shed new light on the mundane world and renew our faith in its vitality and worth. And it can just make it look real good.

But excess of the eye can, like everything else, reach a dangerous level of decadence, overabundance, and gluttony. It can eclipse the fundamental levels that lie beneath the surface images, and eradicate any human nuance, lessons and truths. When that happens, the image, though beautiful, becomes empty. It is simply, to quote the master, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

This movie lover visits the theater far, far less than he used to. A disenchantment has crept upon him, to his surprise and against his wishes. However, the Hollywood system has quickly devolved into an assembly-line output in recent years, producing Vaseline-lensed and hyper-CGI, 3-D superhero-explosive-smooth-edged-video-game-bubble-gum fare that satisfies the lust of thirteen-year-old boys, not a mature adult seeking challenging, thought-provoking portrayals of the human condition.

Not to sound pretentious.

But why should one apologize for having high standards in art? Have we reached a new era in filmmaking where, like everything else in society of late, simplicity and thoughtlessness reign? Is this a reflection of a bigger malady that is plaguing the minds and tastes of the population, gorged on microwave pizza, video games, and reality TV?

We want our films fried, electrified, and simplified, the masses seem to be clamoring.

Where is the refuge for those of us who crave art? Where can we go to satisfy our needs? And what about those of us who don’t subscribe to that abstract mothership of films, NetFlix? Is it too much to ask for intelligent films to visit the local theaters, to be viewed as they were meant to be: in monumental grandeur?

In this ever-increasing business called show, and a world battered by a crumbling economy, it looks like the lack of funding and faith in art is going to consign real films to the rental pile before they even get their place in the cinematic sun. Producers are going to play it safe and pander to the lowest common denominator, the key word being common.  And I don’t blame them, really. If I were in the business of making money, the furthest thing from my mind would be the integrity of art, too. Meanwhile, those of us who thirst for something of substance will have to wait longer for our oasis.