“…I wish to stir your imagination about the importance of film…I want to dwell on one of the great blessings of the mass media in general and movies in particular: The opportunity to make us think independently about alternative points of view. Regardless of age, status, education or geography, every member of a film audience…has the ability to see the world in transition and in conflict. Film audiences do not just see the conflicts. They are drawn into the issues and feel strongly about the questions and participants because movies first and foremost are about emotions.”
Dr. Frank Manchel
Take Two: A Film Teacher’s Unconventional Story, p. 439
“Every year you get older, I get smarter.”
Dr. Frank Manchel, Film Professor Emeritus
said constantly to his two sons….
The Film Professor, my father, was right on both counts, and this blog is the result of me discovering his new-found wisdom.
As I get older, I just turned 56, I find myself wanting to spend more time engaged with matters of substance, as opposed to fluff; be that film, opera, books, music, paintings, or, in rare instances, people. Therein lies the simple yet somewhat complicated goal of this blog: inducing people to leave their social media and reality shows behind, and to spend some of their precious free time watching and listening to something I think is more lasting and enduring and meaningful; something to which, as the above-quoted language suggests, you the viewer can bring some emotion. And, just like the effort it takes to read a great piece of literature, you will find that none of my suggestions will necessarily be “easy” to watch; indeed, in the words of those whose opinions I hope to change, the selections may come off as or appear to be “slow” or “boring” and, perhaps, just not “fun.” My recommendations might even include, get ready, and gasp, a foreign film with subtitles and a bad review!
The saying we all know to be true, but oftentimes forget or just outright ignore, applies to my selections: you only get out of something what you put into something. So, if your goal is to sit there and be “entertained,” or to “to just kill time” then (a) stop reading and visiting this blog, and (b) re-submerge yourself in the couch potato wasteland towards which we all seem to be marching.
To copy a phrase my father uses often, “let me be clear”: I am NOT a film critic, nor am I a film expert or, for that matter, a film historian (my father’s specialty). In some ways, that makes me more like each of you. However, where you and I likely differ is that I was raised in a home by a man who is all three of those things. My father is a film critic, he is a film historian, and he is a film expert. Perhaps more importantly, my father made it his life’s mission to teach his sons, and anyone who read his books or attended his classes or just spent time with him, how, in essence, to “read” a film. At its core, I think, his fundamental belief, as regards film (and all the arts), is that people benefit enormously when they learn to appreciate, for example, films and music, the way we are taught in school to understand great literature. Using our intellectual curiosity, we are then consumed with understanding why good, bad and terrific films are so exciting and worthwhile. I’m talking, to paraphrase the Professor, about discovering movies that both entertain us and also educate and inspire us.
Again, I am not a teacher of film. But, thanks to my father, I have spent my entire life watching films with The Film Professor. Together, we have watched great, not so great, and outright crappy movies. The one thing all those experiences had in common was that he charged us with watching and listening critically. That is, what was the film experience all about and what did you take away from it? Equally important, my brother (who is a very successful college basketball coach) and I were taught that whether a film is “good,” depends not on whether “people liked it,” or on what experts said it was; rather, a film’s worth, and it’s value to you, depends ultimately on everything from production qualities, to screenwriting, to editing, to acting, to filming…and it does not matter if people “liked or did not like it.” (In fact, depending on the person offering the upbeat opinion, a positive review often signals a terrible film.)
My marker, if you will, is a bit simpler than, say, the final exams in my father’s classes: did the film achieve something meaningful for you? Consequently, each week, my goal is to identify productions that I think are worth your time: documentaries, dramas. comedies, musicals, series. My selections, almost universally, can be found on Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes and/or On Demand. Sorry to make you work to find them but, as my law partner says, such are “First World Problems.”
My recommendations will not be critiqued or promoted by me. Instead, each suggestion will be framed as follows: (1) title; and (2) a brief, factual description (e.g. “In Search of General Tso” is a documentary about how Chinese Food, and Chinese People, migrated across the United States”). Note what is absent: any discussion by me about why one “should” watch the film; what one “should” expect to see or look for or experience; whether it is “suitable” for you or your loved ones or children; and last, but not least, why I recommended it.
My hope, is that what I recommend would be appreciated by my father, because, at this point in my life, at my age, he has become really, really smart. Besides, knowing him, he’d probably bust my chops on what I didn’t learn about films. In fact, rest assured that, while so far he has played no role in selecting any film, he did chime in on this introduction; and he will let me know if I miss the mark on any given suggestion.
My goal is that you will come to trust me and, with that trust, commit to checking out a film that you otherwise might not try. Take for example my reference above to the “General Tso” movie. When was the last time you voluntarily watched a foreign documentary about how a Chinese food dish made its way into America, as opposed to, let’s say, spending time watching the latest Survivor episode? If the answer is “never,” then go and watch it. If you do, I’m arrogant enough to think (a) you will learn a lot, (b) you’ll enjoy the experience, and (c) you will order Chinese takeout! The point is, try something new, be willing to have unfiltered experiences, and broaden your horizon and, then, if you like the experience, the horizons of others. Perhaps, and here is where I get on my soapbox, then tolerance and civility will reemerge in our society. By identifying with other people we might get to know them better. Admittedly a bit dramatic, but, alas, I have spent my whole life with drama and had a great time; I want the same for you.
Last but not least, I hope you will use this blog as a sort of film club. Watch the films, write in with your feedback and comments (but please don’t give anything away/make sure you announce, if appropriate, a “spoiler alert”), and feel emboldened to make your own film suggestions (“if you liked this, you will like….”). BUT: in these political times, this space is an attempt to remain a positive, inclusive, and “vent free” zone. Today, at least from my perspective, too much energy is being spent on negative, divisive, oftentimes exaggerated positions and perspectives. Please let’s not go there on this blog. All I want is to recommend films that make you say, in essence, “I never would have watched something like that unless he recommended it, and I am glad he did, and that I watched it.”
So here goes. Putting myself out there. As my father’s longtime friend, the Bard of Avon, said, “cowards die every day, but a hero dies just once.”
Here’s to our heroes, and to watching a good movie together….