|USA Edition||Today Is Thursday December 12th, 2013|
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|Browsing The Human Condition Section||Organized In Date Order||[ 19 items ]|
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Siskel and Ebert taught two generations of moviegoers that movie reviews rooted in intellectual honesty, cultural foundations and personal taste could be useful tools in movie selection. But in the doing moviegoers discovered the difference between marketing and movie-making — for what is shown in theaters today fails in comparison to the large numbers of excellent films to be found on NetFlix and other movie streaming sites.
This week saw the passing of Roger Ebert, who along with Gene Siskel helped to frame the American movie experience for three decades. From the moment their PBS series, Sneak Previews, was launched in 1975, the connection between moviegoers and movie makers was forever changed — for the better.
From the beginning Sneak Previews and all of its later reincarnations taught us was how to embrace an objective, intellectual relationship with theatrical movies. As a nation we learned about theatrical movies from these men — and so did Hollywood.
Siskel and Ebert did not invent movie analysis, but they practiced it openly — and in public — based on long established themes, standards and genres. Both men wanted us to know that movies in general, and good movies in specific, rest on the quality of the story.
Which wasn’t to say Ebert and Siskel consistently agreed about which stories, or movies, were worth a dollar and two hours of one’s life.
Well before television movie reviews, Michael Cortiz filmed Casablanca at Warner Brothers in Hollywood, and nearby Van Nuys airport. Then as now, notions of story telling were well established as were movie goer interests and star power.
Thus objective movie reviews, by two very different but equally thoughtful judges, helped movie goers to identify what interested them, and what didn’t.
Siskel and Ebert taught two generations of moviegoers that movie reviews rooted in intellectual honesty, cultural foundations and personal taste could be useful tools in movie selection regardless of genre or period.
But in the doing moviegoers discovered the difference between marketing and movie-making — for what is shown in theaters today does not measure up against large numbers of excellent films to be found on NetFlix and other movie streaming sites. Marketing, advertising and star appeal fills seats, while good story materials, tightly-woven screenplays and skilled editing leave an indelible impression that can last a lifetime.
No mater whether Ebert and Siskel agreed, their individual judgements almost always reflected different, often strongly articulated viewpoints. It wasn’t so much how they valued the movie, or even if they agreed, but the commentary, discussion and rebuttal that helped us to develop our own criteria.
We remember what happened that foggy night at Casablanca Airport becasue Michael Curtiz introduced us to lovers we came to care about, Rick Blaine ( Humphrey Bogart ) and Ilsa Lund ( Ingrid Bergman ).
What millions learned from Sneak Previews was that movies are complicated animals — part theatrical art, part show business, and part marketing. But even when all of these elements are strong, some movies fail miserably because the essence of a great movie rests on notions, beliefs and tastes — not science. Great movies, the kind we enjoy at first showing, and long remember, rise to greatness on the quality of a story well told.
The era of technology in movie making is not new. No more than two years after Siskel and Ebert, began to make us conscious of the complexities in moving making, George Lucas introduced technology to commercial movie making with the introduction of Star Wars in 1977.
That same year Steven Spielberg took us to exciting new places and situations in Close Encounters Of the Third Kind. Being the better storyteller made Spielberg’s movie more intellectually satisfying for adults while technology and imagination made Lucas’ long running Star Wars series financially far more successful based on the important role fantasy plays for young movie goers.
We remember what happened that foggy night at Casablanca Airport becasue we cared about the characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
What’s happened since the heady days when Siskel and Ebert argued passionately about movies on Sneak Previews and its later reincarnations, played out against an unwelcome reality — what has the feel of a steady decline in the number of intellectually honest films that speak to movie goers about the human condition we all share.
For the most part, movies produced so far in the 21st century have been exceptional for their ability to make money, or demonstrate technological advances in the movie making process.
But not much heart, little insight — and even less wisdom about our life on this small blue planet.
The Life Of Pi is an example of excellence in technology empowered by massive marketing that failed to deliver anything more than a third-rate movie filled with sizzle and failed good intentions.
A similar technological tour de force, Avatar, written and directed by James Cameron succeeds not by its slick animation or unrelenting violence, but by way of two dissimilar characters whose relationship is so compelling that their story transcends time and place.
After watching a long series of unremarkable films, Lincoln, Hitchcock, Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Life Of Pi and Skyfall one might wonder if there is a boundary between theatrical movies and video games.
Maybe you’ve forgotten the magic of a real movie made by real people on real sets and about people like you and me. Here are some I watched this month that made the grade. You may know many more.
And therein you may find the magic of theatrical movies — whether told from a foggy runway on the northern coast of Africa or the steaming jungle of a planet far from anything we’ve known before. The best movies take us away from our own every day existence. Even when that place is troubled, or in northeast Britain, as told in Steven Daltry’s Billy Elliott. Or deep in the private thoughts of people caught up in the unavoidable realities of the human condition as in Daltry’s tale of forbidden love in The Reader.
The most enriching movies are about the human condition — for living, loving and surviving are the central threads that connect movie makers and movie goers wherever they may be found in the timeless realm of story telling.
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