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King: Movies take us to new realities

POSTED: December 11, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Cinema is the leading art form of this era. Nothing matches today’s movies for size, reach, and verisimilitude.

Of course there’s a lot of trash being produced, but I’m sure aspiring artists produced trash in the days of Rembrandt and Cezanne, ambitious musicians produced trash in the days of Beethoven and Mozart, and mediocre authors ... well, you get the point.

Nevertheless, the best of today’s movies match any of the great works of art of the past, and they do something else: They leave behind a believable record of impossible events that weave their way into our psyche. This is not altogether a good thing.

Still, I love the movies, and over the last month have seen some good ones. James Bond movies are a family tradition. The early Bond movies — and Sean Connery will always be Bond for me — were released on Christmas Day. After The King family opened their presents, my husband and I packed the kids in the car and headed off for the noon showing.

Fifty years later, my husband, our son and our granddaughter continued the holiday tradition by attending the latest Bond movie, “Skyfall.” If you like the genre, it was a perfect Bond movie. It had everything: A breathtaking chase; the classic statement, “The name is Bond, James Bond;” Daniel Craig in a tuxedo; beautiful women; a nefarious villain — everything Bond aficionados have come to expect.

We enjoyed it, but it also had everything I hate about this type of movie, starting with the opening chase through a crowded bazaar. Vendors’ carts are overturned and their wares scattered over the street, smashed cars, broken windows, terrified bystanders — all without a thought to what this would mean if the chase had been real. A poor man’s business ruined, smashed ribs and smashed heads inside the smashed cars, a mother’s fright when her child is almost killed.

Ah, but we don’t think about those things. It’s just a movie.

And so is “Lincoln” with Daniel Day-Lewis. There the similarity ends. “Lincoln” is equally intense but far less likely to appeal to audience looking for thrills. It is dark, slow and all the action is cerebral. It is a 2½-hour history lesson, not just of a man but also of a time and a place, and the pain and sacrifice that comes with high office. In the darkened theater you become a witness.

Over the holidays, I also took three teenagers to see “The Rise of the Guardians.” Yes, it’s a manipulative Christmas cartoon movie designed to beguile little children and their parents. “Believe,” the move says. “... Believe in fairies, believe in Santa, believe in the ultimate victory of good over evil,” but it’s also a delightful little bonbon of a movie. If the celluloid Father Christmas had turned to the movie audience and asked them to save a fairy’s life by clapping their hands, as Mary Martin did in the stage play of Peter Pan, I would have clapped.

Finally, my husband and I saw “The Life of Pi.” In “Pi,” moviemaking reaches some sort of pinnacle. Underling all the aforementioned movies is the question: How real is real? What are we willing to believe and why?

Could a boy survive months at sea in a open boat with a Bengal tiger? Well, of course not, but millions read the book and millions more will see the movie. For that 2½ hours, they will believe.

If that kind of belief is impossible — I have a good friend who won’t see the movie for that reason — the world is a different place. Not better, not worse, but different. For some a work of art is a shared truth. For others, it is a shared experience.

I love the movies, and the image of the boy and the tiger has its own kind of reality.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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