Setter’s ‘Spectives: Ah, Yes, I Remember It Poorly

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Why is it that some not-so-great movies stay in the memory and other, much better ones often don’t?

For example: The Omega Man. Sloppy, mediocre science fiction. Yet I recall the images from this Charlton Heston zombies-on-the-loose gloomfest more than anything from a seminal sci-fier I enjoyed more, The Day the Earth Stood Still.

It ain’t easy to forget a giant robot named Gort. Or the famous mantra “Klaatu barada nikto.” And I certainly haven’t forgotten them. But for some reason, they’re not as defined as all of the unpleasantness pervading TOM.

That includes the script, by the way … which could’ve been a lot better, given the source material (Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend).

Perhaps that’s the root of the issue—that memory often focuses on “what ifs” over “done right,” deserting the positives for second guesses. At least, in my case. The idea of something close to quality may trump actual quality in the mind, presenting a puzzle that continues to disturb at the cost of remembering more important works.

TOM isn’t the only flick that does this. Nixon, Turnabout, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane—all of these horrid films I remember all too well, though I don’t want to do so. And they all could’ve been watchable, though each would’ve needed something more than a touch-up. (In Fairlane‘s case, a full cinematic makeover would’ve sufficed.)

So how do I clear my mind of these film fiascos and replace them with memories of David Lean, Satyajit Ray, François Truffaut and the like? I know of only one way.

Watch more of their movies. Put Gort in the DVD player. And maybe repeat the words “Klaatu barada nikto” in my brain until I get it.

A mind’s a terrible thing to waste … on bad movies. No reason, then, to keep them stored with all of those good memories.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Labeling Tragic Masterpieces Correctly

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I think we should start calling sad movies something else if they’re good enough.

It’s really a misnomer. The greatest films—even those surrounding the most tragic subjects–are elating, not painful. They don’t make me unhappy. They make me glad.

That’s how I felt after watching Satyajit Ray’s masterful Pather Panchali on TCM last night. It was the second time I’ve seen it, and despite the harrowing story—which concerns the struggles of an impoverished Bengali family as they try to make ends meet—I wasn’t upset by the time the devastating end came. Instead, I was ecstatic, overjoyed that I could watch such a film and immerse myself in it.

The pleasures were myriad: a hypnotic, wistful score by Ravi Shankar; superb cinematography that made me feel like I was living in an Indian village along with everyone else; terrific acting by a magnificent cast (I dare you not to be moved at the end); and a simple yet profound script providing astute social commentary without belaboring the viewer.

No, these are qualities to revel in, not be sad about. And I reveled in them accordingly, all the while wondering if there’s another name we can give this kind of film—a name that conveys its subject matter concisely while suggesting there’s no need to mourn the protagonists … just its ending, which warrants tears only because there’s no more movie left.