8/10/2009

"(500) Days of Summer" and... Bergman films ?

What do popular, youth-oriented, currently-playing-in-a-theater-near-you romantic comedies have to do with cinema classics from days long gone by ? How could the charmingly sweet "(500) Days of Summer " possibly intersect with Ingmar Bergman's strangely allegorical B&W film from 1958 ? Why does having a classical education benefit you in yet one more unforeseeable aspect of your life?
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Hubster and I, upon the recommendation of a friend, went to see the delightfully painful "(500) Days of Summer" just the other night. Hubster was struck near speechless (a truly remarkable feat, ask anyone who knows him) by his own identification with the lead character, Tom Hansen, as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, manages to evoke the sort of "every guy" archetype while remaining not a caricature. In this movie, Hanson falls in love with Summer Finn, played by Zooey Deschanel, who is a girl way over his level- not only in terms of attractiveness, but also in terms of emotional maturity (as most young women are vis a vis young men). The story progresses as one might predict, (guy gets girl, guy loses girl) but that does not mean this is a predictable movie. The rawness of the young man's emotions as they play across his face reveal just how far we have come since my own dating days, decades ago. Back then, guys never revealed their emotions, leaving the girls to speculate ... in endless phone calls to various gf's, while all permutations of said boyfriend's behavior were analyzed to the micro level. We were way off base, completely wrong in our assumptions, more often than not.
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I couldn't help but noticing, as hubster and I walked in to the movie theater, that we were by far the oldest folk in there; all the other couples and individuals in the theater were at least half our age. This fact was filed away and forgotten, until the sequence in the film comes where Tom goes to the movies in an attempt to get over his break up with Summer. This film has many creative moments where the narrative, which is never presented in a straight linear timeline, but reflecting current trends in fiction, instead jumps back and forth and around and around, each spin revealing this new fact or that little insight, giving the viewer much to think about once it is over as one pieces together comments or events in the story and derives deeper understanding of what just happened. There are cute sequences with split screen moments, one side revealing "expectations" and another side "reality" as our hero attends a party. ( Ah ! The influence of the video game generation!) But I knew the great cultural divide came in the scene when our hero sits in a movie theater, watching films, and instead of seeing on the screen whatever he is really there to see, he sees himself as the main character in this long kaleidoscopic series of classic foreign movies. Allusions flicker by, almost too quick to process -everything from homages to "The Red Balloon" to Marcel Marceau to Truffaut to Woody Allen to Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" (where the knight plays chess on the beach with Death). Hubster and I roared with laughter to each of these cinematic references.... and the rest of the audience around us was silent.
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As a teenager, I grew up within spitting distance of The University of Texas at Dallas. This rather sterile campus, architecturally speaking, was founded (I think) so that all the engineers from nearby Texas Instruments had a close convenient place to go earn MA's or PHD's in electrical engineering or comp sci, and their wives ( this being the 1960's) could earn degrees in library science, education, or speech therapy - for it is precisely this odd mixture of disciplines that this campus used to offer. Back in the day before VCR's and DVD's, many college campuses such as UTD offered what we used to refer to as "repertory cinema" which meant the showing of older (not current) previously run movies. Before the invention of VHS, DVD, Blue Ray, Netflix, VOD, Hulu, etc. Until very recently, there weren't 5,000 channels of cable tv available , and the only movies to appear regularly on tv were "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Ten Commandments" (which was shown each year for Passover). If you had a hankering to see "Gone With the Wind" or "The Godfather", much less something a bit more esoteric, such as "The 400 Blows", well, buddy, you were out of luck. But if you had a theater (such as The Alabama in Houston, or the Inwood in Dallas, and countless others across America) that showed old movies, you were in cinema heaven. The UTD campus theater put out a calendar that was poster-sized, once a semester, and which showed the months like a regular calendar. On each day was a different film - this was how repertory theater often worked. Want to see "Casablanca"? You better catch it on the one night it was being shown. By receiving the calendar for several months ahead of time, one could put it up on the wall and plan one's life around the various films being offered. Which is exactly what my friends and I did when I was growing up.....often forgoing school or social activities and choosing instead to catch classic films, foreign films, or a cluster of films all by one director, starring one actor, or from a particular country, which was known as a " retrospective". This was the beginning of my own cinematic education. I went off to college a few years later with a taste for this type of cinema, which quickly expanded into current foreign and indie films. My college bf, bless his heart, realized that my needs in this regard were insatiable, and quickly got himself a job at the local cinema that specialized in foreign/indie films, so we could go all we wanted for free - thus saving himself the $1000's he would have spent, when I nagged him to take me to the movies.
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So in addition to all the useless but enjoyable things I have taught myself over the years from books, I also have a vast broad knowledge of foreign cinema, which is entirely useless, but enjoyable. And as I say to my students as regards literature or film, or anything else, the more you know (read/study) , the more you get the jokes.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, i´ve just read what you said about this movie, and general cinema knowledge, and i could´t agree more. I´m a 19 year old engineering student from Argentina, and I´ve also understood the jokes and references that this movie has. I think Ingmar Bergman was the greatest director of all time, and the scene were Tom plays chess with the angel in the beach was just hilarious. It´s nice to see that people so far from here have the same opinions than me. Excuse for my rusty English but i don´t get to use it very often. If you like to talk about movies I´ll be glad to hear from you. My mail adress is francopetrosino@hotmail.com

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