Some things just stick with you. If you know me well, you know I’m particularly fond of linguistic turns where the sarcasm comes back ’round to flip the original. “This is actually pretty good. [said of anything or anyone] It really grows on you.” Me, “yeah, like fungus.” Etc.. Anyway, that line from Monty Python has always stuck in my mind—something to do with the cutesie animation that goes with it, something about the rapid-fire delivery, and probably just mostly how it stomps all over our deep seated human love of the “seasons” metaphor.
“And now for something completely different.”
I was watching a movie about Ip Man last night. (Grandmaster on Netflix; Chinese-language film, it’s a kung fu film. Anyway.) Ip is narrating in various parts as the movie tells his story. At one point he says, “If life has seasons, the first 40 years of my life [where he was happily married with 3 kids] was Spring…” and all of the above popped into my head at, “…and the Japanese invaded in 1930 and things jumped straight to Winter.”
“Make hay while the sun shines,” is an old proverb; We’re still using it today, 500 years after it’s first written mention. It contains deep wisdom which counsels taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. It’s taken me a loong time to get used to the fact that what I see as an opportunity, and what I see as a chore, (or work—however you care to phrase that,) are quite fluid. There’s an ebb and flow to what I want to engage in. Some things which most [sane] people would consider a complete suffer-festival—”omg why would you want to do that?!”—are the things I skip happily towards when the proverbial sun is shining. A day or two later, the things I was skipping away from become the things I’m marching back towards to whistle while I work.
There are, I think, several reasons Hollywood movies often don’t get as much science input as they should. The first is that movie-makers usually just aren’t sensitive to the “science texture” of their movies. They can tell if things are out of whack at a human level, but they typically can’t tell if something is scientifically off. Sometimes they’ll get as far as calling a local university for help, but too often they’re sent to a hyper-specialized academic who’ll not-very-usefully tell them their whole story is wrong. Of course, to be fair, science content usually doesn’t make or break movies. But I think having good science content—like, say, good set design—can help elevate a good movie to greatness.
But first, how exactly does one represent in written from, that sound one makes upon encountering something both slightly surprising and interesting? “Huh,” seems more like the sound one makes upon hearing something about which one is incredulous. For example: “Your Goldfish is escaping on foot!” “Huh?” Instead, I feel I need a word with a little touch of an ‘n’ in it to downplay the puzzlement by making the word less punchy; “That spaceship hangs in the air much in the way bricks don’t.” “Hunh.” That reads better, yes? Obviously, this is easily resolved via inflection when spoken, but there’s no clear written convention. So, okay, I’ll go with “hunh” to express slight surprise with a dash of interest.
hunh. I stumbled over the movie Arrival in Netflix back in 2018, and sort of enjoyed it.
Say what you will about Stephen Wolfram. I’m not referring to the fact that he was directly involved as being a point for, or against, the movie. Rather, I’m interested in his point—which I’m loosely reshaping here—that people who have a good feel for people make good movies about people. Given that the vast majority of people are bad at science, then most people who make movies would make bad movies about science.
Ironically, I’d argue that Arrival is a good science fiction movie, but not a good movie about people.
The first step in clearing your head is to realize how far you are from a neutral observer. When I left high school I was, I thought, a complete skeptic. I’d realized high school was crap. I thought I was ready to question everything I knew. But among the many other things I was ignorant of was how much debris there already was in my head. It’s not enough to consider your mind a blank slate. You have to consciously erase it.
Sure, there are lies of expedience. (“What is thunder?” “It’s clouds bumping into each other.”) But it’s a water slide of lies when you start thinking about it. I know I never really thought about it; I certainly wouldn’t have expected a quick summary of the issues to be 5,000 words.
But there it is none the less, well done by Graham. It contains a litany of ways we all lie to children, (including those of us who don’t have or care for children in any way.) Frankly, some of the ways we all lie seem like an excellent thing to be doing. And if that’s the case, then we all have the we’ve-been-lied-to baggage Graham is describing.
Suddenly! (“It didn’t stop. It didn’t stop!”)
…I feel like I need to toss out the closets of my mind.
One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say. It’s one reason why we read poetry, because poets can give us the words we need. When we read good poetry, we often say, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s how I feel.’
In the beginning, I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey — no, I’m not old enough to have seen it in the theater, thank you — and, in all honesty, I did not understand most of it. Later, I learned about the story, read the related books, etc.. I rewatched the movie and began a long period of wielding my understanding as a badge of pride. (“I understand 2001! Here, let me show it to you. Let me explain it to you.”) I eventually went on to learn to play the Blue Danube on the piano because the piece is so prominent and moving in the film.
… cross-fade …
Very recently, I saw a solar eclipse and I wished someone had queued up Also sprach Zarathustra — whose introduction, by the way, still gives me shivers. It would have been sublime to have had totality begin just as the creshendo strikes in the opening . . .
Also sprach Zarathustra is a tone poem and after the eclipse — perhaps in search of that sublime moment missed — I took the time to listen to it in its entirety.
…and that led me to adjust my living room for optimal viewing …to crank up the volume …and to cue up 2001.
It was just as awe-inspiring as I recalled. Just as awe-inspiring as I’d hoped.
…and then I read this piece — from the perennianlly stellar Brain Pickings — about le Guin’s conception of art.
Something clicked and I gained a new appreciation for the film: “Yeah, that’s it. That’s how I feel.”
A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
For more than four decades, Hollywood insiders, financiers and dreamers have been obsessed by the quest to recover “The Other Side of the Wind,” the unfinished last film of Orson Welles. Cinema buffs consider it the most famous movie never released, an epic work by one of the great filmmakers.
Preemptive: To all my friends. Yes, I know about the movie “Tracers”. No, I have nothing nice to say about it. Imagine Hollywood used a generic formula to paste your favorite thing onto the big screen; Do you think you would enjoy it? Right. It pretty much highlights all the negative aspects of Parkour, and casts Parkour in a bad light. (That’s just my opinion of course.)