Responsible for every great man is a magnificent woman. After all, it was Dorothy in the 1938 movie The Wizard of Oz who made it possible for her male companions to get what they wanted…a brain, a heart, and courage. I also believe in the unconditional acceptance and open-mindedness of children. After all, it was the colorblind child in the 1946 Disney film Song of South who took Uncle Remus by the hand and walked arm and arm with him over the hill and into the golden sunset. It was Barbra Streisand as Daisy Gamble in the 1970 Vincent Minnelli musical On a Clear Day who made me believe that if we can move beyond self-centeredness, our potential is limitless. Hence, on a clear day “rise and look around you…and you can see forever and ever and more,” sang Daisy from the depth of her heart as she twirled through Central Park at the end of the movie. I also believe tyranny and injustice inflicted upon many by the few or the one can only be eradicated when, as Charles Chaplin as the little tramp asks at the end of his 1940 comedy The Great Dictator, and I paraphrase the idea, how depraved and disparaged must humanity become when it realizes that no one person is better than or more privileged than another? Or, how exploited and corporately accosted do we have to be, asks national news anchorman Howard Beale played by Peter Finch in Paddy Chayefsky’s 1975 movie, Network, before those watching the evening news get so angry that they rise from their sofas of complacency, go to their windows, throw them open, and scream, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” I believe the simple message of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind: “We are not alone” (and nor was I).
You see, part of who I am and certain aspects of my value system come from watching some of the greatest movies ever made. As a child, I searched between and beneath the couch cushions to gather loose change so I could go to movies. The mall within walking distance from my Midwest suburban neighborhood had a movie triplex. That’s three movie theaters. On Saturdays, all movies were 75 cents before 1:00 p.m. On Saturday mornings when other kids were sleeping in, out playing ball with their friends, or beginning their weekend chores like cutting the lawn, I had exiled myself to the recesses of a dark movie theatre. It was there I discovered all those magical movie moments, those images, and I found them illuminating. I believe the aforementioned movie images remained with me because from them resonated clear unabashed universal truths. How could anyone argue against them? Cynicism, disillusionment, despair, anti-pragmatism, mistrust, conservatism, and hate did.
As children grow older, they venture into a playground maintained by adults called the playground of complication, despair, and pessimism. In this playground a fertilizer is used to keep its lawn plush and green. This fertilizer’s main ingredients are cynicism, disillusionment, despair, anti-pragmatism, mistrust, conservatism, and hate. While it keeps the lawn plush and green, it kills the child in us. (I am thankful that at a very early age I discovered a playground that thrives in darkness.)
As I grew into adulthood, many used this fertilizer to educate me about how these images that had I found so moving and awe-inspiring were unfounded They wanted me to believe that The Wizard of Oz is merely a fantasy. The Song of the South is racist and not PC. On a Clear Day is worthless pop/musical fluff. They wanted me not to trust Charles Chaplin and Paddy Chayefsky because they were Socialist and Communist sympathizers. They were “leftist extremists” whose passionate and brilliantly written masterpieces, The Great Dictator and Network, were subversive and antiestablishment. That’s what they wanted me to believe. They wanted me to believe that Spielberg’s 1977 U.F.O. masterpiece, Close Encounters, was a bore and its ending maudlin. Who wants to see a movie about aliens that are friendly and have no intention to harm? (Why must everything have a bad guy?)
When it comes to movies, especially great movies, my child remains stubborn and refuses to submit. It fights the indoctrination to the playground of complication, despair, and pessimism. I believe that great movies present images of aspirations and dreams worthy of reach, and they must (and will) present images that are difficult to watch, too, because images that are difficult and unwatchable contain ideas and expressions that must be examined and discussed. (I am thankful to Mr. Spielberg for Amistad and Schindler’s List and Mr. Hitchcock for Psycho.) Great movie images are metaphors captured in a series of renderings or images and magically set into motion. When the metaphors are set into motion, they are transcended into dreams and visions that are realized and articulated into a clear expression that many will always, if not understand, at least marvel at and ponder, regardless if the dream or vision that is being projected concerns The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This I believe.
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