Saturday, March 25, 2023

Dunkirk (2017)

There's a long strand of irony running through the history of Film.  I suppose a good way to sum it up is with the maxim: "What's hip today, may tomorrow be passe".  The records of Tinseltown are littered with candidates who were once considered "the most important flick".  The one picture you had to see if you wanted to be considered serious about movies.  Cut to the present moment and most of them barely cast a reflection in the rear view mirror.  These are the offerings that had their moment once upon a time, and now somehow found their way somewhere nearer the bargain basement bin of cinematic glory.  

Off the top of my head, a few that I can recall are such examples as: American Beauty, Shakespeare in Love, Sky Captain and the World of TomorrowHugo and The Aviator (both directed by Martin Scorsese), and once acclaimed experiments like The Artist come to mind.  Nowadays, I think we have to remind ourselves that works like this still exist, every now and then.  I can't help wondering if the film we're about to look at today falls into that category?  Christopher Nolan is still no stranger to movie-goers, of course.  Just the name alone is able to conjure up some favorite image.  Whether it's Terrance Stamp on a revenge spree, Heath Ledger in the role of his life, or maybe the earlier, gritty Noir spectacle of a picture like Followed, Nolan has gotten lucky so far.  He's still has enough fond memories allow him a career in this business.

I'm just curious how far all that good will and its memory extends.  If anyone recalls Nolan these days, its as one in a long line of directors who have lent their talents to bringing the fabled Gotham Cape and Cowl to life on the big screen.  Something tells me its no real secret if a film like The Dark Knight becomes the one thing everybody will remember Nolan best for.  That just leaves the question of what about all of his other work?  Where does a film like Dunkirk fit into all of this?  Does it belong on the list given above?  I think it's best if we take a close look at it, and see what secrets it holds, and what it say about it's quality.  Maybe it doesn't deserve to slip all that far through the cracks of memory lane.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play (2012).

To tell you the truth, it's been a while since I've given any real thought to the subject.  There was a time when I would have considered myself a fan of The Simpsons.  These days, however?  Well, maybe not all that much.  Perhaps not at all is the more correct way of how things stand, with me, at least.  The funny thing is I can still recall how and where I first saw them, though there's a bit of a trick in the telling, and it goes like this.  I almost started to talk about the first ever episode of the show that I watched from start to finish.  Then I had to stop myself because I realized that wasn't quite correct.  That's not how I ran across the (former) First Family of Comedy at all, really.  It was through a tie-in arcade game the series once had.  It came in one of those big boxes that you find tucked away in old malls back in a long vanished analog age.  Does anybody here still remember those old arcade areas?  

It was a result of the first great video game boom during the 80s.  It's how we got stuff like Pac Man, Space Invaders,  or Super Mario Bros.  As the games got more sophisticated, so did the graphics, and pretty soon there were arcade boxes that offered games functioning as tie-in materials for favorite shows on TV, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Hell, even Michael Jackson once had an arcade game dedicated to him, that's just how crazy and interesting things used to be back in the day.  Sure enough, Springfield's favorite family also got in on the action at one point.  It was this beat-em-up brawler were you got to choose between any of the four members of Che Simpsons as you battled your way through town in order to rescue the baby, Maggie.

I'm not sure the of exact place where I first saw that particular bit of shameless merchandising.  I think it could have been in the lobby of a long defunct theater chain, or maybe a local pizzeria type place.  My clearest memory, however, is of catching a brief glimpse of the game's setup, and finding it kind of intriguing, I guess you could say.  As far as first encounters go, that probably sounds simple enough.  Except there's just one problem.  My mind has played a further trick on me.  That's not the real first time I ran across The Simpsons at all.  Before that it all must have started off as a sporadic series of passing chance encounters.  Here's where the history begins to get sketchy.  Beyond a few crucial snapshot remembrances, I don't think I paid enough attention to all the times I was ever alerted to the presence of America's Favorite Dysfunctional Family on the airwaves.  It's possible the first time was catching a casual glimpse of a quickie promo on the TV at one point.  This, in turn, might have been followed by the first spate of toy commercials.  I know at some point I wound up the owner of a rubber-plastic Bart figurine.  Though it's been so long that I no longer recall how I got hold of it, or what's even become of it today.  It might even count as a lost collector's item these days, for all I know.

After that, things begin to come into a bit better focus.  Not a lot, though better than where it all started.  I can claim with certainty to have caught the tail-end of the episode known as Bart Gets Hit by a Car.  It's the one that ends with Homer and Marge commiserating with each other over a pint at Moe's, remember?  Marge just blew the family's chance on winning a hefty wad of money from Mr. Burns in court.  There was this shady ambulance chaser named Lionel Hutz who'd finagled it so they could all hit the jackpot in terms of a monetary settlement for the "damages" done to Bart at the episode's start.  All they needed to make it work is ensure that everyone was on the same page, and give the same false testimony.  Bart and Homer are onboard with this scheme.  Lisa and Marge, however, are not.  And it's Marjorie's decision to tell the truth which causes the court to turn against them.  The show then ends with Man and Wife apologizing and patching things up together at Springfield's best watering hole.

This is all stuff I found out about later on.  I first came in at the end, like I said.  Right at the point where Homer looks Marge right in the eye, and realizes that he still loves her with all his heart.  He tells her as much in front of all his drinking buddies, and everyone cheers, and decides to celebrate with a round of Duff Beer.  Hard to believe that's how it used to be, isn't it?  This was all in the future (once upon a past) for me, at the time.  Back then, all I saw was another snippet of a burgeoning pop culture phenomenon, and I still didn't have a clue what it was about.  The funny thing is I probably would have remained clueless of all this if I hadn't left a video cassette recording long enough to capture a rerun of the episode where Marge decides to get a job at the Nuclear Power Plant, and winds up catching the eye of Homer's boss.  I forget the name of the episode after all these years, yet I can still remember a lot of the shenanigans that went on in it.  It included a subplot riff on the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, involving Bart.  It's the one that ends with the couple being serenaded by Tom Jones, only he's being held captive by Mr. Burns as the result of one of his attempts to win her over to his side.

I don't think there's much of anything new about the patchwork story I've just told.  Odds are even the world is full reminiscences just like mine.  All of them, when placed together side by each other, would amount to little more than an anecdotal history of how America first came to know what used to be considered the funniest, and most clever sitcom satire in history.  At least that's how it all started out.  The key thing to note about that little bit of shared history written above lies in the way it was told.  I was having to work from memory the whole time just to get the facts straight, which is telling.  I also had to stop every now and again when I realized I hadn't told the whole story.  There were gaps in my history with The Simpsons that needed shoring up in order to give an accurate picture, and this is something that's even more significant.  All I was trying to do was recount how I came to know about a very famous (once popular) TV show, and yet it took effort because of how much time had lapsed between when it all happened, where I am now, and how much energy I gave to remembering it all.

The whole process teaches a sort of unintentional (yet very real) lesson on the sometimes perilous nature of human memory.  It's a natural enough aspect of life, and something that we all have along with other mental faculties, such as the Imagination (if there even is anything natural about make believe, or remembrance for that matter), and yet it's something you sort of have to work at if you want it to function properly.  If I had to give a good description of what a memory does, or is supposed to be, then I guess a good way to describe it is to call it a way to capture all the important moments of things that go to make up a life.  How much any of us is able to recall important events from our past probably says a lot about what we value, or hold to be important.  The intertwined subject of the persistence of memory, or the remembrance of things past is a topic of great concern to a writer like Anne Washburn.  It forms part of the core of a play she wrote not too long ago.  It concerns, of all things, nothing less than The Simpsons, the show's legacy, and they way we recall it in our collective memory.  It's an intriguing fable of remembrance, persistence, and the way we tell stories to each other, and how the best tales manage to survive through the passage of time.  It's called Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play.