Inactivism and the Movies


by Billee Sharp

I’m under-whelmed by the amount of worthy and righteous local events I’ve missed in the last month.  There was the anti-war demo downtown on March 20, marking seven years of war in Iraq, a Marin-side Palestinian benefit in memory of Rachel Corrie to raise $ for the Gaza Mental Health Organization and even Arundati Roy talking about tribal resistance in India to benefit the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights  in Indian-administered Kashmir. I was absent from all these events and my excuses range from having to attend the immensely important first game of the U-13 Spring soccer season, to a bout of chronic hypertension and that old chestnut – lack of funds.  As a permanent resident of the U.S., formerly and more exotically known as a ‘resident alien,’ I am actually verboten to participate in anything political, and of course I don’t get a vote locally or nationally. Basically though, not having enough surplus monthly wealth has been key: sliding scale admissions that start at twenty bucks and go upward haven’t been in the budget this month, AP exam fees, SAT tutorials, gym membership, music lessons and soccer fees – the basic stuff that supplements public education here in California, sucked up those few hundred bucks that were left after paying the rent and the bills. I  know that I should have made more lentil-based suppers to make a contribution to the Gazans. I should also have considered being more humble by going and offering the five bucks I had in hand (another theoretical six being dutifully paid for bridge-crossing). We did succeed in going to the Education Cuts demo though,  my middle-schooler, as you see, with a home-made banner reading ‘SCHOOLS NOT BOMBS YO!’ We rendezvoused with brother and his crew from SOTA and the Balboa High contingent and  all spent some happy moments chanting outside City Hall.

During this period of law-abiding political inactivism I do seem to have managed to have seen quite a lot of movies. While this is not necessarily a noble pursuit I feel sufficiently inspired to write about them. I don’t always get to watch a lot of movies, but I do have a weird attachment to having them in the house. I’ve been known to hang on to Netflix movies for many months, paying ridiculous sums to have obscure classics like Aguirre: The Wrath of God here, ready for viewing.

I feel that a household like ours has been a golden vein of revenue for the DVD delivery businesses, not being organized enough to actually watch and return discs makes the average cost of having a movie delivered to the house probs around twenty bucks. Then we still have to go to the video store because we only have Aguirre, and Waterworld which boys have long since  maxxed out on. The third delivered movie  has invariably  dematerialized sometimes leaving its insignificant little paper envelope behind, sometimes not. Our home collection of movie discs has diminished since the advent of  T.V. on the computer (so much for the years we spent feeling lofty while depriving the boys of brainwashing Cable) now they are sucking up episodes of Lost and The Office for free online.

Most of our DVDs are, predictably, the ones Blockbuster made us buy after we missed the return dates, if anybody wants that Miss Pettigrew flick, its languishes here, still unwatched, also Babel and something called Scotland P.A.

The DVD rental business has to be in significant decline: digital download technology, already utilized by i-tunes and Netflix must logically precede more empty vid stores in suburban malls, as even the movie–idiotic like us figure out that we are wasting money, gas and time getting our movies the old way.

So viewing  has been wider-ranging for me this month as I’ve attempted to view what I’d paid handsomely for. I’ve been rendered amused, inspired, heartbroken and informed as I  watched comfortably from my own sofa. As the Oscars swizzled in the headlines I caught up with some that were nominated but more that weren’t.

Favorites:  Bright Star (2009)– thanks Jane Campion for exquistite visions of Hampstead & early nineteenth century fashion, 10 out of 10 from me , nada from the boys “Mom, the music was fucking awful” they snorted, utterly unmoved by the tragic Keats.

Moon (2009), we all loved, brilliant story, ace clone by Sam Rockwell and pretty faultless everything:  direction,soundtrack & cinematography. I’m almost tempted not to return this to Blockie so it can sit in its rightfully place in our collection, next to BladeRunner.

The Hurt Locker (2009), not as gratuitous as I’d feared and functioning pretty well as an anti-war statement, I particularly liked how the good guys-bad guys dictum was absent at character level.

The Hangover (2009) culled by the offspring for hilarious dialogue  fully low-brow and guiltily enjoyed by me, cue husband head-shaking about banality, vulgarity etc.

Where the Wild things Are (2009), cool computer animation, but even my big kids were freaked with the dark interpretation of the beasties, I definitely wouldn’t show it to any smalls.

In The Loop (2009), British-made Office-like hilarious look at minions and cabinet ministers interacting with American counterparts in the build-up moments to the Iraqi war, it’s really funny, I say a must-see, and super impressive for a production budget of less than a million.

If a movie is likely to be disturbing I try and watch it during the day, its true what the Ayurvedic tradition says about not overstimulating the mind before bedtime with books or visuals: it does lead to troubled dreams. That’s why I held on to Sin Nombre (2009) for so long, I’d watched the first twenty minutes in bed and made an executive decision to continue during daylight hours. If I was going to recommend just one movie from recent viewing, it would be this one, directed by Oakland-born Carey Fukunaga, it tells a commonplace story of Central American migrants coming north and the everyday tragedy of young men caught up with gangs. There is an indisputable reality that glints in every frame, hugely talented understated performances from the main actors and the non- professional extras add pathos in the unmistakably genuine slump of their shoulders.

“I didn’t have to tell them [the extras] anything- they know how to sit on a train” said Fukunaga in an interview in the Socialist Review.

I’m haunted by Sin Nombre, and rightly so, beautiful and brutal, it has spurred my inactivism into at least a renewed effort to habla espanol , ‘501 Spanish Verbs’ is back on my bedside table.

–Billee Sharp

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2 Responses to Inactivism and the Movies

  1. shobhan says:

    I think reading before bed is ok or watching movies before bed – unless they are scary ones – I read and watch movies before bed – I always read and I don’t have disturbed dreams at all. Mind you , I don’t read or watch scary stuff. Have you seen Filth and Wisdom directed by Madonna? That’s my favorite movie of the past while.

  2. billee says:

    interesting- I feel I’m pretty auto-suggestive generally & I’m wary of disturbing stuff generally & espec at night-
    I haven’t seen Madonna’s flick – mostly becos it got so dissed by the crits- but on yr rec I’ll get it!

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