Since I have an aversion to movies in which people say grace at the dinner table (not to the practice but to how movies use it to establish the moral strength of a household), the opening night montage of Sunday-night supper in one home after another in Waxahachie, Texas in 1935 a whole community saying grace made me expect the worst.
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A good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theatre; a good movie can make you feel alive again, in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the Hollywood-entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn't all corruption. The movie doesn't have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line. An actor's scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense. Sitting there alone or painfully alone because those with you do not react as you do, you know there must be others perhaps in this very theatre or in this city, surely in other theatres in other cities, now, in the past or future, who react as you do. And because movies are the most total and encompassing art form we have, these reactions can seem the most personal and, maybe the most important, imaginable. The romance of movies is not just in those stories and those people on the screen but in the adolescent dream of meeting others who feel as you do about what you've seen. You do meet them, of course, and you know each other at once because you talk less about good movies than about what you love in bad movies.
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Watching old movies is like spending an evening with those people next door. They bore us, and we wouldn't go out of our way to see them; we drop in on them because they're so close. If it took some effort to see old movies, we might try to find out which were the good ones, and if people saw only the good ones maybe they would still respect old movies. As it is, people sit and watch movies that audiences walked out on thirty years ago. Like Lot's wife, we are tempted to take another look, attracted not by evil but by something that seems much more shameful -- our own innocence.
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The movies have been so rank the last couple of years that when I see people lining up to buy tickets I sometimes think that the movies aren't drawing an audience - they're inheriting an audience. People just want to go to a movie. They're stung repeatedly, yet their desire for a good movie - for any movie - is so strong that all over the country they keep lining up.
Before seeing Truffaut 's Small Change, I was afraid it was going to be one of those simple, natural films about childhood which I generally try to avoid I'm just not good enough to go to them. But this series of sketches on the general theme of the resilience of children turns out to be that rarity a poetic comedy that's really funny.
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There seems to be an assumption that if you're offended by movie brutality, you are somehow playing into the hands of the people who want censorship. But this would deny those of us who don't believe in censorship the use of the only counter-balance: the freedom of the press to say that there's anything conceivably damaging in these films - the freedom to analyze their implications. ... How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience?
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He [Bernardo Bertolucci] has the kind of talent that breaks one's heart: where can it go, what will happen to it? In this country we encourage 'creativity' among the mediocre, but real bursting creativity appalls us. We put it down as undisciplined, as somehow 'too much.' Well, Before the Revolution is too much and that is what is great about it. Art doesn't come in measured quantities: it's got to be too much or it's not enough.
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In San Francisco, vulgarity, "bad taste," ostentation are regarded as a kind of alien blight, an invasion or encroachment from outside. In Los Angeles, there is so much money and power connected with ostentation that is no longer ludicrous: it commands a kind of respect. For if the mighty behave like this, then quiet good taste means that you can't afford the conspicuous expenditures, and you become a little ashamed of your modesty and propriety.
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Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the Hollywood-entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn't all corruption. The movie doesn't have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line. An actor's scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense.
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At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don't have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact desensitizing us.
We will never know the extent of the damage movies are doing to us, but movie art, it appears, thrives on moral chaos. When the country is paralyzed, the popular culture may tell us why. After innocence, winners become losers. Movies are probably inuring us to corruption; the sellout is the hero-survivor for our times.
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In the sixties, the recycling of pop culture turning it into Pop art and camp had its own satirical zest. Now we're into a different kind of recycling. Moviemakers give movies of the past an authority that those movies didn't have; they inflate images that may never have compelled belief, images that were no more than shorthand gestures and they use them not as larger-than-life jokes but as altars.
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