My mentor as a young whippersnapper was the great theatre and opera director Peter Sellars. The size of a mosquito’s knees, with great porcupinic hair and waggling childlike hands, Sellars is known for delivering public speeches on art with a messianic fervor that makes young people (I was one, once) rush to plant the flag on Iwo Jima. (Here are a few sample dazzling moments.) Sellars is particularly inspiring on the moral character of art; he finds the most profound human insights in all the works he approaches. He also has a winning way with an introductory, mic-grabbing sentence. While presenting the Mozart/Da Ponte operas in Vienna, he said, “Here we are, in the most charming city on earth, with the most resolutely un-charming productions you’ve ever seen.” And presenting an evening of Igor Stravinsky’s Old Testament-based fragments to an august European opera house, Peter opened the evening by saying, “Tonight … you’re going to see the kind of work … that only a mother could love!”
Most movie lovers have a favorite genre. There are musical queens. There are horror geeks. There are those whose DVD shelf is filled with comedies (though, lamentably, these tend to be aspiring stand-ups themselves). There are mossy people in fedoras who worship film noir and even a few cowpokes who have memorized every Western. (You can find a handful of this rare breed here in Los Angeles at the Autry Museum of the American West, where classic Westerns are shown in impeccable shape.) I must confess that my favorite genre — and believe me, it is a real genre — is Work Only a Mother Could Love.
A classic Sellars quip — about his own movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez, an early-nineties silent classic that paddles The Artist’s arse — is, “Please be quiet when you walk out, folks … you won’t want to wake up the people who are sleeping.” This, to me, sums up the cinema I love. Now I know your average audience, the Johnny Sixpacks out there in multiplex-land, want a neck rub and a blow job from every movie. Not only do they want not to be challenged, they want their ganglia twizzled. For me, the strongest work in cinema resembles what another theatre giant, Richard Foreman, claimed for his own work: “The best stuff is like going to the gym. It hurts, it requires effort, it has difficulty, but getting over all that creates the greatest exhilaration.”
Why is it that we understand in food and in music that some difficulty is required, that you may encounter an odd taste or an odd sound that you aren’t familiar with, but some work will – as well as upwardly recalibrating of your sensibility – lift you to more exalted pleasures? Going to a foodie restaurant that doesn’t have the instant gratification of Mickey D’s makes sense to most people. Oddball forms of “indie” music — or even academic classical music — that lack the easy punch of Taylor Swift? Obviously valid to one and all. But cinema, somehow, is meant to be Populist. Accessible. Relatable. User-friendly. God, I hate that phrase. Isn’t it obvious that the sexiest work is massively user-unfriendly?
To me, a pinnacle of Work Only a Mother Could Love is the late Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. A three-and-three-quarter-hour portrait of a Belgian housewife’s daily routine, with frontally framed real-time representations of Jeanne’s potato-peeling and bedsheet-folding, Jeanne Dielman has a hell of a jackpot at the end but along the way audiences often go mad … If I have to watch her peel that potato one more time! Somehow this movie seems to have caught up with this time or the time with it; maybe the mundanity of all the surveillance and screens in our life, all the Snapchat, all the people photographing themselves doing, essentially, nothing, makes the inanition of Jeanne Dielman more palatable to a 2017 audience. But you’d best believe that for a long time, in the theatre, this broke the spectator like a horse. I once saw Jeanne Dielman at a theatre at UCLA where, approximately three hours in, the film broke … The potential deprivation of a punchline after all that nearly drove the audience to riot.
Some people may find the long, slow films of Béla Tarr and Tarkovsky to be Work Only a Mother Could Love, but I say no … they are too druggy and silky, too much like sucking on an expensive opium pipe. On the contrary, I would choose as the grandmasters of WOaMCL, the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, whose work constitutes a kind of gold standard for rigor and refusal to placate the audience. Straub-Huillet makes Godard look like Mel Brooks. In an absolutely stunning recent film, L’aquarium et la nation, Straub (who outlived his recently deceased wife and partner), offers us two shots: one, a person reading, dully and droningly, from a political text; the other, fish swimming in an aquarium. There’s a relationship — a witty one — but I shan’t spell it out for you and Straub won’t either. He wants you to expend the shoe leather.
There is a vast number of candidates for the WOaMCL canon, from Carl Theodor Dreyer’s stupefyingly austere Gertrud to Marguerite Duras’ Stonehenge-like, inscrutable Destroy, She Said. Why, this very past year featured two WOaMCL classics by directors who poignantly just left the building: Andrzej Żuławski’s Cosmos, a student’s coming-of-age drama, adapted from a Witold Gombrowicz novel, that is about as surefire an audience-clearer as I’ve ever seen; and Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie, a largely iPhone-shot homage to her late mother that is filled with shots of passing scenery filmed from a car window with roaring wind noise I can only describe as blinding.
Now you may be asking, “What is your problem, Wilder? Are you some kind of aesthetic masochist?” I have to say, I don’t think so. Because I don’t find these movies to be actually painful. They are challenges. You have to unpack and unpuzzle them — sometimes at the level of story, sometimes “What is the metaphor here?”, sometimes thematically. They dare you to digest them. They suggest that the process, the work of figuring it out is possibly more worthwhile than the results. Does that sound like the proverbial “eating your spinach”? OK, but can’t we all get together on the fact that spinach tastes really, really fucking good?
My Favorite Movie: Titanic
Watching movies is my favorite pastime. The most recent technological advancements, epic stories that we only heard of, key documentaries and other literature are best portrayed in movies. To me, “Titanic” will remain my favorite movie, not only due to the historical relevance of the movie’s storyline but the scenery featured in the movie and the assertiveness and aptness of the actors makes the movie to stand head and shoulder above all others.
“Titanic” is a 1997 film that tells the romantic and tragic story of two teenagers who meet on a ship and fall in love. It tells the story of Jack Dawson and Rose Bukater, who while on the RMS Titanic ship on its maiden voyage from the coast of England to the United States fall in love at first sight, despite their different social classes. Dawson, a young talented artist from a poor background, and Rose, a young woman married to a wealthy but cruel older man who she does not love, go through a short but dramatic love life. “Titanic” reveals the nature of relationships that exist in the society, and whose relevance applied not only in the early twentieth century but which still makes sense to this day. A teenage girl from a wealthy family can, today, get married to a poor boy from a humble background as long as the two are in love.
Apart from the power of love to thrive in every situation as a dominant theme, “Titanic” reveals the fact that man can find love anywhere regardless of the prevailing situation. Rose is about to jump off the back of the ship into the cold ocean water and Jack tells him, “I’ll be right after you” ready to jump into the water to save her. When the ship’s crew’s attention is drawn to Jack and Rose as they make love on the ship’s deck, the ship hits an iceberg. The death of 1500 out of 2200 people on board and the frantic effort to save some of the passengers only adds to the beauty of the story. It is a sad attempt for Jack to salvage his lover as ocean water sweeps into the deck, drowning many passengers. The naivety of the two love birds and Rose’s defiance of her mother’s directives “not to see Jack again” reinforces the theme of timeless, bold love.
The film’s scene makes the story more compelling. The dolphins playing beside the ship as it departs from the coast of England, the sunny weather at the start of the journey, and Jack’s determination to ensure Rose lives a happy, fulfilled life adds flavor to an already beautiful tale. The allegation that the ship was “unsinkable” and that even God Himself could not sink the ship stimulates the audience’s desire to watch the rest of the movie to verify that allegation.
Few movies inspire as much emotion as “Titanic.” While few others capture my emotion leading to greater attachment, including “Shawshank redemption,””Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “The Pianist” (2002), “Rain Man” (1988), and “Casablanca” (1942), “Titanic” definitely stands out for its combination of various elements and perfect acting. The main actors bring out the message of the movie clearly, and they embody the situation and life of the twentieth century as well as the modern times.
In conclusion, the 1997 film “Titanic” remains my all-time favorite movie. No expression of the youthful desires and experiences in human life comes close to the ones portrayed in the film. Every aspect of the movie, ranging from casting to scene selection is done flawlessly and the themes come out clearly and perfectly.