Sunday, November 1, 2009

American Beauty

I am a media hermit. I don't have a TV. I haven't read a newspaper regularly since the Christian Science Monitor stopped printing its paper.

I seldom listen to the radio. NPR doesn't work for me, because the range of debate on war is so limited. On NPR they never, never, never ask IF we should go to war; NPR debates HOW war should be waged. That's not a debate, that's a tactical discussion. Notice they often do human interest profiles of soldiers and others in military service. Can you remember one such story on an antiwar protester? I cannot. But I don't listen that much. Friends tell me that NPR seems "liberal" socially— it interviews gay activists or pro-life spokespeople—but on defense issues NPR is relentlessly pro-war, as if NPR really stands for National Pentagon Radio.

No TV, radio, or newspaper news. Like I said. I'm a media hermit.

That said, I'll watch an occasional movie.

But when it comes to movies, I'm very picky. I tend to choose documentaries recommended to me by Netflix, about two or three each month, viewed on my computer, since I don't have a TV. I don't have the patience to watch most Hollywood movies: romantic comedies are too predictable; thrillers are too violent; dramas are generally too depressing; stand-up comedy too course.

This would explain why until recently I hadn't seen American Beauty, a 1999 movie that won 5 Academy Awards, (Best Actor for Kevin Spacey, Best Screenplay for Alan Ball, Best Cinematography for Hunt Conrad, Best Director for Sam Mendes, and Best Picture for producers Cohen and Jinks).

American Beauty is the exception that proves my anti-Hollywood rule. Here is a Hollywood movie that I enjoyed. I liked the directing and cinematography, especially the long-attention-span scenes. (I'm no fan of jumpy camerawork; I like to look at a scene far longer than most movies permit.) I liked the music. I liked the lighting. I liked the acting.

I particularly liked the screenplay by Alan Ball. It was good all the way through, but hit its high point in the final voice over that concludes the movie. The feeling Lester Burnham describes at the end about beauty flowing like rain and feeling gratitude in every moment?

Call me a lucky guy, but I feel gratitude like that regularly as a kindergarten teacher.

I do, yes, I do.

I'd always heard your entire  life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves from the maple trees that lined our street. Or my grandmother's hands and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird. And Janey, and Janey. And Carolyn.

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst and then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it.  And and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry, you will someday.

You Tube clip:

I guess if I could make one change to the movie I wouldn't kill off my main character at the end. My high school creative writing teacher counseled his budding novelists and screenwriters to resist that temptation. I think it was good advice.


Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Dan: That must be why you are so healthy and calm. You have inoculated yourself against the T1V1 virus and avoided contamination. Would that we all could follow your example.

In response to your comment on my post, although we are not divorced we have been separated for quite a while. I just can't get it to move out of the house!! My husband requires his weekend sports fix and cries like a baby if I mention the word divorce! He has just given up meat for me, so one thing at a time. :)

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Bonnie—

I know I'd be way less healthy, happy, and calm if I allowed TV to hector me. I'm verrry lucky to have married someone whose allergies to television mirror my own.

Dan Gurney said...

T1V1 virus. I like that! It's deadly. Don't catch it.

Being Me said...

Strangely these last few years, I have lost much lust for the TV , I read more and blog more and I realise I actually do have a lot more time now that I am not glued to it. We can feel more and see more ...

The Pollinatrix said...

I, too, am a media hermit. I haven't watched TV since Northern Exposure stole my heart; I rarely read a newspaper or listen to radio news of any kind. My mother can't stand this, and even as I admit this, I have a slightly guilty conscience.

But I don't avoid these things because I "don't want to know what's going on in the world." I know all too well what's going on, which is WHY I don't watch the news. And also because it's so one-sided. I bet those 350 protesters got some kind of media coverage while your edible landscaping crew did not.

As for American Beauty - I enjoyed this movie too, but can't help but think of how my favorite professor in grad school despised the fact that it won a bunch of awards while the movie, Magnolia, which came out around the same time, got no attention at all. And I do agree that Magnolia is a better movie.

I hope this comment hasn't been too lengthy for you - I get revved up during the full moon.

Margaret Pangert said...

Hi Dan! If you had one movie to watch, that would be it! While I thought it was a letdown to have Kevin Spacey murdered at the end, I liked how they paraded one after another all the plasuible suspects. Although I admired Spacey's make-over, I don't like the fact that his stimulus was a crush on a teenage girl. Something askew out in suburbia. I loved the dancing paper bag throughout. And I didn't realize he ended with gratitude!
The next movie you might want to see is Bright Star, about John Keats, his girlfriend, his illness, his fervent poetry, his last years in Italy in an apartment above the Spanish Steps in Rome. But once again death at the end--at the age of 25.

Alden Smith said...

Dan, you are in good company - I read that the writer C.S.Lewis didn't read newspapers either. He said that real truth lay in literature not in the so called facts as reported in the media. What a very healthy uncluttered approach to the mind you have.
As you know I have been in The Netherlands for 6 weeks and this post reminds me that I didn't see any local and not much international news at all, and I can't say that I really missed it too much!!

steven said...

hi dan, i haven't seen this movie. a close friend brought her laptop over and showed me the flying grocery bag scene. this, she said, was the essence of beauty. to see it in everything . . . and sure enough here it was captured in a general release movie. i avoid tv, radio and to whatever extent is possible written news. it has negative energy all over it and through it. have a peaceful day dan. steven

Jenny Stevning said...

I, too, am a media hermit. It has been three years since I have owned a TV.
I love this: but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world.
Still so much beauty to see if we look for it.

The Pollinatrix said...

Just a heads up - Kim Ayres at Ramblings of the Bearded One posted a video today that he made of leaves blowing around.

It's quite lovely, and reminiscent of the paper bag scene.

Ribbon said...

I'm delighted that you consider yourself to be a media hermit.
I too am not a fan of TV though we do have one.
I'm very select about the news that comes my way.

A very lovely post... much enjoyed.
thank you
best wishes

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Pollinatrix, I never heard of Magnolias. It's not Steel Magnolias, is it? I wonder if the blowing leaves was a tribute to the plastic bag?

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Margaret... Bright Star, another movie for the Netflix Queue. Thanks.

Dan Gurney said...

Alden, I think one of the reasons why vacations can be so refreshing is that they get us out of our media bubble. I'm growing more and more uninterested in everything corporations in America would like me to be interested in.

Dan Gurney said...

Steven, WELL SAID! The whole of media from stem to stern, port to starboard is awash with negativity, and the worst kind, too, the kind that paralyzes and weakens the imbiber. Your example of shunning tv, radio, and newsprint inspires me...and I'm on that same path.

Dan Gurney said...

The world is STILL absolutely and fantastically beautiful

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Ribbon—

Since writing that post, I've cut the # of radios in my house to 1 (in the kitchen) and it's basically a clock radio that's mostly a clock. Life's so much more interesting without it.

Precious Gems said...

I have just written a blog you might find interesting. Take a peek!

Dan Gurney said...

Thanks, Precious Gems. I'll check it out.

Kerry said...

Not much TV or radio in this house, either, but we get 3 (THREE!) newspapers. I think it's important to keep an eye on what's going on out there, plus I love unfolding them in the morning. I love the crosswords, and even some of the comics. And the weather maps. But that's just me.

American Beauty was quite a movie, a tragedy. How else might it have ended, and yet been beautiful? hmmmmmm, seems like there should have been a way to do that.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Kerry—

Good for you. Where I live a good paper is hard to find. You must live in New York. Three papers. Wow. I actually subscribe to the local weekly, but it's hard to call it a paper, and it takes less than 10 minutes to read it.