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[movies] Storytelling on the screen

It will come as a surprise to no one reading this blog that I am a sucker for storytelling movies. I’m talking about films such as Secondhand Lions (2003) imdb ], Big Fish (2003) imdb ] and Bliss (1985) imdb ]. I love that journey through the creative process. (Though the casual experience of the film is very different, I’d also place The Aristocrats (2005) imdb ] in this category. But I digress.)

There are other things I really like. Thematic challenge for example. This past Sunday, after finally landing home from weeks of nearly continuous travel, and I had something of a Terry Gilliam film festival. We rented Time Bandits (1981) imdb ], Brazil (1985) imdb ], The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) imdb ] and The Fisher King (1991) imdb ]. We got to watch all but the last.

Gilliam has said in interviews that these films are linked, and I understand what he means. They are all four about the tension between the Apollonian and Dionysian cultures, that dyad of mind and heart which twines all through our civilization and its discontents. Time Bandits comes to naught, in that framework. Brazil celebrates the triumph of Apollonian thought with a deliberately sour taste. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen celebrates Dionysian thought in a manner which clearly delineates Gilliam’s sympathies (and mine). The Fisher King, which we ran out of time and did not watch, concerns an uneasy balance between the two — the bargain that our society has made which places us somewhere between the spiritual withering of Calvinism and the violent abandon of the Maneads.

I love those movies for their commentary on the nature of society as well as the state of my own soul. What I was struck by on watching them now, in 2007, is how incredibly contemporary they feel. Not in a filmic sense — the bluescreen effects in the earlier films border on the embarrassing, for example — but in the thematic sense. The moronic banality of evil in Time Bandits, the Bush-era mirrorlogic of politics and policy in Brazil, the “Turk is at the gates” paranoia about the amorphous pervasive enemy that is terrorism in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: all of these feel like issues of our time and place.

In the end, I suppose I am most like the baron. I always want to push open the gates and see for myself what lies beyond. I mistrust the proclamations of authority, from the pulpit or the hustings either one, especially when their self-serving nature is beyond painfully evident. Most of all, I believe in the power of storytelling to change hearts and minds.

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