To Jonathan Rosenbaum, Critic, Historian, Seer of the Human Condition
[Re: Movies, January 31]
Well, here we go again.
Every time I try to give a critic some sort of credit for trying to see some things as just entertainment, one comes along and shows me that there is probably no real hope and we should just chuck all of you into the same heap as the greedy politicians and personal injury attorneys. It's only natural since you have one major thing in common--you manage to see things that just aren't there.
My parents used to tell me something whenever I saw something that frightened or disturbed me in a movie. It helped to make things much better and I want to pass this little gift on to you. "It's only a movie." Just say it over and over to yourself until the scary parts pass.
I never really understood why this worked so well until I got older. I'm not going to try to make it seem like the majority of the movies that have been made in the last 20 years even come close to being in the category of art. But one thing is true--they are entertaining. And sometimes that is the most important thing that people could ask for.
Star Wars was truly an achievement when it was created, for technology's sake. It had a story that seemed to be lifted right out of any one of a number of westerns. And, yes, there wasn't much substance or depth to the characters (let's face it they were formula). But one thing is certain--they sure as hell were entertaining.
Now we come to the present, 20 years later, and let's face it, there isn't very much to crow about when it comes to the good things in life. Crime rates are up, homelessness is up, abuse of children, women, and the elderly is up. Incomes are down, trust in the system is down, belief in just about anything is down. And there you are, standing in the midst of it all throwing around phrases like "quality time" and saying things like "Even, one might add, a new form of mass annihilation experienced as a spectacle" in relation to what Star Wars means.
You managed to read everything from war propaganda to Orwellian future doom into the plot. Forgetting the fact that all it is, is entertainment.
To compare Star Wars, the movie, to the gulf war is ludicrous. The war in the gulf, in which there were many people who lost loved ones in a very real manner, is in no way entertainment. It was war. Pure and simple. Taking Star Wars as the blueprint for new warfare is an idea that has come from a mind that probably sees the destruction of the nuclear family in Babe. Granted the genius that was Reagan named a warfare program with the same name, and yes it probably was heavily influenced by the movie, but then again, what else would you call it?
If warfare is influenced by the movies then the same can be said about the pending takeover of artificial intelligence thanks to movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, WarGames, or any of the Terminator movies. Perhaps the decline of our educational system can be blamed on retelling some of the classics like Hamlet and Richard III. And let's not forget how civil unrest and gang violence has been stirred by The Godfather, GoodFellas, Menace II Society, Boyz N the Hood, and any one of the blaxploitation pictures of the 1970s.
People are influenced by what they see in the darkened movie theaters--it's been that way since D.W. Griffith started the ball rolling those many years ago. James Bond influenced fashion (and I'm sure you'd say the sexist attitudes we find today), Glory influenced the way we look at a piece of black history, and Babe managed to influence a group of professionals into thinking it was truly Best Picture worthy. But let's give the people of the human race the benefit of the doubt and not assume that they believe everything they see or take things of fantasy to heart as blueprints of change.
A survey was taken about 11 years ago where they questioned a group of children ages 10 through 15 about who they thought were really cool people or heroes. Freddy Krueger and Joe Camel came out the winners of that one.
The way I look at it, in a world where a disfigured serial killer and a cigarette company logo take top billing with our kids, being influenced by a group of shallow, one-dimensional "fanciful props and settings" who are trying to fight for justice and freedom against the forces of evil and overwhelming odds seems to be the much better alternative.
Keep saying it to yourself, Jonathan, "It's only a movie..."
Jerry R. Tipper