Friday, April 24, 2015

handing on to the next one in line behind me

[Note to readers. I recently attended a prescreening of the movie, Little Boy. Audience response is an important part of any prescreening. When I drafted some quick notes in response to the movie after receiving a follow-up request from the film company, I mentioned in my email that I should not be quoted, as I was considering putting in a blog post about the movie. The company graciously emailed me, asking that I do so.

I am aware that Indie films often require a bit more ‘word of mouth’ advertising than Hollywood productions, and am glad to set my notes in as a post, even though, for the most part, I have left blogging behind. Readers should note that I am setting this post in at two of my blogs--herein at pungere and a simultaneous post at the longer version of passeres, otherwise known as passeres too

As the blogs are seldom read now, it might help encourage perhaps one or two more to see the movie, than if I chose between the two.

Readers will note that I am a social commentator (and eye theology as well), so any 'movie review' I do will be encapsulated in these two items.

And should get that my views on the movie gained in depth, along the way.

Just as The American Sniper became a movement to show that patriotism is still alive and well in America, Little Boy might just motivate a movement to show, in a vastly divided Kingdom that, in many respects, suffers from the same fault lines, that the conservative, ‘old school’ understanding of the faith handed down (even in its many variants) still has a place in this country.

But as we all know (and the reason this just might be important), the times they are a-changin’…]

Little Boy is an Indie film directed by Alejandro Gómez Monteverde. The movie is written by Mr. Monteverde and Pepe Portillo, and is about a little boy whose dad goes off to fight in World War II. 

It is important to remember that the story is cast into a frame of 'almost fable.'

That allows it many liberties that reviewers are missing. I am not going to go into the distance between magic realism (which is also proffered as technique and/or framing) and almost fable.

Suffice to say that I look at what a film-maker intended, and allow him to be critiqued within that frame.

Kids come in all sizes, as we know. Safely back in the 1940’s, the doctors were not quite so keen on medicating and/or ‘rearranging’ realities so that kids all developed at the same time, out from the chute.

Pepper Flint Busbee is, however, a seven year old boy who is extremely short for his age. Yes, the doctor works to ‘guide’ the mother into an idea that the young boy is too short, and may have a problem.

But the doctor has another agenda at that point, which has little to do with the boy in question. 

(And yes, I do think Pepper and London--the older son--are strange names for boys in the 1940's. That Pepper Flint fits the wee lad, however, and has marvelous 'take-aways' that are the delight in naming characters, is a given.)

Pepper has an imagination that perhaps many have forgotten once could be expected of children.

He is, too, the sort of youngster peers love to ridicule.

And bully.

I am not going to categorically say the Little Boy is the best movie to come out this year. But I am going to suggest that many of the reviewers out there have forgotten what it is to be a child, or the wide-eyed wonder that once was childhood…

And that subtleties exist within it that are being missed by many of the negative reviews I’ve read. 

If you give the movie a chance, it will likely do what most things do: reveal who you are, more so than who or what the movie managed to accomplish.

Hold that thought.

A great many kids out there who have huge imaginations and don’t fit in well with their peers (and yes, resident blogger was once exactly that, and could even be said to remain exactly that) don’t have what Pepper Flint Busbee had, however.

He had a father who was…

Just like him.

Not, necessarily, short, although he might have been, when he was young. 

But capable of imagination and yes, heart. And heart, here, shows in a great love (and compassion, as perhaps many of the nay-sayers are missing) for his short, yet vivacious and brilliantly-imaginative (for no less a descriptive will do) son. 

Huge and overwhelming heart. If you don’t get heart out of where you go with the movie, why bother watching it? 

And what better vehicle for heart than a movie framed exactly like Little Boy, to give that heart to any who might still have hope, or heart, and want to be reminded they are not alone?

In my first notes about the movie, written to my own dad, I began to examine the thing of heart.

Because in the world as we know it, heart, when expressed in any of the arts, very quickly devolves to sentimentality. It is a sentimentality some call (and many reviewers did) Norman Rockwell.

I prefer to call it Hallmark.

Hallmark meets magic realism meets indie film maker (as I wrote my dad)

I am glad I got to see it and would recommend: it is always good to see a movie that reminds of the things God put in us. 

But sentimental is sentimental and that is the take-away, in spite of all I think he did to try to avoid sentimentality. 

Nothing wrong with sentimentality, but…

Or, as I noted in an email to my co-workers, 

Its ‘Hallmark” quality couldn’t be avoided (happy endings tend to go there), but the acting in that final scene did much to dampen what could have seemed saccharin.

As an aside, however, I really hate to think of a world where Hallmark happy endings cease to be…

We’ll come back to that. 

The vivaciousness and essential energy of a seven year old boy could be said to become a major motif of the movie.

But again, something many of the negative reviews are missing.

So hold that thought, too.

The movie has its own way of handling imagination, and I am not one to judge the creative choices of another. It did jar me for a moment, the first excursion into imagination, but once I understood how the film-maker was handling all, it did not interrupt the flow. 

(One ‘rule’ for writers easily applies to film-makers as well: if you interrupt the story, [whatever creative device you are using] might not accomplish as much as hoped. 

That is a generic rule, however, and not intended to critique what may indeed one day be accepted—and, when so, not at all interrupt the process of story.

And, in point of fact, if writers and artists and film-makers didn’t risk things that, yes, can interrupt a story, we would never go anywhere new, in creative circles.

Rules are made to be - not so much broken - as exceeded.)

The blissful fun of all the stories and games that Pepper and his dad play, however, is interrupted permanently when the father is drafted into World War II. My own great-uncle enlisted at an older age for that same war; the youngsters called him, “Pops.” Both the patriotism and devotion to our country, and the ideals it once cherished are quietly evident in the choice of Mr. Busbee to go to the war, when his older son, who is flat-footed, could not.

The war effort was a vital force, in that era. 

Mr. Monteverde’s choice of Norman Rockwell, and his work, as an inspiration (if not motif) that helped frame the movie is another item resoundingly dissed by several reviewers. Mr. Monteverde grew up in Mexico, and came into our culture, unaware that Mr. Rockwell’s work is ridiculed by the cultural elite. 

Quite frankly, coming into a culture without the limitations its smaller views foist upon its inhabitants allows an unbiased view. I don’t see any place where Mr. Monteverde should be ridiculed as a filmmaker because of his use of Mr. Rockwell’s work as a creative tool.

Bias is, after all, bias. Remove the paintings of Norman Rockwell from the modern ‘idea’ about them, and they might be seen as exactly what they are: well-executed paintings that are exact representations of a particular time in American history, and societal norms.

Nothing to apologize for, there. 

What is generically regarded as ‘great work,’ however, tends to not go to happy endings. It examines the pathos of what it is to be human and, in that humanity, wield (or be defeated by) what life delivers. 

I am seeing that idea challenged, in modern work, and it may well be that the great works of our future will have happy endings, after much sorrow. 

The risk, however, at present does remain devolving to sentimentality. 

The reaction of the liberal (“educated”) side of the American view seems to prefer to diss the movie. I don’t think that the movie reveals anything ‘new’ about human nature, which remains a defining point in what creates a classic work.

Or, as I had completed the thought in that first email to my dad,

But sentimental is sentimental and that is the take-away, in spite of all I think he did to try to avoid sentimentality. 

Nothing wrong with sentimentality, but it does not make the grade to 'classic' or literary.

I attended the movie due to an invitation issued to the church where I work for a prescreening hosted by Dr. Alveda King (a conservative Christian minister who served in the Georgia House of Representatives and also is a niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and was the only staff member who accepted the invitation. 

The dividing between liberal and conservative ideologies very much drives what Little Boy might accomplish, and is a point noted by many reviewers. As I continued in that first email to my dad,

What would it have taken to show a little support?

Which makes the film's message all the more timely. But it is an old message, and I can't say that anything new was added to it, which is one of the hallmarks of being a 'classic' - classics are instantaneously conferred because they change the way we think about a matter.

But again, we need more films like this, regardless of the level of excellence, or not. Sweet story - handled well. 

What else is needed?

The degree of antagonism directed at the movie—more so, its very polarizing effect—says enough to its potential impact. People don’t waste their time dissing something that doesn’t stick its head out (for any reason) about the crowd.

I continued the theme in a subsequent email.

We have no one to blame but ourselves that we can't go to the movie theatre and see a good movie.

That is why I went to see The American Sniper, and I think the same thing about this one: it needs to be seen, to get back Hollywood.

And no, I don't think we will ever do so [that is, overcome the bias against patriotism and the faith]. But Indie filmmakers operate just outside of Hollywood, and if we don't support their work, it, too, will die…

The movie does not ‘heavy-hand’ Christianity, and, in fact, has the priest unsure of how to handle the faith of the young boy.

I thought it handled that very well. 

But some of the reviewers seemed to have missed the subtleties - well, we know how it is. Hardened hearts and all…

But our hearts are not hard, and it is a good movie, for all that it is, yes, Hallmark-sweet...

The world should apologize for places that are Hallmark ('saccharin' sweet)???

What will it look like when all of them are gone?

Working woman here, and out of time. If readers will excuse my necessity, I have set in the notes I sent in as my response to the movie below, as well as some notes from an email I sent my co-workers, earlier this week. The notes return to the thoughts held from earlier in the post.

I was charmed, from the early moments of the movie. It has an excellent ‘capture point,’ and, after introducing the characters, they hold. While not a fan of magical realism, I think it used the technique to good end. 

The movie does not seem ‘overtly Christian;’ however,  I am thinking that it easily could have been deliberately crafted so that non-Christians might to be drawn into a Christian message (that ‘Imaginary Friend,’ as an example). 

I always find such subtlety to be the better crafting for a Christian message, especially in a post-Christian era.

I readily concede that it may have not had anything to do with evangelizing at all, in any case, but rather (as it says), giving hope in a world that has lost much of it.

All of the acting was good: part of what makes a movie is whether a viewer takes away the characters (and their story), and feels a sense of loss in not having the characters to return to or be engaged with further, when the movie ends.

The characters in Little Boy caught me, and carried into the next day with me. (Certainly, that is both the function of the original script and the actors wielding it: kudos to both sets, there.)

I especially liked how the priest, Father Oliverdealt with faith, from his initial moving of the bottle for the little boy (and explanation of why, especially with that rueful summing, that it ‘often’ seemed to happen that way), to his later conversations with his Japanese friend, Hashimoto.

Emily Watson’s portrayal of Mrs. Busbee’s anguish when she was told her husband was dead was most excellently-wielded, especially as her foot caught, in coming down that final stair, and she almost fell, before her final falling forward, prostrated by the news.

As was Mr. Busbee’s final scene, when trying to remember his family. What played out on Mr. Busbee’s face saved the movie from over-sentimentalizing: the viewer is left hoping that he did remember, but aware that he might not have remembered quite so completely as would be wished, and that recovery will take a long while regardless.

And of course, the young man who played Little Boy held his own in the midst of stellar acting, by the many professionals.

The image of the little boy, there on the dock at the ocean’s edge, trying with all that was in him to send his hope into the very sun, will stay with me for a very long while…

I have a particular fondness for movies that have priests as characters and, as this one was suitably portrayed, I am hopeful that more characters like this priest will make it out onto the screen at large. The inability of his sidekick to deal with the very honest understanding of the young boy was quite ably crafted, too--and portrayed.

I am not so certain that I would confer ‘classic’ on the movie, as gaining that honour requires that our understanding (the global of humanity – or at least – a majority of viewers) is changed somehow by what is portrayed within a work.

Little Boy does not change the way we view anything. It does a very good job, however, with its story, and these days, that is a good thing.

Too, it tells a story that is a decent story, and one that affirms what is good, even in the midst of a world of much bad, and brings into our world characters we do not want to forget. That is certainly a heap of praise, without needing the other!

I did not see “Little Boy” coming, and should have, as I know the history of the atomic bomb. This portion of the story stood out, for its crafting.

But again, it stood out in a story that has nothing to apologize for, save perhaps, the one item which few who engage in ‘happy endings’ can avoid: that of sentimentalizing. I thought the writers (and actors) did a very good job with that ending, as the question of whether the father actually did remember his family – and/or, how much – was veiled. Reality preserved the ending, so that it did not become too saccharin.

Very much appreciated that.

And again, the move has many points of both excellence and mere ‘good.’

If I had to condense my view of the movie, it would be, “Hallmark meets Indie filmmaker meets magical realism.” Unfortunately, Hallmark is made of a world of happy endings, and that remains a divider between more artistic work (although not always) and those that lack the pathos of how we wield endings that are not happy…

The characters were very well-developed, and while the happy ending does tend to a “Hallmark’ mentality, Little Boy’s willingness (and skill) in portraying a world (and faith) that is not a place of easy answers was much appreciated. I look forward to seeing more films by this filmmaker.

In the main, I enjoyed the movie, and would not hesitate to recommend it to others, although I would hesitate to suggest children younger than seven or eight view it, and then, only with a discussion, afterward, by the accompanying adult, to ‘buffer’ what children might see in it. 

I am setting in a comment I made in the email to my co-workers as well, for the unabashed hope of any value it might have in encouraging others to see the movie:

Although it is written borrowing Catholic priests, I always enjoy seeing priests on the screen. This movie uses both a touch of gentle comedy and much respect in their characterization. And has a most amusing moment with a nun! How can we resist?!

I think a great many reviewers, too, have forgotten (and we as a society, so closely caught up in scheduled activities for our children, may also be faulted in forgetting) what children are like.

The imagination. The energy. The purity (although I might counter the idea of purity with its corresponding notion of 'unadulterated,' for, in a child, even bullying could be said to have an unadulterated quality--and intensity).

And the ability to learn, perhaps, to believe...

And if Little Boy reminds us of these things, it has indeed become an instant classic.

The other item began as notes in a journal entry this morning, lamenting the post I still needed, as I wrote, to finish (readers who keep journals may recognize the stream of consciousness that is a hallmark of a particular type of journaling called ‘morning pages,’ and devised by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way):

I hate writing papers. A movie review is a paper.

It is work, to write a paper. But I must do. Just like seeing the movie again.  

Exuberance. Yes, the matter of exuberance, and the small boy with his fierce believing—the fierce believing of a child that cannot let go of hope—because love is hope—and love cannot let go—if love lets go, then all of life dies.

That is what the movie tries to capture. Does it capture that?

I began to divert to what I wanted to say in the post, at that point.

Well, that depends on you, and how jaded your eye is. If you still believe, you will find the movie a joy, and it will stay with you, a tenderness to remember, and affirm.

That’s the very specific wall that divides all reviews of the movie. The jaded, against the joy-filled idea about life that resides in each of us.

And then, back to the matter set before me. The movie review to be housed in a post at blogs I no longer keep.

For the rest of it, God be with me. Because I have this work that I must do—it is a gift, yes; it is an obligation—it becomes an oblation to all that God still gives, and we must capture, when we see it, and hand on, in reverent joy, to the next one waiting in line behind us.

Waiting for joy.

God’s joy.

Because it is there, and will be there, but those who can see, and can believe—sure, they will die. One day, the night will have come upon us, and not enough Light will remain to be handed on.

What then.

Why, we cannot work.

Not there yet. And now, while our work can be as simple as handing on God’s joy—which is hope—which is love—which is that sun in the movie, Little Boy, hanging there over the ocean…

I think, in the end, I am not so certain that Little Boy does not change those of us who see it. 

Or that it won't, in spite of its flaws, become a classic. I have already purchased a ticket to see the movie again, tomorrow, and am looking forward to seeing more subtleties I missed the first time. 

And I would certainly like to read more reviews from those who critique from within the frame of something like a fable, and I wish reviewers would remember that one thing, before they sail out into all their criticisms.

And would allowthe generic parameters of that genre, in their criticism.

But alas, we have so many out there who review without any awareness of craft, and to suggest that they just might pick up on the subtleties of a movie…

Well that indeed might be the stuff of dream.

This post ends, however, where it started. You, the viewer, are revealed by this movie.

So go. If you don’t already know. Go see who you are.

And if you already know, get in line. See the movie. Hand on to the one behind you.

[Note to readers. “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Jesus, quoted from John 9:4. 

If readers would like to hear the director in his own words, I can also recommend an interview with him over at Catholic365.

Also, a public thank you to Dr. Alveda King for hosting the prescreening, and inviting the clergy and staff at the church where I work.

And apologies to readers, both for the haphazard way I kept returning to themes herein, and the HTML coding, which just would not be corrected. One reason I left blogging...

It just takes so much time to get a post edited...

Said through gritted teeth, here, at work now...]