Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Love, Communion... and Aurocks

The Orpheum Theatre in Oxford
With the high cost of movie-going, and with all the options available for film viewing these days, it is surprising that people still frequent theatres. Maybe that’s why filmmakers add on so many bells and whistles these days – Imax, 3-D, smell-o-rama... to offer people something they can’t get if they watch at home. Anyway, for whatever reason, the theatre I mostly go to never seems to be hurting for business. So I’m guessing the experience of seeing a film on the big screen won’t be completely replaced any time soon. 

I know I will still love and pay money for the sheer event of watching a film on a giant screen in the dark as the smell of “golden flavor” makes me crave popcorn. When I was a little kid, we’d go to the Orpheum in downtown Oxford — a grand example of Art Deco style ­— to watch Disney films... that is, until they began to show nothing but kung fu and blaxploitation films. I’m sure we’d have gone to see those too, had my mother permitted it. Popcorn was a dime, a coke was 15 cents. And a good time was had by all. Of course, I didn’t know it then, but the theatre was segregated, so half the people were having their good time up in the balcony. But I’ve already written THAT blog...

I made much ado about
Much Ado About Nothing.
My love of the movies (not just movies but THE movies... I mean, movies you can watch on TV, THE movies is a whole different animal), grew exponentially after college in my single years, when I would go see movies just for the sake of the whole giant screen, golden flavor experience. I just liked sitting there in the dark, feeling the stories. And if I found one that particularly grabbed me, I would see it over and over – and make other people see it with me... like Amadeus, and Much Ado About Nothing. I saw Braveheart over and over, too, but refrained from inflicting it on others... Not everyone has the stomach for all that mace-to-head contact. 

Yeah, I know the dude's a nutter
– but I still like his movie.
Now my husband and I love seeing movies together. Our second date was seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. We see “grown-up” films when we can get a sitter, and take Bill to see “family” films. It’s just part of our lives when we have the time and there’s something we long to see. Even after all these years, seeing a movie in a theatre is still a magical thing to me. And it’s even better when the film has a magic of its own... like the one we saw today: Beasts of the Southern Wild.

No, it’s not about my kid and his friends at Camp Clearwater... Here’s the synopsis: Faced with her father’s fading health and environmental changes that release an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves her Delta-community home in search of her mother.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
But, really, that sums it up about as thoroughly as saying “Michaelangelo made art.”  I mean, that stuff DID happen in the movie, just like Michaelangelo DID make art. But... Beasts of the Southern Wild was a gorgeous, gruesome, funny, poignant, triumphant, painful bit of magic realism — a picture of a far-flung culture and the people who inhabit it, and, more specifically, one particular father-daughter family.

Wink and his daughter Hushpuppy live in a ramshackle little cluster of buildings, filled with garbage and pets. Nonetheless, Hushpuppy is the happiest of children, living in the happiest of communities – a forgotten bayou down in the gulf called “The Bathtub.” They work as much as they need to, they dance, they live and love. And they take care of each other. She has a beautiful connection to nature and animals and every part of her world. At the same, this father she loves drinks and is in poor health, and the unsteadiness of an unreliable parent leaves her calling — out loud — for her mother — the woman who walked off into the bayou when she was four days old.

When a scary natural disaster floods their community, Hushpuppy and Wink survive and forge ahead, determined to avoid being swept up by the government’s “disaster relief” efforts. And despite his weaknesses, Wink asserts over and over that he can and will take care of her. And he does grow her up in the way that he knows how. In one great scene, he teacher her how to catch a catfish with her bare hands, then punch it in the face. 

After an episode in a shelter, it becomes clear to Hushpuppy that her father can’t take care of her, and she seizes control. She seeks out her mother, and really, it’s hard to explain what happens next – especially without giving away some of the sweetness in store for you, should you decide to go see it. I will say, though, that her mother utters one of the best lines of the movie: “Don’t nobody like no pity-party-havin’-ass woman.” Good advice, that. I’m taking it to heart.
Hushpuppy and Wink and 
a big pile of crawfish

And since I’m not going to give away the end of the film, I will say that the whole thing is just a brilliant, beautiful picture of the power of nature, the charm and curiosity of childhood, the illusion of self-sufficiency, overwhelming fear, love, Communion... and aurocks. And set against the backdrop of an intriguing and joyful, but sort of puzzling culture, this gorgeous story of life and love and loss – and lost and found... just sings. It’s a mysterious trip into another world, as only a really wonderful movie can be.

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