Film affects the mind differently than prose or fiction. You carve out two and a half hours of time and spend it visually and aurally with the arc of a motion picture. Even if it is awful, the residue lingers around in a way differently then a two and a half hour read of nearly anything before bed. I much prefer to read. And perhaps film’s impact is stronger because I watch cinema much more rarely.
Here I am sitting early in the early day, having watched a film with my kids last night. We watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mittty” a film directed by and staring Ben Stiller, based off the original novel by James Thurber from 1939. It was an imperfect film. The corporate minions who take over Life magazine aren’t plausible. The search for Sean Penn becomes one extreme too many. The resolution with the girl, predictable. And yet the setting and the 'watch as we': 成方破浪 narrative, wherein he escapes from his corporate routine in Manhattan to do remarkable things, in remarkable places, is swirling around my mind regardless.
I also read some Tacitus before I went to bed. To be fair I only made it a few pages before conking out. But even when I’m in it, I confess, what I’m doing is referring back to the Tiberius and the Livia I know from the BBC’s “I Claudius”, lodged there in my mind. I also finished Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” last night for my younger one. I’ve never seen any depiction of that, so the “Long John Silver” in my mind can only be the one my mind has created. And again, maybe it's a matter of time and concentration; it was only the last six pages or so, but it doesn’t float around the next day the same way. It’s there, but I need to draw on it wilfully.
In as much as I rarely see film, I even more rarely read film reviews, but I do tend to enjoy the New York Times, A. O. Scott. His references from his youth seem to cast a certain subtle affinity and he’s funny when he’s scathing. I was surprised how gentle he was with “Mitty.” I expected him to tear it apart. We wait two hours to watch the everyman build up the courage to tell the young upstart corporate titan to shove it and all he can say is “don’t be such a dick.” But the many narrative imperfections, which can just be categorically dismissed by calling something “Hollywood” didn’t register as meriting specific critique. What did was the corporate placement. Here again, I note my naïveté, as I wasn’t able to note, in the moment, that I was being bombarded with advertisements.
And try though I may, reading a story aloud to one or my other daughter, can never be the same as sitting down as a group and watching a film. There is a neutrality to the viewing experience. No one is reading, or “driving”, we’re all just passengers. And some of this powerful American normalization: here is yet another movie set in Manhattan, here is a lonely guy, watch him hate his corporate job, watch him spy a girl he fancies, watch him develop courage and fight the system only to be embraced by it. I think, perhaps that my kids have to know it, before they can critique it, or dismiss it.
And what music to speak of? Well, I haven’t had David Bowie on DustyBrine before. His song “Major Tom” features prominently in this film and it is part of the residue, swirling about my mind this morning. Written in 1969, and appearing on the album “Space Oddity,” I suppose its one of his songs I’ve always enjoyed, despite its ubiquity. Beyond a few other requisite hits, I was never a fan in my day. Too late and melodic for my early classic rock fascination and definitely to soft and early for my days as a punk, by which time he was singing things like “Let’s Dance” on MTV, for which I had absolutely no time or patience.
And with distance, he has a body of work I’ve selectively and slowly come to appreciate. And the fantastic appearance of the song, consciously chosen, (and paid for) like the title, to evoke something older and deeper than this mere film sung by the girl, jettisoning Walter into something like self-actualization felt intrusive, like someone with big hands manipulating my heart’s accordion. But there I was singing the words out loud, because it was important, I think that my daughters were aware that I knew these words. An oddity, indeed.