Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Talking Movies with Rob's Dad (Part 1)

by Rob DiCristino
On The Shining conspiracy theories, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and overdosing on empathy.

Rob: So the question we always start with is, “Have you seen anything good lately?”

Dad: That’s the damaging question, isn’t it? I haven’t. The only thing I’ve seen that would be anywhere close to new is Game of Thrones.

Rob: Do you like it?

Dad: It’s funny because some people can talk about scenes and dialogue for hours, but it’s the kind of thing where I forget it the minute I walk away from it. I think I talked to you about this before, but I’m kind of on a break from…well…

Rob: Fiction?

Dad: I just don’t do music or movies much anymore. So I guess the disappointing answer is that dad hasn’t watched anything in the TV or movie world lately.

Rob: When you were watching movies, what were your favorites?
Dad: I was always very partial to comedies. Things that wouldn’t be other people’s favorite movies are the ones I like to rewatch. Dumb and Dumber, Wayne’s World 2.

Rob: Two?

Dad: Two. Bill and Ted. Not even the typical comedies, I guess. A lot of people talk about classic teen comedies like The Breakfast Club, but I don’t go for that much.

Rob: So mostly slapstick. I remember a lot of Holy Grail.

Dad: Exactly. But if we’re talking about movies that you absolutely have to finish if they’re on, then we’re talking about The Untouchables, The Godfather, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s a comfort in those movies, a familiarity that you know what’s going to happen. And those are all ancient now!

Rob: Not at all!

Dad: Here’s the thing, because I don’t want this to be disappointing to people expecting movie talk. I think my passion for history and conspiracy theories has semi-ruined the movie experience for me because I can no longer just watch a movie without thinking about all the deep dark side messages that might be coming through. You know what I mean? Like RoboCop and The Terminator are those classics that I can still watch, but definitely not with the innocence I used to.

Rob: I can understand that. I think a very popular conversation in the cinephile world is the difference between passively watching a movie and actively looking at it. Picking something apart is part of the whole process, so even if it feels like it doesn’t connect to that world, your perspective is definitely valid. Where I’m dissecting something artistically, you’re doing it politically.

Dad: It’s not even always politics, just hidden meanings and messages. Like The Shining! You cannot watch The Shining anymore without thinking of the moon landing and Kubrick and all that.
Rob: All the Native American burial ground stuff, yeah. Kubrick seemed to go out of his way to provoke a conspiracy-minded person to dig into their work with that particular scalpel. You’re all over that stuff.

Dad: Like Jack and his son having the abusive relationship. I watched The Shining for years just thinking it was a great horror movie, but now I see stuff I didn’t before.

Rob: And Stephen King will tell you the whole thing is an allegory for substance abuse and domestic violence and all his demons. What’s funny is that King doesn’t like The Shining because they didn’t play that enough.

Dad: It seems like Kubrick had that with a lot of the sources he went to for his movies. He wasn’t looking to preach the same message as the author. He doesn’t want to just adapt a story. He wants to use it as a vessel for something he wants to express.

Rob: He’s definitely a provocateur. I recently re-watched Eyes Wide Shut, and I don’t think we as a culture have even begun to unpack that movie the way it one day will be.

Dad: Check out the original version [Traumnovelle]. It magnifies the whole thing even more.
Rob: See, this is where our two viewpoints kind of intersect because our perspectives are so filtered through our interests. Ebert said the movies are empathy machines, and you and I would both empathize with such different aspects that you could almost argue that we’re watching totally different movies when we watch something like The Shining. We would want to talk about different things when it’s over.

Dad: Different things would stick out to us.

Rob: It’s like The Last Jedi, which I know you haven’t seen and I can’t seem to shut up about. Luke Skywalker’s character arc is about the false dichotomy between the Light and the Dark and how the Jedi’s mistake of hubris was the inability to cultivate a more balanced perspective. So the movie ends up deconstructing the mythology that Star Wars created and into which people invested so much. They can’t stand seeing their heroic Luke Skywalker disillusioned because it challenges their relationship with their own pasts and how they interpret art.

Dad: See, this is why I can’t let myself get sucked into stuff anymore. It’s such a personal thing, maybe a flaw. It becomes much too real to me, and I’m not willing to take that chance anymore.

Rob: You’ve shut yourself off from it.

Dad: Like, your point about Star Wars is that [Rian Johnson] is making a movie that reflects his point of view, but it might not necessarily be the “right” or “real” way that other people feel comfortable with.

Rob: What I’ve learned is that Johnson watches Star Wars the way I watch Star Wars, so I empathize with him.

Dad: As far as you’re concerned, they picked the right director. But they could have easily picked one of the nine wrong ones.

Rob: Right.

Dad: Like, take Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know this is about movies, but when I watch the musical [“Once More with Feeling”], I can only watch to the point right before Buffy kisses Spike in the finale. I can’t handle it because that moment ruins the entire character for me.
Rob: You’re attached to what Buffy means to you, and what she means to the creator is almost beside the point. It almost doesn’t belong to him anymore.

Dad: It does and it doesn’t. I think the story in that season is okay, but there’s no fun. You’re not going to grab me with no fun. And I…

[Author’s note: Rob and his dad argue about latter-season Buffy for forty-five minutes. Let’s skip ahead.]

Dad: I just wonder why the world’s most powerful being has to work at Burger King.

[Sorry. A little more.]

Dad: Sometimes you form a stronger attachment than you think, and it can sneak up on you.

Rob: I totally get the empathy and attachment, though, because as someone who loves story structure and metaphor, I take these stories into my life as allegories and moral lessons, where as you see messages and conspiracies. It’s just a difference in filter. It’s all subjective. It’s cool that there are these pieces of art that get produced and, rather than becoming static, are continually driven and reshaped by our experiences with them. They remain living documents.

Dad: It’s interesting that you talk about empathy, because it’s making me think of…was it Pythagoras? [It was.] I couldn’t believe the studies he did on music and how it affects the brain. If he was doing those kinds of studies then, imagine what they know about how it affects us now. I was listening to a podcast, and the guy was talking about how empathy comes in varying degrees in intensity. And sometimes I think, “My god, is this why I feel so hyper-intense all the time? Are these people playing with my mind? Am I overdosing on empathy?” It’s like how when I get done playing an album I love, I can’t function for a day because I’m so emotionally drained. So, I had to take a break from that kind of media so I don’t go to bed all strung out.

Rob: It’s almost like you’ve overdosed on your connection with music and media.

Dad: I love that intensity, though! Like, this is how I learned that taking someone to a movie on a first date is a bad idea: I was like 19, and I took a girl to see An Officer and a Gentleman. That movie totally overwhelmed me. I couldn’t even talk. The bar scene has my favorite guitar part of all time, and it was getting to me emotionally. And then the end has the whole suicide thing and him carrying her out and all, and I was messed up! She must have thought I was a nut. I was like, “I can’t move, I can’t talk, I have to take you home.” What did that movie do to me?

Rob: That’s a beautiful thing!

Dad: That IS a beautiful thing!
Rob: So what’s the bad part? Is it like surrendering something you’re not prepared to surrender?

Dad: The dopamine rush became so bad that it started to remind me of an alcoholic. It started to change the way I think about things to the point where I was overly involved .

Rob: So you’ve taken this extended break from something I’m kind of right in the middle of, where my fetish for movies shapes and defines my identity. Maybe it’s not healthy, but I haven’t overdosed on it yet.

Dad: You’ve had that for a while. When you were very young, we spent a lot of nights falling asleep to Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, The NeverEnding Story, and movies like that. I memorized them all. I would wake up to the end scenes and wonder if it had soaked into me while I was sleeping. Like, you know how they say you can learn a language at night with headphones?

Rob: It’s entirely possible. It did for me.

Dad: That was during a time when home video was so new. You could watch the same things over and over. I’d never been able to do that before.

Rob: Speaking of which, it’s probably a good time to pivot to your time at the video store.

Dad: See, the thing was that I ran a video store, but I didn’t watch movies until my cousin Danny started working there. He would recommend tons of stuff. Over and over. “You gotta watch this. You gotta watch this. And this. You gotta watch this…” He would take home seven movies and come back in the morning having watched them all.

Rob: That’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard.

Next week: Adventures in VHS distribution, the “Pizza and a Movie” business experiment, and life lessons from The Untouchables.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I love this conversation. And like, someone else who loves music and movies but is afraid of overdosing on the stimulation, too. I only watch movies on airplanes now because I really need my entire mental and emotional capacity for other stuff daily nowadays. My favorite music drains me. I have recently outgrown Florence and the Machine. I thought she was the most amazing thing IN THA WORLD, and she pretty much is, but the whole spiritual-militant Joan of Arc vibe is not one I'm currently operating on, nor is girly banjo-y folk or spiritual-romantic stuff like some of Van Morrison either.

    It's like when you've added too much spice to your food and you can't taste what the food really is anymore. Ambient music still ok, though. I only feel that physically.

    I think I focus on psychology in movies. I just realized that recently and it was kind of a bummer because it's so boring, but that's who I am. Lovin movies that could probably just as well be books or stage plays. Except I like actors and the way they look at each other and all that.

    Oo I can't wait for Part2. Your dad's so cool. My dad and I have one very strong thing between us in common - we're super dramatic and all about the impact of good timing in music and movies. It's because of Dad I never learned to the clean the house on Sundays like we were supposed to. We just danced around on the furniture playing air drums and guitars. Such good times! :)