Saturday, December 15, 2007

Imagination

The first thought that came to me as I was watching the Leiser Brother's film Imagination is that it will never be the in-flight movie on a cross-country plane trip. Nor is it likely to pack the theater at your local multiplex. That's because it isn't so much a movie as it is a personal vision brought to life.

It's not an easy movie to grasp. I had to watch it twice in a row before I felt capable of reviewing it. And I would have watched it a third time, but it was getting late. I don't think I've ever watched a movie twice in one sitting before, which probably means that I liked it, or that I didn't understand it, or possibly both.

I'm not really sure how to review it, so I'll just try to collect my thoughts and write them down in a somewhat coherent manner.

If I said Imagination was a fragmented jumble of sounds and images, and you took that to be some sort of criticism of the film, we'd probably both be wrong. We'd also be right, but we'd mostly be wrong.

Part live action, part Svankmajer-style stop-frame animation, part crayon drawings, part claymation, and part everything else, it seems more like a multimedia work of art than an actual movie. It clearly experiments with the art of film-making, but it does so without becoming an "experimental film."

Watching Imagination reminds you that film is primarily a medium for the eyes, and that the images can do a lot more than simply illustrate a story. The symbolic imagery in Imagination is idiosyncratic and enigmatic, but the film somehow manages to avoid appearing arty and pretentious, except perhaps only briefly. And it doesn't seem particularly surrealistic either, because the bizarre imagery serves a purpose -- it's not there simply to confound or confuse.

Imagination is confusing enough as it is. Unlike most movies, it doesn't tell you a story -- it shows you a story and leaves you to interpret a lot of what you're seeing for yourself. There is a partial narrative -- enough to give you a basic idea of the film's premise and direction -- but nothing is spelled out for you, resulting in a film that is oblique and challenging, and at times almost impenetrable. A lot of people may find it exasperating trying to extract any meaning from its expressionistic non-narrative style of exposition and may criticize it for being deliberately obscure. That's a defensible position, but it's almost like criticizing Finnegan's Wake for being too hard to read.

The movie has its flaws. The weakest moments are during the live-action scenes. The acting is for the most part amateurish and unconvincing, but fortunately, the live action is kept to a minimum.

Imagination is not a conventional movie in any sense, even in its length. The end credits start rolling after a little over an hour, making it too long to be a short and too short to be a feature-length film.

I'm glad that films like this get made, because I like my expectations to be defied from time to time, and I'll keep an eye out for anything else the Leiser Brothers create, but I won't be too surprised if Imagination doesn't become a blockbuster mega-hit. And I won't be too surprised if it doesn't get a very wide distribution either. This movie is probably not for everyone.

But if it does end up playing near you, and if you're drawn to this sort of thing, you should go see it, if only for the experience. Whether you like it or not, you won't easily forget it. I don't know if you'll understand it any more than I did, but if you're worried that you won't, it might help if you forget who you are and imagine instead that you are twin girls -- one almost blind, the other with Asperger's syndrome -- who think with one mind and live in an imaginary world that somehow transcends ordinary reality.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It Can't Happen Here

Last weekend, while browsing through Google News, I noticed a few reviews for the Sci-Fi channel's three-day mini-series, Tin Man. All four reviews were pretty unfavorable, but for some reason, that didn't keep me from wanting to watch it. I don't actually know why I did want to watch it, but maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was billed as a "re-imagining" of The Wizard of Oz, or something like that. I think I was mostly just curious to see how they would re-imagine it.

As it turns out, Tin Man wasn't very good or very bad, but I liked it more than the reviews led me to think I would. What I liked best about it is that it stars Zooey Deschanel, who's probably not the best actress in the world, but she's definitely sort of cute, and that counts for a lot when you're watching TV. She's a lot cuter than Judy Garland ever was, but Tin Man still wasn't as good as The Wizard of Oz, and if I had the choice between watching Tin Man one more time and watching The Wizard of Oz twenty more times, I'd definitely pick the latter.

But that's not even what I wanted to talk about. I've mentioned before that I don't watch a lot of commercial TV, and one of the reasons for that is that I don't want to watch a lot of commercials. Actually, watching a lot of different commercials might not be so bad, but watching the same commercials over and over again should probably be considered a form of torture. And watching the six-hour Tin Man mini-series exposed me to a lot of the same commercials over and over again.

They were all pretty bad but only three are still stuck in my mind.

The first one was a KFC commercial in which a couple of buckets of fried chicken, some fattening side orders, a chocolate cake, and a Pepsi "mega-jug" are advertised as everything you need for a family meal. As in most commercials with a "family values" theme, they were selling the idea of a family meal together instead of the stuff that KFC actually sells.

The next commercial was for Kay Jewelers. They actually had a few different commercials, but they all had the same theme, which is that you should spend tons of money on some gold or diamond trinket for the woman you love, ignoring the fact that that expensive little expression of your love wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the exploited and impoverished slave laborers in South Africa and elsewhere.

But the third commercial was the one that annoyed me the most. Visually, it was pretty interesting -- it was actually even sort of fun to watch -- and it didn't have some sappy message like the other two, but I still found it troublesome. It was a commercial for Sirius Radio, and the basic message was that some day you'll be able to get all your news and entertainment from one corporation.

We used to have rules against that sort of thing, but in the past couple of decades we've seen a lot of deregulation of what are technically the public airwaves. And even though there may not be anything wrong with deregulation in general, the problem with deregulation of the mass media is that given enough money, anyone can make sure that theirs is the only voice ever heard, or at least the loudest voice ever heard. We're halfway there already, of course, and if you don't believe me, then you're not listening closely enough.

The problem with one corporate voice controlling the music we listen to, which news stories we hear, which opinions we're exposed to, and what movies and TV shows we can see is that it leads the way to a uniformity of thought. And if a particular corporation happened to be supporting a particular candidate for election, we'd only hear good things about that candidate and bad things about all the others.

Benito Mussolini is credited with saying, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." So even if getting all your news and entertainment from one corporate source might not sound so bad, fascism probably does sound sort of bad.

But the truth is, to the best of anyone's knowledge, Mussolini never actually said that fascism should actually be called corporatism. Search the web for that quote and you'll turn up thousands of hits, but none of them can cite any writing or speech by Mussolini. And the article on Wikipedia even goes as far as to say that the quote directly contradicts things that Mussolini actually did say about fascism. So he probably never said it, but the only reason we know that is because the web doesn't control speech the way TV and radio and newspapers do. That may change if the people opposed to net neutrality get their way, but until that happens, the web is uncensored.

If you have a single source for news and information, you end up with a one-sided electorate. And a one-sided electorate is an ignorant electorate. And an ignorant electorate is an irresponsible electorate. And an irresponsible electorate is probably not able to vote in its best interests, or even to know what its best interest are, so it votes for what the corporation says are the public's best interests, which coincidentally happen to be the same as the corporation's best interests.

And that's the road to fascism, ladies and gentlemen. Or if not fascism, then some other form of dictatorship. And that's the road we're on, nudged gently along by KFC, Kay Jewelers, and Sirius Radio.

Or maybe not. I don't know. I'm not really political, so I don't think about these things a lot. But it does seem like every year, we have fewer choices, and fewer voices, and less freedom in general, unless we're talking about the freedom to buy products of questionable value that we don't even need in the first place.

I can't do anything about that, but at least I can choose not to watch any more commercial TV for a while. Except maybe if it's a show that has Zooey Deschanel in it.