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Film: Movies Made Me

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES Spring 2015

drawing by Henry P. Raleigh

For any movie lover and especially for the older nostalgia prone there is a wonderful documentary made for Turner Classic Movies in the 2014 (available on NetFlix). It’s titled “And the Oscar Goes To...”, a history of the Oscars from the first ceremony in May 1929 to the present (the most recent has yet to play at this writing.) Out of a field of silent films only eleven awards were given at that Oscar including one for “title writing”- the last time this category would ever appear, for the following year all candidates would be sound pictures. “Wings” a 1927 war drama, won best picture. “The Jazz Singer” partly in sound was not a qualified candidate but was, nonetheless, awarded, prophetically, an Oscar for “Technical Achievement.” There was born as well in 1930 a generation of film viewers who would grow up with the new sound films and, in one fashion or another, would leave to the world in 35 mm.

“And the Oscar Goes to...” is less a history and more a welter of images, brief commentaries, snapshots of stars, journalists, oddities pausing now and then to take a closer look at some scandalous event at a presentation, clips from the more notable winners- actors, directors- this jumble serves to demonstrate the highly charged nervous, excited ambience of any Oscar.

The 2006 movie, “For Your Consideration” catches only bit of the awful intensity. Here in this documentary a camera closes on winners and loser, the expectant, the disappointed- they are not acting, an actress tells you how gut wrenching it is have known the exhilaration of being a nominee and then with cruel swiftness you are nothing. That the consequences of dubious decisions resulting from nearly an arbitrary system of judging should have such hold on people seems astonishing. Perhaps more astonishing is that all the myth, romance, magic of Hollywood film is symbolically represented by a land, poorly designed nondescript statue named absurdly, Oscar.

If the makers of film can be so possessed the audience is no more immune. My recollections of real life can at times get mixed up with my movie memories, almost an interactive relationship. I cannot say why I recall Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” in color when I certainly know it’s black and white. My early life though, is remembered in black and white, the same as all the movies of that period (I did watch a lot of film in those pre-television days.) When film moved to color my memory recordings, right on cue, become colored. In reviewing a film I am startled to find that memory convincingly altered some scenes- are they better for that? At my first sight of war I felt neither fear nor horror but wondered that it looked just like a movie set- and in black and white as they once were. The Longest Day is in black and white. Saving Private Ryan is in color. . Yet my mind must see it in black and white just as it should be. I can’t blame the movies for having started me on decades of smoking but they did make it seem an existential necessity. Visual style was everything- a coffin nail cupped in the hand, a Bogart thing, was my favorite. Squinting from the ascending smoke added high drama. I think my entire adolescence was shaped, reshaped, and done over, fitted, refitted, in hair style, facial expression, body gestures, speech mannerisms, and heaven knows what else all against the shifting models projected on the movie screen. Some of these probably stuck, I no longer know anymore.

One thinks of Binx Bolling, the hapless hero of Percy Walker’s The Movie Goer for whom nothing save the movies could offer him solace and meaning. Binx’s real life version is today’s Patton Oswalt who in his Silver Screen Fiend(sub-titled” Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film) describes his four years of manic binging on movies in a belief that it has brought him success as a comedian.

In Silver Screen Fiend, Oswalt reveals his list of every single movie he watched during those fours years, numbering in the hundreds. I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen most all of them, and now I’m waiting to see what it’s going to do for me.

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