ART TIMES June 2009

SOME YEARS BACK, I had lunch with actor Brad Dourif in Woodstock, New York, and film, naturally, dominated the conversation. I’m not much of a film buff, so I didn’t have any repertoire of ‘name’ flics or actors to discuss with Mr. Dourif, but we did talk about the ‘movies’ in general and what place they played — still play — in the lives of many. Aside from the celebrity chatter, which seems to always invade newscasts — always a turn-off for me (and probably the reason I’ve never been much of a movie-goer) — I rarely hear much about — or go to see — movies. I admitted to Dourif that, other than seeing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest” (in which he appeared as the stuttering young man), the last time I visited an honest-to-goodness movie theatre was to see “Doctor Zhivago”. I readily acknowledged that I enjoyed both films, but simply had not been moved since to donate two hours of my time to go and see another. Once my confession was “on the table” so to speak, our conversation soon turned philosophical, with Dourif sharing with me his belief in why — regardless of my disinclinations — sitting in darkened movie houses to watch flickering images appear on a white screen holds such fascination for millions of dedicated movie-goers. “It’s not the movie,” he said, “although that certainly might bring in the viewers. It’s the experience.” “Of what?” I asked. “Of sitting amongst others in a dark space and watching that flickering light,” he said. “Huh?” was my carefully reasoned response. “Think about it,” he said. “For centuries, humans have been sitting around tribal fires, not only to ward off fears of the unknown, but to share the comfort of companionship. Shamans conjured visions in the flickering firelight and shared insights and knowledge with his followers. Whether truth or fantasy came from his mouth was of no real concern. What mattered was the reassurance of communal sharing, What mattered was the experience.” “Wow!” was my next measured response. “So,” Dourif continued (you realize, of course, that I am paraphrasing here — I couldn’t possibly recall the conversation word-for-word, but Dourif’s gist has been preserved). “It’s not the movie per se…it’s simply a modern-day version of an early ritual of humankind. Even though most movie-goers at a specific showing may be strangers to each other…you know, not members of a particular tribe — they are still members of the human tribe and the need to periodically gather in the dark to watch the flickering of light and shadow remains strong within us.” Well, that conversation, as I said, took place some time back, but Dourif’s ideas have managed to stay with me through the years. I am still not a movie buff, and I’m still reluctant to give over two hours of my time to go out and sit through a feature presentation, but I just have to admit that his concept had merit. Anyway, it rang true for me. More important, perhaps, is that Dourif had disabused me of my long-held belief that actors were rather shallow people who lived lives of constant pretension. Though I still stubbornly persist in finding no pleasure in celebrity ‘news’ — or become overly interested in hearing the political views of entertainers — I have become a bit more circumspect in making blanket judgments about their lack of depth.