Crying at the Movies

People often bring up films they’ve seen in conversation, they often express surprise that I haven’t seen the film. So, I get the feeling that I’m missing out on a lot of great films. I do enjoy watching films, but maybe not as much as most people? Why is this?

I love live theatre and going to music concerts, much more than I like going to the cinema. When at home I prefer listening to music and reading books more that watching films. So, what is the difference, how am I different?

People often ask why I’m not terribly keen on going to the cinema. I usually respond by saying that i am tall and thin, so after about an hour i find sitting with restricted leg room gets increasingly uncomfortable. So, when I do go the cinema, I usually leave it until the last minute before taking a seat, to reduce the length of the discomfort. however at a classical music concert or the theatre, I have the same issue, but I am usually more tolerant of my personal discomfort. Incidentally,this is why I love the Proms or The Globe theatre in London, because you can stand throughout the performance.

When I was young i was involved in a youth theatre group. and we put on shows. The director once said, also a tall thin chap, that he judged the audiences by how much fidgeting there was. His argument was that the more an audience is involved with the performance, the less they fidget, I agree with this.

So, perhaps because I have a preference for theatre and music over cinema, I am more involved. By more involved I mean that I am more interested and engaged by the art on offer. However I think it’s more than just that, I am emotionally involved, I connect with the performance, I am spirited away from the real world and live with the performance and I simply don’t do that usually when watching a film.

It’s not simply the presence of live performers as I do sometimes burst into tears whilst reading a book, it is that generally I don’t connect emotionally with films.

Last night, I did connect with a film, I was in floods of tears at several times during the film. There may have been qualities of this film that other modern films lack, that the makers of the film are more part of the theatre tradition, rather than the entertainment tradition.

Perhaps it’s that many modern films to me seem to focus on entertainment, they are fast paced, filled with special effects and attempt to thrill us with their complexity, thus lacking this emotional engagement.

Whereas traditional theatre and opera, do the opposite, they simplify, they distil the complexity of the world, into a more basic narrative. Characters are not multi-faceted and complex, but simple and more one-dimensional. It is this simplification, a connection to  rawer motives, that I think enables the audience, or me anyway, to connect. It is the exposition of a simple facet, rather than an overloading of the senses with complexity that appeals to me.

The film was ‘My Name is Khan’. The film concerns how a man with Asperger’s syndrome (played by the wonderful Shah Rukh Khan) tackles the prejudice towards Muslims in a post 911 USA. The story is that the protagonist, faithfully follows his dead mothers advice that: There are only two types of people in the world, good people and bad people. His mother also requests that Khan seek happiness. So, Khan, goes to America and finds a beautiful wife (well Bollywood actresses are often stunningly beautiful anyway) and a happy life. Disaster strikes with the murder of his stepson and Khan continues to struggle to understand the world of prejudices, between Hindus, Muslims and Christians and how people respond to these prejudices with violence and become bad people.

It is simply a great film, because for all it’s fantasy and sensationalism, it is true; that we all have this continual struggle with prejudice. Connection with a truth, identified though religious practice, a play, a book, a piece of music, or whatever, somehow makes us, as humans, feel good to be alive. I seem to have found this in Bollywood films, and Western films seem to lack this quality in modern times.

‘We met on the train’

I attended an event in Ebbw Vale, some years ago, when the late politician, Tony Benn was touring the UK. At this event Mr Benn, described entering into a conversation with two people whilst stuck on a delayed train. During the conversation Mr Benn asked the two people how they had met, they answered ‘We met on the train’. Perhaps the romance, or at least the social leveling of sharing a train journey encourages socialising. In a sense on the train, life stops, givign people space to think and talk with people they wouldn’t otherwise speak to. However these days, people cocoon themselves with their mobile devices, carry on their lives and don’t allow the world to force them to stop.

This the principle behind the film ‘Jab We Met‘ which I enjoyed watching at the weekend. In the film two young people meet on a train and begin a journey together.  It’s a variant of the usual boys meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together, get married and live happily ever after. I don’t watch enough Bollywood films, though people say i don’t watch enough films generally. When I do watch a Bollywood film I usually really enjoy them.

I am a bit of a sucker for trashy romantic comedies anyway. However generally I find the Bollywood ones are better than the U.S. ones. Better because partly I love the fact that they are usually musicals and that the cast may burst into a massive song and dance number at any moment, which is great. The films can make very serious social points and still provide an exhilarating happy ending. Also, the films are long enough for viewers to fall in love with the characters of the protagonists (whatever your sexuality), the audience can get to know the character and see their development through the film. The films are clearly fantasies, there is a sense of knowing that this is a fantasy story, with elements of reality, sometimes with U.S. films i feel a sense of trying too hard to be real, to make the world real and not leave room for the imagination of the viewer.

With any piece of art, the viewer fills in the gaps in there head, makes it real to themselves by adding pieces of themselves to the experience. I despair a little of much of modern culture that tries to be too real. This applies in films, computer games and indeed music, where video is provided to accompany the music. Traditional forms of theatre,  stop motion animation and old low budget episodes of Doctor Who, I love, because they are clearly leave space for the audience to say yes and make it real for themselves. This fantasy of making things real is perhaps lost in modern media, indeed works are often criticised for not seeming real enough. What I do wonder though, is where the younger generation gets to practice and develop the ability to fill the gaps and use their imagination.

Inside Out

Writing about personality types recently, the implication is that personality is fixed and doesn’t change. Personalities do change, some aspects of of personality are amplified and others reduced. Some of these changes may be short term or long term. Whilst personalities change, the person doesn’t. It isn’t the fundamental person that changes, just positions on various personality spectra may be shifted

A core of personality is probably genetic. The rest is formed through  experience. I identified myself as an intuitive thinker, one whose focus is internal, thought is dominantly channeled through the self, rather than externally. It is perhaps ironic that those who live internally are viewed as the outsiders.

Having identified a internal – external thought pattern spectrum, why do minds tend to select a dominant way of thinking? People choose what works empirically, a mode of thinking is preferred if it provides a more reliable way of solving problems. It is not efficient to spend all ones time on metacognition, so people accept general rules to govern their thinking, come to accept positions, because they work reasonably well.

In a sense a speciality is developed. Ecologically, in dense communities (such as humans) having a speciality is often useful and a part of sustaining communities. Nonetheless, having general skills to use when the speciality is unhelpful is always useful, it is important not to exclusively rely on one mode of operation.

Balance is important, sometimes these systems each mind works out for itself, break down, they fail to solve problems we encounter. Sometimes a radical shift in focus solves a problem. Personally, using more external thinking helped solve some major problems I was having, by looking at patterns in wider society. This is not to suggest that external thinking is superior as it works in  both directions.

Last night, I re-watched one of my favourite films, ‘Heathers‘. In this film the protagonist, Veronica Sawyer, is popular in high school, yet she is unhappy with adoption of the rules of this lifestyle as she has an internal mental life as well. She acquires a boyfriend who recruits her into killing the problematic popular people in her life. By presenting the murders as suicides the vapid popular people are presented as only acting out popular roles to hide their own inner turmoil. Underneath this are the rest of the school, those not at the top of the popularity ladder, with there own insecurities, who are faced with knowing that the ‘popularity’ they have aspired for is not the life of carefree happiness they were dreaming of, which would solve the problems produced by their insecurities.

Generally, the film presents the problem of overly internal thinking. When faced with a problem, the internal thinker, looks within themselves for the source of the problem, to fix it. So, when no problem is detected, the idea generated is that they are wrong in some fundamental way, but don’t know why. Creating a desire to escape from this internal fear to an external world that promises to be problem free (which of course it isn’t).

I was like this, once I realised that the problem was an external one and not an internal one, I felt fixed! Being able to turn off the internal monologue and connect more intensely with external data is liberating. Essentially this seems like an argument for never fixing ideas, ensuring space for other ways of thinking to be allowed to work on problems. Balance is really important.

Another spectra is the sexuality one. Technically, everyone is on a spectrum between heterosexuality and homosexuality, so we should all be pansexuals. The majority of people identify as either heterosexual or homosexual. Looking to my history, there was a period as a young teenager where there was some sexual attraction to boys in addition to a dominant preference for girls. however after a year or so this bisexuality seemed to disappear. I seemed to have decided on heterosexuality as this made things simpler for me, I had adopted it as a rule. This isn’t a case of denying my own sexuality, rather adopting a rule that works well.