31 May 2011

Life is Full of Pain and Suffering But The Best in Cinema Offers Help

God there's a lot of pain associated with living. There's everything from existential angst to constipation. Various forms of misery afflict even the luckiest, healthiest and happiest among us. Some people often say "it's always something." Actually it isn't "always" but often enough it is something. How some of us dodge the worst of it most of our lives is nothing short of a miracle.

There's so much beauty and so much joy and so many truths to be unlocked and so many divine moments of clarity to savor. But there's also a seemingly inordinate amount of horror that surrounds us. There are some people who can wallow in their ignorance and indifference and pretend that everything is fine. But a lot of us are keenly aware, perhaps too keenly, that senseless violence and unimaginable suffering are everywhere. At any moment we could become the victim mentioned in tomorrow morning's newspaper. The innocent bystander struck down. What is that officials always says at such moments?  "We are deeply saddened by this senseless tragedy." Here's an example:

Guilty verdict in slaying of slow escalator rider

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
(05-31) 17:09 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- A San Francisco jury convicted a 19-year-old man of second-degree murder Tuesday for fatally shooting a man at the Metreon complex after complaining he was clogging an escalator.
Christopher Canon, of San Francisco, was 15 at the time of the Nov. 11, 2007, killing of 18-year-old Michael Price Jr. of Oakland, and was charged as an adult. He faces a sentence of 40 years to life.
Assistant District Attorney Kin Tong said Canon shot Price four times with a handgun after the two argued over whether Price was moving too slowly on the escalator.
An earlier trial ended with the jury hung between first- and second-degree murder.
Canon's attorney, David Simerly, argued that video taken by a security camera at the shopping and entertainment complex at Fourth and Mission streets showed that Price had been the aggressor in the dispute. He said Canon had simply been defending himself.
"He's not standing there, he's attacking," Simerly said of Price.
Simerly also argued that Canon had been too young at the time of the crime to understand the consequences of his actions and be guilty of murder.
"It's just wrong, massively wrong," Simerly said of the verdict. "I'm stunned."
Sentencing is scheduled for July 8 before Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo.

Two lives over and done with. Not to mention the effect on their families and friends. It's the type of event that scars the survivors.

Last week a 15 year old girl rode her bike to near the Golden Gate Bridge. She parked her bike, walked to the bridge and the leapt to her death. I defy you to make sense out of that to her family and friends.

The world at times seems utterly insane. Not only do people go around beating and shooting each other, they verbally assault and threaten one another. Some people do it as a matter of course. Meanwhile many of our more privileged citizenry live for the pursuit of more. More than they need. More wealth. More power. Greed run amuck. Some have even made a virtue of greed, which by its very definition is the selfish desire for excess. This while turning to a deaf ear to social problems that are the brew in so much pain.

It's easy for me to pontificate from the safety of a blog. I'm sitting here at the computer in my nice comfortable house in a nice neighborhood with nice music playing on my nice stereo while I type. Don't think I don't realize how fortunate I am. I've spent over 20 years in urban public schools and understand just how much fortune has smiled upon me. I never take that for granted. I also know good and well that it can all come crashing down in a second. I had a friend my age who was as healthy as me and far more productive who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two years later he was dead. There's have been about a dozen former students of mine who were killed by gunfire before turning 25.

But the older I get the less sense I can make of some of what I see, know and hear of. I know I'm not the only one who's frustrated with the way the world is today. Sometimes it makes me angry. I'm pretty good about keeping it from depressing me but it can still give me a short term case of melancholia.

Since this is a film blog I'll finally get around to saying how much solace I get from movies. A good film can be a rich source of the joy, truth, beauty and even the divine I earlier referred to. For some, films are a kind of escape. I suppose that's the case for me as well but I like to think that I'm not escaping life's realities so much as I am immersing myself in them. However through film I am experiencing in a way that is at once less harmful because it is fictional but is also more illuminating as it provides insight and understanding into the human condition. A film can allow us to experience an emotion in life, a condition, an event or a perspective. We see the world in a different often clearer way through the way the story is told. This allows us to attach meaning to certain realities and come to peace with them or appreciate them.

A love of art and literature in various forms can inform our world view. I've made a serious and somewhat successful effort this calendar year to radically scale back the amount of TV I watch. I now find that over indulging in TV leaves me, if not exactly depressed, empty. Meanwhile movies and books are nutritious and filling. While TV seems to caught me off from thinking, art and literature are stimulants. So too are exercise and meditation. Television tends to de-sensitize us.

One truth that I've become aware of is that the more I learn about any given subject the less I understand. When I taught history I always noticed that when I asked for questions, the best and brightest of my students would have many and those who, for whatever reason, struggled, had none or only the most elementary kind. If you delve into any subject, be it academic, spiritual or philosophical, you'll find exponentially more questions for all the answers you find. That does not make the seeking of answers any less rewarding, quite the contrary. The journey is more important than the destination.

So I'm spending some time these days struggling with why tragedy and misfortune afflict so many of us in such various forms. I've found a lot of what I'm looking for in films. Ingmar Bergman gives one a lot to ponder and I've been pouring through his films since last Fall. I've more recently been exploring Rainer Fassbinder and Michelangelo Antonioni. Last night I enjoyed another Italian director Ermanno Olmi's fantastic film, I Fidanzati (1962). Olmi is better known for Il Posto (1961) but I Fidanzati is, in my mind, every bit its equal. Olmi is foremost a documentarian and brings a strong sense of realism to his fictional work. Like Antonioni and Bergman, Olmi creates compelling stories out of ordinary human drama. They are films that are invitations into character's lives and are photographed (beautifully) in such a way as to allow us to fill in meanings.

Such films can make us more mindful of ourselves and our world. They are clues to unsolvable mysteries. But it is the pursuit of answers that we are enriched, not in a full sense of discovery.

While we cannot begin to solve the woes that plague humankind, we can increase our understanding and insights. We can make our own lot, and that of those around us, more comfortable and meaningful. We can set examples for one another on living productively and happily together. We can find solutions to some vexing problems and share them. We can move forward. To shoot. To jump off a bridge. To give up. To vegetate in front of the TV. All are forms of defeat. But to progress is the greatest good we can do for ourselves and others.

Films can play a part. Yes, they can be diversions, but at a deeper level films can, as a form of art, bring us closer to truths.

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