MOVIES & ME
STRANGER THINGS actor Matthew Modine on drive-ins and combatting prejudice
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
That was Gregory Peck, portraying Atticus Finch, in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Climbing into another person’s skin is what a good film does. The collective experience of sitting in a darkened space and having our hearts and minds opened, where they both may have been closed, is cinema at its most profound. When an audience can empathise with circumstances a film and its characters present, especially uncomfortable social or political situations, it can encourage us to rethink a perception or prejudice previously held. That’s the growth of consciousness art can provide civilisation.
Film gives us the opportunity to observe and appreciate the lifestyles and cultures of others, providing us with a more balanced vision of the world we share, encouraging us to become explorers and adventurers, and exposing us to people and places we might only be able to visit via film. It has the capacity to increase our joy of life, while also reminding us we’re not alone in our despair. That’s what movies did for me from a young age.
My father was the manager of a drive-in movie theatre. I was born in Loma Linda, California and my first drive-in was Cherry Pass. From there Dad was transferred to the much bigger South Bay drive-in, in San Diego. When I was 11 we moved to the Geneva, the drive-in in Orem, Utah. Most of the people in this tiny town were ranchers, farmers or worked at the steel mill on Lake Utah. It was there that a movie got under my skin. It was 1970, a few days before Christmas. At that time, there was no cable television, CDs, or even VHS tapes. There were four channels on television and nothing was better than sneaking out of the house, which was beside the theatre, to sit on the gravel and watch an outdoor movie.
Wrapped in a warm winter coat, that night I saw Little Big Man. It starred the amazing Dustin Hoffman who I’d seen in The Graduate and was directed by the equally formidable Arthur Penn. I’d seen Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde a couple years earlier. Little Big Man tells the story of Jack Crabb (Hoffman), a boy raised by the Cheyenne. On the surface, it appeared that it was going to be a typical cowboys-and-indians western. It wasn’t. Rather than telling the predictable version of white settlers being attacked by Native Americans, Penn pivoted his motion picture camera to show the horrors inflicted upon natives by the United States Cavalry. For decades, indigenous peoples of North America were portrayed in films as savages and settlers were ‘bravely’ fulfilling what they considered was their God-given right: killing Native Americans, destroying their way of life and taking their land. Little Big Man was an honest depiction of the barbarity inflicted upon native nations. Today, the Dakota Access Pipeline battle is a painful reminder of how little regard white settlers continue to have for the indigenous people of this land, and while the Standing Rock activists won a small victory in Obama’s final days as President they now face an unsympathetic Trump.
Little Big Man altered my life forever. Hoffman’s adoptive grandfather in the film, Old Lodge Skins, played by Native American Chief Dan George, called his people “human beings” and spoke poetically about the values they possessed. People with a rich and complex culture, love of family, appreciation of the earth, the air, water and the many creatures they shared the earth with. From that day forward, I passionately wanted to be a ‘human being’. Little Big Man opened my heart and eyes to the cruelty and injustice man was capable of, and they would never be closed again.
Once something is seen, it cannot be unseen. Once something is known, it cannot be unknown. Jack Crabb and Old Lodge Skins got under my skin and I got inside of theirs. I began to consider life with different points of view. “Everything is alive and has value,” said Chief Dan George. Little Big Man gave me a deeper appreciation for justice, fairness and humanity. Ah, the power of film...
MUBI founder Efe Cakarel on cinema’s greatest gift: empathy
I am the son of an electrical engineer who founded and built a substantial engineering business in Turkey. My life was always destined to be in the family business. I studied electrical engineering and computer science. I solved complex math equations in my lunch breaks in high school and won mathematics competitions. So how is it that I find myself in the company of cinema, bathing in its silvery magic? What secrets does it hold that cannot be solved with an equation?
The power of film is a deeply human one... an artist trying to communicate the experience of life to another person. Yet still it is mediated by technology, life fed through reels of celluloid, drenched in chemicals, or now more commonly, infinite rows of ones and zeros, then converted into an explosion of colour and emotion on the other side. Cinema is a machine, but it is a machine of empathy.
Through cinema we understand ourselves and others. We can try things out, imagine futures, relive pasts, free our feelings and face them too. Although technology has advanced and been democratised at light speed, cinema has not wavered in its fundamental function: it affords us the ability to manipulate time. We can pause, rewind, and invent time itself. It allows us to capture life, to project it out in front of ourselves and others. But to quote Martin Scorsese: “Of course it’s not life - it’s the invocation of life, it’s in an ongoing dialogue with life.” So, the power of film is that it is a forum for grasping and escaping life, for filling in the gaps, the gaps that the algorithms cannot fill.
Driven by the internet, this power becomes even more accessible and far-reaching. The old art-house cinema of Izmir which ignited my love for film at age 12 with Cinema Paradiso may now tragically be a shopping mall, but today a teenager in Bangkok and a school teacher in a Brazilian suburb can both share an understanding of the delicate melancholy captured by Yasujiro Ozu in Tokyo Story over 60 years ago. They can both feel the infectious thrill of La Dolce Vita, be transported to glorious imagined worlds brought to life by the brush of anime master Hayao Miyazaki or lose themselves entirely in the many dream worlds of Inception. Films like these can and must be seen as widely as possible. This is what drove me a decade ago to start MUBI, an online platform for the world’s film lovers to watch, discover and discuss great cinema - and it still drives me today.
So I am here, the engineer’s son in a dark room, the projector streaming light and life above me, because an algorithm cannot cry, it cannot pin a poster to its wall, because an algorithm cannot grasp my hand as the credits roll and ask me urgently, as though its life depended on it: did I feel that swell in my heart as the reluctant lovers of In The Mood For Love silently pass one another in slow motion?
Journalist Rachel Johnson comes clean about her Netflix addiction
There used to be a little video shop in Notting Hill Gate. I’d pop in twice a week, and ask the nerdy movie anoraks behind the counter what I should be watching. They never failed to recommend something I loved. Oh, okay, I wasn’t crazy about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but anyway... Video City is long gone but like that song “Video Killed the Radio Star”, another format has arrived to take its place in my heart: the video-on-demand leviathan Netflix. It’s the clear market leader in 190 countries (although still not China) and has become a thing in more ways than one.
Founded in 1997, Netflix altered the contours of the broadcasting landscape after launching their streaming online service in 2007 and expanding into production in 2013, thereby impacting media culture across the goggle-box world. Netflix outflanked the BBC in the lush period drama stakes with the £100 million super-series The Crown - a coup that partly led Tony Hall, Auntie’s Director General, to decide that in order to compete, licence-payers too could binge-watch whole series such as Poldark and Sherlock before they were broadcast.
The reason for the world’s Netflix habit is easy: you have everything on your laptop, smart TV or tablet. My Netflix addiction started with Orange is the New Black. This female prison drama was one of the game-changing releases in 2013, along with House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, Arrested Development, all babies of Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer, that led to the company morphing from a DVD-by-post distributor into an original content powerhouse and a game-changer when it comes to how serialised television is produced, released and distributed globally. Over 125 million hours of television is watched every day on Netflix by 86 million members. This is why Netflix is kicking ass, and “Netflix and chill?” has become a hook-up line.
When it comes to terrestrial, money and audiences are going south, but if you want sumptuous, lovingly crafted, high-end long-form series with killer opening credits to binge-watch? I stream, you stream, we all stream for... you know.
Other portals and powerhouses are available, all vying for a piece of the action. We are spoilt for choice and flavours. But I like the whole lot of Netflix’s programmes: Making A Murderer. Come Fly With Me. Luther. Prison Break. The Thick of It. Marseille. In fact, instead of wondering how on earth I’m going to read the 100 best novels ever written, I now worry that I’ll never get around to watching all six series of The Crown (if there’s going to be one series for each decade of Her Majesty’s reign as planned).
Of course, I never allow myself to watch TV before sundown unless I’m sick, but I have occasionally sneaked a half-ep of Stranger Things if there’s one I haven’t finished up. I think the reason I head over to Netflix more often than anywhere else (I must give a nod to Amazon Prime for the mould-breaking, heartbreaking series Transparent) is because it’s so well edited. There’s not much trash. You’re in safe hands, just as I was when I used to ask the geeks at Video City for recs. Everything on Netflix, pretty much, makes the grade as a staff pick. The problem? Not enough time to watch it all.