It’s late at night here in the land Down Under, and as usual, I have just finished watching a movie. It has been a good week for it, watching movies. While my wife binge-watches her Supernatural, I have had the pleasure of watching two truly astounding portraits. One was De Palma and the other Life Itself.
I find myself as unable to speak at the end of this heart-breaking adventure through the life of the great watcher, Roger Ebert, as I remember being after coming out of the theatre seeing Braveheart. My Scottish blood was up that night, and I felt a pride for my heritage that any gift I might have with the English language shall come up short trying to relate it to you. It is my own trials of these last weeks that move me now as I witness the last days and last deeds of Ebert.
I recently had a health scare and am on medication to try to tame these issues. But they pale in comparison when I look had the degeneration of the mighty critic, whose battles with his friend Gene Siskel I enjoyed so often. It was not who was right or wrong about the films that moved me, but simply, the passion they exuded for this medium which is for me also, a life’s grand obsession.
We see Roger struggle in his final times, his end of days with a determination that is the embodiment of courage. Some may call it foolish courage, but fools and heroes are one and the same. To see him, as I have in myself early this week, have the frustration of his trials be swept away by a moment of enthusiasm and inspiration (in my case for this new gig that is writing for PTS.) When a filmmaker I approach to have a chat about their work gets back to me suddenly and I find myself throwing all else aside, taking to the keyboard, readying my thoughts so as not to waste what time I may be granted; so that this precious audience with another of those whose work has coloured my dreams and set fire to my desire to be a doer as well as a watcher is not squandered.
I am so moved I am grateful to my wife for interrupting me as the credits roll on the Ebert portrait. She wants to show me a defining moment on her Supernatural, and its helps to let the lump in my throat sink, as the building thoughts of the scare I have sustained, the thoughts of my father’s debilitated state after his stroke some years back all were climbing to the surface.
This is more than just a documentary about a film critic. It is a look into a life. It is a look at what drive can do for those with the will, with tenacity to not only chase their dreams but also not to stop until they are realised. We hear Ebert, though aided electronically to communicate, still fighting the good fight; this man Herzog proclaims the good soldier of cinema.
The equal to his film is the aforementioned De Palma – in this dude in the audience’s opinion – a long overdue tribute to a master that came to prominence with likes of Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola. The soft but blunt speaking student of Hitchcock sits centre stage to talks candidly of his work, his influences, shit behind the scenes and the personal life that was going on around and outside the set of his films.
From his early days working with a very young De Niro, to being there the eve the music of Bernard Herrmann fell silent, to the joy of The Untouchables and Mission Impossible, to the crushing blows of Bonfire of the Vanities and Casualties of War (one of my personal favourites of his films.)
I wish there were more master classes like this with the filmmakers I revere. I went to film school and was often taught by instructors who knew well their fundamentals, but then I watch something like this and feel as though I was ripped off. You sit and listen to this man as he breaks it down. His films, his methods, his reflections and it’s like the best lecture on making movies you have ever sat through. There was honestly many moments that I felt guilty somehow that I wasn’t taking notes.
I was pleased indeed that De Palma spoke a little longer on some films more than others. Grateful I was that these chapters were on the films of his I have watched over and over as my passion for them dictates. Though I do wish he had talked a little longer on the others, the likes of Mission to Mars, which I thought at the time and still do, was a really bizarre choice for him to helm. But I find I am satisfied – more so than I was with the Milius portrait (which I still loved mind you) for skipping over Farewell to the King, my favourite of all his movies.
Needless to say I have watched De Palma more times this week than Life Itself, being how I just received it in the mail today. Normally I would have watched it again before writing something about it, and you’ll forgive me, but I was just so moved by it I just had to fire up the keyboard and knock this out before sleep over takes me.
There are two things I walk away from these films with.
One, those that have truly mastered the art of the moving image, whether it is by making them or writing and informing an audience with a critical eye and a passionate tongue; these kinds of people know that it is a privilege to do what they do for a living. As Kubrick I believe said best: though it can be like writing War and Peace in a bumper car at an amusement park, when you finally get it right – nothing else comes close to it.
And two, these are the music makers and these are the dreamers of the dreams, as it was once said. Those of us that are still out here striving for a day in the sun must take heart and look to these examples of giants in the industry. We are not yet giants, but we must climb atop the shoulders of such, then and only then can we see the heights and know them for their glory, till giants ourselves we shall one day become.
I’m going to bed now. You seek out these films and watch them.
I pray you do.