Saturday, January 10, 2015

Voting With Your Feet

The 2015 movie year is off to a glorious start with the wide release of Selma. What? You don't want to see a history movie? That stuff is old and boring? Besides, things have changed and we don't need to be dwelling on the past, right?

Pfffft. I'm with Faulkner on this one. The past truly isn't dead.

Selma's taking a few hits, primarily for its portrayal of LBJ. Having seen the film, I don't get that. Pres. Johnson in no way comes across as the villain of the piece; rather, he is shown to be a politician with ambitious goals. He cautions Dr. King to slow down, the time is not yet ripe for these large-scale changes in the Deep South - and Johnson fears he can't deliver the votes he needs to pass legislation that will essentially take a sledgehammer to Jim Crow. (You know, it's odd how a man's legacy gets undone. Johnson delivered on what Kennedy only had to promise - this single man muscled through the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and strengthened both the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts, but he also escalated Vietnam, which became his defining legacy. Likewise, Alabama governor George Wallace was a champion for the poor, but his dogged insistence on maintaining the Jim Crow status quo [hmm - the "status Crow"?] is all that people remember.)

We forget. That's one reason Selma matters. We forget the sheer, raw courage it took to walk into a low-level county office and demand the petty official accept a government form. We forget the everyday indignities that were visited on our own citizens who insisted, often with an astonishing amount of grace, on being treated as full human beings. We forget how much was at stake when citizens just wanted to walk across a bridge.

People are awful. But we can change - even if it takes TV cameras to get us to do it.

Selma is going to be a heavy-hitter during awards season. And it should. No, it's not a documentary - King's speeches are approximations, since apparently the King family would not permit the actual words to be used, having licensed them to another studio for another project. Selma is not a love-fest - people are flawed, a fact Selma does not shy away from and which I completely appreciate. I want real people, not stained-glass saints. Look, these people - the everyday people (including Viola Liuzzo, whose name you should know), not just the leadership of this movement - are American heroes who stood up for the principles this country was founded on and made such a dignified, consistent nuisance of themselves that our politicians had no choice BUT to act.

Go see this movie. Now. Today. Take your kids. Stay for the credits and the the John Legend/Common song "Glory" which reminds us all, in these dark days of #JeSuisCharlie,  "The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful."And if you don't cry in at least a few places, do me a favor and don't tell me.

Before I conclude, the end of the year brought two movies that I saw but didn't post about due to an increased amount of craziness, so let me briefly touch on those.  Exodus is Ridley Scott's attempt to create a modern version of the big-screen Bible epic. He's got a great story here - Conflict! Plagues! Gigantic crowd scenes! The desire for freeeee-dom! - yet the whole movie just never lifts off. There have been loud and frequent complaints about the casting in the film, but trust me - not the only problem here. Also, the final installment of Peter Jackson's take on Tolkien's The Hobbit was just - not very good. I'll freely admit that part of my problem is the add-ons to pad this into a trilogy (look - they're walking in New Zealand! Now there's more walking in New Zealand! Oh, look - they're riding horses in New Zealand!) and in this final installment in what really could have been one stellar film rather than three lackluster ones, things reached a head. Let me just point out two items - first, never, ever, ever use your young son as your steadying point with a gigantic arrow. I'm pretty sure the fletching would rip his shoulder to shreds. Second - while I can appreciate the over-the-topness of Billy Connelly riding a boar into battle, the same cannot be said for the elf-leader's war moose. Ugh.

Also, there were so many films at the end of the year that didn't come around here - and I try to keep this a "local" blog. Still, I intend to seek out The Imitation Game, Big Eyes, The Theory of Everything, and Boyhood to name but a few.

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