April 25, 2010

Of Life, Art and Movies

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A senior’s last column inspires so many varied emotions. Rather than being completely nostalgic, I’ll focus on the ironic momentarily. For instance, I’m the alternate Monday guy. My final column happened to arrive nearly two weeks before Slope Day. My words will be forgotten come the gushing of every other ’10 writer over the next two weeks. Bear in mind I didn’t even have a published headshot until late March. Most readers are still surprised that in real life, my face doesn’t resemble a disembodied cartoon sun. Some people still call me “that dude that hated Avatar.” Fine (which I didn’t hate, by the way … it was New Moon that got my goat). I’ll take my just desserts by setting the final column’s tone. So there.

And what finality it is. Switching to a true desire for nostalgia, I can summarize my Cornell experience as a collection of poetically beautiful moments. I can look back on four years and summarize it in a montage of dizzying images, each as sparkling and precious as a gemstone shimmering in a jet-black velvet bag. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. I can taste the fresh dew in the biting November air during a 6 am formation run past Oxley. I can re-watch my eyes adjust to the virgin glare of a new dawn while emerging from the Uris cocktail lounge on a Monday morning after a dark 12-hour binge of studying. I remember hearing the distant, banshee-like wail of the apprehensive freshmen screaming into the night sky off the Kay-Bauer skywalk. I can feel the rough edge of a drumstick itch my fingertips as I finish off a roll to end a Dixieland swing number in Bailey Hall’s lobby. I can smell the blossoms in the plantations as my best friend and I played guitar on the pier by the cattails. Combined with prelim tears and Dairy Bar ice cream and Slope Day sweat and Rush Week barbecue and the gust of wind that fills your sails when the charter your fraternity has worked on regaining for four years is announced as officially reinstated, my four Cornell years have been a sensory amalgam unparalleled by any other period of time in my life.

But the quiet moments punctuating those exhilarations are the ones spent in dark rooms with cascading staircases lined by emergency lights, cell phones on vibrate, the mind alert, the heart filled with wonder and triumph and loss. The quiet moments spent in Cinemapolis, the Regal at Ithaca Mall, the now-defunct Fall Creek Pictures and our very own Cornell Cinema in Willard Straight. Watching Daniel Day-Lewis scream about milkshakes and Peter Parker awkwardly strut down 5th avenue with an emo haircut. Hearing the zombies rabidly shriek through 28 Weeks Later and hilariously squelch in Zombieland. Watching teenagers come of age amidst bursts of profanity, boys tame pet dragons, heroes conquer ambiguous villains, Emmy Rossum try to make Dragonball a legitimate film with whispered dialogue, two-story robots befriend misfits, Amy Adams smile through the hard times, Iron Man blow away the competition, a fish-girl try to become human, Bad Blake sing his woes away, Harold and Kumar bong-banzai themselves into absurd oblivion.

My friends, fellow students, and various readers, it’s the movies that give us the means to experience the world beyond the North campus dorms. The movies have given me a medium with which to communicate, because the collective ideas of a world trying to make sense of itself are brought to fruition on a silver screen for millions to experience. The visceral experience of film, with all its immediacy, transports us to far-off destinations, imagined worlds, and sometimes even the dark depths of our own selves. The movies have been there when I’ve loved, when I’ve lost, when I’ve wondered, when I’ve wanted to turn everything off.

Writing about the movies has only enriched my time here. Criticism is a harsh business. Any hack with a keyboard can scathingly piss away another’s hard-earned vision, much as a ruffian with a microphone can ridicule the leaders of the world through comment. To truly apply nuance and logic to dissect the hidden artistry in every filmmaker’s product, which many believe doesn’t exist, that everything isn’t artistic somehow, is a tough ordeal. Pros like Ebert, Levy, Corliss and Berardinelli make it look easy, and even they get it horribly, offensively wrong at times. I hope experiencing my feeble attempts to emulate them has not been too hard on those kind enough to read.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion … unfortunately. The subjective way in which we all have the right to appreciate and respond to art — especially an art as universal as direct as the motion picture — unifies us. I don’t have to defend why Rodriguez rules and Tarantino sucks, why District 9 was better than Avatar, The Departed better than Goodfellas, Clint Eastwood more iconic than John Wayne, Rocky better than Raging Bull. Or that Citizen Kane is worth watching as one of the “best films” in American history, and yet, Predator, The Terminator and Aliens are more enjoyable and have better things to say about life and the corruptibility of character. And they blow shit up real good, chyeah!. The second Harold and Kumar had scenes worthy of deconstruction as commentary on dramatic irony, race relations and subversive humor in American society. And regardless of talent or poise, Audrey Hepburn was freakin’ HAWT.

It’s been nice to share my opinion amidst the tumultuous experience that Cornell has been. I hope in some small way I’ve been able, through less-than-witty banter and a-cut-above-shitty prose, to demonstrate why we should all keep a keen eye on the big screen, especially at those darling mom-and-pop indie theaters like the ones in Ithaca and on campus (sorry Regal, I do love my Crown Club card though!).

Has anyone ever mentioned that real life isn’t a fairy-tale, that it doesn’t work out like in the movies? That people aren’t attractive, endings aren’t neat and not everyone who goes to the grocery store buys celery? That hookers don’t have hearts of gold, the nice guy rarely gets the girl and it doesn’t mean much when all the characters die before the credits? I say that’s truth, but not really, because there’s a reason we watch all that stuff, why the common stories and need for resolution unite us. Ever hear something in life and then watch a movie say it better, and first? It’s been done for a reason, folks.

They say art imitates life, and that life also imitates art. The two are not antecedents, linked by cause and alternately, effect. The trick isn’t that the two are opposites; they’re the same. The movies teach us about real life, because as fantastical as they may seem, inside every reel, in some way, the movies are real life.

EDIT: I forgot one more set of shout-outs. Big thanks to Julie Block, Peter Finocchiaro, Ann Lui, Ted Hamilton, and most recently, Peter Jacobs and Ruby Perlmutter…the Arts editing team that have helped me grow as a writer and helped my 1,000 word monsters shrink to legible pieces of critical journalism. Thanks for a great two years and eight weeks!

Original Author: Naushad Kabir