Humans have always held a fascination with storytelling. The form has evolved from spoken legends, hieroglyphs, and cave drawings, to those born of recent technology, such as films, comic books, and even video games. It is something that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, and the list of benefits is long. Though, I don’t think I can convey its capacity for influence better than this scene from Dead Poet’s Society (directed by Australian Peter Weir). I’ve been interested in films for many years. My passion flourished when I began college, and was further realized when I was appointed Director of the International Film Series at the University of Northern Colorado. It was a paid job, but I would have done it for free. We used 35mm film (which is not cheap), and ran it through a projector from the 50’s. It did require occasional troubleshooting, but the history and novelty made it worthwhile. It was, too, a laborious process, as it takes great care and precision to run through a projector – at least one as old as ours was. If you’ve never seen a canister of 35mm film, you should know that they are awfully heavy, and film reels can be up to thousands of feet long. The best part of the job was having a key to the theater. I was never explicitly told not to watch films for my own enjoyment in the theater, so I definitely did that. One of my favorite films, Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier, was available on Amazon to rent before it was released in the US. I certainly didn’t want to pay $10 to watch it on my laptop, so I ran it through the computer in the theater, and I watched it on the big screen. Watching films by myself in the theater became a regular occurrence. I even watched some of my weekly TV shows, such as Shameless, in there. Again, best job ever. (Funny anecdote – As I had grown comfortable doing this, I would smoke an inordinate amount of pot before heading to the theater. The DVD player software on the computer set up in the theater has a playback feature that allows you to slow or speed up the rate of play. If done in small increments, it is unnoticeable. I began watching The Turin Horse, which is a slow-paced art film, and I, apparently, hit the button to slow the playback speed by mistake. It took me 45 minutes to realize what I had done. I was like, “Jesus, nothing is happening…” It turns out, in that 45 minutes, I had played through about 15 minutes of the whole film. Don’t get high and operate machinery.)
Through the years, I discovered that movies can be much more than cheap entertainment (and that America hasn’t fully realized this yet). I grew to love the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Ingmar Bergman above all others. These two are master craftsmen, and I beg you all to familiarize with their work. Jeunet is a French film director, who you likely know, but don’t know you know, from the movie Amelie. Though, in my opinion, not his best, it is his most well-known. Ingmar Bergman is a golden god, lauded as one of the greatest directors and auteurs by many others in the field. His films usually deal with heavy topics, and display the human condition in a way no other has been able to. This particular scene has long haunted me.
Movies assist in development as well. My generation was that of the animated Disney musicals, which instilled in us many cultural traits. It was our introduction to heroism, revenge, and even death. It was not uncommon for a child to be introduced to mortality via the passing of Mufasa in the Lion King, or to the consequences of untruthfulness in Aladdin. I would argue, though, that children are not the only ones capable of gleaning truths from films. People learn through witnessing cause and effect in stories, and films place you in roles you might not otherwise realize. This is what makes films from all over the world especially valuable. Some illustrate universal truths, while others reveal situations and cultural perspectives that have the ability to enlighten the viewer. This came out more like a public service announcement than I intended, but I think I adequately answered Tinbergen’s questions, if in a roundabout way.