Archive for April 6th, 2009

People are amazing & amazingly annoying

The above is the lesson I (re)learned from this past weekend.

One of the things I hate most in this world is also — probably understandably — one of the things I understand least.  I’ll paint you a picture of it.  You’re sitting in a crowded, dark moviehouse watching a film like, say, Brokeback Mountain.  You’re watching a beautiful movie, watching breathlessly as everything clicks just right — the cinematography, the photography direction, the actors, the world, everything.  And then the movie comes to a close and the music comes on, the credits roll and you’re faced with having to reenter the real world.  And that reality comes even faster because someone is stepping over you to leave the theater and a couple is walking down the aisle out of the theater laughing about how one of them almost tripped on the carpet.  Inane things.  And things that instantly break the spell and break my heart.  Such it is, I know, and it will continue to be this way.  But I really hate it.  If you don’t respect the movie, fine.  But respect that I’m sitting there and have been changed a little bit by watching it and need some time to readjust.

Ok, but that’s movie theaters and not everyone has the same reverence for the medium that I have.  I do get that.  But here’s something I really don’t get.  I’m taking a yoga class on Saturday mornings at the Memorial Union and my favorite part is the calming voice of the instructor (even when we’re doing some pose that has me shaking and feeling that death is imminent) and her efforts to have us relax.  So, I was completely incensed this past Saturday when, about a minute after class started, two buffoons enter the classroom late and the nice, sweet instructor calmly tells them, “Come on in.  We’re just starting.”  I believe polite people of even below average intelligence would then quietly take off their shoes, put their coats to the side, roll out their mats and get started.  All without a word.  But, as usual, I am wrong.  Instead the two launch into a loud recitation of how difficult it was for them to find the room; how they asked six different people for directions and received six different answers; how the third floor of the union disappears midway through (true, but common knowledge); and how they are finally here and aren’t we all thrilled.  So, after this commotion, we try to all go back to being all centered and calm and looking up to our third eye or whatever.  Then we do our yoga and it’s hard and frustrating and I’m really terrible at it.  But then I am rewarded with my favorite part — the part at the end when the instructor tells us to relax, lie back, close our eyes, we’re done, we’ve done a great job and we need to let all of the stress and tension go.  We get to lie down in the darkness for several minutes while calming, tranquil music plays.  Unfortunately, in addition to being terrible about yoga poses, I’m terrible at shutting down my brain and relaxing.  As she tells us to sink into the floor and then tells us to just float like a leaf, I can’t stop wondering how if I am supposed to be sinking, I can’t possibly be floating.  And then I chastise myself for these thoughts, but then come back to, “But it’s true.  I mean, really.  How can I relax if I’m supposed to be both sinking and floating at once?  No wonder I can’t do yoga.”  Anyway, finally, there is a moment of peace and calm and I don’t even realize it’s happened until the instructor says, “It’s time now to come back.  Wiggle your toes.  Rotate your ankles.  Open your eyes.”  Damnit!  I don’t want to wiggle my toes!  I was just getting into it.  And as I’m thinking, “Oh, that was so nice.  I love the quiet,” my near-serenity is interrupted by one of the buffoons nearly screaming, “So, are we going to be in this room again next week?”  And then loud advice from several people about which stairway is the best stairway to take to get to this room.  And then louder discussion about which door to enter to get into the union itself to find this best stairway.  My almost-moment was dashed.  And this I really don’t get because these are people who are voluntarily paying to take yoga.  The best part is the end and why you would want to cut that short — and ruin it for others — is beyond me.

Ok.  Done.

I’m going to try now to balance the annoying people section of this post, though, with inspiration I found this weekend at the eleventh annual Wisconsin Film Festival.  If you count the shorts as separate movies (and why wouldn’t you), I saw twelve in all.  Of these twelve, there were several highlights.  For example, Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story.  This was an awesomely funny documentary about an all-male summer camp in northern Wisconsin that ends the summer with an event they call “Collegiate Week.”  It’s an incredibly intense week of competitions that (most of) the campers and staff hold in the highest regard.  For example, a past participant said that getting married, having his kid and winning collegiate week were the best parts of his life.  Probably in that order.  It was neat, too, to see how boys behave at these ages, particularly in the absence of girls or women.  This was an insanely fun movie, but I wouldn’t put it in the category of inspirational.  Of course, I don’t think it was meant to be.

In the “people are amazing” category I place the following films:  Football Under Cover, Between the Folds, Cheese Wars & The Rock-a-Fire Explosion.  Also, the film festival’s own trailer is in this category because it was hilarious, creative, retro and just damn cool. 

Football Under Cover was a neat story about a German women’s soccer team that had learned that Iran had its own national women’s soccer team, but that the team had never played a match against anyone but themselves.  So, the German team sets out to change that.  And the Iranian women are all for it.  There are many obstacles to overcome — including getting visas and playing in pants and headscarves — but it comes to fruition and even ends in a tie!  It was just neat to see how hard “ordinary” people work to pull off something like an international soccer game.  And it was so interesting to see the women in the stadium watching the match (women aren’t allowed in the stadium at men’s matches and men weren’t allowed at this match).  The women were so excited, cheering like crazy and demanding rights.  It was just a really good, inspiring, honest movie.   

Cheese Wars was a snapshot of the California dairy industry versus Wisconsin’s.  It was made by a native Wisconsinite who is now a grad student at Berkeley.  Though balanced between conversations with industry insiders from both states, Wisconsin came out securely on top, producing better quality products using less destructive and nasty means to do so.  Wisconsin looked so beautiful in this movie — everyone was proud.

Between the Folds is a movie about people doing some serious origami.  While the designs were truly outstanding, I was more moved by people who are so passionate and loving about something like paper folding.  Some of the artists made really intricate figures that had expressive faces and detailed clothing.  Some, though, were obsessed with the math involved and the implications the models had for scientific discovery.  All, though, were people who fully embraced this art form and reveled in working with it.  The two (very) short animated films that followed it were made by animators who clearly, too, love origami.  These two films were almost as inspiring as the feature, even though they couldn’t have been more than two minutes each.  They were so lovingly made that you couldn’t help but be entranced.

Speaking of entranced, a real disappointment was the movie It Takes a Cult.  It was an inside look at the Washington state-based Love cult.  Started in the 1960s (shocking!) by a fellow who called himself Love Israel, the cult developed around the idea of leaving the past behind (wow!); giving the cult your entire net worth (original!); taking the last name Israel; living all together on a plot of land outside Seattle; drug use (no!); men sleeping with any woman they wanted (unique!); no monogamy for men (what?!); women raising the children (outstanding!);  book burning; and ridiculously annoying folk music.  The thing was, the movie was billed as a “sympathetic” look at the cult, so I was wary that this would annoy me.  The problem, though, was more that the movie felt really incomplete.  There were more than allusions made to the greed of Love Israel and the disintegration of the cult from more than 300 people to fewer than 40, but there was absolutely no exploration of this.  Most of the folks interviewed for the documentary had left the family, but the filmmaker refused/declined/neglected to ask any probative questions regarding why they had left.  There was talk of some letter they had written to Love, who, without reading it, tore it up.  Apparently, that was that and these members went on their way.  Anyway, it was, as I said, a disappointment.  I was left with way too many unanswered questions.

The last film I saw was The Rock-a-Fire Explosion, which is, expectedly, about The Rock-a-Fire Explosion.  You remember, the Showbiz Pizza Place band, featuring Fats & Billy Bob & Mitzy Mozzarella.  The film briefly chronicled the rise and fall of Showbiz Pizza and the related disintegration of the band, but mostly it was about the peeps who continue to be so in love with the band that they buy up the old memorabilia and hope for some sort of a resurrection.  These people are pretty odd, but totally loveable.  They speak about this band as if it were real, and as if it was the most remarkable human accomplishment ever.  One guy worked three jobs for two or three years in order to buy a never-used complete band set (it seems as though it comes with tons and tons of miscellaneous props and, I’d say, at least six characters) to stick in his approximately 600 square foot house.  He’d have the neighborhood kids come over from time to time to watch a show.  I was worried this would get creepy, but it really didn’t.  He made a bunch of videos of the band playing all sorts of songs and posted them on youtube and, apparently, the response has been tremendous.  The creator of the band, a self-described inventor, is also — not surprisingly — a nut, too, and has some serious pack rat tendencies.  In any event, the movie was a great reminder of how connected we can all become around something as odd as animatronics.  And that human creation can sometimes touch us in such indescribable ways and that those feelings stay with us so much longer than we would have ever expected.  

April 2009

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