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Lara Eckener

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Month

June 2012

.020 – The sweet spot.

***There will be spoilers for Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World in this post.***

As of last night when Boogie Nights thankfully–finally–ended, I’ve seen 58 movies this year.  Most of those were for the podcast, or because of it in some way.  Some of them were because my friends talked me into seeing them.  (Hot Tub Time Machine is not a good movie, guys.  I don’t care if Sebastian Stan IS in it for a whole fifteen minutes.)  Some of them I made time to see simply because I wanted to.  (I am not a girl who turns down Hedwig and the Angry Inch sing-a-longs.)  I expected to love movies and hate movies, what I didn’t expect was that I’ve loved every single one of them, even the ones I hated and would never ask you to see.

When I first joined the Wrong Opinions Podcast I was worried.  My co-hosts love film and can talk in very specific jargon about cattywampus (Dutch, for some reason) angles and slow first acts.  I enjoy film, but don’t feel a particular affinity for it over any other kind of storytelling. In fact, I made it very clear in the beginning that all I could speak to was story and structure and characters.  That turns out to be enough sometimes, and I’ve learned a whole lot in the last year or so about film itself, but it’s still the story part that really interests me over any of the technical notes.  And when you mainline movies like I do, the differences in story start to stick out rather than blend in together.

Last weekend I saw three movies: Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.  Last weekend I felt like some sort of picky, sticky Goldilocks, and it’s because only one of those movies felt to me like it was trying to tell the right sort of story in the right sort of way.  It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the film I went into with absolutely no expectations.

Too cold. Friday night I saw Brave.  I feel like I should preface this, as I always do, by telling you that I haven’t seen most Pixar movies.  I’m just not that interested in them.  I’ll watch Wall-E eventually, because the boyfriend and several other people keep telling me to, but I’m perfectly fine living a life where I don’t cry over the end of Toy Story 3 twelve times.  (That’s what I re-watch Band of Brothers for.)  But even though I haven’t seen most Pixar films, I’ve been left with a very specific set of notions about what a Pixar film SHOULD be, just by virtue of knowing other people who have seen them.  It’s hard to explain these expectations, since I’ve never quite seen them in action, but I suppose Pixar films should be warm and emotional and adventurous and unsure.  Leave it to a race car or a space trash compactor to remind us of what the human condition really entails.  And Brave, even though the story does focus on a human, felt like it fell way short of that for me.  It was too simple.

That’s somewhat fatuous of me, I know, to call out a children’s movie for being too simple.  And it’s probably just nostalgia that colors in Sleeping Beauty and The Last Unicorn as richer in some way.  That movie’s target audience will feel great about being able to predict what needs to be done before the witch even appears on screen, but I was bored after the half way point because of it.  And it’s silly, because there is nothing wrong with simple story telling.  You can get more out of your emotional payoffs if you keep things focused.  I’m also not saying that it’s not fun to watch, because it’s genuinely funny, and I adore the father character.  I laughed out loud quite a few times.  I just wanted something more.

Too hot.  We saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on Saturday morning, and that just left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied and liked I’d definitely seen a movie directed by the guy who directed Wanted.  That movie did entirely too much.  Or it tried to anyway, it didn’t really succeed in anything.  A lot of the charm of the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book lies in the fact that it takes a lot of factual information about Lincoln’s life and then just folds the vampires in.  Even when the book is delivering action it’s matter of fact and paced like a biography, not like an action-adventure tale.  The movie managed to strip away every last bit of that charm and then proceeded to shoe horn in a whole bunch of back story that the audience really didn’t need.  And then there was slow motion leaping off of burning bridges.  I mean, if you buy a ticket to something titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you’re probably going to be okay when it leaves out his days studying law and working in shops.  The movie should have focused on ten years tops instead of forty.  (On the plus side, Dominic Cooper is still a person doing things, which is always nice to see.)

Just right.  And I guess it’s about managing expectations, because Sunday morning when we went to see Seeking A Friend for the End of the World I had no idea what it was about except for what I could infer from the title.  I left that movie feeling like I haven’t felt since I saw I Heart Huckabees.  Someone made that movie just for me.  It was funny and touching and a little sad, but that’s going to happen when the world ends.  Most importantly, it was paced well and it pulled out the right part of the story to tell like I felt the other two movies didn’t.  We didn’t need back story for these characters.  Their traits were given to us naturally through dialogue and action and not through exposition.  We just happened to meet up with two people three weeks before the world ended and learned what we could in that amount of time.  And it was wonderful.

Choosing the right part of a story to tell is hard.  For me anyway.  I am a total whore for back story.  I want to know what brought the characters here.  I want to know why they react the way they do to things.  That goes for my own characters as well.  A lot of the trouble I have with prose is separating what I need to know from what the audience needs to know, as well as making sure I get across the things that are just sitting in my head.  Because it’s one thing for me to think ‘well of course Edmund would kill that man’, but it’s another for the audience to be on board.  What have I shown them of Edmund before?   What is it about his demeanor or his upbringing or his social standing that would make killing a man seem like the only thing he could do in any given situation?

Why did Merida not question the way the witch said the word ‘change’?  What drove Abraham Lincoln to be so selfish in his pursuit to kill the undead?  What made Penny force Dodge’s dad to turn the plane around?  I can only answer one of those questions in a satisfying way.  The stories that fall short for us can be fun and they can teach us a lot, but it’s the stories that sit in that perfect space that really affect or change us.  I want to tell stories like the latter.  If only I can figure out how to do it every time.

.019 – Everything must belong somewhere (and other lessons I learned from indie folk.)

I have been away, friends, for which I apologize.  I didn’t mean to let this journal sit so long without an update, but I was very busy last month, which culminated in the week I just spent between Boston and New York.  I had a wonderful time and now I am back and, predictably, I just want to leave again. 

I spend many of my waking hours wanting to leave.  Right now I would very much like to leave work, but since this is my first day back, that’s to be expected.  Not that it’s any different than how I usually feel about work, but you know, it gets compounded.  Sometimes I want to leave a store I’m in, or wriggle my way out of an event I’ve promised to attend.  And there is a constant pitch of wanting to leave Orlando always buzzing at a low current under every other part of my skin.  To be plain, I feel like I’ve outgrown this place.  I need to be replanted so my roots have a larger container to grow into and fill.  Because of this, whenever I visit a different city, I always sort of feel it out with my feet and heart to see if it’s a place I want to be.  I’ll stand on a random street corner and ask myself if I can fill that pot, and the answer sometimes surprises me.

Boston was a pot I think I could fill.  I have friends there already.  It’s an old city that wears its history on its streets and while the city center appears to be dense and populated, the outer areas are full of wonderful, slower things, some of which are directly relevant to my interests.  I felt comfortable there.  As if I could just add myself and some water to the city and have an instant life.  (Not that I would have to add much water, since it was soggy and gross the whole time I was there.  I was strangely okay with that as well.  City lights reflecting on wet streets create some of the best art around.) 

I fell quite in love with Boston’s public transport and the creepy masked statues in Somerville and the parks that dot the area and the streets that you can walk and walk and seemingly never cease to come upon stores and tea shops and places to buy books.  I think I could be happy there for a while.  More than that, I think I could be happy there completely alone if I had to be, which isn’t a thing I usually consider when I fall for a city. 

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Because, when I like a city so much that I start fantasizing about my life there I worry that it’s just my wanderlust kicking in.  I fear that I like it only because it’s new and different and offers me a chance to pick up and move on.  I’m old enough to know that leaving a place won’t allow me to outrun my problems, but I’m not old enough to give up the thought that maybe if my problems caught up to me in a new place they wouldn’t be the same.  Sometimes I think that by the time they did I would somehow be better equipped to deal with them based entirely on my new location and different life experiences.

I have these fears, and then I will visit a city that I don’t fall in love with, in spite of all it has to offer me, and I realize that I’m more pragmatic than I give myself credit for.  New York is one of those cities.  I think that I could grow into New York, I’m not frightened by its size or its splendor, but there’s a pull in my gut that makes me feel like I wouldn’t really want to. 

While Boston offered me things that I didn’t know to expect, New York offered me exactly what I knew I would get.  It offered me things that thrilled me, and excited me, and made me happy for having come into contact with them.  It gave me paintings by Max Ernst and late night, near empty subway platforms and gorgeous architecture and a play that made me laugh so hard I cried.  As passionately as I feel about all of those things, the city itself always leaves me feeling detached and cold.  Maybe it’s because I don’t need to dig to find what I want and I can view New York as a means to an end.  Or maybe it really is all of the people, as I tell others when they ask what it is about New York that I don’t like.  Walking across Times Square after seeing our show Saturday night made me feel nervous and frenetic.  I couldn’t get away from that cluster fast enough.  New York doesn’t make me feel curious and free.  New York just exhausts me, in the same way that theme parks do.  I might be able to live in New York, but I wouldn’t want to be there alone, and I don’t get the feeling that I would learn very many positive things about myself if I did.

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The friend I was in New York with loves the city.  She looks at jobs there every once in a while and I think she would jump at the chance to be able to grow into it.  It’s still curious to me, after 29 years, how some people just know love of a place when they see it, and how they have the faith to be able to want and wish.  Even the cities I do think I’d like to live in, I don’t seriously pursue them.  It may be because I’m afraid of change.  For someone who worships at the alter of choices, I sure am bad at making them.

And so here I am, still wanting to leave, but feeling more at peace with the places I want to go, simply because I can recognize that there are places I don’t want to go.  Maybe one day I’ll get up the gumption to actually do it. 

 

 

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