The first five times I watched Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, I walked away yearning to be just like Laurie. To have his confidence and cool and stature. And all his vests. But on the sixth watch, a year and a half after the fifth, I suddenly saw the movie differently. It wasn’t Laurie’s character I admired most – though his turns of phrase, fashion, attitude, and kindness all shout to me still. Instead, I found myself thinking about a short scene that I’d never paid much mind to before. The scene when Joe shows the Professor, Friedrich Bhaer, her published work. Nervously pacing around, biting her nail, giddy as she waits for his response to her livelihood and greatest passion.
“I think they’re not good,” the Professor says meekly after a time, looking up at Jo. “I know you have talent, which is why I’m being so blunt with you.”
Jo stares at her friend, dumbstruck for a moment, before her temper flares up and gets the better of the situation. The quiet conversation explodes into a volcano of mingled feelings as Jo recoils at the Professors words. As she yells and criticizes, though, the Professor never loses his cool. Never judges her temper, never raises his voice. Never lashes out.
First, he is blunt with his candor. Then he is gracious with her temper. Finally, he is forgiving of her rage. This is the type of man I’d like to be. Critical and gracious. Honest and kind. And while I strive to hold many of Laurie’s finer traits in hand, it the heart of the Professor I want to follow after.
The other night, I watched a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi (you can watch it on Prime). It had been on my list for a long while, and I stumbled across again while in just the right mood, alone in the living room early on a Wednesday evening. I love it when the happens.
It was quite beautiful, and Jiro, like many other masters of their craft, is quite an interesting fellow to follow around. The first half is wonderful, and there’s so much good wisdom and information to pull out. But I’d say as you get to about two-thirds of the way through – if you start to get bored, just turn it off. Because odds are, you will continue to be bored.
Here are some of the quotes I pulled as I was watching:
“A great chef has the five following attributes:
1. They take their work very seriously and consistently perform on the highest level. 2. They aspire to improve their skills. 3. Cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good. 4. Impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They are stubborn and insist on having it their way. 5. A great chef is passionate.”
– Food critic
“The difference between Jiro today and Hiro 40 years ago is that eh stopped smoking. Besides that, nothing has changed.”
– Food critic
“I hated it at first [when I first started training at 19]. I wanted to run away for two years.”
– Jiro’s eldest son
“I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it.”
“Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what [Jiro] taught me.”
There are a couple of beautiful moments in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox when the characters – extremely tactile puppets made with fur and cloth – suddenly turn into smooth plastic versions of themselves, glowing from within.
It’s not as if the film is a picture of realism, but these moments depart entirely even from the whimsical realism of the world in which they’re set. The departure from the realistic gives a sense of the character’s truer emotions, through a literal shift in their beings.
The director is effectively lying to tell the truth more fully. Showing you what isn’t really there in order to show clearer what is there underneath.
This is a technique I wish directors and writers would toy with more often. Film is such malleable medium to play around with, yet it’s rare that I see a characters inner thoughts or emotions translated or abstracted into something completely outside of the ordinary – a couple exceptions being Molly’s dancein Booksmart and Walter’s dream sequences in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
The other day, I watched a movie called Booksmart. It was hilarious, and energetic, and vibrant – too wild of a ride for me at times – but a truly great film about friendship and self trying new things.
I walked away from that movie, as I often do, with a sense of jealousy or longing for the relationship captured on screen. Whether that be friendship or romantic, I sort of have an issue with falling in love with the people or dynamics in movies.
That evening, in pondering all the many *cough* many movies I’ll *smaller cough* one day write an make, I wrote this in my notebook:
I want to make a movie / story that leaves you looking at your own life again, but now seeing the beauty in it – feeling contented. Not wishing for the ‘perfect’ friendship or relationship that was written, but rather feeling content in your own story.
While pushing the boundaries of melodramatic, this is a point I stand by. There are beautiful stories – rare though I think they are – that display beauty, while also instilling beauty. There is a character in a book that I cannot remember right now… that is described similarly: their beauty seems to radiate and lift up those around them, rather than outshining them. Movies that don’t just show how great life could be, but how great life is if you look for the beauty in it.
Tonight, I watched a new movie called Judas and the Black Messiah – a true story of Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers during the Civil Rights movement. It was very hard to watch. It was beautiful, and beautifully made, and all the harder because of it. The movie displays the hardship Black communities have been fighting against in the United States for generations, and focusses on the brutality of the mass Police response.
I came away from this movie looking at my own life, and seeing the beauty in it more clearly. Seeing the privilege and the opportunity and the blessings I have grown up with. And seeing more clearly the pain and hurt and brutality that overshadows the lives of so many others…
I’m not sure what the point is here – but this is what I was supposed to write tonight.