I'm reading a book called The Power of Movies by British philosophy professor Colin McGinn. The subtitle is "How Screen and Mind Interact," and I think it's high time somebody explained this to me. As a somewhat compulsive moviegoer since childhood, I have long been aware that something was going on here that I didn't quite understand.
The book equates viewing movies to the dream state, and, although I haven't gotten to that part yet, I can see it. McGinn says that when a movie is shown, the audience looks into it, rather like looking into a window, or a hole, a roaring fire, a mirror -- or into someone's eyes. We don't just look at a screen with pictures moving across it. We don't just watch actors playing roles, we are absorbed into the story in a way that is unique to the art of film.
Often after seeing a particularly effective film, I will have difficulty going to sleep, and sometimes I will dream myself into the story of the movie. I'll let you know how the book comes out when I finish it, but at this point, I'm expecting to have this phenomenon cleared up, or at least I know someone brilliant has put his mind to making this connection.
Yesterday I went with a couple of women friends to see the new chick flick The Devil Wears Prada. We noted that the theatre was much fuller than it was for the type of film we usually attended (which in Lower Alabama almost amounts to a private screening at times), and that it was a predominately female crowd. I would say there were about 100 people there, of which two were male, and they did not appear to be alphas. The movie was about working women in New York, and it features what looks like another Oscar-winning performance by Meryl Streep as the all-powerful editor of the most powerful fashion magazine in the world. Having worked on the fringes of that world thirty years ago, I expected, and got, a trip back to locales and situations I had long put behind me. The New York of the movie is glittering, glamorous, peopled with the beautiful and chic -- and there is a side trip to Paris, romantic, eternal and astonishing. At the beginning, a neophyte journalist is hired as the assistant to the assistant to the all-powerful Streep; she is not unlike I was in the halls of Fairchild Publications in the mid-1960's. However, she is transformed into a fashionista herself, and becomes embroiled in the behind-the-scenes politics in ways I never did.
Not to give a review of the movie here -- I enjoyed it for its ability to transport, more than anything, and the spot-on character work by Streep -- but I found it likable on several levels even though I had expected it to be more of a satire of the world it portrayed. (Let's just say I would have enjoyed a more of a romp through that space where fashion is taken so seriously, with laughs at the expense of the clearly villianous. But maybe that's just me; the movie works pretty well on its own terms.)
I went back to read a review -- I never do that until after I've seen a film -- and I recommend reading this one, because I think he nails the film beautifully. It's by Stephen Whitty of Newhouse News Service, and I'm sure you can find it online. When I'm deciding whether to go to a movie, wait to rent it, or skip it altogether, I'll first skim a review to see it the movie is recommended, press the mute button on tv when they're showing clips, and rent if I know and admire the actors and the case cover says "Two Thumbs Up!" In general I agree more with Ebert than Roeper, but for this movie, Ebert gave surprisingly thumbs down, and Roeper, thumbs up. Now I think I'll go read what Ebert said in his written review.
Then, after the Sunday papers, I'll get back to my book about how watching movies engages the conscious as well and the unconscious, and looking into a movie has the power to touch the soul.