When I first moved to LA, most of my friends were in or, as I, aspired to be in the entertainment industry. Oftentimes when we got together, we would have long discussions about movies, what makes a film great, why chemistry between actors is so crucial, how a good director can tease a great performance out of a mediocre performer or just about why we love this form of story-telling so much.
As I’ve moved away from pursuing a screenwriting career and focused more on studying mythology and writing about politics and cultural matters, I’ve lost touch with some of those friends, a number of whom have left town when they didn’t break into the business as they had hoped. And I haven’t talked about movies as much I would like.
So naturally last night, I was delighted to finally have dinner with a new friend who, unlike most of my friends in LA, is a movie buff. How I loved talking movies with someone who could guess my favorite director with only two clues, he was Greek and controversial. (Now if I could just find a friend who loves movies, is gay, votes Republican and reads mythology.)
Anyway, when we were discussing two of his favorite directors, FranÃ§cois Truffaut and Federico Fellini, I called them filmmakers, distinguishing them from the story-tellers I love (Kazan, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra and Stephen Spielberg to name a few). What these latter understood, I said, was that movies showed us all that is good in the world.
I thought that line, about movies and showing us all that is good in the world, simple as it was, trite almost, really got at my love for the medium. At the moment, it sounded so profound. And perhaps it was in the context of the conversation. Sometimes, we find the greatest lines come to us when we’re not looking for them (and oftentimes when we lack a pen or pencil to jot them down).
Anyway, it struck me, especially given the most recent Academy Awards, that Hollywood seems more eager to reward filmmakers than to honor storytellers, those directors can show a human being on a journey, how, in relating to his fellows, he learns an important lesson, a lesson which relates the struggles all of us, not just the celluloid hero, face. In part because of that universal theme, the director succeeds in engaging the audience, those following that journey through the medium of film.
But alas, with too many in Hollywood having lost sight of why stories are so important, this town no longer produces as much magic as it once did. The movers and shakers here need bear in mind what the great directors of yore felt in their blood, thats humans are a story-telling species, Homo Narrans, as one scribe put it. Stories sustain us as human beings while storytelling distinguishes us as a species. For what practical purpose do most stories serve?
At times, I am gloomy about the state of Hollywood, but then I see some gem like Lars and the Real Girl or learn that Pan’s Labyrinth Director Guillermo del Toro will be helming the Hobbit (though Peter Jackson certainly shouldn’t have declined the honor) and realize that Prince Caspian is coming out in two weeks, followed by the next Indiana Jones movie the following week. And Stephen Spielberg is directing once again.
There is hope for Hollywood.