Rigor, Ardor, And Looking For The Perfect Stories

wirekids.jpgEver since I started to try and form coherent thoughts on why people see bad movies, I've found myself examining a tangential problem: namely, that a lot of people don't know what they want from filmed entertainment in any medium, or even why they particularly respond to certain TV series or movies. There's nothing inherently wrong or evil about this; it's just the way most everyone operates, trusting a vague combination of gut instinct and unexamined reaction to tell them they like or dislike a given story. But I think it's important to think about what you respond to, and what you want to respond to, and what you see others respond to, and how all of those and more can change and affect each other. I've always been drawn to story and character, falling in love with the movies or series that create the most convincingly drawn universes or arcs or populations. But I've realized those related but disparate areas can be traced back/up to a broader concern for honesty above all else. I love all sorts of movies and shows, but they all either reflect an honest view of the world as it can be understood by those living in it or else construct different versions of that existence that still function under relatable and realistic character motivations as well as respect an internal consistency, refusing to violate their own rules. Just coming to that conclusion, and learning from it, and knowing how to express it, and what it means to say it, where to look for its evidences, took years of watching and writing and thinking. It just did. The simple and ugly and cruel-sounding truth is that some people think about these things, and some don't. As an example, though Roger Ebert isn't quite what he used to be, he can still hit something out of the park when he tries because he has spent decades thinking about what he loves and why he loves it. But it's also important to realize that loving honesty, as broad as that sounds (and, well, is), doesn't mean limiting myself to mumblecore or documentaries. It means respecting all brands of storytelling that respect their characters and viewers, and that make an attempt to be honest in their machinations. All fictional stories are plotted, but the good ones make the planned feel natural. For instance, Die Hard operates pretty clearly in the realm of the fantastic, but its enduring appeal comes from the way it creates a likable hero who exists in a heightened world but behaves with a recognizable rationality: He sweats, bleeds, plans, regrets his sins, hopes for a better life, tries to do right. It's my favorite action movie for its style, pacing, story, and originality, but also because of the way John McClane just makes sense on an emotional level. Hold it up against a Michael Bay movie and you can see that not all movies, even actioners, are cut from the same cloth. All explosions are not created equal. From the other end of the spectrum, too, are the stories whose honesty takes such strong root in the real world that their stylization or lack thereof only enhances that relatability. There's no mistaking the heightened, precisely designed Rushmore for the real world, but it remains one of my favorite films (if not the favorite) for its absolutely honest portrayal of youth, confusion, heartbreak, and the sweet damnation at the core of the human condition that says not only do we suffer, but that we can survive more than we knew. It is true to its characters and their motivations, offering a specifically fictional version of honest and true feelings and events. That commitment to honesty can have added impact when it informs all aspects of the film or series. One of the (many, many) reasons that "The Wire" is the best television show ever created is the way in which it just shatters the standard for verisimilitude in filmed entertainment. Every moment serves the greater story, every character is sharply drawn and beautifully nuanced, and every fragment of dialogue feels plucked from the mouths of the men and women who lived the lives that inspired the stories on the screen. It is honest to a fault, honest to its heart, and honest above all things. It is recognizable as a perfect story not because it defines quality but because it adheres to the definition passed down through all art, to hew as closely as possible to the beats and rhythms in the heart and soul of every viewer, and to make a made-up world feel like it's right outside the window. I look for honesty because that's what's worth seeking.