Don’t let that title deter you from reading more, I’m not going to cover my own opinion of Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time but rather the worrying note it leaves for the future of female POC filmmakers working in Hollywood. From directing Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, director Ava DuVernay, whose previous films include the Academy Award-nominated Selma and 13th, had become the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget that exceeds $100 million. Of course, its release was set to become a big deal within the film industry across the globe but its fate at the box office was perhaps one thing that was always going to be leaving us feeling uncertain about what it means for WOC filmmakers in the future.
UPDATE: The film ended up winning and I couldn’t have been any happier that it did.
You know that old saying where we don’t care about the Oscars in regards to their effect on our opinions of the films that were either nominated or have won? It’s easy enough to say that, but we still make ourselves watch the ceremonies at least because of the hope we retain in ourselves that maybe something we love so dearly has indeed been nominated and has a chance at winning. But considering just how strong a year this has been looking at the Oscar contenders this year, with Lady Bird, Get Out, and Phantom Thread up in the running for Best Picture, it’s easy to be satisfied with any of them. But if I had to pick one film from all of these, I think that The Shape of Water would be my go-to. And without further ado, here are among the many reasons that not only do I think it would be a suitable winner, but why it is also my favourite film of 2017 while we’re at it.
One knows already how predictable the Academy Awards can become after the route of the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards among many more, but in the 90 years that we have seen them moving onward, what they had managed to turn forth was not only one of the strongest lineups in a while but also one of the most pleasantly surprising, knowing where their own habits lie. If there was anything else to be said about what the Academy Awards have in store for us this year, then it only makes this year’s ceremony – unlike the past few at least, worth looking forward to.
Bold indicates my vote for said category.
Underline indicates who I think will win.
To read more about the picks this year in the major categories, click “read more.” Continue reading “General Thoughts: The 90th Academy Awards”
We always tell ourselves whenever there’s an Oscars ceremony that we don’t ever care about what they pick for Best Picture, because it’s always been up to us to decide how the films play for ourselves. But no matter how many times we like to reaffirm that the Oscars are ultimately just meaningless to our own opinions of the films themselves, the better question to ask ourselves is why do we keep watching them? I’m not of a mind that has ever believed in the Academy Awards as arbitrary to how we feel about the films that we watch over the years, but I always watch because they are also indicative of how the industry chooses to move forward in the future. When La La Land lost last year to Moonlight after an erroneous announcement, what did not come by was merely a victory for LGBT films in the sense that we were finally recognized by the Academy in their choice to award us Best Picture, but because odds were never certainly going to add up in its favour, it was a moment of triumph for aspiring filmmakers like myself.
Another year is complete, but not without having talked about the wonderful experiences we’ve had at the cinemas. Together with the not-so-wonderful films. But alas, this has been an extraordinary year for films for the highlights still managed to stick their landing inside of our minds – and the inevitable “what about such and such?” will come but I will remind you that it would have been outright impossible for me to have been able to catch virtually every movie that had come out the previous year to make sure I wouldn’t forget other highlights that may not have made it.
Continue reading “2017: A Year in Review”
I was 15 years old when I first saw Annie Hall. I was going through a breakup, and in a depressive state, I sat down to watch whatever was on television, and I just so happened to stumble across the movie as it was starting. It made a significant impact on me (and still does now), and I soon thought to myself about what more I could do to be a lot less like Alvy Singer – or was it really Annie herself who isn’t worth going out for? From then on, I branded myself as “the biggest Woody Allen fan” at my high school. I even paid for a ticket to see Blue Jasmine when it premiered in my area, because seeing Cate Blanchett, one of my favourite actresses in recent memory, work with one of my own favourite writer-directors at the time was something that I had to watch – and of course, it met my sky-high expectations. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much I loved his writing style, whether it was Annie Hall, or something like Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, or a recent work like Midnight in Paris.
However, I’m not the same person as I was at 15. Back then, I knew nothing about Woody Allen’s personal life, only that he was that weird guy who film lovers like myself had held in high regard for his distinct writing style. I can’t bring myself to hate a film like Annie Hall, which made me want to become a better person than I was then, and still seek to be nowadays, so obviously, these films still mean quite a great deal to me. They still feel like thoughtful slices of life that are being told from the perspective of a neurotic genius with so little social experience that reminded me of myself. With that having been said, calling him a “genius” makes me uncomfortable, because of how I’ve only come to see Woody Allen from reading up about his personal life. No matter how weird it was to be the youngest person seated to watch a Woody Allen movie in the cinemas, I now see it as one of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made in my life. I didn’t know anything about Allen at the time and even if I did, I convinced myself just to merely “separate art from the artist,” an idea that I no longer believe in. No matter what the quality of the work may have been, the idea that I had given my own money to an alleged molester is something that leaves me feeling uncomfortable to this very day.
But even with Allen, can you really “separate art from the artist,” knowing how much of his own life still finds its way into his own films? It’s clear to me that I can’t anymore, watching his own relationship in Manhattan together with the 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway flourish in what I also called one of my favourite films of all time. It was impossible for me, even in the case like Roman Polanski, another filmmaker I have greatly admired despite his own status as a fugitive from the United States on the count of drugging and raping the then 13-year-old Samantha Geimer. I couldn’t make the distinction with Polanski knowing the subject matter of his work, and even in cases like The Pianist or Tess, which have been made ever since he became a fugitive from the law – his own personal life can be felt in his work to a heartbreaking degree. It’s brutally apparent what part of his life these films were speaking for with him being a Holocaust survivor and having grieved the loss of Sharon Tate and an unborn child in a brutal murder, and while it wouldn’t make him any better of a person, you can’t ever find yourself wishing such awful things to happen to someone else as a normal human being.
When I first read Dylan Farrow’s open letter about the alleged abuse she had suffered from the age of seven at the hands of Woody Allen, I was heartbroken. I couldn’t believe a single thing that I was reading. The neurotic, socially inept genius that my 15-year-old self had championed for making films that made me want to be a better person than I am, was also a monster. It was the only conclusion that I could ever have come to knowing that he was married to Mia Farrow and André Previn’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. I was ashamed, because even that made me unsure if I was able to look at Allen’s films the same way that I had used to. I knew I couldn’t, knowing that these thought pieces reminiscing about how we live our ordinary lives were coming out year after year, from a monster.
Knowing already that Woody Allen’s films had so much of his own self inserted into them was yet another hurdle for me to jump over, but I somehow managed to go along with it. I would never bring myself to defend Woody Allen as a person, even if I still stand by how I feel about his work. Allen’s early works have made themselves so distinct in the sense that they are self-deprecatory portraits of his own life. He clearly hates himself as is, based on the way Annie Hall had ended, but even then, it’s not a very comfortable feeling when you know you’re still seeing Allen tell everything as is the way he does so in Manhattan, because what you still see is Woody Allen being Woody Allen. However, since his work is so full of self loathing, why hasn’t Woody Allen chosen to improve himself from this? He never offers a solution, we just see him continuously telling everything as it is, and it hasn’t even stopped nowadays given how 2015’s Irrational Man turned out.
Here I am, criticizing Woody Allen for being the sort of person that he is, but I continue to praise his work – and I’m sure this is a question that many would want to ask me: Why do I keep watching Woody Allen films? If I can’t even look at even those that I championed the same way that I used to, and I don’t believe that “separating art from the artist” is possible, why do I continue to admire them? Besides merely being good films as I believe them to be, I don’t think that revelations about an artist’s personal lives should poison art that has already been released. Will it indicate more about how these films have aged? Absolutely, but I also don’t think that it should demerit a film that the consensus has agreed upon, as a great piece of work. What I do believe, however, looking at these films from a current point of view, is that as we watch Allen playing himself, another lesson is being taught about consequence in the form of his usual philosophical ramble. No one wants to be the sort of person that Allen always writes, but that’s why his work continues to remain fascinating to me, as he still sees someone who has done wrong in his own characters.
So even if there are people out there who can still agree that these films have their merits as they are, what good is it really to stick up for Woody Allen? There isn’t any good in it, especially in the age of #MeToo, because we should not be ignoring the fact that Woody Allen has still been allowed to release at least one film after Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have fallen hard from grace at the hands of sexual abuse allegations that have surfaced against them. Over the years we have come to recognize Kevin Spacey as a truly great actor, but knowing that he has endangered so many people over the years, we cannot allow him to keep his position of power. Quite frankly, the fact Woody Allen is still allowed to work and brag about himself without the same refreshing thought that made his earliest works carry the impact that they maintained is something I cannot stand for, regardless of the quality of the films. You just know that from this alone, a dangerous figure is still put in power because people see him as “a talented artist.”
Do I believe that he is a talented artist? I figure that I will only be asked the same thing about Roman Polanski, whose films I continue to treasure today – because you will only get redundant answers: yes. Will I still watch their films? Yes, but maybe the best thing to do in this scenario is wait for a better time. Finally, in good conscience, will I pay to watch another film by Woody Allen? The answer to that is as simple as no. As we talk about the films of such people, we unfortunately cannot ignore how their own personal lives has impacted their art to any extent. However, what we can take from this is that as Woody Allen’s films remain influential to many, another template for where to start anew with how we live out our lives as they are. Whether you dislike Allen’s film because they are indeed films about himself, or you stuck so closely with Woody Allen’s work like I did, you’re not wrong for feeling either way. It is, however, an appropriate time to learn about the traumatizing scope in which their prominence upon modern art has left behind.
Dylan Farrow ended her open letter asking the readers, “What’s your favourite Woody Allen film?” In a normal scenario, this is where I would answer with Annie Hall, but because we are looking at the scope in which Allen has left a scar upon the Farrow family, it’s become so much more difficult to answer. When you find out that your favourite film has been directed by such an awful human being, I can only imagine that it would sting terribly. But even if these films were indeed directed by awful people, there are many others who had no prior knowledge of the scenario at hand that are being criticized as enablers only for working with them, something I do not believe is fair. What I do believe, is that as we learn more about what happens as this power continues to be abused, we should find more ways to act against it and show the film industry to be as inviting as possible for new artists. As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I would hate to work in an industry where dangerous figures can still be shrugged off because “they are talented artists” or because we should “separate art from the artist.”
Speaking as someone who still holds Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Purple Rose of Cairo in such high regard, I am done with Woody Allen. I am done with Woody Allen as a person, and I refuse to financially support him once again. I am done because the image he has left behind is sickening. Although in retrospect I am not changing how I feel about Allen’s work, and it isn’t easy trying to distance myself from an artist whose work has obviously made a great impact on me, I cannot bring myself to support what he puts out in the future. I should have known better at the time, because I gave Allen more power to work as consistently as he had done so. I cannot undermine how much I regret this, because I believe every word that Dylan Farrow has to say about Woody Allen. For so long I have ignored the voice of a victim in favour of a man who I believed to be an “incredible artist,” and I’m drowning in remorse. I cannot stand for this sort of abuse going ignored because it was committed by people whom we have cherished for so long.
If Dylan Farrow were ever to read this, I would also like to express that I am sincerely, very sorry, for having been a part of the problem. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up against this sort of abuse from the industry, and I admire it immensely, for I would like to stand up and be a part of the war against predators like Allen. I told myself after watching Annie Hall that I didn’t want to be the sort of person Alvy Singer was anymore, and I suppose this is another step further in moving away from that.
Within less than a week, the FCC will be taking a vote to slash net neutrality rules in America as proposed by chairman Ajit Pai on May 18, 2017. Unfortunately, this issue seems to have garnered more attention just recently on the count that it will ultimately be posing a threat to freedom on the internet as we know it, because this vote is set to take place on the 14th of December. I’ve been particularly vocal about how I feel about net neutrality because even if it weren’t to affect me directly in Canada, I can still feel that a part of me would be affected considering how many of my own peers come from America and will most likely be unable to continue their work on the internet as actively as I would normally see.
So what is net neutrality, in a nutshell? Net neutrality is, putting it slightly, the freedom for people who browse the internet on a regular basis without any bias. That means that our access to social media sites such as Facebook or streaming sites like Netflix all are free of charge without any form of bias coming on the ends of our Internet Service Provider. And it’s something that we haven’t been brought aware of because of the fact that the net is used by people like ourselves on a regular basis with the comfort that we can go ahead and look up whatever we wish.
And what happens the moment in which net neutrality is repealed? To put it bluntly, access to many websites that you use on a regular basis will end up blocked off, slowed down, or sped up unnaturally because your Internet Service Provider has a bias against how you use them. In our current political climate, it is even more worrying because Donald Trump can just shout “fake news” at anything that goes against his record whether it be the many sexual assault allegations or his plans to wage war with North Korea. In a world where Donald Trump is the president of the United States, the repealing of net neutrality is dangerous noting that he can use this to silence out people at his own will primarily because they will put his position in danger.
I don’t really mean to make this a political post, but it’s especially worrying because human beings have the right to know how their politicians plan to run what they have for their own people. The Internet does not belong to one sole being nor an entire corporation, and net neutrality is the sign that it represents freedom for the people. Net neutrality is the freedom of speech for people of any side of the political spectrum – and many people are at the risk of losing that freedom because of the fact that they merely cannot afford to pay just to access whatever sites they wish to use. It’s like having to pay just for your own right to your own personal security – which I’m pretty sure is something that you can determine on your own without needing anyone to decide.
One is told that from signing up onto social media or even as much as a Google search that what they do on a regular basis is monitored by another authority. Those people aren’t wrong, but the fact that net neutrality may end up being repealed is also putting these monitors in more power over the people. And referring to the last paragraph, it’s also far more of a threat to one’s own personal security because the repeal of net neutrality would only remind the average citizen that they’re being watched by people who help in providing the internet to them. Sure, one’s own search history isn’t something private even opening an incognito browser in Google Chrome can hide that – but it’ll put one’s own life at risk because their providers have a bias against the services that such people have access to on the regular.
So how come I’m commenting even if I’m in Canada? It’s because the last thing I’d want is to be unable to communicate with many through this blog, which is run by Americans – and many services that grant me the access to the many films I am able to watch whether it is Netflix or FilmStruck, are American. I have become a prominent presence all over social media, via Facebook or Twitter – and they also happen to be American services. The last thing I would want is for even myself to be shut down from the outside because of what Ajit Pai wants to plan for Donald Trump, he wants to shut down any sign on the internet that would go against his permanent record because he insists that it is “fake news” and it’ll even put more than just the United States inside of a world akin to John Carpenter’s They Live where one’s participation in society is spelled out to them via subliminal messages that have a single instruction: “obey.”
And not only that, many of our services wouldn’t be available to American users which would even put us at the risk of having net neutrality taken away slowly. It isn’t only going to make our access to American services more expensive, but Americans trying to find a way to reach outside of what’s restricted to them will end up being charged more by their internet service provider. Because of this, the Internet is also at the risk of turning into a prison for the average American citizen, the sort that some say it’s necessary to “stay off your phones.” Ajit Pai is looking for more reason to render the silliness of that argument valid and it’s something I cannot stand for.
Only one day remains in which you can join the fight. Every voice, American or not, is welcome. We need it in order to keep the Internet free – because it shouldn’t belong to authority. It belongs to the people that keep it as diverse as it is. Join the fight for net neutrality, and write to congress. It isn’t too late. If I’ve been able to sign up and write a letter constantly from Canada, then you can too from America.
There’s a spark of controversy that’s coming out over on Letterboxd because of short films that have been removed on a count of not being “professional.” Of course, the natural reaction from many of my own friends was that of anger. But being an aspiring filmmaker myself, I’m seeking to take classes in the future that’ll help me come closer to the art form because of my own love for films of all sorts. But even though I’ve never made any feature films myself, I still feel like I should have some say because there will come an occasion to which I’d want to put my own films out to be seen by many more, and Letterboxd is one step that I’ve found helpful after my own experiences with their community.
More recently, TMDb (otherwise known as The Movie Database), the site where Letterboxd collects their data, has been removing films that Letterboxd users have included into the database on the count that they are not “professional productions.” By the way this looks, however, they are also very evidently damaging the chances of allowing independent filmmakers to acquire recognition for what they do. But for what it’s worth, one of my own friends has also stated that this guideline has also contradictory to the point of absurdity.
But alas, I’ll pull up their own guidelines on which films of any sort are allowed to be entered within their own database.
- We are a professional movie database, which means that amateur films and TV series as well as school and/or student films and TV series are generally not allowed.
- Should an amateur movie be screened at a selective and relevant film festivals (e.g. a small town festival or the Cannes Short Film Corner do not qualify), have a proper theater release (e.g. a private/rented screening do not qualify), be on national TV in a country (e.g. small, local channels do not qualify), be on Netflix or an equivalent (e.g. content uploaded to your own YouTube channel, Vimeo or website do not qualify), or picked up and sold by a proper distributor (e.g. a local store do not qualify), it might be allowed.
- If a person that is considered a professional makes a short film, that film is allowed even without it being released in any of the ways just mentioned. For example, should Blake Lively make a short film next week (e.g. added to Vimeo), it will be allowed because she is a professional.
Right from the third rule alone, I rolled my eyes – because it also seems to imply that a video that was posted on a celebrity’s Instagram would be allowed within the database whereas a feature-length film that was self-distributed is not. But with the numerous films that have already made a name for themselves before TMDb has come up, why is it that these smaller films are not allowed to stay? And the reason being that they aren’t so well-known elsewhere, then what does that have to say for numerous foreign language films that happen to have less than 100 views logged or rated?
What TMDb doesn’t realize about this rule is that they are harming a new generation of filmmakers by being so conservative about “professionalism.” It seems as if it is so limiting, because they do not wish to allow amateurs who are only climbing their way up, as opposed to people who are already established from a following of popularity. It’s here where I question what TMDb defines as “professional.” It seems unbelievably unprofessional on their own end (now to turn the word against themselves), because what they are implying is that only films that have been released as part of a major studio are deemed as professional (consider the fact that we have Sony releasing The Emoji Movie, truly a “professional” accomplishment if you were to ask me) and yet an independent production (take the Academy Award-winning Moonlight for example, or Sean Baker’s Tangerine, which was filmed entirely on an iPhone) is not something that qualifies. If an “amateur” effort ends up winning an Oscar, then by this rule it should not be allowed into the database for it is still an “amateur” effort not affiliated with any professional, because it doesn’t have Blake Lively involved – as they say.
There’s also a sense of elitism coming out on their behalf when I look at how they define a “professional” production as one that has been distributed, and quite frankly it is something that not very many talented filmmakers can afford. For example, I’ll point to Troma as some of their own films are part of the public domain for they uploaded their own films onto YouTube. Because they were distributed through YouTube or any other means, does it make it any less of a film? Quite obviously, vlog videos or comedy skits on the site are not films therefore not legible to be in the database, but Troma’s intentions were cinematic – so are they just thrown into said dump because of how they were distributed?
Now where I’m especially critical of this guideline comes out from the “Blake Lively rule,” which is where I rolled my eyes the most. I rolled my eyes here, because by this own logic, any celebrity can post a video over on Instagram or on Snapchat, and it should be allowed within the database. And this would be considered “professional,” yet an amateur production made for artistic purposes would still be seen as “amateur” and therefore – not a cinematic effort. This is where I’m most frustrated, because few people can make such a lucky hit on their first go that would skyrocket them to becoming a “professional,” a la Sam Mendes when he directed American Beauty. And with this having been said, comedy specials as well as concerts have went on the site without hesitation, but are they made for the same purposes we have distinctively cinematic efforts considered “amateur?” Not to say these should be removed, but why are they listed if so-called “amateur” films are not allowed?
I want to get into filmmaking at some point of my own life, and through film criticism, I felt it was one step getting closer – and then befriending small filmmakers through social media was another. And to see that an entire generation of these people is going to be shut down on the count of not being “professional” is simply, just not okay, in my eyes. It isn’t easy to get feedback when other sites like IMDb are not nearly as accepting of amateur efforts compared to Letterboxd, whose data comes from TMDb – self-proclaiming themselves as being “professionals” yet merely promoting only what is popular already. And for those who question why I have Akira Kurosawa as the header, I’m pretty sure that all of the greatest have started as “amateurs” at some point of their life – that doesn’t make them any less of a talented filmmaker. So why are we bothering to remove shorter efforts of budding filmmakers in the meantime? They aren’t any less of a film the way they are.
Among many reasons my blogging has come to find itself at a fairly slow pace, but I’ve already found a greater comfort in an audience that I built up over on social networking site Letterboxd. But the past few days of having established a following for myself over the course of two years has even left me thinking about what exactly am I set to gain just from the active readers that have come along. What am I gaining, just from having about 2000 followers, the eventual “like” for anything I write that I even consider to be of worth, unfortunately this is where a darker part of what could possibly be such a loving community has only begun to show its true colours to my own eyes.
I’ve already considered it fairly frustrating on my own end when people who only write joke reviews or one-liners get the most attention: there’s another point I reached where I just decided holding grudges against these sorts of reviewers was just worthless and stupid. There are a number of these people on the site, but they’ve opened my own eyes to a less cynical light. I read through these one-liners and then I get a good laugh from some of these people. I decided I’d interact with more of these people on social media, and what I found from interacting with some of them, they’re nice people.
At the hands of nice people, though, it’s also saddening to me that there comes a fair share of petty drama. It doesn’t matter the sort of person that they are or what exactly is the source of why such unnecessary tensions have arisen, but among many things I’ve come to see are just fights over some of the smallest things: some of which just go between popularity over writing styles, or even certain users and their own political orientations. Not that I’m going to name any names, but the experiences of being within the community also have left me feeling quite moody. But because it’s a social networking site, one like Twitter, where anyone can follow you based on your own movie tastes or their own writing style. Maybe for some, it could only be a start for building up one’s own style of critique – and then that’s where the best can come for certain users. They find themselves able to build up a following in this way, and it’s one of many reasons I came over.
Then to talk about the more frustrating experiences, it sort of comes down to what it is that people use the site for. But I’m not one to jump at people for saying they’re wrong for what it is they do, it’s just that there’s an extent to where it only becomes everything for some. Personally, my own experiences with Letterboxd and interacting with the many types of users have even managed to teach me about how I can manage a good image. I’ve been able to get along with people on all sides of the spectrum when it comes down to the community itself, but there are only a select few I tend to chat with so actively. It’s just that at the hands of petty drama that ultimately wouldn’t mean anything, sometimes everything turns so black and white.
But maybe it’s just that there was a point I realized how frustrating everything had become with numerous unfollows-refollows/blocks that I’ve suffered from many of the most vital voices that are present in the community. I like using these times as moments to reflect upon what I’ve done, but because of my lack of interest in wanting to engage within petty drama only resulted in me, unintentionally and inevitably, being a part of it. It’s perhaps engaged from my own oblivion to what’s set to come forth after what could only have come out so simply. Sometimes I know when something someone says is going to be exploding into greater tensions, but other times I can’t tell when it’d end up becoming a big deal.
There’s a reason I barely ever follow back anymore, it’s because this drama only forms aliens out of what people see in other friendly users within such a diverse community. For every friendly, supportive, and frequent reader you find yourself coming on good terms with, at the same time you’ll end up meeting someone who’s radical and snobby, others who are really passionate and willing to share with others and yet write as much as a single sentence or line – they just go everywhere. Why even bother, but why am I writing this blog entry about drama if this is probably going to inevitably feed into more as it develops?
Maybe that’s because it’s a part of the community I’m frustrated with. It’s easy to get so reactionary over small things, it only results in insults being thrown back at one another. And what good even comes out of that? I’ve come to Letterboxd only with the intention of sharing my own love of film with a wider community. But they can’t be the only ones who so actively hear about it from my own mouth. After having acquired a large following, I, the uncertain and generally nervous pessimist that I am, don’t find too much meaning out of how many fans I’ve acquired. I’m in it for the many friends I know I’ll be glad to make, because I’m still trying to work my way around the community so things would be much easier at least for my own future.
And for any of my own readers, I’d like to also say that it’s a wonderful place to be. I’ve used it to keep track of what I watch on any day, and to see other people just sharing their own experience with others, what more could anyone ask for on a platform like Letterboxd? For every joke review you’ll find a serious one, but then there comes a point to which this just turns into a game with writing styles – which it really shouldn’t be, and that there is my honest opinion. I run a Facebook group dedicated to seeing these people come and go, with a site like Letterboxd. And it’s only gotten me to appreciate my experience on the site all the more, just the feeling that people of all sorts can find attention in the mutual passion for films. I don’t understand why it all has to be some sort of a game, where people turn so vicious, self-centered and elitist. And maybe the writing can’t always be great, but is that really the most important thing?
I’ve taken the title from a Green Day lyric I thought would only be fitting, because Letterboxd can be exactly that, but continuing on with the song of my choice, “Do you have the time to listen to me whine?” And now with the program comes another song by theirs, “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right: I hope you had the time of your life.” And from my ability to share with others who do care, it certainly was for how unpredictable it all can be.
This is something that has always left me frustrated since I started getting into cinema as a result of my own struggle through my personal life. I’ve been seen as an introvert because I lived as one inside of this shadow, but what’s at the root of it all? I only found out as I was finishing up elementary school that I was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). What exactly did this mean for me? I was always a clever student who sought only for the best solutions inside of his classes – but I always had trouble advocating for myself because I didn’t know how to address what exactly is “up” with me.
Among many things I can assure, there’s nothing exactly “wrong” with me but socially, I’m always going to be seen as the weird guy. Is it fun being on the spectrum? It’s a difficult question for me to ask because the way people see autism is where it decides what happens as a result. If I can find a means of connecting with others, I end up getting carried away by small details that would probably sound meaningless by the minute. This is where I’ve almost become alien to the social experience: and here’s where I can’t find any sort of a defense for the character that I am.
But being on the autistic spectrum has its own positives for myself, because of how much I keep inside of my head in great detail. I can remember small moments from films that I watch, or details about a person because my curiosity only can drive me far enough. There’s an extent it has found itself becoming helpful to my social experience because I’ve found myself able to communicate online through blogging/social media platforms, and I also acquired a big following through sharing my own love of film over on Letterboxd.
Nevertheless, the most frustrating part about being on the autistic spectrum for myself comes from how people seem to perceive it. Films and television have become gateways for people expressing their own voices as they tell their own stories and quite frankly some of the most notable examples have ended up setting up a fairly damaging image because it would be easy enough for people to assume they speak for all people on a spectrum, rather than an individual voice.
There are two Best Picture-winning films which I’d like to single out especially for the sort of image that autism has received, like they speak for all people of the sort. The first I wish to pull up is Forrest Gump, a film I believe to be amongst the most overrated of all time. But “overrated” isn’t even enough to cover the way I feel about Forrest Gump, because as a matter of fact, I absolutely hate this film. I remember there was a point of my life when I was younger and I thought it was the absolute best thing ever. Gump may not have been an explicitly autistic character, but the very thought of following along everything as told as it will lead to good things is what it insists upon and one of many reasons it doesn’t sit well with me. It certainly doesn’t help at all that Gump is explicitly written as a mentally impaired man, but he doesn’t even develop a slight bit as the film progresses – he’s still doing everything as told because the film insists only good things happen that way. Gump doesn’t even stand up for anything, yet every character around him does and tragedy comes their way, and the image we get here is something so sickening especially upon my own sensibilities.
I’m probably a lot more forgiving of the second film that I wish to talk about, though, and that film is none other than Barry Levinson’s Rain Man. It was made clear that Levinson is telling a story about a man finding out that his father has left a good fortune upon his wake to a brother he was unaware of. This man is Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt, brother of Tom Cruise’s Charlie Babbitt, the film’s lead. He’s on the autistic spectrum but also one who carries savant syndrome. There’s a big problem that comes around here when people don’t understand autism come in and then they form a perception that everyone who is a part of the spectrum acts in such a manner – but another thing to consider is the fact that the person whom he was based on didn’t have autism in the first place. Perhaps I’m finding myself far more forgiving than I should be unlike my reaction towards Forrest Gump because I like Rain Man well enough. But to look at a character like this and say that’s what all autistic people are like, empty from social experience and unable to move from the state they live within: quite frankly it isn’t something that sits well with me. And the fact it’s become recognized as an image of the spectrum as a whole rather than a single perspective, it’s fairly frightening to myself.
I don’t want to speak on behalf of every person with ASD because people have differing experiences considering the fact it’s a spectrum and thus; there’s no “definite” voice to speak for all. But speaking on behalf of my own self, these movies do not speak for my own experience. I’m still a person in the crowd like the rest of you, but it’s the fact I’m stuck within a line between fitting in with others in order to become more social and being myself, thus remaining introverted – everywhere I am, it’s where I struggle. I don’t even know how to reveal what hinders me from catching onto a specific task for a class I take part in, because I have this recurring fear at the back of my head that I’ll soon find myself undermined by how people have their own understanding of autism.
Now going back to how autism is understood as a result of media I come back to two more Oscar-nominated films: I Am Sam and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Aside from the fact that both of these films have their own portraits of autism, what both films also share is how I’ve come to see both as two of my all-time least favourite films (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close especially being one that makes my blood boil). Perhaps it wasn’t stated directly in I Am Sam that its title character was autistic, but there’s a reason I lump it in the same category as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: it comes from how both films seem to take pride in having a lead character that suffers as a result of what’s perceived of them to the point it feels exploitative. Neither film had attempted at doing anything for our own behalf let alone understanding what our life is like on the spectrum, and therefore comes my heightened dislike of both films.
There’s a reason this topic of all is fairly important to me, it’s because I’ve already come to see autism as a defining point of my life and who I am as a person. I can’t talk with people properly in real life, although I’ve found great comfort in groups that I’m a part of on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, let alone a large following on Letterboxd. I get fairly obsessive, not only about films, but even smaller details that peers don’t catch onto on the first go, whether it be the music cues – how everything adds up to become what it is that I’m watching. What will it mean to other people, ultimately? There are people I know who would find this to be impressive and even on my own end, it has proven beneficial (my own obsessive deconstructions of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive being a perfect example), and then for others it comes off as meaningless.
Where I want to talk about a film that carried such an empathy towards my own experience, I look back at Adam Elliot’s animated Mary and Max. As of yet, it still remains my favourite film to explicitly be about the experience about being on the autistic spectrum. In Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Max, what I saw was not just an animated character but a voice that got to the very core of what it is that we are like. We aren’t people who want to be cured of our autism, because it has become a part of our character. It was in this great empathy that Adam Elliot has for the experience where Mary and Max has already found its own place in my life as something so resonant; it was because it recognized how people like us were those who needed help. We needed help in finding a connection with the outside world in some way, so that we can properly share our understandings of the spectrum with people who can’t get past the basic thought of it making us seem like crazy people.
No “definitive” portrait of autism exists, and because it’s a very wide spectrum, the most that can ever come about first hand, is a singular portrait. And yet, it’s so easy to misrepresent the experience and it ends up becoming fairly harmful for how we are set to be seen by others. The most frustrating thing is the fact that it comes lumped around with other developmental disabilities and thus the most common perception being made is that it is always a negative. I’ve no doubt that it certainly has left me in becoming a hermit, but it has only become so easy to see it as a negative because the most that has become understood in regards to what we are like comes merely from stereotype as set from how media shows it. And thus it becomes so easy to forget that we also have our own capabilities as well.
That’s not to say it has always been played as a negative, because in recent memory two more major releases have come about that ended up portraying autism as a positive, which was nice to see. My opinion on both of these films aside, the fact that we now have films like The Accountant and the recent Power Rangers reboot sharing autistic characters not merely as static figures who move because the world around them does so, but as other human beings who are capable of even more on the inside was beyond pleasing to see. Although I wish that both films were better, it was from here alone where I couldn’t bring myself to dislike either. From these two films alone, I was only given a sense of hope. I was hopeful that more films would actually come around to show autism the way these films do, as a part of what makes them human. It was in such films I recognized that we are ready to learn and move forward indeed. Because the fact that we have come far enough to have an autistic character as a superhero signified how we are human beings that are capable of far more.
Perhaps he wasn’t a character on the spectrum, but there’s a reason I refer to Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King when I wish to talk about seeking empathy for our own cause. I’m not so sure what it was that Terry Gilliam would have wanted to form out of a character like Robin Williams’s Parry, it was because what I saw out of him was a man who needed help in finding a connection with the outside world once again after having lost everything. It was in there I saw that Terry Gilliam was making a calling for empathy, because in Parry there was so much about his own antics that found a resonance with myself, whether it be the resorting to fantasy (in his case, the search for the Holy Grail) and an inability to keep still. Among the many reasons that this has come to be my favourite performance of Robin Williams’s is how Gilliam made clear his own calling to see that these “insane” people were perhaps not so much what we think they are after all. They’re still human beings like the rest of us, looking for a means of coping with the flow the world moves in and thus, it has already become one of my favourite films ever to be made about mental health.
There’s another part of me that wants to make their own calling towards Hal Ashby’s Being There, in which Peter Sellers plays a simple man who made his own calling to the world from something as simple as utterances that come merely from how the fundamentals of the garden work. It didn’t need to be explicitly about autism in order for me to find this sort of a connection between me and Chance. In Being There, what I still saw was a mirror reflecting what a person like myself is like after being taken outside of their comfort zone. And the thoughtfulness to Hal Ashby’s film only formed something all the more beautiful, because even though Chance was a figure oblivious to his own surroundings just as I am in such overwhelming conditions – I’m still paranoid about how people see me as a result of the fact I’ve garnered a big following for myself. And like Chance, so much of what I learn comes from the help of a screen.
For as long as I’m still around, the way other people come to see autism is something that will remain important to me. And speaking on behalf of my own self as always, I don’t want it to be seen as a hindrance. I want it to be seen as a part of my own character, something which I, quite frankly, cannot change. And it’s frustrating enough that films that offer their own take come from an understanding that almost feels so limited at its very best to an outsider’s perspective or bordering towards a stereotype. I’m still just a person in need of help, because I get overwhelmed so easily to the point my brain can’t think properly. I can’t stand still for a period of time and I always pace around the room, mumbling to myself. I loop the same songs to myself (maybe even just one in particular depending on where I am) like I’m trapped within a certain mood. I get nervous when I talk with other people because I keep thinking about what happens to how they think of me when I mess up, and then as a result I end up dropping what I had on mind because I don’t know what to say to them. But I’m not an idiot nor am I impaired, I’m just seeking help.
To take the tagline for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, then apply it to what I’d imagine you’re reading here from a third-person point of view, “If he’s crazy, what does that make you?”