Monday, February 15, 2010

Birth of a New Film Form - Avatar

Still from Birth of a Nation. Lilian Gish.

I finally got around to seeing James Cameron's Avatar yesterday, Sunday, noon showing, and the theatre was almost full.

It was Valentine's Day and I wanted to see Crazy Heart (after seeing Jeff Bridges on Sunday Morning - and I will next week) but my husband wanted to see Avatar and I thought I'd give him a Valentine's Day present for a change. (He saw Mamma Mia four times with me last year. What a husband!)

This past week I have been watching a series of classic movies on Turner (I had just watched Sydney Lumet's Network and gained a new appreciation of its brilliant, prescient screenplay) and I wasn't feeling in the mood for a populist effects-driven movie, and I had heard Avatar had a simplistic plot.)

But two minutes into the film, I realized something that many millions of people around the world have already realized, that the film medium has just taken a Neil Armstrong leap forward and will never be the same again. (Maybe that's a bad analogy as the moonwalk was kind of a dead-end, or was it?)

Sure Avatar's plot is a patchwork of past movie cliches (and a somewhat violence-filled anti-war movie ) and there is something of a video game feel to the movie (and I'm no 20 year old boy who enjoys such things) but, still, I totally succumbed to Avatar the Experience.

If Pirates of the Caribbean was a movie made after a ride at Disney world, Avatar IS a ride at Disneyworld, combined with the best of National Geographic travelogues and so many other things from the technical and artistic cannons, it's hard to chronicle.

It's the closest I have gotten to being 'immersed' in an artificial experience and reminded me, once again that traditional movies are 2-D and that is not real-life, we just fill in the blanks.

(The sad part, my husband has vision in one eye and he couldn't see the 3-D. He still loved the movie, but he has no idea what he missed. And he's a digital editor in a news room. After the movie, when I described to him what I liked about Avatar and joked that it is lucky he is retiring soon, for he won't be able to work in the medium in the future.)

In Flo in the City, my novel about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, the Titanic era, the years D.W. Griffith made his silent short films and the years the motion picture industry was getting rolling, I am trying to get across one key idea above all the others: that the 1910 era is much like our own and we should pay heed because history repeats itself.

Avatar, this unabashed anti-war movie and technological break through is not likely to the change whatever course our planet is on, which is sad, but it will change a lot of things, and those things are very difficult to predict.

D.W. Griffith's movies, with their doe-eyed waifs and haughty society women, changed the way the poor in the world were looked upon in the US as Dickens; serials and novels did in the UK, paving the way for Steinbeck, etc. Motion pictures gave young people a place to go a courtin' outside of church and away from the prying eyes of parents and neighborhood busybodies.

Now, I must get down to writing the next chapter of Flo in the City, based on the letters of