I don’t know how to talk about movies. How to say smart things about them, break them down into their cinematic parts, boost their beauty and power with mere words on a page. I admire the writers that can. But I can’t intellectualize films. I feel them in my guts and a great movie may make me feel elated or invincible or knocked on my ass or maybe even murderous. I may come away feeling that life is wonderful or life is hell, but really, either situation is fine by me as long as I’m recognizing it. Movies have always been the most effective mood-altering substance I can get my hands on. If I’m depressed, I see a movie. The movie can be a popcorn flick, a stoner comedy, a drama of depression, a subtitled piece of insanity – whatever it is, as long as it’s good – it changes me. I didn’t realize until very recently that I use movies as a tonic just like my mother did. I know she introduced me to movies, to Sunday morning Tarzan flicks and John Wayne westerns and anything that had Charlton Heston in it. To Marnie and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Whatever extra money my family had went to going to the theater or, later, buying video tapes. I always sort of recognized my mother as a person who used her moviegoing as a balm of sorts for all that ailed her. I’d go to bed as a teenager after a particular rough day in the Life of the Pulvers and I’d wake up after a couple hours in the darkness of the early morning and hear the VHS tape circling Red River one more time. When I got older and had time and a television to myself, I would do the same thing. Hide in the cocoon of the Blade Runner world or after watching Apocalypse Now, realize that the cruel world was not just cruel to me but cruel to everyone. In these days of DVDs, my shelf of movies is like a stocked medicine cabinet full of wonderful pills to take away the blues. So I knew for a long time that my mother and I each used movies as a drug but for some reason, I never saw it as something we shared. Maybe it’s because serious drug-taking is such a private, personal thing – so intimate – that I couldn’t even see how similar my mother and I were.
More recently, my drug of choice has been seeing an old movie at the theater. I have a baby and life is busy and I can’t take my drugs at home as much as I like to so I have to get outside and do them there. Blue Velvet, Days of Heaven, Martin, and most recently, Melville’s Army of Shadows – which is why I’m writing this whole piece. Go see Army of Shadows. If you can. It’s showing in limited theaters throughout the country. Never before released in the U.S. It is a complete and utter joy. It is a true masterpiece. It’s a serious, depressing French film that somehow doubles as a kick-ass action thriller. The influence of American films on Melville is undeniable. There’s prison escapes and submarines and cyanide pills and heroes jumping out of airplanes. It has a Fast Times at Ridgemont High-like epilogue. Like I said above, I can’t say anything smart about it. I won’t pretend to know much about movies. I didn’t know about Melville until last year when his other perfect film, Le Samourai, came out from Criterion. But I know a good movie when I see one. So check it out. Bring a friend. Afterwards, you won’t stop talking about all the crazy scenes, the beautiful camerawork, the gift of storytelling.
Showtimes at link below. It is currently playing in NY, LA, Pasadena, Washington D.C, and Silver Spring, MD with Chicago, SF, Berkeley and San Diego to come: