I Wouldn’t Hear of Movies These Days

I watch Jeopardy as often as I can. I think it’s good exercise for the file retrieval system in my brain, though it can be a little frustrating when you’re certain something is up there on the shelves if you could just find the damn ladder.

I’m great at geography, rock and classical music, pretty good at history, science, politics and the Bible(?), and decent with novelists and poets. I’m not particularly good with drama and opera, but my real downfall is 21st century mainstream entertainment. It’s almost like I shut down around the year 2000. Movies and their actors, actresses and directors–not a clue. Music? There’s a bit of an exception there, because I listen to a lot of sad indie music from well into the Aughts–your Death Cab, Modest Mouse and Sufjan Stevens kind of stuff–but I couldn’t tell you who’s singing what half the time.

Is it a part of getting old? Probably. Am I unable to keep up? Most people would shrug it off as just that–another infirmity of the aging. Most people are wrong most of the time, though, so I’m not willing to jump to conclusions on their accounts just yet. There is more to aging than collecting infirmities–ask the wine and cheese folks.

I’m a big-time indie movie fan, always scouring the IFC, Netflix and Prime Video apps for good stuff. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I’m not giving the big boys a chance, plus we don’t get out in the winter enough, so yesterday we took the dust cover off the old flivver and headed out to see a big-time movie, to one of those places where you push a button and they bring you beer and cheese curds in the dark. That part was cool.

Things being in a rare lull for Marvel and Star Wars whooshfests, the choices came down to Avatar Takes a Boat Ride and BABYLON Makes a Bigger Mess than Caligula. You go with your fantastical tastes these days, so I went with the latter, thinking all that Avatar CGI might hold up better on a 50″ screen.

Our last visit to the big screen was for Tom Cruise Is Somehow Not Rated on the X35 Yet: Maverick. Hey, at least they didn’t have him do any extravehicular activity in it. I don’t remember the story at all, but I have two lasting impressions from the experience, one being that YouTube cockpit videos are a lot more interesting from a flying standpoint, and the other being that it was crazy loud.

And so was BABYLON. And vulgar and rude and violent, though not quite as violent as 101 Ways To Show a Sword Being Driven Through Somebody’s Neck on a Bullet Train, Brad Pitt’s other 2022 release. Well, the movie was about the excesses of Hollywood in the 30s, and they gave it a shot.

Did I mention it was really loud? I’ll admit, not nearly as loud as a 70s ZZ Top concert, but loud enough that you suspect only a bit of science somewhere is keeping the decibels just below ringing in your ears in the parking lot loud.

Except when it was quiet, slipping below the rumble of The Way of Water next door, which I’m guessing is something way, way bigger than some Zen in a Japanese garden.

Kudus, faithful few who have gotten this far–my point is at hand.

When did this volume thing get set on 11? I remember going to see Chicago and we asked for our money back because the speakers in the theater were totally blown. When was that? 2002?

That seems about right.

There have always been big, crashing epics, from Gone With the Wind to Ben Hur to Saving Private Ryan. You sit back and go wow, and that’s a thing, but it’s not the only thing. There’s long been another aspect to the magic of the big screen, and that’s the ability it has to draw you into a story. To escape your own life for an hour or two and jump into the lives of the characters.

Where were those movies at the brewplex? Who wants to be closer to Brad Pitt (spoiler alert) as he shoots himself in the head? Who identifies with armies (or navies, I guess) of crickety-looking elves zipping across the water on endive leaves?

Don’t think I’ll be back for a while. It’s all excess, and this old man learned a while ago that excess is a pretty good sign that someone has had to take nothing and make it bigger and louder until it seemed like something.

PT Barnum once said: “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”

Somewhere along the line, someone has lost my dollar, but it’s a little disappointing sometimes how almost true Barnum’s bit of cynicism has become.

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