Bond. Not James Bond, please.

Six years ago I watched my last movie, “Skyfall.” My wife had coaxed and cajoled me into going even though she knew I haven’t been able to stand cinema for a long time. The plot was the only one that Hollywood knows: Money spends money and goes after money whose money gets money’s money. The sequel is that you spend more money to watch money chase money all over again.

Skyfall gifted me with a splitting headache. Modern movies’ use of digital technology means that they can do shots that only last a second or two. In a 143-minute movie that breaks down to about 4,290 different shots, and leaving aside the fact that it’s horrible storytelling, the constantly flickering images accompanied by bright colors and loud noises ruined my head for several hours afterward.

As we exited I turned to her and said, “That’s it.”

“What’s it?”

“That’s the last movie I’m ever going to watch.”

“Why?”

I didn’t answer, I just stopped going to movies.

Bicycle days

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, my bicycle peregrinations from PV to Santa Monica at a leisurely, non-race pace, resulted in a friendship with Ralf, a German dude who introduced me to Villa Aurora, leading to a fascinating evening during which I got to listen to accomplished screen star and director Maria Schrader talk about how she made her movie Vor der Morgenröte. It didn’t hurt that this biopic was about Stefan Zweig, one of my favorite Austrian writers, reprising his time of exile from WWII Germany until his 1942 suicide in Brazil.

The brief clip we saw reminded me of my childhood in Houston, when my dad would take me to the art cinema house in Montrose, and I’d feast on real celluloid stories like Mr. Klein and Bread and Chocolate. I left feeling a little different about movies, a little less convinced that I’d never see another one.

This was a good thing because a couple of weeks later I got an invitation from Villa Aurora to watch a screening of a movie called The People v. Fritz Bauer. The story is about how Fritz Bauer, the German Hessian state prosecutor, helped Mossad track down and kidnap Adolf Eichmann. But like any great tale, it has layers, villains, heroes, surprising sex, and pedestrian characters all leading up to a great climax.

Unlike Skyfall, its predecessors or its progeny, The People v. Fritz Bauer is loaded with ambiguity, complexity, and at least fifty-one shades of gray. Unlike James Bond the actors are cast for their ability to act rather than for their conformity to an absurd standard of plastic surgery-enhanced physical characteristics. And most unlike Hollywood’s broken records, rather than relying on guns and punch-em-ups and CG magic, The People v. Fritz Bauer creates drama through dialogue, human interactions, beautiful period sets, and a bedrock of recent history that it is presumed the viewer knows about and at least peripherally understands. It doesn’t hurt that the lead actor is a powerhouse of dramatic portrayal.

In short, like a great book, this movie grips the mind and the emotions and forces them to engage.

Bread bribes

We were unable to stay and listen to the brief Q&A put on by Villa Aurora, where the star of the movie, Burghart Klaußner, spoke to the packed room about the movie. But a chance conversation about bread led to the most wonderful thing … an impromptu invitation to a party the following evening.

We came the next night bearing three loaves of bread: A sourdough, a landbrot, and a simple white loaf, and were rewarded with several hours of conversation with Maria Schrader, Klaußner, and a cast of other fascinating people, including the new director of the Thomas Mann House. People were so well read, so versed in current affairs, and their work was so connected with ideas, books, and humanity that it took my breath away.

And of course it gave me a chance to showcase my breathtaking ignorance about film, when in response to a question I said “I can’t stand the way the shots change every two seconds. It gives me a headache.”

“Not every movie does that, you know,” Maria said. “Vor der Morgenröte, for example. It starts with a long opening shot.”

“How long?” I asked, skeptically.

She paused and looked at me, the corners of her mouth upturned just a little. “Ten minutes.”

I thought about that for a second, stunned, and it occurred to me that abandoning cinema because of Skyfall made as much sense as abandoning my bicycle because of Lance Armstrong.

“Surely it’s a bit narrow-minded of you to reject all films because of one genre?” she gently asked.

One of Maria’s movies, Aimee & Jaguar, is showing on July 9 at Ahrya Fine Arts.

I’ve already got tickets.

END

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11 thoughts on “Bond. Not James Bond, please.”

  1. Bread and Chocolate, a terrific film in which Nino, a “guest worker” from Italy, is treated by the Swiss a bit worse than I was, guilty of having a dark tan while traveling through Switzerland decades ago. I learned something of what it’s like to be Black in regions of the US.

  2. Right here’s what I really enjoy about CITSB. I’m of same loathing of pop films but sounds like I need to open my mind, put on real clothes and hit a real cinema. Bummed that we used to have one a couple blocks away but if folded to make room for a new Nordstrom Rack. Pretty much sums up the demand for the Fine Arts in these parts

  3. A couple of film recommendations. Das Boot or The Tin Drum auf deutsche. Didn’t you ever take in a midnight Werner Hertzog flick at the UT Union?

      1. might be because it was in swedish. (Its like they have a different word for everything) Loved Wild Strawberries, the sparseness of Bergman films takes some getting used to, room to breathe

  4. Movie Recommendations for either slow-moving with long scenes, or otherwise very worthwhile:

    2001 A Space Odyssey: Non-action film Sci-fi. Long scenes. Masterpiece. READ THE BOOK FIRST!

    Dr. Strangelove: Cold war dark comedy about the end of the world. Peter Sellers in B&W

    Casablanca: CLASSIC’S CLASSIC

    Harold and Maude: Cult black comedy

    The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane: Jody Foster at 14 won an award for portraying little girl who outsmarts sexual predator.

    Smoke: Slow, long scenes, introspective, poetic.

    Ballad of a Soldier: Russian flick from 70’s. Takes its time.

  5. “Wild Strawberries” is a great film. One of my favs. Oh, cinema…you’re so right to take a break from Hollywood’s CGI jump cut crap show. I’m on my 6th year of watching no new films, into just old stuff my cut off date is “Eyes Wide Shut”(1999) but, Claude Lanzmann’s 2013 film “The Last of the Unjust” I watched last year when spending the summer studying the Shoah.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhP3iQ3kyMs
    If you haven’t watched his 10h 13m film “Shoah” it’s so beautiful.
    Other favs:
    “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959) by Alain Resnais
    “La Notta” (1961) by Michelangelo Antonioni

    Everyone always has dumb “to see” film lists, sorry. – Theo

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