The Sunday New York Times had a great tribute in honor of the 60th anniversary of one of the most lyrically lovely movies ever made, The Red Shoes. As the title indicates, it is inspired by the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about the enchanted shoes that cannot stop dancing even after the person who wears them becomes exhausted, even if it kills her. It is the story of Victoria (played by the exquisite ballerina Moira Shearer), a dancer who is torn between her love of dance and the longing for a life outside of the demands of this most demanding of professions and obsessions. She is cast in the lead of a ballet called “The Red Shoes” and its story and its exhausting steps echo and underscore the conflicts she feels. Despite this bleak portrayal of the life of a ballet dancer, the movie inspired a generation of girls, including future prima ballerinas and other professionals, to study dance. And despite its melodrama, the movie transcends its storyline to become a poetic meditation on all of our conflicting desires, thanks to the skill of writer-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
And I am so pleased to find that one of my favorite books, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, has been filmed in a fine BBC production, starring “Harry Potter’s” Emma Watson. I love all of Streatfeild’s books (remember Meg Ryan talking about them in “You’ve Got Mail?”) but my favorite is Skating Shoes. I am hoping the BBC decides to film that one and go on to do them all.
My other favorite ballet movies include Robert Altman’s The Company, a neglected gem starring Neve Campbell, who also produced the film, and of course The Turning Point, with Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, and real-life dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne. As with “The Red Shoes,” ballet is a powerful symbol of the demands of love.
Kevin McCarthy, aka BDK, interviewed me on this radio program this weekend and we talked about a wide range of topics from Metallica to whether it is ever appropriate to use the n-word to Clint Eastwood as actor and director. It was a lot of fun and I look forward to returning to talk to him again in two weeks.
By coincidence, two publications ran similar articles this week about the difference between what we think we want to see and what we actually sit down to watch.
Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris asks readers to fess up about the television shows they record and never get around to seeing. We all do it. Some critically acclaimed show comes on television and at some level we feel that we should get at least partial credit for having it on our DVR. But then, somehow, even when we’re at home with time to spare, we end up watching some dumb reality show instead of “eat your spinach” fare like “Generation Kill”
The snob theory is that the Internet, reality television, minisodes, and the general dumbing down of everything have so completely turned our brains into mush that we’re now incapable of sitting down and concentrating on anything that actually requires our sustained, undivided attention. The slob theory is that we the people have a sixth sense that allows us to stay away instinctively whenever a piece of pop culture is boring or overpraised or ”pretentious” (the all-purpose label of abuse that too many people now apply to anything that seems smart and difficult).
I think Harris is closer to the truth when he says we have
a kind of sullen resistance to movies that either tediously tell us what we already know or dangerously tell us what we don’t want to know about a topic we desperately want to be rid of. All that is reinforced by a sort of smug, why-bother tone to much of contemporary pop culture commentary that is more comfortable applying the word genius to I Want to Work for Diddy than to something that involves, say, a level of actual creative brilliance. And yes, a TV show like Generation Kill that requires your sustained, undivided attention is, on some level, work. And work is the opposite of what entertainment is supposed to be all about, right?
That is probably what’s behind Netflix syndrome — either you watch it within 24 hours after it arrives or it sits around for a couple of months. On Slate, John Swansberg invited readers to share their shame over the red envelopes gathering dust.
It happens to all Netflix subscribers eventually. Your buddy the film buff drags you to a revival of Antonioni’s L’Avventura. To your surprise, you find yourself rapt. Upon returning home, you log in to your Netflix account and move La Notte, the second film in Antonioni’s ennui trilogy, to the top of your queue. It arrives a few days later, just as L’Avventura’s spell is starting to wear off. You watch Anchorman instead. You totally still want to see La Notte … but now you’ve mailed Anchorman back and here is Ghost Rider–starring Nic Cage! La Notte can wait. And it does. For weeks. You’re never quite in the mood to watch it, but you can’t quite bring yourself to return it, either.
Ready to confess? Send in your tales of long-held, never-watched Netflix rentals to email@example.com.
And for some thoughts on what those never-watched DVDs at the bottom of your Neflix queue say about you, see this great piece from Slate by Sam Anderson.