McMurtry on movies, novelsPosted: May 2, 2010
In writing about movies in his essay collection, Film Flam, Larry McMurtry has much to say about story telling and novels. I’m not ready to leave him yet (see several posts below). In spite of movies’ and novels’ different aesthetics to story telling, what finally moves both audiences the most, he concludes, are a sense of justice and images of human beauty (in form, spirit, compassion, devotion, love etc).
He must be read on this, particularly the penultimate essay, “Movie-Tripping: My Own Rotten Film Festival.”
These excerpts don’t do McMurtry justice, but it moves my interests forward, and this blog’s themes.
One of the reasons, I imagine, why I continue to go to silly films rather than serious films is that the vast majority of serious films, like the vast majority of serious books, are mediocre, and nothing can be more disheartening than mediocre, realistic art.
There may, however, be more interesting reasons than that one. I have come, in my 30s, to realize that for some years now my relationship with Truth has been growing ever more tenuous. All the time that I was maturing, no single virtue, not even loyalty, not even kindness, has been so much extolled to me as honesty; and I assumed that I accepted what I was told and held Truth to be the highest estate. But for fifteen years now the day-to-day work of my life has been the writing of fiction, which means that I have actually been playing a long and rather intricate cat-and-mouse game with Truth. This game has been going on so long that I have cased to know whether I am the Cat and Truth the Mouse, or Truth the Cat and I the Mouse.
What I do know is that for a novelist to suppose that he is wedded to Truth is a flat absurdity. A novelist works with lies. The more constant he is to his craft, the deeper into lies it will lead him. … What if one has finally had enough of all the weighty talk about how elusive reality is, how difficult to know? Happiness must certainly be elusive, but not reality; one of the primary difficulties of adulthood may be how to avoid knowing an unmanageable proportion of what’s true. The anxieties of precise knowledge are not always to be borne, whether that knowledge is of the self or of the world, and it may be that a major task of life is to leave oneself a comfortable and substantive coat of illusion.
The above reminds me of Freud’s comment: “Too much reality is a dangerous thing,” a paraphrase. From here, McMurtry detours into the lessons to be found in so-called “bad” movies, the B or C-grade that are released or might be found as re-runs in seedy theaters in working class neighborhoods where the audiences are light years away from audiences that seek out “art” movies. The former teaches him something about what’s ultimately important in story telling:
I have spent much time amid the audiences of the worst possible films, and I am convinced that most of these viewers would watch no other kind of movie. … The two needs which leave these audiences in open-mouthed response time and again are the need for an image of human beauty, and the need for an enactment of justice…. Poetic justice must be done, and it must be accompanied by the triumph of beauty, or there is no catharsis and no uplift….
I’ve always known secretly that my lies were more interesting and more pleasing and more helpful to people than any truth I knew, but it has taken me years of watching thousands of people from drawing delight from the sheerest fantasy to render me comfortable on that score. …
Even if reality were greatly seen [in a movie] and greatly shown [told] I doubt that it could slake for long their thirst for the fabulous––for the faraway place, where there is heroism, and beauty for it to serve, and where, for once, the impossible can be seen to come true. It may be that bad movies are the last home of the fairy tale, and who can say what will have had to happen to the human psyche before the need for fairy tales is gone?