In a past life, before Amélie, I passionately hated the movies. For a while I thought it was a sign of ADD: I couldn’t sit still for a 2-hour film without chipping the concrete floor with my impatiently tapping toe. More recently I’ve realized my aversion to movies was one of the many bruises I suffered at the hands of the stifling jockocracy in which I was raised. The road to recovery is long. Even last weekend, when the opening credits of a wonderful, low-budget, gardening documentary came up, I had a flashback of helicopter blades, machine gun fire, plastic cleavage and fart jokes.
When I was growing up, going to the movies was in the same category as watching the guys play sports - it was the only thing to do. It was also an activity where my girl friends and I were expected to be passive, but still flirty, spectators. Sure, it was more fun than hanging out alone, but it was far from fulfillment and far from fair.
Over the years, while the boys graduated from road hockey to ice hockey, the girls moved from curb-side to rink-side supporters. We gals were busy in plays, choirs, dance, bands, and some of us played even played our own sports, but the guys were the real stars. Our artsy interests weren’t openly disparaged, they just went largely unacknowledged. Our co-ed social time, the most exciting, the most important, and the most coveted time of the week was all about the boys – what they liked was all there was. A lot of years went by before I realized this version of normal was a colossal waste of time. (And equally unfair to the guys who weren’t into sports and thus also treated as invisible, as well as to the “cool guys” who missed out on a world of art and culture.)
So when we weren’t watching guys play sports we were at the movies, which fell within a narrow range of stereotypically masculine taste. Group dates, double dates, platonic weekend time-fillers, it was always the guys’ pick. Venturing outside of that realm was unthinkable — what other realm was there?
I loved my friends, even the macho-movie-picker-outers, but I grew to loathe the movies. I hated sitting still that long while guns, helicopter blades and cheap gags assaulted my senses. My entire cinematic experience was based on films like Executive Decision. L.A. Confidential. True Lies. Speed. The Mask. And the final straw: Sinbad’s Houseguest. *shudder*
(Maybe you’re thinking that these movies don’t sound all that bad. Now imagine they are the only movies you’ve ever seen in your entire life, aside from Disney cartoons while babysitting. Brutal.)
Occasionally accused of cinesnobbery, I now realize I was a traumatized cinevictim. Sitting through hours of macho fantasies without a glimpse into anything else was deprivation. Cinetorture. Even our beloved girls-only sleep-over film picks were horror films involving Chucky, a terrifying man-doll. Soon my tolerance for film went way down. I went to see movies like Godzilla and Titanic for ironic purposes only. Film was a joke to me. A waste of time. Then I just quit going altogether. When someone put on a movie in my university dorm, I’d start doing homework.
Time ticked on. The seasons changed. One fated afternoon in September a brand-new friend was going through a rough time. I offered to take her out to get her mind off her problems. She wanted to get rush tickets to see Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain at the Toronto International Film Festival. I had no interest in the film or the festival - waiting in a crowd of strangers for an hour to see a movie and then having to sit through the movie itself was my idea of hell - but I would take one for the team. After a delightful respite from cinematic assault, I was reluctantly going back to the movies.
I began to suspect that this wasn’t the typical movie when the director of the film was presented to the audience. He took his seat to warm applause. I was alarmed. This felt like a play, not a movie. Confusion set in. The film began, and I realized it was in French, which both pleased and bewildered me. I loved French, but hoped it would just be easier to tune out the military-speak. The credits started. I braced myself for the opening shot of a helicopter blade, but the violent thumping never came. In fact, the images, sounds and ideas that emerged over the next two hours gently melted through every notion I held about film.
The lead character, Amélie was mischievous, weird, delightful, and *gasp* a woman. Actor Audrey Tautou was fascinating to watch. The colours sang. The music was delicious. By the heartbreaking moment when Amélie literally breaks into a million shards of light that crash into the floor, I was smitten. This was a good movie. The best movie. I looked over at my date and her face was glowing too. I walked out of the theatre in a daze, incredulous that I could actually enjoy a film.
After that turning point, my condition improved to merely cineshy. In fact, Amélie’s strong female lead, engaging plot and overall artistry raised my expectations for film than I ever thought possible. Shortly after experience I saw Waking Life. My mind was blown open.
Truthfully, I’m still pretty nervous when someone wants to spend Friday night at the megaplex, but I’ve learned that Hollywood is not all bad. (I even sat through Transformers.) I do feel safer when I focus on trips to independent cinemas, small film festivals and recommendations from people who have good taste. Like you. I have a lot of catching up to do - suggestions, even ones with helicopter openings, welcomed.