Monday, August 31, 2009
#15 Film of the Decade- Sideways
15. Sideways- Alexander Payne (2004)
This post isn't really about Sideways. I re-watched it this weekend and found it just as bittersweet and honest and unassumingly profound as I remembered it. While it follows the same unscrupulous, pig-headed, broken characters as Payne's other work, there's an intimacy to this film that makes it heartbreaking. Mostly because Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor allow us to get closer to the characters than ever before. These are dynamic characters, whereas their previous pictures, no matter how biting they were, were always populated by types in service of a theme. It's their most grown-up film, not because it's about wine and mid-life crisis romantic fight-or-flight, but because it's roomy with lived-in charm and rich with characterization. If it's not a fortysomething, erudite Fight Club, with its own second-guessing protagonist and Dionysian sidekick, it's at least a post-grad Swingers.
This is not about that.
No, something else occurred to me as I watched the film in a twenty-four hour period that included activities such as:
1. a fantasy football draft
2. a "Mad Men" viewing
3. playing Super Columbine Massacre RPG for sociological reasons
4. listening to a story of my wife's that involved a group of Black teachers talking for forty-five minutes about TV shows she had never heard of.
Not that there aren't any brothers out there into oenophilic cinema, but I'm really White.
I think about race a lot, so I've confronted my own White privilege before. An understanding of your own relationship with race is an ongoing process that I don't think we ever conclude. A mature adult doesn't just wake up and "overcome" all of his prejudices and experiences; the best you can do is acknowledge that it's a complicated issue you need to be honest and educated about. Even though I try to do that, I've slowly socialized myself as White in pretty much everything I do. And subconsciously, I probably stay clued in to rap and basketball to overcompensate for this.
One of the products of this decade has been an ever-broadening diversity of entertainment (as well as diversity of consumption of entertainment). When my parents were my age, there was--just by pure volume--less entertainment. No Internet, no cable TV, no independent films, and fewer outlets for independent music. Therefore, everyone across all demographics watched Star Wars. Everyone listened to the Doobie Brothers (word to "What's Happening!"). Of course there were racial preferences in art and entertainment, but there was a lot more common ground. Art and popular culture used to unite people; now I'm afraid it's driving us apart. Because all of these avenues have become more specialized, our own experiences with culture are narrowing.
For example, imagine there's a man who writes, produces, directs, and stars in his own films each year. And those films open to at least $20 million every time. How obsessed would I be with his independent spirit, his control over his own projects, his knowledge of what his audience wants? How much would I write about him and analyze his work?
But hey. Obviously.
This isn't theoretical. The man's name is Tyler Perry. And though I consider myself a part-time film expert, I haven't seen a single one of his movies. Most mainstream (White) critics have criticized his work for being "all over the place" and comedically exploitative, and fans of the movies (Black) don't have taste similar enough to mine. They're movies made by and for Black people, so I wouldn't understand, right? If I watched one just so that I could engage in dialogue with Black people about it, wouldn't that be kind of pandering and pathetic? (And by using the word "pandering" there, am I assuming an air of superiority over those films' viewers?) Certainly being Black is more than watching Tyler Perry movies, and it's even racist to believe watching one could somehow illuminate the African-American Experience for me. There's more to it to say the least.
But do you notice the difference in curiosity? I'm willing to log hours of research for an imaginary football league, hunt down a self-released role-playing PC game for its cultural significance, and put up with a show that, honestly, has been frustratingly slow this season. But I can't try Madea Goes to Jail? I certainly have the means to do so, whether it's through Netflix (White) or Redbox (Black). I guess in my old age I'm getting settled in. Like Paul Giamatti's sad-sack character in Sideways, I'm growing more narrow-minded by the day (White/Black).