Eternal Stories, A History Boy, 24/12/2015

One of my favourite childhood movies was Hook. I fell in love with that movie when I was eight years old, and around age 14 I never watched my copy again. I wasn’t going to watch a movie that silly. I was 14. I knew better than to watch stupid kids’ stories.

Then I watched it again last night because gf wanted to scroll through Netflix’s holiday film list and we both loved that movie when we were kids. So what the hell. Happy Festivus.

I felt as if I was seeing it for the first time. This wasn't a matter of nostalgia, some simple reawakening of the child in me as a very tough, stressful year ends in a more hopeful position. 

We understand how good a piece of art is because of what we see playing before us, which is a matter of our own vision as much as what's on the screen. 

When I was eight years old, I was enthralled by movies more than I understood them, but I was beginning to develop a sense of how to analyze them, learning about how films were made. To me as a kid, that was just as magical as the stories movies told themselves. 

But when I was a teenager, I wanted films to be serious. Explicitly so. My comedies would be ridiculous stories, but they’d still be about real people. My dramas would deal with heavy, powerful, weighty topics. My action movies would be violent spectacle. And my sci-fi films would be about austere, challenging intellectual ideas. 

Quite a self-serious little shit I was. When I think about how I acted and thought about art when I was 14, I realize that I sound a lot like Larry Correia asking for simple, straightforward stories that are explicitly what they say on the cover. 

I’m reading Phil Sandifer’s Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons, his essay collection about and inspired by the Hugo Awards fiasco of 2015 and the neo-fascists who led it. Reading again Correia’s and Brad Torgersen’s declare how much they love simple art with no complex ideas, I shudder at what might have been.

Because I didn't think exactly like Correia and Torgersen when I was 14, but I see how I could have gotten to a point of view like theirs, from how I thought then. I’m very glad I had better influences, and more ethical people around me. But if I hadn't . . . 

That’s part of what drew me to Beauty of Their Weapons as an unfolding essay project on Phil’s website, and now as a collection. That juvenile love of weaponry and violence for its sheer spectacle alone is a place my self-serious attitude could have taken me. Because it’s an attitude that permits only one way of seeing the world: my own.

Now that I’m more accustomed to understanding the world in terms of stories and styles of narrative, whole new dimensions of Steven Spielberg's beautiful work of whimsy open up.

Hook is the story of a man from a movie about Wall Street workaholism destroying his family discovering that he used to be from a neo-Victorian boy’s own adventure story. He has to remember the rules of his world if he's going to act properly in it.

But he isn't going to be as he was before he left, precisely because he left and spent so much time in a social realist drama. He’s going to take the idealism of the beautiful (if problematic*) world of his adventure stories and apply it to his own life in a realist world, and he’ll be a better, more ethical person for it. 

* All the usual terrifying tropes of Victorian children’s adventure literature appear. Peter’s leaving Neverland is explicitly linked with awakening sexuality, and he imprints on a girl who was raised as his sister, who actually becomes his wife and mother to his children. Tinkerbell is reduced to a literal manic pixie dream-girl in love with Peter Pan. 

That idealism will let him overcome the inevitable tragedy of his family falling apart through his own self-centred behaviour and stressed attitudes. It’ll let him deal with life, not as a problem, but as an adventure. You’re simply able to have fun in your life.

Yeah, it's an idealism that comes from a world where you can fend off sword-wielding bearded, smelly men with egg cannons and slapstick comedy. That's because Robin Williams is in a boy’s own adventure novel and not an actual 18th century pirate attack.

Robin Williams. He’s another one of those elements from childhood that have a special place in my thoughts. He was in so many fantastic, creative, and weird films during my childhood and teenage years that I have a visceral emotional attachment to many of his performances, and his character.

And in a movie so meticulously constructed as Hook,
Spielberg still couldn't use a take where Peter's son
actually looked in the right direction.
I used to read about how distraught people were when Rudolph Valentino died. They had become so attached to his persona through his charismatic cinema performances that some even killed themselves in grief. 

We don't respond to cinema with such obsessive investment anymore (at least not most of us). We’ve learned to distance ourselves from our cinematic experiences. For our own good. But cinema still has this power, even though it doesn’t swamp us anymore.

I wondered if I could enjoy Williams' performances without being haunted by the terrible circumstances of his death. Thankfully, that story held its own, and I could see Robin in the present of that wondrous film.

You can grow old, but the movies will preserve you in time. Neverland is a cinema screen.

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