Monday, September 4, 2017

Not Close Enough Encounter

(Please note: this post contains some spoilers for a 40-year-old movie.)

Glory and I rushed home from the family reunion in Picture Butte today in order to pick up Fenya from her UAlberta orientation and go see the 40th Anniversary print of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Fenya hadn't seen it for years and remembered next to nothing of it, and Glory had never seen it at all.

I was excited for our chance to see a great example of Steven Spielberg's early work (only his third movie!) in its natural environs-the movie theater- and for my girls to see older filmmaking in a modern cinema.

On our way to the campus, I told Glory about seeing the movie in 1980, and how the first few times I saw it I was left with more questions than answers - something I found frustrating then, but came to appreciate as I grew older.

In the end, though, I think she found the experience more off-putting than inspiring.

Most of her discomfort began during the finale, when the first, spindly-legged alien emerges from the mothership, almost spider-like in its presentation, but her real consternation was the departure of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfus).

"So, he just leaves his wife and family?" she asked, with a hint of judgment. And she is right; it is hardly the most accessible of happy endings, despite the triumphal sounds of John Williams' brilliant score as the mothership departs.

Before the movie began, a featurette about the making of the movie was shown, and I was gratified at how interested the girls were. A lot of archival footage and some of Spielberg's own home movies were included, but there were also current-day interview with himself as well as modern day aspirants J.J. Abrams (Super 8) and Denis Villeneuve (The Arrival).

Abrams focus was on the way in which Spielberg changed movies, how he strove to show real, recognizable people who lived in clutter and chaos instead of sanitized and idealized archetypes. Villeneueve, on the other hand, made his case that CE3K is a movie that captures the ordeal of a director creating a movie.

As someone who has sometimes struggled to convey creative ideas to others, it is an appealing allegory. Who hasn't felt like Roy Neary at some point though, feeling a nagging compulsion about the way something should just be, an inalienable rightness, that does not invite action so much as compels it.

In following their vision, a creator risks alienating all those around them who do not perceive it in the same manner they do. In the end, the final production is often carried less on storyboards and precisely measured story beats, than on the strength of will of the director and the faith that their confidence generates almost as a byproduct.

Just before heading off to bed, Glory told me that she did appreciate the film, and was glad we went. I was initially a little disappointed that she didn't share my sense of wonderment at the end of Close Encounters, but on the other hand, it is also encouraging that she is willing to make her own assessment about the happiness of a Hollywood ending, and that her empathy is as much with the family left behind as it is with a star struck voyager. It feels as though there may be a parable in there somewhere, about both the power and the cost of belief.

With any luck, she will get to see it again at some point, and I can ask if her perspective has changed at all, as mine did over the years.

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