Monday, 19 August 2019

Changing tastes

1/ A few days ago I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s again, probably the 3rd time. 
My bf had never seen the film before, but knew about the controversy, which I assume most people would—the controversy about Mickey Rooney playing Mr Yunioshi. Put aside the fact that it’s a white actor wearing make-up and prosthetics to play an Asian character as comic relief, which is seen as offensive, it’s just not funny. Was it ever funny, when the film was released in 1961? It’s crude and unnecessary, and doesn’t fit in with the tone of the film. 
The Yunioshi character was the reason that I could never fully embrace the film. Now, seeing it again, I don’t like it much anymore. Audrey Hepburn is still charming and elegant, the cat is still cute, and Paul’s speech at the end of the film is still poignant, but maybe Breakfast at Tiffany’s is not for repeated viewings. Certain flaws become more obvious, some of the speech sounds expository. Maybe it’s one of those films that should be remembered, as a lovely charming thing, rather than seen again. 

2/ Every year I watch about 100 films, some of which are revisits. 
Some films demand multiple viewings—each time you see something new. Persona, the Mount Everest of film criticism, is an example. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is another. Or F for Fake
Masterpieces like Sunset Boulevard or Chinatown, which I saw again over the past year, never become boring or outdated. They are perfect. There are films I’ve seen 6-7 times and will still see again: The Godfather, Casablanca, The Silence of the Lambs, The Shawshank Redemption… 
Some films lose their magic on revisit. I enjoyed re-watching The Phantom of Liberty, which is whimsical and brilliant, but I no longer felt the fun upon my revisit of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie—its charm relied too much on the random unexpectedness, which obviously was no longer there when I knew what was going to happen. Mother the 2nd time around was not as good, which is probably the case for films which rely heavily on the mystery and suspense of solving the case/ finding the murderer, and on the twist. As you watch it again, it no longer has much to keep your interest.  
That’s why a film like Chinatown still retain its magic on multiple viewings. I don’t watch it for the answers. I watch it for Jack Nicholson’s performance, for the character of Jack Gittes, for the great dialogue—sharp and full of meaning, for the tight structure and pace, and for John Huston and Faye Dunaway. 
And sometimes, watching a film again, we don’t like it anymore just because we have changed. I just don’t like American Beauty, Edward Scissorhands, or Scarface anymore, though I used to. Our tastes change over time. 

3/ A blog is a great place to make note of what I like, and keep track of how I’ve changed over time. 
In 2015, I listened to Billie Holiday all the time, obsessively, for a long period. Then it passed. Since then, it’s mostly Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone that I listen to. Sometimes Aretha Franklin. Sometimes Etta James. Sometimes Sarah Vaughan. 
Sometimes I wonder how many artists I like now, I will still like in 30 years, or 50 years. My formative years were the time in Norway—that was when I discovered classic cinema, photography, 19th century literature, Russian literature, and jazz. I reckon that for the rest of my life, these things will always be important to me, especially classic cinema, Russian literature, and jazz; it’s my views on the individual artists that change. 
Shall I try to predict? 
Tolstoy, I’m sure, will always be there. He is a giant, not only in Russia but in world literature, and his impact on my life cannot be overstated.  
Same with Nabokov. 
With Melville, I’m not sure, but Moby Dick will always be a favourite and an important novel. With Jane Austen, I expect to still respect her in 30 years, or even 50 years, because I already went from disliking her and thinking she was chicklit, to discovering the great depth and sensitivity in her works, but maybe one day I will no longer care about stories of growth, understanding, and self-understanding. We never know. 
In cinema, I think I will always like Ingmar Bergman and Billy Wilder. I once had a Wong Kar-wai phase, a Martin Scorsese phase, even a Stanley Kubrick phase, but Ingmar Bergman is a director whose films have everything that I think are important about cinema: great cinematography and lighting, striking imagery, creative and haunting use of sound, good editing, great acting and memorable performances, style, depth, personal vision, exploration of relationships and human consciousness, and formal experiments that push the boundaries of cinema. He was also the director that I discovered, and learnt from, during my 3 years at the film school, and who influenced my first short films. 
It’s also hard to imagine a time when I wouldn’t like Billy Wilder. Is there any other writer-director who writes more memorable dialogue and makes so many great films in such different genres? I love his sharp wit and humour, and the humanity of his films. 
About music, I know a few people who listen to jazz their whole lives, so I don’t suppose I will stop loving jazz. It’s just hard to say if I will always like John Coltrane, whom I’m focusing on at the moment. But I expect Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to always be there, on their own or together. I don’t like watching Louis Armstrong—his grin makes me uncomfortable, but I can listen to him all day. People talk about his optimism, which isn’t wrong for songs such as “What a Wonderful World”, but there’s nothing so haunting like the pain in his performance of “Black and Blue”. 
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald on their own are fantastic. Together, they’re recognised as the greatest duets in jazz. Her velvety voice softens his edges. My favourite of theirs is “Summertime”. 
Well, let’s see how things turn out.

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