Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Last week, I watched a movie that violated all my movie rules, and I am glad I did...I think. My notes for this post began with a sheet of paper divided vertically. The left side was intended for those traits that will automatically boot a film off my watch list. The right side was reserved for those qualities that insure I will settle in for the evening with Pepsi and popcorn. The left lane got awfully long awfully fast, but it does help in narrowing my search for an evening's entertainment. Since watching The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I will re-think portions of my list. This movie would never have made the cut, had I not been tired from Heart-A-Rama, and had my neighbor not dropped the movie off for me last weekend at the very moment I had decided to spend the afternoon watching dreadful, no-brainer movies on Lifetime.

Here's a part of the left column :

1. No swelling symphonic music. That almost always means there will be concentration camp somewhere in the movie.

2. No kids in bad or sad situations, such as missing, stolen, ill, abused, family crisis...

3. No violence toward humans or animals. It can be spoken of, but I don't want to see it. I guess that comes from reading so many Greek plays where a minor character rushes in, describes some messy scene that turns the plot in a new direction, and off he goes, never to be seen again. That I can deal with. Shakespeare, on the other hand, seems to gleefully build plenty of violence into his plays. Take Mercutio's death scene in Romeo and Juliet, for instance. Even though he's stabbed, and his death is imminent, Mercutio manages to gasp out a lengthy (and sort of funny) speech, before becoming "worm's meat." That's typical of Shakespeare. The more drawn out the death, the better. The more deaths in a single scene...oh so merry! My first reading of Hamlet proved a challenge. The truth is, there was so much bloodshed piled upon bloodshed in the end, that I couldn't finish reading. Then, wouldn't you know, I walked into class only to hear those two words that all high school students dread - POP QUIZ. I'll never forget the final question, and confess to using it myself with my own students: How many people died in the final scene? Knowing how bloodthirsty the playwright was, I took a stab at "everyone." Wrong. Close. But wrong.

4. No to movies that begin with any sort of weather (unless set in the British Isles), movies that mention or show rats, snakes, those big part pig, part rat creatures, or swarms of flying insects or monkeys (yes, that means The Wizard of Oz is out for me).

5. I do not like movies that take place on airplanes, or have airline attendants as main characters. No sports movies. No war movies. No ninjas, or doctors, either. Basically, no uniforms.

6. No to most of the big award winners. Cerebral comedies don't work for me either, such as...sorry, can't think of one. Give me a good screwball comedy. I will admit to laughing out loud at Napoleon Dynamite, all National Lampoon vacation movies, and most movies with Will Ferrell.

There's more! But I will spare you.

My perfect movie would begin with a shot of rush hour traffic in some big city with a lot of over and underpasses. There would be no accidents or traffic jams...just people going places, underscored by snappy, contemporary music without lyrics. (add to my NO list, movies with those annoying slo-mo scenes set to under engineered music with cheesy lyrics).

My perfect movie would star all or any combination of the following: the Hepburn girls, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Reese Witherspoon, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Johnny Depp. (Add to my NO list...any movie that has too many big name stars cluttering up the works, with the exception of those just listed.)

The plot? Did I mention that Johnny Depp should be in the movie?

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has stuck with me since last weekend. I know that "powerful" is a painfully overused word, but that's the only one that works. The sucker punch of an ending is breathtakingly horrifying, and because of it, I hesitate suggesting anyone see this movie. And yet, it's a must-see if ever there was one.

Two boy meet and become friends despite the huge barrier between them. 8 year old Bruno's father has been relocated to Poland, where he supervises one of Hitler's camps. Bruno can see the "farm" from his bedroom window, and goes exploring. On one such journey, he meets Shmuel, a boy about his age, sitting on the other side of the fence in his pajamas. Bruno can see that Shmuel is sad, but Bruno's innocence prevents him from putting the entire puzzle together. He visits Shmuel often, bringing him food, playing catch over the barbed wire, and talking of the future when they will play together with no separation.

Yes, there's symphonic music, and the concentration camp. There are mistreated children -physically and emotionally. There is violence and unexplainable hatred. But the boy's faces kept me watching. Sincerity, fear, hope, degradation, resilience...all in their little faces. Despite the situation, despite the brevity of their friendship, the relationship gave depth to their emotional lives. The impact of the ending comes, as T.S. Elliot would say "not with a bang, but a whimper" and that is what makes it so profound.
See this movie if you can. Check it out for yourself before watching it with your kids. Reviewers point out minor historical inaccuracies, but they aren't enough to negate the larger issue. Ugly as this time in human history was, we cannot afford to tuck it away, and assume that if we don't talk about it, it may not have existed. And worse, we must not assume that it can't happen again.
What am I reading? I hope to start The Boy in the Striped Pajamas if it arrives today. I also have started The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. The eleven Ames girls formed a bond in childhood. As adults, they moved to eight different states, yet managed to maintain an enduring friendship. the girls, now in their forties, have a lifetime of memories in common, some evocative, and many that are resonating strongly for me.
From the Heart-A-Rama files
Our circus packed up and left town on Saturday. Sorry. I was so taken with the show this year, that I didn't stop to take many pictures for you. Every night, I found something new in the show to chuckle at. Of course, there are the behind the scenes adventures,that I some day may recount for you, but all in all, this was a year free of practical jokes, theatre antics, and bad behavior.

However, I must give a standing O to Brad, one of our newest directors. Not only is he a crowd pleaser on stage, he is fast becoming a skilled director. Brad directed two short scenes this year, and, in my opinion, one of them was theatrically the best staged scene in the show. Of course, I am a little jealous of his astute stage eye, but hey, good going Bradley. Be proud!
Last week I was willed a box of HAR photos through the ages. My summer project is to do something with them. First, how to organize them! By theme? By subject? By decade? Maybe an obtuse pattern would be better... chronologically based on receding hairlines, or expanding waistlines. Perhaps anarchy would be organization...randomly pick some and do something. At any rate, no matter what becomes of them, you are sure to see many of them on this blog.
We're done for another year. But guess what the big discussion was at the cast/crew party on Saturday night. Next year's show...and we're off!

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