Kicking It

kicking_it

By Tim Barlow

At first blush, Kicking It represents a relatively recent and extremely small sliver of my experience.  I stumbled onto it one fall day a year and a half ago, and with its description: [this touching documentary follows six homeless soccer players battling poverty and addiction as they prepare to compete in the Fourth Annual Homeless World Cup held in Capetown], I anticipated, as with stories of melting ice caps or shrinking bee colonies, to be guilted, shamed, made to have my emotions fondled indiscriminately, and basically feel much worse about the world, by the time credits rolled.

But this isn’t that type of documentary.  Yes, there are a few (albeit shocking) facts on homelessness near the beginning.  There is a (only slightly) detracting celebrity monologue by Colin Farrell. There may be a montage set to U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name”, however the bulk of the movie is largely spent following the tournament’s competitors on and off the field.

Now truth be told, I struggled mightily writing this post and it has gone through a handful of different iterations.  I kept trying to make this into something more.  For instance, up until the day this was scheduled to publish, I had a healthy section dedicated to how I thought this tournament was doing the true work of the church (perhaps better than the church), specifically: preaching good news to the poor, healing people and bringing hope.  During another draft, I had a good chunk dedicated to how this movie has helped evolve (even in some small way) my own views and attitude towards the homeless.

And while I think those are still true, they aren’t what I was thinking the first time I watched the movie.  They weren’t what caused me to breakdown and cry at a few different moments.  They aren’t what ultimately lands this documentary on the list of my 30 most influential movies.  What did all those things was the way this movie takes on the seldom attempted role of humanizing those whom society outright neglects.  This documentary vividly captures hope and grief and anger and reconciliation, but most of all, joy, and does so in those who have been shown time and again that they aren’t worthy, that they don’t matter, that they don’t have rights or a say, that life would be better without them; that they aren’t really, human.

But they so clearly are.  We meet Damien in his nervousness on making his nation’s team.  We listen in, with the help of translated subtitles, as Nanjev harmlessly flirts with girls. We are there with Alex’s hurt pride over missing a penalty kick. We go sightseeing to the top of a Capetown mountain, where one Afghani player casually says to a team mate “In the Koran, this is where you would die”.  We see them smile, big wonderful smiles, and cry, and celebrate, and cheer.  We see as they are not just another nameless, homeless bum, but Damien, goalkeeper for Ireland’s team, Alex, captain for Kenya. Craig, forward for the U.S.  And this is why I love this movie, it gives a name, and a face, and humanity.  It may be a relatively minor victory in a much larger war, but it’s also a terribly wonderful victory, for a true underdog.  And I’m a sucker for underdog stories.  So, go watch Kicking It, it’s streaming free on Netflix and many other sites, and well worth your time.

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Reaction to The Magnificent Ambersons

MagnificentAmbersons

By Tim Barlow

Now this is more like it!  When I agreed to do a blog with the Craig Joseph, curator of galleries, director of theater, writer of poetry (I’m assuming), “Heart and Souls” was not what I was expecting for a first pick.  But now we’re decidedly back on track: black and white movies from established auteurs, but not the expected, well-known options, no, only deep B-sides need apply.  Enter, The Magnificent Ambersons, by none other than Orson effin Welles.

Now, this may come as a bit of a surprise, but I’d never seen an Orson Welles movie, sorry, film (idiot), right, so I had never seen an Orson Welles film before.  Not that I haven’t meant to, or that I’m not smart, it’s just that despite some initial great intentions when I added Citizen Kane to the Netflix queue, it just never seems to find itself at the top spot #SoMuchKatherineHeiglSoLittleTime.  So I was actually kind of glad to be forced into finally sitting down and pressing play on a classic bit-o-cinema.  Broaden my horizons. Impress my bros on Facebook.

But after all that build up, I come away from The Magnificent Ambersons with one overriding thought: I didn’t enjoy watching this movie….BUT I do like it.  Oh boy, as far as thought provoking paradoxes go, that’s not even close to decent, but let me see if I can help it along a bit.

I’ll begin with why it was not enjoyable to watch.  It’s true, I do have a hard time with old movies anyways, especially those I don’t have any sort of personal history with, to transform (now) tired efforts and comically dramatic dialogue into heart-warming nostalgia. But the real reason this movie was tough to watch is a result of Chairmen Welles’ style as writer/director.  The film is made up entirely of short, quick scenes, tossing the viewer along through time and plot, in bursts.  Which feels like experiencing a road trip only through the stops along the way.  Unfortunately, this tactic leaves the viewer feeling like they’re always behind.  And instead of knowing what we’re supposedly supposed to know, when we’re supposed to know it(!), I was left piecing things together after they’ve already moved on to the next stop.

Which brings me to why I like The Magnificent Ambersons….now…later.  After that bumpy ride through olden days, I have to admit, it did leave me thinking.  And the nice part about not being beaten over the head with the point during the movie, is that I’m left wondering on my own, what the point of it all really was; surely he wouldn’t have put me through that without some very good reasons.  And this, this making sense of your viewing experience, can be a nice cathartic process.  Was this all about comeuppance?  Or redemption?  Or did Welles go through all this trouble to impute themes of old money vs. new money?  Or the changing face of American greed?  Is this why Craig likes The Magnificent Ambersons?  Is this the perfect rorschach gift for that lover of all things cinema and self analysis on your list?  Maybe.

But probably the strongest impression I had, was around the role and responsibility of family, personified most cynically by the mother sacrificing her own happiness, and ultimately the long term success of the entire family for the wishes of her insufferable petulant son.  Does Craig’s views on family fit somewhere in here?  Is he Georgie?  Knowing what I know of Craig, I don’t see it.  But maybe he feels it.  Or maybe there is nothing to that at all.  And maybe this is all, this wondering, the highest praise I can offer a piece of art.  That it instilled feelings and questions and doubts and didn’t once presume to know the answers for me, or for you.  It’s just asking, in a calm, grandfatherly way, what do you see?  And it’s nice to be asked every now and then.

The Magnificent Ambersons

Editors Note: We at WatchingOurselves would like to apologize for the delay in this post. Craig’s computer broke, and he doesn’t back up his files (I know!, I mean, what?!…) Anyways, thank you as always for reading.

220px-Magnificent_ambersons_movieposter

By Craig Joseph

As will become apparent, based on the movies that made my list, if there were a Dysfunctional Family Drama shelf at the video store, I’d frequent it daily.  Why do I love these films, with their strained dinner scenes, awkwardly intense relationships between parents and children, and buried secrets unearthed two-thirds of the way through?  Tim will argue they make me feel better about my own family.  I’ll agree, and one-up him, suggesting that I find the infinite variations with which this age-old story can play out utterly fascinating.

Orson Welles’s The Magnicficent Ambersons, a follow-up to and arguably better film than Citizen Kane, is the granddaddy of the subgenre.  What sets it apart is its ability to chronicle the decline of one particular family against a background of societal change.  Viewers get to watch the specific and the universal, forced to consider them in tandem.

In the earliest scenes, we experience the Ambersons in their prime: young Isabel is desired by many men, the Major’s wealth is at its height, their home, standing along main street, is beautiful and admired, and their graciousness is manifested in the large parties they host at it.  Welles structures this first chunk of the film to underscore the family’s importance in the community; we hear from a chorus of voices – townspeople and the like – who gaze upon the radiance of the family in their midst.  And the social commentary emanating from an off-screen narrator extols the virtue of this time gone past – elegant dress for men and women, a world with trolley cars that moved unhurriedly, the regularity of moonlight serenades and courtship.  As viewers, we yearn for mores we miss or have never known.  And yet, Welles is sly, also sprinkling this section with the seeds of the family’s downfall: hints at a loveless marriage, several introductions to George, the spoiled brat and arguably Oedipal son of Isabel, spinster aunt Fanny – so jealous that she causes dissension – and a suggestion or two that the money is going to run out.

In contrast, the second half focuses heavily on Eugene Morgan – representing “new money” via the automobile he’s been manufacturing.  The filmmaking tempts us to distrust what he represents.  Evidencing “progress,” Welles’ leisurely single shots (several minutes long and accompanied by instrumental waltzes) are replaced by quick montages with frenetic music.  The omniscient narrator, securely guiding us through the world, drops out for large chunks, and the voices of the community – which suggest a fabric of cohesion and tradition – disintegrate.  Eugene himself suggests that not everything the car brings to society is good, and the film shuts the door in his face several times, trying to get him off screen.  Old world values seem to be fighting against hurry, speed, commercialism and acquisition.  And yet, Eugene and his daughter Lucy are morally superior to the Ambersons – honest, forgiving, industrious, self-aware and adaptable.

So, the old world we yearn for incubates a magnificent family that loses its prestige due to their own dysfunction, while the modern world, harried and empty, produces characters we want to emulate.  I like this dissonance – one of many things that make this movie a favorite.