Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I recently watched the excellent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, about Fred Rogers, the influential host of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

The movie was a great overview of the man’s life, mostly centered around his television career, but occasionally dipping into his personal life, too.  Seeing Rogers single-handedly rescue PBS before a panel of senators intent on stripping away the budget of the fledgling network was incredible.  Watching him be present and listening to people of all stripes and abilities was heartwarming.  As so many have said online, his message of love is exactly what we need right now.

But that was also the part of the film that got to me the most.  You could see, as he got older, that his heart just wasn’t in it anymore.  That he was still trying, struggling against the darkness, trying to be a guiding light, but finding it harder and harder to shine.  Perhaps his frustration was best revealed when he recorded PSAs for children after September 11, 2001’s terrorist attacks.  He literally said that he didn’t know how much good the PSAs would do.  That is a man who has lost hope.  

I felt for Rogers at the end of his life.  As he watched the world around him decay into more violence, anger, and hatred, it must have been discouraging to realize that, on a large scale, he didn’t make a difference after all.  His message of love and understanding and trying to be a better person clearly didn’t get through.  I can’t even imagine how he’d feel about America’s current political landscape.  And it makes it really hard to stay positive when you think about the fact that, if Mr. Rogers couldn’t make the world a better place, what chance do I have? 

But Mr. Rogers did make a difference.  He made small differences everywhere he went.  That really is the ultimate lesson to be learned from his life.  We can raise our own children to be kind, understanding, and compassionate, but we can’t change the world.  We can’t make people be nice.  Sometimes you just have to accept that you can’t save everyone, but you can save your own children.  And hopefully they’ll take the lessons you learned from Mr. Rogers and pass them down to their children someday, instead of succumbing to the anger and cynicism of the world around them.  That was the best that Fred Rogers could do.  That’s the best that any of us can do.

(Not-so) Funny Games

Recently, one of my favorite podcasts, The Faculty of Horror, put out an episode about Michael Haneke’s 1997 film, Funny Games.  

This is a movie I’ve been putting off for years.  I don’t do well with horror films in the “home invasion” sub-genre, especially since I got married and had kids.  It doesn’t help that all the descriptions and synopsis have used the words “torture”, “sadistic”, and “depraved”.  But because I enjoy the podcast so much, I really didn’t want to miss an episode, so I finally broke down and watched Funny Games.

Much to my surprise, it really didn’t bother me all that much.  I think it helped knowing that the film is a commentary on film itself – more specifically the horror genre.  With the main antagonists breaking the fourth wall to literally wink at the audience and sometimes even directly address us, as well as a moment where time winds backwards before our eyes, the whole thing felt very staged and intentional.  It didn’t feel like I was witnessing a home invasion as much as I was a scripted performance.  This helped me stay detached enough to not feel the same dread and “too close to home” vibe I’d normally get from this type of film.

Even more interesting – ultimately, I didn’t really enjoy it.  I know it’s not a “fun ride” type of film to begin with, but even as commentary, I found it sort of trite.  Granted, it probably wasn’t 20 years ago, but so many meta films have come out since then, that this one feels a little stale now.

I also didn’t appreciate the way the film talked down to the audience; it really felt like Haneke was judging us the whole time.  My problem with that type of preaching is that most viewers of horror films understand the difference between entertainment and reality.  We know that horror movies are fake and we’re often the first ones to decry real violence in the real world.  So why rub our noses in our shared interest of facing the fears of real violence through the make-believe medium of film?  It’s quite smug coming from someone who has made plenty of violent films himself, even going so far as remaking this one shot-for-shot in 2007.  It’s an instance where I feel the film says more about the director than it does the audience he is so willing to judge.

There are still a few films out there whose reputation prevents me from watching them (most notably A Serbian Film).  But I’m glad I finally got around to seeing Funny Games, if for no other reason than it proves to myself that sometimes the bark really is worse than the bite.  

  

Everything is Alive

Everything is Alive is my new favorite podcast.

They interview inanimate objects, like a store-brand can of cola and a streetlight. Except they look at every possible angle of what that conversation could be like. For example, in the cola episode, the cola brings up the point that no one really knows if he “is” the can or the cola inside. He mentions how his body could be recycled, but would “he” become something new or will he “go somewhere else” once his essence has been consumed (literally). The streetlight loves to watch movies through the windows of the apartment buildings nearby, especially Singing in the Rain since the street light is the real star of the show. It feels a little like an exercise from Creative Writing 101, but with this level of detail and humor, it works. There are only two episode so far, but so far it’s really great.

 

The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop – Episode 11

After nearly a year without any new content (but I did repost some old content in between), I decided to put out another episode of my podcast.

This time we look at the history of the greatest collaboration of the 1980s – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and The King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.

E.T. and M.J.

The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop – Episode 7

I put out another episode of my…podcast?…I guess?  I don’t know what I’m calling this thing now.

Anyway, it’s called Top Secret and you should check it out at the link below.

TOP SECRET