Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre Musique is one of the most intellectual movies I’ve seen. But I’m not even sure if I should call it a “movie,” as it seems more apt to describe it as a lyrical meditation on war, which has a three-part structure reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey and is no less cerebral than that masterpiece.
While watching the torrent of images that makes up Notre Musique, I began to think about whether I really liked such movies.
There is a certain snob appeal of these sorts of cerebral films. In some ways, I scoffed at those who got up and left during Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. And I recently sat mesmerized by Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, even if I didn’t quite like it.
On the other hand, I sometimes want a movie that will make me escape. I found Notre Musique so challenging because when I watched it, I was in the middle of a whirlwind through a fair number of Esther Williams “aqua-musicals,” thanks to TCM’s 24-hour tribute to the late star. They’re colorful, light fun – nothing more than comedy, music, and visual delight, essentially the complete opposite of Notre Musique and its cohorts. They’re like candy: brightly-colored, sweet, yet decidedly lacking true substance. And they’re strangely addicting to boot.
This isn’t to knock the Williams movies at all. As I began to watch them, I found that I just couldn’t wait to watch more. They represent a different type of movie-making from the likes of Notre Musique: that which seeks merely to entertain.
Which brings me to the question: is media here to make us think or to provide escape? Is, for example, news here to inform us or entertain us? Do we look to television news to see balanced and level-headed discussion of important topics, or do we watch to get wrapped up in the latest circus of a trial or watch a car chase through an urban metropolis?
Over the past several years, I’ve begun to sense that I have a changing relationship with media. To illustrate, in high school, my nightly television would be an escape from the barrage of homework I had. I would look forward to my time spent with the characters on screen. But now, I choose my television with extreme discretion. For the most part, I want television that makes me think. I want television that draws me into a compelling story week after week.
Likewise with books. They require such a time investment that I’m hesitant to commit to something I feel will be frivolous, which may explain why I’ve recently read almost exclusively literary classics.
Movies, still, feel different. They don’t require quite the time commitment that a television program does. As much as I enjoy heavy movies every once in a while, movies are great for sheer pleasure, and I can pop in a light movie if I need an escape.
Which is why I enjoyed those Esther Williams movies so much this week. I didn’t have to think about them at all. All I had to do is sit back, enjoy the music and dancing, and watch Williams swim and dive gracefully. They were pure entertainment – and upon reflection, I think that they might be among my new favorite escapist fare.
Escapism is good, after all.
For all the times we desire intellectual stimulation, we desire entertainment as well. There truly is media for every mood.
So now I throw the questions out to you. Do you find yourself pulled more strongly by one type of art/media? Do you favor intellectual works of a certain media? Have you seen Godard’s Notre Musique and, if so, what did you make of it? And finally, what are some of your favorite escapist movies?