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kenmorefield

2019 List Preliminary Discussion

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19 hours ago, Rob Z said:

I really like "Growing Older" as a theme, as long as the emphasis is on GROWING oldER, rather than on just on OLD. I'm 34, approaching middle age, and I'd love a list that could explore that reality along with the reality of my parents, approaching elderhood, something that is also very much on my mind.

 

 

I think Rob and I are tracking here. I think this theme is sufficiently broad to allow for transitions from one stage to another (Life Cycle) be it youth to middle age, middle age to old age, or childhood to young adult, while not being so broad as to be essentially a retread of Top 100. 

I am drawn to wrestling with the idea of aging as transformation -- with questions of whether we become someone or something different as opposed to simply adding more experiences. At least from a Christian perspective, what does it mean that we conceptualized the deity (and hence, usually, the spiritual) as being timeless and unchanging? (God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.)

There is a lot of talk, rightfully so, in Christendom and Christian film criticism about redemption, but perhaps there is more room for talking about transformation. Why are some changed by age and experience and others not? That sort of stuff interests me a bit more than defining characteristics of specific life stages.

 

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18 minutes ago, kenmorefield said:

I am drawn to wrestling with the idea of aging as transformation -- with questions of whether we become someone or something different as opposed to simply adding more experiences

Perhaps it's due to my reading a lot of Paul Ricoeur's philosophy about time, memory, and narrative identity over the past year, but Andrew's "Growing Older" suggestion also reminded me of transformation. Per Ricoeur, I think of our own experience of time as a personal life narrative, an emplotted life in which we interpret and re-interpret ourselves and events, and how cinema both depicts this transformation-through-time, and can make us more aware of the passing of time itself via a film's aesthetics. These are "time travel" films, but not in the same way that one might traditionally imagine time travel; to use Ricoeur's language from his final post-humous book, it's about "living up to death."

Edited by Joel Mayward

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Has anyone else read Richard Rohr's Falling Upward? It could be a useful way of thinking about this topic. In a nutshell, he sees the well-lived life as, first, a decades-long process of making order (ego formation), followed by a period of disorder, during which we discover that the tricks we've learned to make sense of the world are no longer adequate. The second half of life, then, should be devoted to re-ordering our selves in more honest terms. Falling Upward is a short book that might benefit from being even shorter, but I'd recommend it. Rohr's episode of On Being is a really great overview of his approach.

It reminds me of a Thomas Merton quote I've shared on this forum before.

Quote

The worst of it is that even apparently holy conceptions are consumed along with the rest. It is a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply “is.” In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is.

 

Edited by Darren H

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I'm not familiar with Rohr, but I've found Erik Erikson's developmental stages invaluable in understanding the challenges of each decade of life.  They've also enhanced my appreciation of great films that consider aging, with its pitfalls and successes (e.g., much of Ozu, Kurosawa from 1965 onward, The Great Beauty, etc.).  I haven't read him in a while, but I also dug James Fowler's Stages of Faith, which builds on Erikson, Kohlberg's theories of moral development, and Piaget to look at how religiosity and spirituality can evolve across a lifespan.

If we decide to do a Top 25 films on aging, I only hope that it doesn't end up largely being a coming of age list; my personal hope is that it would focus much more upon the second half of life.  Given humanity's inherent tendency to look back wistfully on lost youth as a part of growing older, and our own culture's tendency to idolize youthfulness, I think this could be a strong temptation.  Because of these twin pulls, my own impression is that films addressing the second half of life receive far less of the spotlight.  A Top 25 list could be our own small effort to remedy this imbalance.

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Are there other topics or themes people are interested in that have not yet been mentioned? 

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Growing Older lends itself to introspective, reflective personalities - the kind of traits that characterize writer types. I think such a list could be interesting. But while I'm loath to get political, I think much of the country is intensely focused on the coming Mueller Report, which, as long as it's anything short of a complete exoneration, could lend timeliness to a Crime and Punishment list.

I'll probably regret advocating for such a list, at least on those terms, but I wanted us to do Crime and Punishment earlier, when the Mueller Report wasn't on anyone's radar. I still do.

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I like a phrase both Andrew and Darren used in describing the concept of aging: growing into the "second half of life." I'm open to the "Crime and Punishment" theme too, and think it would certainly be timely and appropriate regarding our political culture.

One other possible theme I think could be interesting: Films about Borders. These are places of divergence and distinction, lines in the sand (both literal and figurative), and even the liminal spaces where borders blur and merge, a place of nepantla (a Mexican-Aztec phrase about "in-betweenness" or "in-the-middle-of-two-worlds"). The Mexican-American border is one of the more volatile places and subjects in our present political climate; speaking into this conversation via cinema could be fruitful and enlightening.

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13 hours ago, Christian said:

Growing Older lends itself to introspective, reflective personalities - the kind of traits that characterize writer types. I think such a list could be interesting. But while I'm loath to get political, I think much of the country is intensely focused on the coming Mueller Report, which, as long as it's anything short of a complete exoneration, could lend timeliness to a Crime and Punishment list.

I'll probably regret advocating for such a list, at least on those terms, but I wanted us to do Crime and Punishment earlier, when the Mueller Report wasn't on anyone's radar. I still do.

Christian, do you think such a discussion would be good for the forum? I was never in the Politics forum, but I get the sense from remnants of conversations left behind (such as in the previously invisible moderators' forum) that political differences were damaging to relationships and drove a lot of people away. I could be wrong, and it's never just one thing. 

I also fear that "timeliness" could translate into bots and trolls and the sorts reactionary flaming (either during or making the list) that would be less than helpful, that the list could be viewed as (or actually would be) itself a political statement rather than a nuanced look at politics. 

Certainly, Crime and Punishment is a broader topic than politics and might mitigate some of the tendencies to be fixated on the present moment, perhaps even in a positive way. I think it could also go sideways. 

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If we wanted to do something more socio-politically slanted, I could see something along the theme of "Schism" that could be applied more broadly to government or other institutions -- stories about forces driving people (or institutions) apart, when it is justified, when it is bad, etc. Might even apply to families or personal relationships.

We are a bit late for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, but Reformation could be a theme, since, again, it could be applied more broadly to a government, church, or personal reformation. Might be a bit too opaque, but I'm just throwing out suggestions.

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I haven't read him in a while, but I also dug James Fowler's Stages of Faith, which builds on Erikson, Kohlberg's theories of moral development, and Piaget to look at how religiosity and spirituality can evolve across a lifespan.

I haven't thought of that book for years! I think Doug Cummings turned me onto it soon after we first met. Rohr's is a more simplified version, I guess. His "ordering" phase would include Fowler's first three stages, "disorder" is Fowler's stage 4, and "reorder" is stages 5 and 6. For Rohr it's the crisis/skepticism of Fowler's stage 4 that divides the two halves of life.

I wonder if it would be helpful to test this idea by proposing some films that might be included on the list? What I'm interested in (personally, as a 46-year-old) is the journey to becoming an "elder" as opposed to just "older." What does a well-lived second half of life look like? It's not an especially cinematic story! I watched The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968) for the first time this weekend. It's a brilliant and fascinating portrait of a midlife crisis but it doesn't even attempt to imagine any kind of redemption for the character. It's a grotesque world of adults wallowing in the first half of life.

John Ford seems ripe for this discussion. John Wayne was my age when he made The Quiet Man, which could work. Eric Rohmer, maybe?

A&F has always been dominated by male voices. One potential problem for this idea, I think, is that it could easily become a list about men.

Edited by Darren H

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3 minutes ago, Darren H said:

His "ordering" phase would include Fowler's first three stages, "disorder" is Fowler's stage 4, and "reorder" is stages 5 and 6.

I haven't read the Rohr book, but this sounds strikingly similar to Walter Brueggemann's cycle of spirituality in his little book "Spirituality of the Psalms": orientation (life in the Promised Land) - disorientation (exile and disintegration) - new or re-orientation (return to the Land, but with a new identity/perspective). And I think those concepts would map onto Fowler quite well.

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23 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

Christian, do you think such a discussion would be good for the forum? I was never in the Politics forum, but I get the sense from remnants of conversations left behind (such as in the previously invisible moderators' forum) that political differences were damaging to relationships and drove a lot of people away. I could be wrong, and it's never just one thing. 

I also fear that "timeliness" could translate into bots and trolls and the sorts reactionary flaming (either during or making the list) that would be less than helpful, that the list could be viewed as (or actually would be) itself a political statement rather than a nuanced look at politics. 

Certainly, Crime and Punishment is a broader topic than politics and might mitigate some of the tendencies to be fixated on the present moment, perhaps even in a positive way. I think it could also go sideways. 

All good concerns. I'm not looking to open old wounds. But I figure current events are going to work their way into whatever list we do - such events seem to work their way into all sorts of conversations these days - so I thought maybe C&P would provide an outlet of sorts for thinking through our political moment - if not providing a point for resolution. I confess that attracting new participants is always in the background of these topic choices for me, but your concern about trolls/bots is wise. I hadn't really envisioned outsiders coming in and stomping all over our discussion. I was more thinking about how current participants might respond/react, hoping that we were mature enough to allude to the current moment without alienating each other, much less outsiders. But maybe that's a pipe dream.

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16 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

If we wanted to do something more socio-politically slanted, I could see something along the theme of "Schism" that could be applied more broadly to government or other institutions -- stories about forces driving people (or institutions) apart, when it is justified, when it is bad, etc. Might even apply to families or personal relationships.

We are a bit late for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, but Reformation could be a theme, since, again, it could be applied more broadly to a government, church, or personal reformation. Might be a bit too opaque, but I'm just throwing out suggestions.

Funny, when you used "schism" my first thought was about Catholic friends who use that to describe Protestants - something I think would be unwise to invite as part of the topic choice - and then you cited the 500th anniversary of the Reformation! :) I like that idea, but the Catholic/Orthodox tilt of the board's remaining participants - something that I'm convinced has had a hand in diminished participation here over the years, although that's a broader topic for another time/thread - makes me think it wouldn't work (even though a previous list choice was driven by advocacy for a certain Catholic anniversary/landmark, if memory serves).

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9 hours ago, Darren H said:

I wonder if it would be helpful to test this idea by proposing some films that might be included on the list? What I'm interested in (personally, as a 46-year-old) is the journey to becoming an "elder" as opposed to just "older." What does a well-lived second half of life look like? 

The more I think about this topic, the more enamored I am with exploring it.  Politics and truth vs. untruth so dominate the news that I'm withdrawing my earlier suggestion.  Considering a subject that isn't mandated by international dread will be rather welcome, personally.

Here are some possible films that could go on such a list:

- Agnes Varda's late films, including her most recent Visages Villages, have much to do with integrating her youthful memories into her aging self.  Her bond with JR shows that she is both forward- and backward-looking in a healthy and utterly charming manner.

- While I'm thinking of the French New Wave, this one is cheating a little bit since it's still in the first half of the life cycle, but Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films show an emotionally stunted boy, who by film 5 is coming to terms with his mother's frailties and striving to break out of the repetition compulsion of love-infidelity-new love.

- Just about any Ozu film seems ripe for the plucking here, with either healthy or unhealthy ways of aging.  Late Spring comes immediately to mind, with Chishu Ryu accepting that he must nudge his daughter into her own separate life, even if he's left sadly peeling an apple in the dark.

- Three late Kurosawa works are stellar examples of mature aging: Rhapsody in August, Madadayo, and Dreams

Some Wes Anderson films could work here, too, with the lessons learned by film's ends by Gene Hackman (Royal Tenenbaums), Bill Murray (Life Aquatic maybe, Moonrise Kingdom) and Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom)

- The two best films by Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty and Youth, are wonderfully late-stage Eriksonian in their explorations of the tension between generativity and stagnation, ego integrity and despair, with instances of both success and failure.

- Probably some biographical documentaries could work here, too, such as the recent docs about Gorbachev (good example), Roger Ailes (bad), Jane Fonda (good), Spielberg (good), Fred Rogers (though he was born an elder and merely seemed to consolidate his strengths as he aged).  Errol Morris also seems quite taken with profiling elderly folks reflecting and learning or not learning from their past, especially with regards to his docs about McNamara and Elsa Dorfman.

Edited by Andrew

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10 hours ago, Darren H said:

I wonder if it would be helpful to test this idea by proposing some films that might be included on the list?

While I think there are so many great films which could be included here, the first that popped into my head was Twin Peaks: The Return. Agnes Varda comes to mind too--Andrew mentioned Visages Villages.

Other possibilities (these lean towards more recent films): A Serious Man, Lost in Translation, Before Midnight, Synecdoche New York, Moonstruck, Ishtar, This is Martin Bonner, Le Havre, The Lost City of Z, Cameraperson, The Visitor.

These aren't all examples of a "well-lived life," but rather characters who wrestle with the question of personal meaning and vocation in that second half of life, whether the trajectory they're on is where they want to be headed, and if meaning, love, and significance part of their story.

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I'll throw out an idea (the rest of you will likely toss it as trash). If we want to talk about getting older in a lifelong context, we might want to consider various points along the way (cf. Gail Sheehy's Passages for example). We could then (depending on how many such point we identify) pick the best 3-5 films for each point. E.g., we might want to look at films that mark a transition to parenthood, empty nesting, retirement, illness, etc.

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1 hour ago, Darrel Manson said:

I'll throw out an idea (the rest of you will likely toss it as trash). If we want to talk about getting older in a lifelong context, we might want to consider various points along the way (cf. Gail Sheehy's Passages for example). We could then (depending on how many such point we identify) pick the best 3-5 films for each point. E.g., we might want to look at films that mark a transition to parenthood, empty nesting, retirement, illness, etc.

I think that's certainly worth considering, Darrel. The main question for me is how would we pull it off? We'd need to decide which transition points and how many, and then would we nominate films separately for each category? Might be a bit more work, but if everyone wanted to do it, it would certainly be a unique top 25 list.

As to other themes, I like both Crime and Punishment and Schism. I especially like the latter if we could focus on religious/political/familial schism with positive and negative examples of each. I know I joined the board after whatever arguments happened, but I'd like to think we've all been here long enough that there wouldn't be any wounds old or new caused by either topic. Maybe I'm being naive though. I also wonder if current political trends have made more of us agree on politics then would have been the case ten years ago?

I don't suppose there'd be any interest for a top 25 musicals list? (After all, how else are we going to get some Jacques Demy films on a list? :) Although, now that I think about it, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg would be a great choice for a Growing Older list.)

Edited by Evan C

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10 hours ago, Christian said:

I confess that attracting new participants is always in the background of these topic choices for me...

 

I don't mean this to be a pronouncement carrying admin weight, but I tend to skew the opposite -- let me focus on the people who are already here and what they want to do rather than what will bring in new participants. Though, ideally, I hope it's not an either/or. I also have an inclination to weigh voices like Brian, Joel Wilson, and Rob Z. since they were vocal in the previous thread about wanting to do a list and I do kinda feel bad for some people who came to the board after 2011 and have not yet had an opportunity to participate in a Top 100. 
 

Quote

I don't suppose there'd be any interest for a top 25 musicals list?

It looks like we've had two Top 25 that are more thematic (marriage and mercy) and two that are more or less genre driven (horror, comedy). I worry a little that a Top 25 Musicals would not be distinctive in any particular A&F way. (Is the pool large enough to subdivide?) Not sure how I would word it, but I could see something that is Best Use of Music but perhaps that blurs into films about art and artmaking.

Continuing on the politics vein, I could see something along the lines of Secrets and Lies being *slighty* broader in scope than films in the age of Trump, which is where my mind goes when I hear the phrase "truth telling." 

 

13 hours ago, Darren H said:

 It's not an especially cinematic story! I watched The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968) for the first time this weekend. It's a brilliant and fascinating portrait of a midlife crisis but it doesn't even attempt to imagine any kind of redemption for the character. It's a grotesque world of adults wallowing in the first half of life.

 

I've taught "The Swimmer" in American Literature II several times, and it has one of the great short-story endings in American Lit. I know that comment doesn't add much to the discussion, but it allows me to interject that Cheever's "The Death of Justina" is also one of the great pieces of mid-to-late 20th century American literature, perfectly capturing the creeping dread that postmodernism and American values (hedonism/commercialism) may be a dead-end. 

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6 hours ago, Darrel Manson said:

I'll throw out an idea (the rest of you will likely toss it as trash). If we want to talk about getting older in a lifelong context, we might want to consider various points along the way (cf. Gail Sheehy's Passages for example). We could then (depending on how many such point we identify) pick the best 3-5 films for each point. E.g., we might want to look at films that mark a transition to parenthood, empty nesting, retirement, illness, etc.

I think this idea is really fantastic, but probably too complicated to make it actually happen. Just the process of narrowing down the life stages to include, then the range of films for each stage/transition...it sounds like it'd take quite a bit of work. But it's not trash. :) 

5 hours ago, Evan C said:

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg would be a great choice

I nearly listed Umbrellas in my above post, but I figured you'd bring it up at some point. :) It might be worth considering, although the life stage of the couple in that film are adolescence into young adulthood.

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The Growing Older topic is great.  Forgive me if this was mentioned above, but how much overlap would Growing Older have with our most recent Waking Up top 25?  Would it be quite distinct from Waking Up?  I'm sure there would be plenty of "waking up" in films we would choose for Growing Older, but even with some overlap I'm sure we didn't exhaust this territory with our Waking Up top 25!

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11 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

"The Death of Justina" is also one of the great pieces of mid-to-late 20th century American literature, perfectly capturing the creeping dread that postmodernism and American values (hedonism/commercialism) may be a dead-end. 

I pulled Cheever off the shelf on Sunday to read "The Swimmer" and decided it might be fun to read through the entire collection this year. So I read "The Death of Justina" before bed and last night and, yeah, that's quite a story -- certainly more formally strange than my general sense of Cheever.

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5 hours ago, Brian D said:

The Growing Older topic is great.  Forgive me if this was mentioned above, but how much overlap would Growing Older have with our most recent Waking Up top 25?  Would it be quite distinct from Waking Up?  I'm sure there would be plenty of "waking up" in films we would choose for Growing Older, but even with some overlap I'm sure we didn't exhaust this territory with our Waking Up top 25!

That's a fair question, but looking at the Waking Up list, I don't anticipate a lot of overlap.  The only one that I see a strong likelihood of repeating would be This Is Martin Bonner.  Looking for instance at the Kurosawa choices for the Waking Up list, I would hope that Red Beard and Ikiru (though a perennial favorite here) would not make the list, since there are much better examples of his work that fit the Growing Older theme better.  Other films on the Waking Up list - Spirited Away, The Truman Show, the 3 Malicks, Fearless, Close Encounters, Punch Drunk Love - don't seem a good fit for the Growing Older theme either.  Just my two cents...

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Chiming in to say yes to picking a Top 25, and that I can imagine good candidates for both "Crime and Punishment" and "Growing Older.

For "Growing Older," I'm surprised no one has mentioned Apted's "Up" series yet--it's hard to pick just one, of course.

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I was intending to put up a poll tomorrow, so if there are any more suggestions for topics, speak now...

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