2/11/23: my stream during “Empire of Light” (2022) #poetry
I didn’t like Sam Mendes’ last movie. World War One was a neat and tidy affair apparently. Did Mendes become a filmmaker because an interior decorating business didn’t work out?
He is more suited to this material. Of course “Empire of Light” failed commercially, and was greeted with indifference by the general public. The movie is directly and unapologetically poetic. Check that … it’s a poem.
I love going to the movies. Movie theaters are so ordinary and romantic. The glamor is on the screen, and in the audience members’ eyes. Everything else is common, dusty and plain. Just like I like it.
The time is 1981, and the ornate movie house is a relic of a time gone by, when people dressed up and watched their dreams projected in populist palaces.
But Mendes sees the anachronistic movie house and seaside resort that was abandoned by the wealthy a generation ago, and is now the haunt of the aging and the lower middle class, the locale of the muted longings and imagined delights of the people who live quiet lives noticed by no one but their kin, friends and neighbors, to be beautiful. And so do I.
The aging and the lower middle class should both be preserved, like old movies and old movie theaters.
The big new prefab barns work too, however. As do streaming services delivered to rows of town houses.
I’d love to be in the seaside resort in this picture for a summer. In a way, I am there. I like the order of the place. The air and the sky. The lack of population density — I love the awkward formal feel of that phrase. I like the civility of the people. I like their confusion … how they think they want sex but they are after something more … and they deliver it to each other.
I like watching poetic people oblivious to poetry … the unconscious grandeur of their lives. These people, this town in this movie, remind me of Roselle.
The lead lovers are drawn to each other as they each inch toward a conscious understanding of the poetry of their lives. They remind me of my years as a writer when I didn’t know I was one.
Movies are a purgatory. Most are trapped there in a golden near paradise, but the chosen perceive the road to the real thing and go live there.
The chosen are the poets. The ones who get to know how beautiful everything everyday can be.
The theater in “Empire of Light” is obviously and beautifully called The Empire. The Empire is beautiful after it falls.
Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.
Beauty is post-power.
Sam Mendes is post-power. He has nothing but millions of pounds to make an epic about the staff of a movie theater. Snack bar clerks regarded as dearly as prime ministers.
Life itself is perfect. All of the frustrated longing for more … is temporarily necessary and ultimately pointless. The frustrations are the way, the truth and the light … Olivia Colman’s character, Hilary, suffers, acts out and reads Auden … the way to the pristine images of “Empire of Light” is through her (and Mendes’ past) breaking and tearing and pain and inspiration …
This is a movie for the consciously poetic … my past troubles have transformed into warm memories …
The oppressed are diagnosed as crazy for a brief moment, and then return calm and sane, the leaders of the post-Imperial world.
Hilary is a colleague of the women of “Women Talking”. The movies show the way.
The movie says that the projected beam of light is “escape”. That’s not how I see it. The movies aren’t reality, but they are maps to the stars.
Racism and sexism invade the church of film, but film exposes them for what they are. Drama precedes poetry, and poetry sees drama with a kind and detached distance.
There is a moment in “Sweet and Lowdown” when Woody Allen appears on the screen as a narrator after the intense conclusion of the story, “I MADE A MISTAKE!”, with a wry and peaceful smile. I remember his face. He was showing me a way. It took a while to sink in. So that’s how he kept making movies during horrible events, possibly partly of his own making.
I thought I was going to dislike this movie. Turns out it’s a personal favorite. It’s about one of the passions of my life — watching movies to learn how to redeem my life, and maybe help you redeem yours.
Mendes quotes “Being There” … “Life is a state of mind.”
Merrily, merrily, merrily …
“begin afresh, afresh, afresh … “
Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas