February 21, 2010


I am currently watching Step Up (Anne Fletcher, 2006) on ABC Family. Why? you may ask. You may even ask, Why, in God's name why?! The answer to both questions, as is my answer concerning most films that I watch on basic cable, is, Why not?

Step Up is basically Good Will Hunting, but with dance instead of math and Channing Tatum instead of Matt Damon. Down on his luck, rough around the edges janitor’s secret ______ genius is revealed while he’s mopping floors at a swank ______ school, changing his life, and the lives of the people who believe in him! Apparently, Channing Tatum is the inexplicable draw of this film, despite being once accurately described by one reviewer as “a violently unappealing mongoloid.” (I love you, Pajiba.) Channing Tatum, whose name sounds like a kind of heavy machinery, plays a character who is basically just that. His sole purpose in this film seems to be lifting a small, unappealing person in the air repeatedly, like a big dumb cherry picker. Tatum also has the habit of not so much saying his lines as muttering them at inexplicable speeds and pitches, though I don’t know that it does much damage to the film’s script. Somehow he emerged from this film with a legitimate film career, as evidenced by the recent success of Dear John, a movie whose title alone can make me feel like I’m about to wretch.

This is all brings me to my larger topic: watching films on television. Let’s call it, movie-vision. Movie-vision is like a free pass to behave badly, and to secretly consume cinematic fare you would never be willing to openly slide across a Blockbuster counter and pay for. I’m not talking about films made for television, since they are made with commercial interruption/etc. in mind. And they are consistently awful. Watching actual film on television is strange because it is the forcing of one media into another, whether or not it works. Film bends to television’s will, accepting multiple interruptions and heavy-handed editing/dubbing. Some films work better for television than others, and can be pretty reliably encountered on television every few weeks or so. Examples? Bring it On, Goodfellas, Gone in 60 Seconds. They never really seem to have much in common except for their broad appeal. Sometimes weird, unexpected films end up in repeated television circulation, like The Shawshank Redemption. Baffling, as that's like a five and half hour commitment via movie-vision. But maybe that’s the thing about movie-vision: most of the time people don’t actually sit through the whole thing. The film is like a network placeholder. Hm, what are we going to show between the hours of blah and blah? How about American Pie! Movievision films also tend to be things that people have seen; they aren’t often rare or long-forgotten films. They’re ones that you kind of remember seeing in theaters and sort of remember not minding and hey it has so-and-so in it and you’ve always sort of liked him and why not? Nicolas Cage features prominently in a lot of movie-vision. This probably has something to do with his role-choices, and his inexplicable appeal to American audiences. I mean, not to knock his acting ability. I have been known to enjoy me some Nic Cage from time to time (Moonstruck, Wild at Heart, Leaving Las Vegas, Adapatation) but he has starred in some really, really, really unforgivably embarassing fare in the last decade—enough to make people forget that he was ever a lead in a David Lynch film.

Side note: Nicolas Cage has the best character name in every single awful or good movie he stars in, leading me to believe that that might be his criteria for choosing roles. Sorry Nic, I’m onto you. Let’s look at a random sampling from his career: Cameron Poe, Dr. Stanley Godspeed, Smokey, Sailor Ripley, Castor Troy, Speckles, Fu Manchu, H.I. McDunnough, Sergeant Joe Enders, Zoc, Johnny Blaze, and (my personal favorite) Memphis Raines.

Okay, Step Up was getting too painful. The joy of movie-vision: the complete and utter lack of any feelings of commitment or obligation. CLICK, and goodbye, Channing Tatum. I’m sure I’ll be seeing your obnoxiously vanilla, dead-eyed face occupying a square-shaped space on my silver screen soon enough. I’ve been having a good run of movie-vision in the last few weeks, even before I got HBO for myself for Valentine’s Day. Major upgrade here at the Nowhere Nickelodeon, people. I am excited. Lately, the TV networks seemed to have understood my deepest, darkest desires and filled the airwaves with films, both good and bad, that I am always pleased to partake of via the wonder of television. Because, of course, we all have our specific movie-vision favorites—the movies you will watch, piece by piece, time and again every time it magically appears on the TV in front of you, like a gift from the network gods. Some you can proudly claim to enjoy, even watching them in front of other people (Goodfellas, When Harry Met Sally, anything black and white) but some you would probably never admit to watching, even on movie-vision (City of Angels, Hook, Six Days Seven Nights, Con Air). Yes, I just admitted to watching all four of those films, and more than once. I am a secret City of Angels repeat offender. Damn you, Nicolas Cage!

But, more seriously, movie-vision is something of a weird gift, in my eyes. I have affection for it, even if I usually abuse it in order to watch something that I most likely should not be wasting the precious hours of my young life watching. I have affection for it because once in a blue moon I idly start watching something on television and it is amazing, and possibly more so because it came to me by pure chance and happenstance. Such was the case with Wings of Desire, or Dancer in the Dark, or The Station Agent. These films were very possibly the reasons I became interested in film as more than a dalliance, or an entertainment, and I saw them all, or even just a piece of them, for the first time on television. I suppose what I am trying to say is that there are worse things than channel surfing and landing on a film, new or old, and watching for a little while. You might be surprised what you might find out there, brave television voyagers. And should you find only Step Up, despair not. No one ever has to know.

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