The Desiring Eye

Dear Erin,

Making the sweet treats with you was great fun, although it’s too bad the chocolate marshmallows didn’t turn out as well as we’d hoped. Charles is of your opinion, although I must admit I liked them. Now that I’ve seen you make them, I’m emboldened to try it myself before too much longer, and I’m already contemplating my own “exotic” flavors. Top of the list is Mayan chocolate, because, really, that’s at the top of many of my lists.

Like I said on Monday, Charles and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty this past weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’m fond of the Danny Kaye version, which is goofy and conventional, and I’m iffy in general on Ben Stiller. Most of the time, he’s way too over the top for my taste. (I would weigh in on Thurber’s short story – the original – but I haven’t actually read it, or if I have, it was so long ago that I’ve forgotten.)

But this movie was an absolute delight! It’s now on my list of movies to buy, which I keep pretty circumscribed. Of course, there’s Mayan chocolate at the top, but then in order to go on this list, a movie has to really delight me for some reason, beyond just entertainment and intellectual interest. Thinking about past choices, it seems that this delight generally springs from a combination of uplifting tone and visual pleasure. (See, for example, my love of Miyazaki movies.) I have similar criteria for books, although the delight there is of course not visual but resides either in the pleasures of the book’s language or the wonders of its author’s imagination. Ideally both.

The latest Walter Mitty takes place during the final days of Life magazine. I don’t remember ever reading a copy of Life, but I always associate it with photography – journalistic but also artistic, and quite often startling and beautiful. I have a book of pictures from Life, which I used to use in teaching, and which I’ve always enjoyed thumbing through. Here’s one page.

Life book

Sorry my own photo of it is not great.

That’s a picture of Jack Palance. Anyway, the point is that the movie is shot with the sensibility of Life magazine as I imagine it: twentieth-century photography. Some of it announces itself (words and shapes write themselves on the screen, a scene plays out in X-ray, landscapes melt into other landscapes). Some of it is just soaked in austere, naturalistic beauty (the cold, rocky mountains of Iceland and Afghanistan). The Life offices are mid-century modern style – all squares, plate glass, hard surfaces, and institutional pastels. Colors and angles are chosen just so, and the light is delicious – Ben Stiller has never looked so attractive.

Everything else is also good – story, acting, structure, themes, soundtrack – and the tone is uplifting without being unduly sappy (it is sappy, don’t get me wrong, but not unbearably so; my tolerance for that is generally fairly low, and I don’t think I rolled my eyes once). It was also a gentle and thoughtful movie, made for grownups yet able to be watched with kids in the room, which I very much appreciated. But what set it apart, for me, were the visuals. I would recommend this movie to photographers, artists, or anyone who seeks beauty around them in the world. It refreshed my eyes and my awareness of that beauty, and that’s a gift that is rare and welcome.

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2 thoughts on “The Desiring Eye

  1. Pingback: Finally, a (Fairly) Serious Book | crackersisters

  2. Pingback: Netflix Tangents | crackersisters

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