My quarantine “must see” movie list began, unwittingly, with JoJo Rabbit.

Back in March, the number of cases of the novel virus in the states were growing. I watched the movie and remembered it was historically noted that people didn’t believe the Third Reich would ever gain momentum. A situation, initially thought of as somewhat insignificant, that turned into a juggernaut overnight.

As our coastal cities became stateside epicenters for the virus, each passing day bringing stranger and stranger news regarding government laws and policies, my primal instincts prickled the hair on the back of my neck. 

Trying to understand what was happening I turned to the stories I had once heard and my personal #Quarantinecinema film series began. Each movie I watched conjured an image of the next, as luscious celluloid beckoned me with historical accounts, parallels and likenesses to what I could see and feel occurring in this sudden, modern day plague that is upon us.

The Seventh Seal came to mind and I kept thinking, remembering the story with vague familiarity, as history stood it’s ground. The Black Death really happened. The movie played out with thoughts and social attitudes very similar to what people are saying and doing in our current day news, capturing our current day psyche with a chillingly consistent and accurate portrayal of humans faced with death. I had seen this movie before…only I am so much older, smarter now and with the reality of the virus spreading rapidly, the movie’s central theme seemed more poignant than ever; exploring the struggle between existence (the only certainty being death) and the meaning of life (aka the eternal search for God). Yes, this is heady stuff, yet people tend to get down to brass tacks when the Grim Reaper shows up!

Next, The Masque Of The Red Death resurfaced in my literary bank, and I watched the movie adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s terrifying tale (on my book shelf) of the plague exposing massive class separation, yet ultimately no separation at all, and my theme began to unfold. The original literary work is what I'm referencing here and is best read, nonetheless, the movie is curious with flashy special effects and cinematography
by Nicolas Roeg (Man Who Fell To Earth starring David Bowie).

I pondered the movies I had seen and which ones would be fitting, appropriate to revisit at this time of social distancing, quarantine, isolation and ultimately the fear of death.
The haunting images in F.W. Murnau’s Faust, were inescapable to me. Revisiting this silent film classic was eerily beyond my expectations referencing the plague, but more deeply pondering the human condition and ultimately… the meaning of life as seen through the alternately macabre and joyful lens of the human psyche. What is happiness?

David Wellbery asks the question and delivers in this eloquent lecture worth the time to listen~
"Who is Faust?"
Keynote Address, 2009 University of Chicago Humanities Day
October 24, 2009
And today, is this not what people are being afforded in solitude, the luxury of time and space, to return home to this eternal question through mental and spiritual query, so as to remember right path, right action, right speech for the good of all? The Four Noble Truths and The Nobel Eightfold Path come to mind and are summarized as morality, meditation, and insight. Take away the distractions of the modern world we are left with nature and the omnipresence of something greater than ourselves. For the good of all, how best
can we fit into the natural order of this thing called Life?

Amazingly, the Faustian tale, offers exactly what society needs to be reminded of in this present moment in time. Highly successful, yet dissatisfied with his life, Faust is lead to make a pact with the Devil at a crossroads, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures- a magician and alchemist in German legend who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge. A wager is made for eternal youth, to stay forever young in denial of time, change, and decline. As Faust’s disappointment persists, it is a reminder that defying right path and the laws of nature never work out. A wager that traps Faust and leaves him grasping at temporal gains without ever attaining true satisfaction and happiness. The movie climaxes in the film’s final scenes with the realization that true satisfaction and
true happiness come from but a single word, a word that appeases every pain and grief, culminating in the absolute that Love Conquers All.

In the silent film era, the screen was filled with intense human expression of emotion and dramatic sets. Famous for the chiaroscuro effects of light and dark, both in the visual imagery and the moral conflict in the story, Faust appeared seminal for my next “must see” movie, Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang, which was released the following year.
I had first seen Faust and Metropolis in my early 20’s and the general storyline and message were all I could remember, so revisiting these films back to back gave me such surprising delight when both films ended with an incredible crescendo of special effects that embellished the exact same message of LOVE! Those Germans…what sweethearts!

The overriding theme of Metropolis is stated flat out on the screen:
"The mediator between the brains and the hands must be the heart."

Freder, the mediator, whose heart is full of love, mediates between the brains
(the thinkers, the masters, the capitalists) and the hands (the doers, the workers).
…drawing on a variety of disparate sources–biblical mythology, German mythology,
Marxist themes, even the Frankenstein theme–The city of Metropolis is dichotomous,
divided between the gods and the mortals, the high and the low.

On the one hand, Lang pictures the idealized modernity of the highrise demesne,
the home of the wealthy and privileged, with theaters, gardens and stadia. Below is the underground Lower City, where huge machines are manned by automaton-like workers, dressed in identical overalls, walking in lockstep, heads lowered in the dejection of the oppressed.(George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949; surely he had seen Metropolis.)

The movie catalogue in my mind offered up one more, final story clearly pertinent and conclusive to my must see list. The Last Picture Show.

A movie about an age gone by, the end of an era, and the inevitable march of time along with inevitable decline, in all things, where something old is replaced by something new.

Just as we are reckoning with our new reality,
The Last Picture Show is about a changing of the guard.

On a side note, here, the portal to the surrealists opened and David Lynch appeared. Man Ray and Jean Cocteau already on the scene in my consciousness, both clearly inspired by the shape shifting shadows and dancing light of phantasmagorical illusions in Faust and Metropolis, both later day contemporaries of F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang.

I scanned the internet for some Last Picture Show inspiration before watching the film, getting in the mood with a little background research, and lo, cinema’s most famous modern day surrealist appeared with the opening sequence, a clip from Blue Velvet.

The American Golden Age at it's core.
Connecting the dots. The similarities of ideas and the obvious inspiration of one film’s influence on another seemed to create a natural progression in my movie selections, as if these five films were meant to be seen in this particular order, at this particular time.

A perfect set up for a “must see” surrealist film list that was taking shape in my mind, as I brought my plague movie series to a close. The next day I rented The Last Picture Show in anticipation of what I might glean.
And there is was, over half way through the movie, Jacy and Sonny ride out to the lake for a neckin’ session and Bobby Vinton is crooning Blue Velvet over the car radio. 

Wow! Ah Ha! This scene had to have inspired David Lynch to use the song and even title
his 1990 surrealist masterpiece Blue Velvet! The collapse of America’s Golden Age
in Last Picture Show segues into the almost hardcore version of the same loss of
innocence and moral values in Blue Velvet, perhaps more befitting as the
sequel to The Last Picture Show than Texasville. 
The Last Picture Show was one of the key films of the 
American cinema renaissance of the seventies.

In the film, Bogdanovich seems to be making the point that people are often unaware
that the times they are living are the best of times, that simple quotidian rituals
and shared moments are what make the long journey tolerable. 

Most associated with the seventies revitalization of American cinema, partially
through the rejection of classical modes of storytelling, The Last Picture Show 
has a foot in both camps, the old and the new powerfully depicting loss, loneliness,
the failure of family, and the pipe dream of love—themes very much of the time.

The Last Picture Show bids farewell, with its symbolic shuttering of the
Royal movie theater, to Old Hollywood. In looking back to what was timeless
in their work, however, Bogdanovich was also addressing what was timeless
in his own era of social and sexual upheaval. Filmed in black and white to better
to facilitate deep-focus shots and evoke nos­tal­gia for an ebbing culture, the use of
long shots emphasized isolating people in the arid outdoors depriving them of intimacy.

#Quarantinecinema “must see” film series:

JoJo Rabbit (2019 Taika Waititi)
The Seventh Seal (1957 Ingmar Bergman)
Masque Of The Red Death (1842 Edgar Allen Poe short story)
Faust (1926 F.W. Murnau)
Metropolis (1927 Fritz lang)
The Last Picture Show (1971 Peter Bogdanovich)

I’ve had so much fun rewatching these movies, associating one idea to another to complete the big picture, identifying the thematic parallels with our current state of affairs. History tells that when humanity gets pushed to a brink, it fosters a return to the humanities. The current attitude is a return, if not a rebirth, of creativity, compassion, and nature.

The humanities help us understand others through their languages, histories and cultures, uphold social justice, equality, empathy and reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual and intellectual sense of the world.

The existential link between each of these movies and the unique perspective of the
artist behind the masterpiece, unites these films, eternal and more important than ever,
as a cannon of work that confronts the human condition through observation, questioning, and an enduring quest to understand and deal with society and the world around us.

Is that not the sentiment today?
An innate call to return to nature as divine, spending time with loved ones, art and literature, nurturing, feelings, creativity, invention, innovation, and gratitude; the humanities igniting a novel Renaissance, if you will, to feel more human again and less digi digi.

Movies Are Forever!
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