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on crying at the multiplex & apes destroying shit

I don't go to the multiplex as much as I once did, which is why I think I often end up crying when I do. My tolerance is low. I get played like a violin, manipulated with each third reel soundtrack swell until, for some reason, there's a tear on my cheek. And sometimes before. I'm not opposed to loss of physical control in popular entertainment, generally speaking, but even disregarding 3D or Smellovision or whatever, Hollywood--at some point--figured out how to trigger some reaction in my brain to actually cause my nervous system and body to generate the occasional real, literal tear. Maybe I'm too sensitive, or just that I'm in my 30s, and ready for the tar pits. My friends report the same thing happening to them. One, an early adopter, stopped going to the movies altogether around 10 years ago, maybe longer. (We're talking new Hollywood fare, rarely art-house or old stuff or documentaries.)

Which is why the absolute hands-down best Hollywood movie I've seen in the past year and possibly the second best movie ever by these standards is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There was maybe a taste too much dialogue, but on the whole it struck a perfect balance of exposition and apes destroying shit. Namely the trappings of modern society. They didn't make me try to cry once. (Well, now that I think back, they probably did, but the destruction or imminence of more destruction outweighed it easily.)

Since then, it's become a barometer. We've made it out to the big city for movies a few times this season and, by contrast, J. Edgar was all exposition and no ape destruction. Meh. The Muppets? No literal apes (though very close) and lots of tear-jerks, but enough joyful and triumphant chaos to move things along nicely.

The bigger societal lesson might be that joyful, triumphant chaos is what we all really want, at least those of us who cry involuntarily at movies. It's escapism in neurological reaction only, that moment of high giddiness. There are probably lots of movies that play with that rhythm of exposition and chaos, but those are textures, not genres, and it's maybe a bit hard to decode in advance what movies will satisfy the urge for that particular rush.

The purest form of this that I've ever seen, I think, far pre-dates Hollywood's current tear squadrons: the first installment in the Rambo movies, First Blood. I'd managed to avoid seeing it until one night after a George W. Bush State of the Union address, and--on that particular evening--it seemed like the greatest piece of cinema ever conceived. I haven't watched it since, but--by those standards--it's probably still true.


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