Kevin Murphy, |
A Year at the Movies
(Harper Entertainment, 2002)
A Year at the Movies is a fabulous book. The interesting concept is that Kevin Murphy spent the entirety of 2001 going to a movie every day without fail (though he did almost miss a couple). Home rentals didn't count. One emergency in Italy necessitated watching a movie on TV, but that was the only exception. Airline movies counted only because otherwise he wouldn't have been able to travel anywhere. Instead, he traveled all over the world to fulfill his promise to his readers. He visited the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finnish Lapland, where the sun never sets and everybody gets funky from weird sleep patterns. He went to Australia and visited the smallest movie theater in the world (around 25 seats). At home or abroad, he paid for at least one movie every day of the year. It's a project that I found impossible to resist, and I even envied him a little bit. Here was a guy who was going to write a book from the audience's perspective. He is one of us, just wanting to see movies.
The wonderful thing about this book is that it's not just a list of movies, or even a critique of them, though he does judge some of the movies and tells us what he thinks of them. No, this book is a love letter to the cinema, where Murphy's passion for film shines through in every essay. Each covers a week in his journey, but he never mentions all of the movies he watched that week (though they are conveniently listed at the top of the chapter heading, with location included). Each essay has a theme. One week, it was the Sundance Film Festival. Another, it was Cannes. Another, it was Quebec City and the hotel and theater made completely of snow and ice. Sometimes, he just uses the week's films to talk about a cinema subject dear to his heart, like silent movies, classic comedy shorts or smuggling Thanksgiving dinner into the local theater.
Murphy has wit as well, and each essay has its share of it. Murphy doesn't constantly tell jokes and hope the reader laughs. Instead, the wit comes out of his personality and is a little more subtle. I found this book amusing, but not laugh-out-loud funny. The thing is, amusing is fine when the book is well written and you enjoy reading it like I did this one. I expected a retrospective of bad movies. I guess he figured that not only had it been done, but it goes against everything Murphy wanted to get out of this project. After 10 years of being on Mystery Science Theater 3000, watching cheesy movies and creating jokes for Joel and Mike (and himself as well) to tell, he wanted to spark his love for the cinema again and revisit exactly why he loves movies. Thus, this was the perfect thing to do.
I was especially envious of his travels. He went to France, Italy, Finland, Australia, Mexico and the Cook Islands, which is where he was on Sept. 11. He tells this in a very poignant essay, saying how he felt when he heard the news, the reactions of the other islanders, and how he almost gave up his odyssey because it felt very insignificant. But then he went to see Waking Ned Devine, shared a few laughs with friends even through their tears and realized the human togetherness that movies bring, and that feeling of closeness that you get in a good movie crowd, even if you don't know any of them. You still share this one bond, this one movie, and you feel better. This essay actually brought a tear to my eye, something I really didn't expect in a book I thought would be a comedy. It's probably the best "tribute" to that tragedy I've read or seen in a work that wasn't specifically about it.
Sure, there are a couple of clunkers in there (the essay about his trip to Mexico showing his own films at the bed & breakfast where he was staying because there was no local theater was a bit boring). However, they were all interesting in their own right, just a few that were less so than the rest. Through his journey, he regains his love of film, his affection for that flashing light and flickering screen, and he brings us along with him. He's not the most wonderful writer in the world, but he makes up for it with an intensity about his subject that's contagious. I've never been a huge movie person, but he almost made me become one.
I think I'll go watch a Buster Keaton short film.