Friday, February 03, 2006

Four Most Influential Productions

Continuing the four most influential meme....

The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003; all three movies), directed by Peter Jackson

“I can't do this Sam,” says Frodo Baggins at the end of The Two Towers, the second movie of the truly amazing The Lord of the Rings trilogy. “I know,” replied Samwise Gamchee, Frodo’s gardener and partner on their journey to destroy the One Ring. “It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.” Frodo: “What are we holding on to Sam?” Sam: “That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.”

In this day and age of political, cultural, and environmental terrorism—as in every day and age, I suppose—these words seem to wring more true the more often I hear them. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is without a doubt the most powerful and well-done movie series ever. Visually, emotionally, it is all-enthralling, spell-binding, and with its ultimate good over evil: absolutely essential. Credit goes to J.R.R. Tolkein for writing the masterful trilogy decades ago, of course; but Jackson brings them to life, develops the characters, and cuts more fully to the quick, than even the books do.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1983), directed by Irvin Kershner

At the time—and until The Lord of the Rings—there was no greater movie trilogy than Star Wars. And its call, “May the force be with you,” in a time of the Cold War and other political shadows, was similar to the angst and division in America today, and like today’s LOTR provides hope in escape and fantasy, yet hope nonetheless. I grew up a Star Wars addict, with action figures and toy X-wing fighters and the Millennium Falcon. The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke fights Darth Vader and loses his hand, was the strongest of the three movies, both in screenplay and cinematography. With the ease and temptations of joining the Dark Side, it is heartening to know that somehow we can—that somehow we must—survive. And thrive.

Der Rosenkavalier, Graz (Austria) Opera House, 1994

In the spring of 1994 I had the good fortune of attending a global warming conference in Graz, Austria. Graz is a unique and vibrant European city, not the least of which because it was not damaged in either of the great world wars. So it maintains the largest intact Medieval collection of buildings, one of the largest remaining armories, and one of the only unscathed original opera houses. At this opera house, in a chair too rigid and thin to approach comfort, I saw Der Rosenkavalier—The Knight of the Rose—Richard (not Josef nor Johann) Strauss’s fifth opera, a romantic comedy. It was performed in German, which I couldn’t follow in language but had no problem enjoying nonetheless. The stage, which rose and fell and rotated, and the lighting and settings were stunning. It was my first (and sadly, only) opera, and yet this single performance has influenced the way I think about stage performances in general, how they all compare—how they, like the stage, lift us out of the day’s ordinary events.

The Trial of Alice in Wonderland, Civano Community School, 2005

It is a cliché no doubt to say that as children grow, so parents grow. But in clichés of course there is truth, and so it is true that with each new educational adventure our children undertake, my wife and I learn, as well. Last year, our older daughter performed in her first school play, The Trial of Alice in Wonderland. She was cast as two flowers—a dual role—as Miss Dandy Lion and Miss Morning Glory, in the queen’s garden. I’m biased, of course, but our daughter outshone them all, and demonstrated a real zest for theater acting. From here on out, we’ll have that singular performance (actually, two performances over two evenings) as the performance against which we’ll judge all others. And we'll have the image of our daughter's shining face among the dancing flowery petals.

Up Next: Four Most Influential Bands/Composers

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