My brother-in-law lives abroad, and he works for the US government. We joke and say he's a spy, but we know he isn't much like James Bond or Jason Bourne. If he is a spy, wow, the life of a spy is pretty flat out boring. He is a regular old American, not one of those ex-pat types who actually relishes life abroad with all of its exotic flavor. So when he visits on this side of the pond, we frequently talk about the methods he employs to maintain the American life from afar.
If one computerized business has changed the lives of Americans everywhere, my brother-in-law the not so official spy claims, it is Amazon. Since there aren't many books published in English on other continents this ranks high on the 21st century improvement scale. I countered with a lobby for Netflix. Short of living atop the now defunct original NYC Kim's video, my life would have never been so filled with a broader collection of idiosyncratic and international film viewings. I know in the eyes of a pure cinephile I am seeing them in a compromised version, but I - unlike Angela Lansbury - do not have a personal stage and cinema in my house. (I heard this little tidbit from my husband who back in the day saw a hardcore show in her old house in Montclair.)
On the menu this week, courtesy of the US Mail, I saw the furthest reaches of the rental spectrum: "The Lady and the Highwayman" (truly low brow historical novel pulp starring a very young and toothy Hugh Grant) followed by Nicholas Roeg's " The Man Who Fell to Earth" and ended finally with (by my 8 year old's request): "Mary Poppins". While Netflix is apparently worried about competition from $1 supermarket kiosks that supply the latest Hollywood drek, I am worried at my ability to rent movies that I can't imagine anyone else is watching.
As David Bowie's alien character profoundly summed it up in 'The Man Who Fell to Earth': "television shows us everything, but it doesn't tell us anything". Now of course we would have to replace 'television' with Facebook and Twitter.
On the popular culture side of things, horrible acting performances in movies that should have been buried long ago can humanize our reactions to an actor. Conversely, we can also see early movies that showed such promise for an actor who later left the acting ship at the dock to board the zombie express (earth calling Nicholas Cage). My point here is time travel via cinema is a wonderful and perhaps overwhelming thing. I know the more films I see in other time periods, the more I long for a different mode of dress than the one the new Topshop offers. Why can't we all live in the fashion sense of Le Mepris?
Just the ability to watch films on demand has somewhat altered the way we perceive the world. When I was a young child the Wizard of Oz was on TV just once a year and it was an occasion! Like nature delivering a strawberry bounty in June, it was a special event that was to be anticipated, savored, and then in a blink it was gone. Now, of course, a child could own "The Wizard of Oz" and watch it every afternoon. Perhaps that would have helped to de-sensitize me to the scary talking trees scene...
I am carrying on here and perhaps confusing limitless access to the canon of film with self absorbed humans on cell phones who wander the sidewalk at a snail's pace....ooops. But it is all related, don't you think? I emerged from an afternoon showing of a Melville film at Film Forum last week and felt somewhat like a mole when the sun hit me. I wonder if the limitless information of our digital age contributes to isolated pockets of self minded people and cuts off public community. Do we sit in the dark, so to speak and blink irritatedly when the sun shines our way?