Wonderful news for lovers of the movies: After many months of being unable to purchase a single new title for their film and video department, the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System once again has a list of new acquisitions which anyone with a library card can take home and enjoy, free of charge, as long as you return it on time.
There aren't nearly as many new films as they were acquiring even a year ago, but finally, there are some new ones.
Now, if you've been going to your library recently, and have been selecting films from their lists of new acquisitions, I need to explain two situations. First, many of the 36 libraries scattered around Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, choose to spend money from their own budgets on acquiring films. Those films belong to the individual library and not to the system, and may be borrowed only from the particular library which owns them.
Second, there are a number of good-hearted individuals who enjoy purchasing films which they want to see, and who generously are willing to share those films with the people of the two counties, once they have watched the films to their satisfaction. The library system has received a surprising number of donations, which cause its large collection to grow in size, even when they are unable to purchase new titles.
One caveat of that situation, however, is that donors are free to completely follow their own tastes. Libraries are sometimes beset by patrons who demand to know why they purchase so many films about British detectives, for example, or about the Civil War, or whatever, and nothing about the favored subject of the complainer.
The easy answer is that nobody has donated any films on the complainer's favorite subject. If I were there, I'd suggest that the complainer donate some films of his own, instead of only enjoying the generosity of others. Of course, that's always a good idea, in any walk of life.
I am certain that one issue which causes confusion for many readers is the fact that the beautiful stone building on Cherry Street, in Jamestown, houses two different organizations. The building was donated in the 19th Century, by Mary Prendergast, the daughter-in-law of the city's founder. Although occasionally an outraged expert demands to know why the taxpayers needed to spend so much money on such an ornate library, the answer is that the taxpayers didn't spend any money on it. Mrs. Prendergast donated it from her own private wealth, as a memorial to her son, James, who died very young.
The large, fairly modern section of the building, which stretches along Sixth Street, is the James Prendergast Library. That is the Jamestown area's public library. The ornate stone building which stretches along Fifth Street, is the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, which provides shared services for all the public libraries in the two counties. There isn't a fence between the two halves, so you might cross from one into the other without realizing it.
The two rooms of excellent films which most people reach by walking into them from the main reading room of the Prendergast Library, are actually in the stone building, and the films belong to all the libraries, not only to Prendergast. Films are one of the system's shared services.
Any time you allow the public to participate in any decision, you soon arrive at differences of opinion. There are some folks who think the library system should not lend any films, and some who think that because the film department is the most frequently used by patrons, that the library should lend little or nothing other than films.
Some think the system should lend only literary films such as "Jane Eyre" and "I, Claudius." Others think it should lend only children's titles or shoot-em-up bloodbaths or religion-approved titles or science documentaries. Librarians know that popular, entertaining writing - whether in books or in screenplays - is the gateway through which most minds find their way to more challenging and culturally productive works. A library without popular works is like a ladder with only the top steps.
Therefore, the system works hard to strike a balance, between material which keeps people happy and draws them into a relationship in which learning takes place, and material which has more substance and which keeps our culture competitive with the rest of the world.
I have gone through the list of new purchases, and would like to spend this week's column telling you about a few of those films which I have personally seen. I hope their availability will tempt you to widen your relationship with our libraries, before those who have less foresight are able to destroy the opportunity for all of us.
If you have a computer, you can check whether any film is available for borrowing at the Jamestown location. If it is, you can walk in and take it off the shelf, yourself. For a mere 50 cents, during that same computer search, you can put a hold on a title, and the library staff will take it out of circulation, as soon as your turn comes, and will notify you that it is available for you, so you can pick it up.
If you live outside Jamestown, you can borrow the same films by asking your local librarian to have the system staff take them off the shelf and send them to your local library. Really, it's a great system!
"Nine" is a film designed more for film buffs than for the average Joe in the audience.
In the 1950s, Italian films were especially popular with the cultured set. And, the director who created the most successful of those films was Federico Fellini. The film which was considered Fellini's masterpiece bore the title "8 1/2." The title referred to the fact that the film was Fellini's ninth film, one of which he co-created with another director.
The title of "Nine" invokes the question, what comes after "8 1/2?" The newer film is about an Italian film director, clearly based on Fellini. In the film, he is called Guido Contini.
At the opening, we see Contini giving press conferences in which he discusses that he has just completed the film which is considered his masterpiece, and is asked questions about the new film which he is about to begin filming. But, we soon learn that in reality, there is no new film. Contini has run out of ideas.
He dodges the reporters and heads off to a fancy hotel at a small, relatively unknown spa. There, he turns his mind to the women who have been the predominant inspirations in his life. All of his films have been about one or more of them.
There is his mother, his wife, his mistress, the actress who has played the lead in most of his films, the woman who has designed the costumes for his films, and others.
The director moves from memory to memory of his women, until he finally realizes that his wandering, self-centered life has separated him from all of them. Each "memory" performs a big musical production number in which she describes how he has failed her, and in return, what he has lost, by losing her.
All of these characters are played by big film stars. Contini is Daniel Day-Lewis, for example.
Mama Contini is played by a still radiant and magnificent Sophia Loren. The leading lady is Nicole Kidman, the mistress is Penelope Cruz, the costume designer is Judi Dench. There are more. The film's greatest attraction is the beauty of these women and the opportunity to watch them sing and dance.
"Nine" was directed by Rob Marshall, based on a script by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella. It came out in the very last days of 2009, and was not positively greeted by critics. Nonetheless, it received four Academy Award nominations, although none of them won.
To me, the problem with the film is that Contini doesn't seem to deserve our sympathy. He doesn't work hard, he isn't generous, he isn't admirable - not truthful, not brave, not sincere. I make no pretense of understanding what women see in men, but he is always unshaven, always has a smelly cigarette in his mouth, and he treats women like dirt.
The film's music by Andrea Guerra and Maury Yeston has some appeal, but all the songs are too similar.
I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to see and hear this film, because few things, in any of the arts, are more attractive and valuable than a great attempt, even if it fails. To me, "Nine" was a failure, but a very interesting failure, and I am very glad that I saw it.
You can see it yourself, through your library.
One of the greatest hits by The Beatles was the song "Nowhere Man." The film "Nowhere Boy" is a biography of John Lennon, during his teens, when he first learned to play the guitar and became interested in rock and roll music.
Anyone who watches the film to hear Beatles music will be disappointed. It takes place before the Fab Four were assembled, although we do get to watch Lennon's first encounters with a young Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Ringo fans will have to wait for the sequel, if there is one.
The film was released in October of 2010, just in time for what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday, which was Oct. 9. The director was Sam Taylor-Wood, who is a woman, by the way. The screenplay was written by Matt Greenhalgh. Many critics have stated that it was based on the biography of Lennon written by his half-sister, "Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother, John Lennon," by Julia Baird.
The central theme is the confusion and unhappiness caused in Lennon's life by the fact that he was raised by his aunt, Mimi. Shortly into the film, he learns that his biological mother, Julia, lives only a short distance from where he is living, with a second husband and two daughters of her own.
Mimi tries to teach the young man to have manners, to behave appropriately, to apply himself in school, etc. Once he meets Julia, she encourages him to skip classes, to attend parties and drink, and to wander through life, only on rare occasions being anywhere on time. Both women clearly love him very much, and ironically, he appreciates what both of them do for his behalf.
Young British actor Aaron Johnson doesn't look much like Lennon, but he does capture the mannerisms and the Liverpool manner of speaking, and soon into the film, we accept him completely.
Kristen Scott Thomas is wonderful as Mimi, sacrificing her own freedom to raise a son who isn't hers, and often sacrificing his affection for what she sees as his own good. At the end of the film, we are told that he phoned Mimi at least once a week for the rest of his life.
Anne-Marie Duff is similarly good as Julia. This woman is obviously such a free spirit, the viewer finds her hard to resist and understands easily why people were tempted to forgive her for her frivolous and undependable ways.
The photography captures the feeling of the gray, industrial city in which the young musician grew up, and it portrays a working class, British way of life without getting so mired in incomprehensible accents that would leave us with no idea of who was saying what to whom.
If you're not a Beatles fan, you might still enjoy the film if you enjoy seeing how life forces mold young people into the adults they ultimately become. The film is realistic, and there is some strong language, although there is no nudity in the film, despite occasional references to sex. There is an amount of cigarette smoking that could cook your brain, although it's probably historically accurate. Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, gave interviews, praising the film.
I enjoyed it greatly. It's available through the library.
PRINCE OF PERSIA
Sometimes even the most serious minds must abandon reason and simply play, a bit. When you're ready for such a moment, allow me to recommend the 2010 film "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."
The film is based upon - of all things - a video game, created for Apple Computers. It's about beautiful and brave princesses and muscular, nobly-intentioned princes, who ride through the desert using magical daggers to fight bad guys who have not a shred of goodness in them. No sense getting confused by thought.
The unlikely plot is this: An emperor of Persia is riding through his capital when he encounters a beggar boy, who displays physical skill and moral courage in defending his friend, against the emperor's army. So, the emperor adopts the boy and makes him an equal to his two biological sons.
When the trio of princes grow up, they are sent by their father on a mission in command of his army. Separated from the emperor and unable to ask his advice, they encounter evidence that a holy city, deep in the desert, is arming rebels against Persia.
They decide to attack the city and stop the treason. The city is ruled by a beautiful young princess, whose principal concern is for an elaborate knife. We eventually learn that the dagger has magic powers, and her role as princess is to guard it from misuse, which could result in the destruction of the world.
There is lots of riding around in the sands and fighting with swords. At one point, the princess seizes a venomous snake and stabs its fangs into one guy's eyes. Naturally, the adopted prince and the princess find they have a great deal in common, not including the knife. Will the villains kill them before they can sign a pre-nup?
It's entertaining and beautiful to look at. The film was made in Morocco, and beautifully photographed. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Sir Ben Kingsley, among others. It will take your mind off almost anything, and won't require you to think about the film, even once. Just sit back and wait for good to triumph and evil to be blasted and destroyed. If only real life was so black and white.
The arts in all their variety, are easily and inexpensively available. All you need to do is stop complaining and look.
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