Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Recreational Reading, Dreams and "High Noon"

We know that dreaming, also called for convenience “REM sleep,” is not only normal but necessary. See What is the benefit of dreaming? The referenced “. . . study showed that REM sleep has a critical role in facilitating brain plasticity.”

Another study on rats showed that deprivation of REM sleep inhibited the growth of cells in the area of the brain concerned with long-term memory.

Unfortunately it is difficult to conduct self-experimentation because we, most of us, rarely recall our dreams. Suffice it to say that we do dream and dreams are necessary to our good health.

I suspect that literature, whether “great” or merely entertaining, performs a similar purpose. I read a lot of different things. My intention and preference is to read serious works of, for example, history, but however good the writer and important the subject my mind eventually wanders off. I notice this and read the page again. When this doesn’t work. When my mind insists on wandering, I set the serious book aside and pick up something less serious, a book that might be the equivalent of a conscious dream.

Perhaps movies perform a similar function. I know of people who claim not to read much of anything and certainly not anything of a recreational nature, who are at the same time avid movie watchers. So perhaps these too enhance the “plasticity” of our brains.

I do occasionally recall dreams and often I notice that the dream was inspired by some “recreational novel” I read or some movie I watched. I can’t recall ever dreaming about a serious work of history.

And if recreational literature and movies comprise a sort-of conscious dreaming, we must accept that while our REM dreaming is under the control of our minds, recreational literature and movies are under someone else’s control. I may select a movie which promises to be entertaining, but as I watch I discover that there is a Left-Wing message in one of the subplots. Or, very typically, the “bad guys” are agents of the FBI, CIA or Homeland Security. And if there is a murderer to be discovered, he is likely to be the local pastor or priest. Hollywood doesn’t claim to be engaged in attempts at brainwashing, but we know that they are. At best, this fact is an accident of their prejudice: they really do believe that the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, Pastors and Priests are evil. At worst, they have an agenda.

Consider the USSR which had an agenda. I’ve mentioned Kozelsk, the Camp were Polish Officers were held for screening before the rejects were executed and buried in Katyn. Polish Officers at this and other camps were invited to watch movies (the following is from page 140 of Zawodny’s Death in the Forest, the Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre):

“The movies were Soviet productions with propaganda undertones. During one of the showings in Kozelsk when a crude and offensive antireligious scene was projected on the screen, the men left the room in protest. After this incident, when the audience had filed into the room, the doors were locked and those inside had to sit throughout the showing. . . In one camp, the Poles simply boycotted the movies, to the chagrin of the camp administration. Finally, the movie house was closed because of lack of attendance.”

Thankfully, we can walk out of a theater or change channels if we are watching a movie on TV, or as in my case I can simply hit the eject button and slide the DVD back into its Netflix case.

I do recall being in a “captive audience” for a movie in Marine Corps boot-camp in 1952. We had no theater in those days, but a screen was set up outside and we sat on the slope of a hill and watched “High Noon.” I was 17 at the time. Our officers intended something with that film. I’m fairly confident they intended to inspire us to do the right thing, to be like Will Kane and not be like the cowardly townspeople.

A while back I watched some commentaries on “High Noon” and was surprised to learn that some of those involved in its production had Left-Wing intentions. The following is consistent with what I saw in the commentary. It is from

The film's screenplay by Carl Foreman [this was his last Hollywood film before blacklist exile to London, soon after his work on Home of the Brave (1949), Champion (1949), and The Men (1950)], written during a politically-oppressive atmosphere in the early 1950s when McCarthyism and political persecution were rampant . . . the film's story has often been interpreted as a morality play or parable, or as a metaphor for the threatened Hollywood blacklisted artists (one of whom was screenwriter Foreman) who faced political persecution from the HUAC during the McCarthy era due to actual or imagined connections to the Communist Party, and made life-altering decisions to stand their ground and defend moral principles according to their consciences.

“It also has been interpreted as an allegory of the Cold War and US foreign policy during the Korean War. This taut, tightly-scripted, minimalist film tells the tale of a solitary, stoic, honor-bound marshal/hero, past his prime and already retired, who was left desolate and abandoned by the Hadleyville townspeople he had faithfully protected for many years (symbolically - during the World War II years). Due to the townspeople's cowardice (representing cooperative witnesses before the HUAC), physical inability, self-interest, expediency, and indecisiveness, he is refused help at every turn against a revenge-seeking killer and his gang. Fearful but duty-bound, he eventually vanquishes the enemy, thereby sparing the civilized (democratic) town the encroachment of barbaristic frontier justice brought by the deadly four-man group of outlaws (symbolic of the aggressive threat in the Korean War, or the HUAC itself). Embittered by film's end, he tosses his tin star into the dirt of the dishonorable frontier town.

“. . . ‘. . . Director Howard Hawks and actor John Wayne both responded to the liberal preachiness of this 'un-American' film (and its cowardly townspeople) by creating a no-nonsense, right-wing rebuttal in Rio Bravo (1959). In the film, self-reliant Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) refused the well-meaning assistance of Pat Wheeler's (Ward Bond) men -- "some well-meaning amateurs, most of 'em worried about their wives and kids," although all he had to help him keep a murderer from making a jailbreak was "a lame-legged old man and a drunk.’”

I can assure you that none of the Marines sitting on that hill watching High Noon back in 1952, and I’m tempted to vouch for the USMC officers who showed it to us, saw High Noon as an “un-American” film. In fact it coincided with one of the teachings we received: Civilians don’t understand the Marine Corps. They can’t understand what it means to be a Marine. So it was our job to protect them even if they never realized they needed protection.

At this point I recall Amy Adams gushing over the movie Doubt because everyone could form their own idea of what that movie meant – and I squirm a little. Surely great literature and movies aren’t subject to do-it-yourself interpretation. Interpretations ought to be valid. It would be valid to say that we Marines should recognize that civilians (like the townspeople in High Noon) weren’t warriors like us. They didn’t have our training. They weren’t equipped to do what we could do. And we, even if we were outnumbered like Will Kane was, should do our duty, even if we risked death. It was our job, just as it was Will Kane’s job to protect the people of Hadleyville. I remain convinced that the impression we got on that hill back at Camp Mathews (where we had a rifle range at the time) was valid.

I don’t doubt that more than one “valid” interpretation can be made of the movie Doubt, but I seriously doubt that everyone can make of the movie whatever they like – at least not and have all of their interpretations be valid.

But at the conscious-dream level, perhaps I am merely quibbling. If Amy Adams movie watchers obtain an enormous number of “invalid” interpretations, perhaps the movie has still done its main job – the job of facilitating the plasticity of the brains of the movie-watchers. Well, yeah, I suppose. But I’m too old to avoid feeling critical of those who make invalid interpretations – whether of non-fiction or fiction, and whether found in a book or in the cinema.

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