Meeting Movies

Meeting MoviesNorman N. Holland

Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006
ISBN: 0838640990

“If I can show you why I feel as I do toward a certain film,” writes Norman Holland, “perhaps you can try out my response for yourself and enrich your own.” This book combines subtle readings of eight classic films with memories and associations that make it possible for both Holland and his readers to understand why he sees movies as he does. Meeting Movies offers interpretations of what’s on the screen through the filter of personal memories.

Casablanca, for example, provides millions with a sense of satisfaction. Why? How did this movie about World War II satisfy an adolescent boy afraid of “not being a man,” but too young to be in the military? How did such an outrageously sentimental film enable Holland (and many others) to deal with the scary state of the world in 1942 and, indeed, ever since?

Holland can stand back, emotionally, and dissect Vertigo psychoanalytically, through psychological themes like the repetition compulsion or “the uncanny” or “the mysterious breaking into the rational.” He can read the film for Hitchcock’s personality. But are these the reasons he and a multitude of other viewers are so fond of a quite unrealistic and contrived film?

Why was Holland do disappointed in a recent viewing of The Seventh Seal, a movie he once adored? It is not difficult to interpret this film that once seemed to be totally obscure as contrasting different kinds of religion. But how did that play out with a young man still wondering about God? And can it matter to that same man fifty years later?

As a trained psychoanalytic critic, Holland sees in John Huston’s film Freud an intriguing interpretation of Freud and psychoanalysis, one that fits Huston’s macho personality. But the gossip around the film intrudes on his intellectual act of analyzing the film – why? Why does he react with fear and distaste to Huston and contempt for Montgomery Clift?

Holland admires Persona, thinks it Bergman’s most brilliant film, but cannot enjoy it. Again, why? Why is the film’s childish, violent mingling of love and hate so threatening as to make the film unsatisfying to him and perhaps to many other viewers?

The French classic, Children of Paradise, deals with two very different actors’ ambitions for their art. How does it speak to Holland’s own feelings about the boundless ambitions of childhood and the subdues hopes of middle age and later?

Fluffy as Shakespeare in Love is, Holland delights in this film. But why does Shakespeare’s breakthrough in his art and in his love life appeal to a writer who once wanted to be a “creative writer,” but succeeded only in being a critic?

Holland first saw Fellini’s classic 8 1/2 when it appeared in 1963, and he disapproved of it as excessively autobiographical. Now, he has come to love the film. What changed? And what didn’t change? Holland finds he cannot follow what he takes to be the film’s advice abut live, yet now he enjoys the film immensely. Why?

Meeting Movies poses such questions again and again. As a professor of literature and film, Holland feels compelled to interpret. Yet, beneath and beyond his intellectualizing, a variety of half-conscious personal considerations and recurring themes color his feelings and hence his interpretations. And this, he claims, is true for all of us. The first command of the Oracle at Delphi could be the motto of this book – Know Thyself.

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