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Willis Blandings

Our Satellite Dish

We got our satellite dish four years ago. Before that we got two channels, Fox and NBC. NBC we barely got. Every night we watched reruns of The Simpsons and Seinfeld and then Melrose Place, which we grew to like. We had nicknames for each of the characters, Chipmunk and Horsey and so on.

Then we got the satellite dish. We now get a food channel, a house channel, a British channel, a third world channel, a Canadian channel, and so on. We get several movie channels and as a result I am now often watching movies--something I never did before because I do not like the feeling of sticky tile under my shoes.

Here are some things I have learned about movies. The story happens in three acts. The first act is 25 minutes, the second act is 60 minutes, and the third act is 25 minutes. In Act One you meet the people and are misled about one of them. Act One ends with a child being hit by a bus.

In Act Two, people get to work, and a lot of complications happen. Chief among the complications are Love, Disappointment, the Arrival of Spring, and the Accompanying Renewal of Hope. Hope is the ground where Pain grows. A beloved grandparent dies. Then Act Two ends with a surprising disaster.

Act Three begins with a thoughtful period. Some premises are reconsidered. Some alliances are questioned. There is then a plan (only partly revealed) and a firefight, and a showdown, and then happiness and the end of the movie.

If there is going to be any nudity in the movie, then there will be some nudity in Act One. No matter how much nudity there is, there is not going to be any nudity in Act Three.

If you cannot see the actor's face in the nude scene, then you are looking at someone else's body parts. Obviously, there is a specialization within the movie business of people who have, say, a butt that looks like it might be Michael Douglass's butt, etc.

The best movie ever made is The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It ends with Gene Hackman sitting on a chair playing a saxophone in an apartment with the plaster knocked off the walls. To know the perfection of this ending, you have to watch the movie.

This is how a movie should be understood: the purpose of Acts One and Two is to give sense to Act Three, and the purpose of Act Three is to make you thankful that you are alive.

The second best movie ever made is Blow Out, directed by Brian De Palma.

The best movie soundtrack is the soundtrack to Deep Red, a horror movie directed by Dario Argento. The best smile in a movie, ever, is the smile of Rebecca Pidgeon when she is stepping into the paddy wagon at the end of The Spanish Prisoner. The most convincing karaoke performance in a movie is the one done by Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend's Wedding.

It is important that a movie give us what we expect, but not as we expect it. An example of a movie that gives us what we expect as we expect it is Twister. All of the elements of an exciting movie are present there, yet the movie does not excite because you are never distracted from your observation that a Story is Developing.

For a movie to succeed, it must distract you from the fact that a Story is Developing. A strategy often resorted to, to this end, is breast exposure. This is why breasts are often exposed in Act One.

In Twister, Helen Hunt's breasts were never exposed, even though she wore a mere white tank top into the twister.

An example of a thing placed in Act One to distract the viewer from the fact that a Story is Developing is the office in Being John Malkovich where everyone has to walk hunched because the ceiling is low. This has nothing to do with anything, and we marvel at it somewhat. Being John Malkovich then proceeds to give us what we expect, which is also what we desire.

There is no "Worst Movie Ever Made," because the worse movies are, the more they cause us to reflect on what it is we like about movies. This in turn is pleasant, and satisfies. Signs, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is disappointing because a green alien appears in the next-to-last scene. Gosford Park is disappointing because the Act Three that is in the movie is not the Act Three for which Acts One and Two have prepared us. In Memento, the sequence of events is messed up for no good reason.

There are two ways to make a better movie than has been made. One is to follow the rules of movie-making more subtly than has been done before. The other is to break a rule. It is probably necessary, or at any rate it is unavoidable, for many movies to fail, in the effort to make a better movie. It is worth sitting through a great many bad movies to have the pleasure of seeing a good one.


Willis Blandings is working with Universal on a new project scheduled for 2004.

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