About Slow Movies 

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I just finished watching the 2003 Norwegian film Kitchen Stories (or, more correctly, Salmer fra kjøkkenet).

This film about a Swedish study of Norwegian bachelor habits zeroes in on an old hermit called Isak who repeatedly foils quiet researcher Folke's attempts to observe him from his high chair in the kitchen corner. From that premise, the friendship between the two men develops.

The ambiguous ending, however, sent me running for the internet. Never mind the spoilers (because this is a movie you should see if you like movies about unfolding friendships). What shocked me were the comments that this movie was "slow."


A friendship developing between two unlikely characters is slow? What, they were expected to hit it off from the first? To automatically become friends?

My best friend told me, years after we met, that when she first met me I was standoffish. I was shocked that anyone would mistake supershy me for some snob.

Our friendship didn't happen from our first meeting - admittedly, the gossip had her to be some crazy slut and I, a poor judge of character, had no idea what to believe. The cautious start to our friendship, begun when she approached me - a stranger! - with a problem she faced. And from that start, I've passed seven joyful years for having such a wonderful person in my life.

Watching a friendship unfold is not like watching creepy losers dealing drugs outside cornerstores or one-night stand who morphs into a bunny killer or whatever else the people criticizing this movie feel is relationship material. Real friendships simmer for a while; one friend helps the other, then the other returns the favour, there's a quiet celebration, and so on.

Then again, I think Emma is one of the greatest novels ever written: a novel about a girl who slowly develops a crush she can't even place until someone threatens to take it away and that crush turns into love. And The Ambassadors was a thrill as American naïveté fails, articulated thoroughly, when confronted with the seductive charms of Europe. As for Moby Dick, swoon! Each chapter, gloriously different from one another, drips with suspense until you finally get to that loveable whale (and that teasing start with Queequeg and Ishmael in bed).

Unlike my own fiction (going badly, by the way), these stories tell their protagonists' stories with enough detail to make them believable. This is advice given to amateur writers. Something along the lines that more detail - relevant detail, I may add - makes a character universal.

Or could it really be that I like slow stories? After all I defied Siskel and Ebert and found The Age of Innocence to move at a swift canter. Recently, too, I have managed to trudge my way through Dracula, another milestone in the literature of boredom.

Maybe now is the time to r-attempt Silas Marner, or to watch Kristin Lavransdatter again and not get drowsy. Or maybe I should re-watch Basic Instinct, the only movie I have ever fallen asleep while watching.

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If you haven't done so, you could always try reading In Search of Lost Time. In French. That's what I'm doing, to while away those long hours at work. (Except that lately there's been lots of work and no free time, unfortunately...)

I audited a class on it my senior year, and only made it through the first 200 pages or so (and read too fast, and didn't look enough words up), so now I'm starting it all over.

It doesn't get much slower than that.
Even I am not that masochistic.

Good for you, though.

Btw, a few years ago I bought a bunch of Ulysses analyses in anticipation of giving that mammoth another go. I had rather liked the three chapters of Ulysses that I got through.
I don't know...I've heard bad things about Ulysses, that it's just crazy and experimental for its own sake. Is it really worth the effort? Is it rewarding literature, or only rewarding in the sense of having accomplished something difficult and painful, like swallowing a car piece by piece?

Mind you, I've never read a word or even glimpsed so much as a copy of the book, but that's the impression I've gotten from hearing it discussed.

Proust, on the other hand, does actually have interesting and beautiful things to say. I read a reader's review on Amazon.fr that posited that the reason Proust was more popular abroad than in France was because in translation his interesting thoughts were freed from the tortuous grammar and page-long sentences. It was kind of a relief to hear a French reader say that, I'll admit.
Regarding Ulysses, I read the first couple of chapters and rather liked them. Then my roommate, who insisted I read Ulysses, was surprised that I liked it. He made me then read the chapter where things get really wild. I didn't find that part half bad either, just not sure if I completely got the gist.

Overall what I've read of Ulysses I liked better than A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I absolutely despised.

Whether Ulysses is worth the effort, or deserves the epithet of best book of the twentieth century I can't say, since I am still winding my way through enough literature to be able to have an opinion.

As for Proust, I am rather curious. My first boyfriend was French; I was always intimidated by his deluxe, multi-volume Proust editions.

Again, good for you for sticking to it. One day, we're going to have a cross-continent dinner party and you'll be my cool friend who spouts Proustian nuggets of brilliance.
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You mean that awesome, break-from-reality party with all your international friends at once? I so want that now, too. Somehow, I don't think you know any boring people. It would certainly be a blast.
I loved Kitchen Stories! I think about it when I'm walking around the kitchen.

The slowest movie we watched as of late was "Bed Knobs and Broomsticks" The directors cut. (Yes we are parents) It took forever and watching the mother from the Manchurian Candidate dancing around with the dad from Mary Poppins was just wrong.

The movie with the most ambivilent ending was Train Man: Densha Otoko. What was that last bit with the dropped name tag about?

Write on!

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