by Teresa Leggard
Awards show season, which I didn't even know was a “season” just a few years ago, is quickly becoming one of my favorite times of year. I think it’s because I love movies now more than ever. I could rationalize my growing affinity for film with this equation: sad times in the real world = need for escape. But it feels more like a second childhood kind of thing to me, or a first childhood—depending.
From what I remember and what I've been told, I was a pretty serious kid. Not quite the Annie Hall flashback where a young Alvie Singer was distraught that the universe was expanding, but I was far from the carefree, imagination-runs-wild, believes-in-fairies type. Deemed “mature for my age,” I thought practically about things. So movies, often being the vehicles for fantasy and imagination that they were, didn't do a whole lot for me. Sure I could enjoy them, but always I was painfully aware that the things I saw were not only make believe but also highly improbable, especially for me. Animated features (cartoons in general) were my favorite kind of movies, and the least problematic, because there was no teasing. An illustration with motion and voice-over was still just a drawing. No one was trying to convince me it was real.
As an adult, I’m not so sure that the countless grown-ups who complimented my “maturity” didn’t actually do me a disservice. Perhaps it was just to placate a plump young girl with smarts, “she has to dress in big girl clothes,” they thought, “we can at least tell her she’s advanced.” But when, as a child, a grown-up says a good thing about you, you tend to keep doing that thing. So in attempts to continue being mature, I forfeited a lot of childhood things: whimsy, daydreams, risks… I didn’t ask for what I wanted; I didn’t strive to get anyone’s attention; I didn’t act out. Which is to say, I didn’t act. Oh, but I loved it! Being on stage, speaking before an audience and eliciting a response, the practice-practice-practice before a production. Thrilling! But it wasn’t practical. Getting good grades, helping out around the house, getting a job when I was old enough, that was “mature.”
Those decisions served me well, I must admit. I graduated, earned degrees, got a good job—all the accouterment of a typical, “successful” adult. But here, at this place of stability where there’s nothing left to do but work, pay bills, wash, rinse and repeat, I want nothing more than for an unknown entity to pop up on my laptop monitor and tell me to follow the white rabbit. I’m learning now that imagination begets creativity, and fantasy is just the dramatic highs and lows of real life emotion cloaked in special effects. Children don’t need help with this, but adults do. That’s why we need the movies.
Awards shows give us a glimpse into the very real world of professional make-believe. I can watch people be celebrated for choosing to live their dreams and create fantasies. I know for every actor, director, screenwriter, etc. that makes it to an awards show there are thousands who don’t. Everyone, actors especially, seems to be acutely aware that they have one of the best jobs in the world. Hyperbole notwithstanding, I’d have to agree. They play, become different people, and acquire new skills along the way. (The checks don’t hurt, either.) I once heard an actor refer to the profession as “advanced pretend.” I loved that.
When I watch a movie, I actively try to disappear into the camera lens. The analysis comes later of course, but I’m happy to believe whatever I’m told for that hour and fifty minutes or so. I’ll go through the wilderness to return a ring or walk west to deliver a book or grow up with a first generation Indian American boy who doesn't realize his father’s efforts until it is too late to say thank you. I am enamored with these stories and thankful there’s an industry that brings them to life. It takes gall and a bit of selfishness to spend your life in a “want” field. From a bare bones perspective, people may not need movies or TV to survive, and at a time when so many are struggling I sometimes chastise myself for not having a more practical skill. I’m a writer—I can’t build anything; I don’t know how to heal people or grow food. While those skills are vital to existence, stories are vital to life. So maybe it’s not a “want” industry. Maybe we need movies more than we know.