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AN EMPTY MOMENT OF SILENCE

An Open Letter to my rapacious fans.

Film Qua Film will forgo its planned discussion du cinema this month and I will not be writing anything so as to create "a moment of silence" on these e-pages. I am undertaking this unusual (and highly skill-intensive) writing technique as a way for me to deal emotionally with one of the greatest tragedies and its concomitant horror that this century has seen so far.

And that horror to which I am referring is, of course, our own Narcissism.

If you feel I mislead you in my opening salvo, I apologize. Obviously, I meant "one of the greatest tragedies and its concomitant horror that mankind has seen this century" not literally, "that this century has seen" because, strictly speaking, a century, unto itself, has no mechanism for seeing anything or any consciousness to interpret what it saw if it were able to figure out some clever way in which to see it. (And I put nothing past it!) You could say that I was anthropomorphizing it to achieve a poetic metaphor suggesting that the horror that I am discussing affects all of humanity. But in all honesty that wasn't my intent when I wrote the line; it just came out that way. Still, I like to think that Film Qua Film readers understand and have even come to expect me to use at least one of what "Captain Rudy's Two Writing Secrets For Writing, 1998 Edition" calls an "Anthrotransformative Open-Class Trope" per column. But, like I keep trying to say, I will not be writing a column this month. Because of Narcissism.

Working as closely as I do with the Entertainment Community, I am exposed to Hollywood's narcissism on an almost daily basis.

I was in the United States in 2001 when we had our own "Indian Ocean Tsunami" or, as the Entertainment Community is so fond of calling it, "9-11." The response of the American people that day was intense and immediate. 2,000 to 3,000 of them died. The civilized world's response was equal our own. In Paris, our mortal enemies, Le Monde's headline was "We Are All Americans!" An inaccessible dream for the poor Parisians but one of their few headlines that hasn't disparaged "Le George Bush." Incroyable!

But this more recent "Indian Ocean Tsunami" seems to be a lot bigger, right? So where is the 'round-the-clock coverage on network TV? Where is Bush standing atop a ruined mound of teepees with a bullhorn?

Everyone knew someone who, in some Kevin Bacon way, was associated with the "9-11" tragedy. But no one in my circle will admit to knowing where Sri Lanka is. "Sumatra? Forget about it! I'll let you know when it stops moving."

I can only think of two reasons for the different responses I am seeing. 9-11 involved some bad guys. People we could hold responsible. But when Nature acts out, when God is the culprit, we think it better to look the other way lest He smite us. And atheists haven't anyone to blame but themselves.

That could be one reason. But I fear the real reason for the difference in the responses is that ol' Hollywood-style narcissism of which I speak.

Hollywood didn't invent narcissism, but they perfected it, added CGI, Dolby Surround and made it a Special Edition DVD. If the tsunami occurs where there are no Neilsen families, it's a disaster, but it doesn't really matter. If my film can still open next weekend, I think the earthquake and its wake were a tragedy but, let's face it, they don't even speak English there.

Well, you go ahead, my friend, keep your Thursday table at the Ivy. I am compelled to do something.

First of all, as I stated at the beginning, there will be no Film Qua Film column this month; I am leaving the pages of my column blank, an "empty" gesture, as it were, to honor the victims of the Indian Ocean's vengeful surf. My column stands mute witness, While I, on the other hand, am heading for the tragedy-torn region, these topical tropics, if you will, to offer what hands-on help I can with my remaining hand. If Modern Mirth can't understand and I lose my cushy job here, so be it. I would hope, though, that I am not the only one on the staff with a heart large enough and hollow enough to contain the caring and the concern needed for such an enormous task.

Would you believe that even the official relief organizations that I have contacted on this quest were standoffish to me as if my idea about how to help these people was somehow "inappropriate" or something?

Some of the organizations, I was shocked to discover, don't even understand the situation at all. For example, I was told I could hop a free flight to the region if I traveled with a medical relief group. But when I got to the airfield, I was appalled to see that the group was "Doctors Without Borders."

That's the ugly side of narcissism.

But some of us, and by "some of us" I mean "me," are capable of thinking of others besides ourselves. I will be spending my own money (which I hope can be repaid by any supportive fans of Film Qua Film - make your checks out to cash and send them c/o Modern Mirth - but please make sure my name is prominent on the envelope this time.) and I will be traveling to the Tsunami Torn wasteland of Exotic and Beautiful South Asia. I am bringing with me my entire DVD collection of American Classic Films from the silents to the present. My collection includes such films as "Way Down East" and "Nanook of the North," "Singin' in the Rain" and "An American in Paris," "A Clockwork Orange" and "Showgirls, Director's Cut." Etc.

And with my Macrovision® defeating dual DVD burner I will be making copies of these films for all who want them, selling them only for my cost and a little extra for my time. (Come on, come after me, Jack-Valenti's-Successor! But I'll want a jury to hear my story! You won't win this time!) And into these poor foreign tribesmen's tragedy-filled lives, I will bring some sunshine.

When I am sad, when I'm feeling blue, nothing soothes me more than a great flick. I put in a comedy and I laugh. Even if something really bad has happened, I can laugh... A well-timed pratfall, Stan Laurel being hit in the head with a wrench, The Three Stooges -as prop dummies - being tossed out of a window with the most primitive of jump cuts substituting the real actors for the dummies just as they hit the pavement. No one has improved on those gags. I watch. I laugh. And for one tiny moment, my problems don't seem to be that bad.

And I know these copies of my collection will help these strange and wonderfully exotic peoples to "find their center" again. To have a moment when they, too, can be transported in their imagination far away from the smell of rotting ocean and organic material. Even if it is for only a tiny moment (and for such a tiny price -- far below retail.) As Joel McCrea says in that Preston Sturges classic "Sullivan's Travels," "It may not be much, but it's a heck of a lot in this cockeyed caravan."

Unfortunately, I don't actually own copy of "Sullivan's Travels." I keep looking for one on EBay but I keep losing. I'm always outbid by those damn bidding robot programs that automatically bid for people during the last seconds of an auction. But no matter how upset I get, I just toss one of my bootlegs into the DVD (usually "Star 80," unrated, or "Femme Fatale" (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays two women so it's like seeing two DIFFERENT naked women!) and soon everything is back in perspective and my problems don't seem so insurmountable after all.

And now I'm excited about sharing a little of that peace and hope with the Indians and the Asians.

NOTE: I will continue my column and let you know how everything worked out upon my return. Meanwhile, I have given Modern Mirth the column originally scheduled for this month: a delightful discussion of Film as Art vs. Film as a Medium using the film, "I, Robot" as a case study. They can publish it next month if I am delayed for any reason. I don't know when I am coming back. It makes me feel so good about myself just planning this mission of assistance and mercy! I can only imagine what joy I'll experience when I actually arrive at the devastation.

UPDATE 1/5: I am told that there is a problem with electricity and that few people in the region have DVD players or even ever had them. (What a treat this is sure to be for them, then!) I am not worried. I have complete faith that God will provide for me the same way He punished them.


Copyright ©2005 by Jeff Mandel

The title Film Qua Film and this article's contents are ©2004 and 2005 by Jeff Mandel however owing to a faulty printer or what the computer technician at A-OK Computers' customer support line referred to as "a low-ink situation," the title "Alms Ou Alma" is also ©2005 by Jeff Mandel as well as an incomprehensible article entitled: "Aii Cnpty Vievie..t ot Siie.vc." French director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet has optioned the title "Alms ou Alma" for his big "comeback" film to try to win back the respect of the French cineastes mistakenly believing it to be the poignant yet amusing tale of a young, spoiled, rich, girl, Alma, who wakes up as the beggar girl in a painting that used to hang above her bed. Kevin Thomas has hailed it as "The most French film Jeunet has ever made! Trois étoiles!" Jeff has yet to see a dime.

This copyright notice and the one above are also ©2005 by Jeff Mandel but you'll have to catch me first!