Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Empire Strikes Back and Irvin Kershner

For Proust, it's a tea-dipped Madeleine. For me, it's a theater full of faces bouncing light back at the screen.

All that is my conscious mind begins in 1982, with a South Carolina summer and a mop-top left just long enough to frustrate the eyes as it danced to the unpredictable rhythms of air-conditioning. The ice white of Hoth surrounded me (and nothing surrounds quite like the ice white of Hoth), warmed me, and welcomed me to what would turn out to be my lifelong passion: the cinematic experience. I knew I was alive. I stood on my mother's knee, turned around, and looked to see if those behind me knew, too. They did. For the first time in my very short life, I felt myself to be a part of everything, and not its center.

The Empire Strikes Back means more to me than any other movie, and movies mean more to me than most people. I could tell you why it means so much to me, but I have a feeling I don't have to. It means a lot to a lot of people, and a lot of people have bonded over their shared experience of it.

There continue to be people who are too embarrassed to like some of the things they like with any degree of pride or candor. They construct something of an apologia around the idea of the "guilty pleasure," or they attempt to grandfather their continued affection for something on nostalgic grounds. The worst of the lot crowd under a cloak of irony and hope the ever-marching throng of cultural elitists will lockstep on by. The Empire Strikes Back would seem, on its surface, to be the kind of movie a person might wish to disinherit, but it has done a better job of skirting this injustice than many of its spiritual and generic brethren. People aren't ashamed to admit to liking it--perhaps because it doesn't give them a reason to. The Empire Strikes Back is almost Beatles-like, in fact, in its ability to cause critics and commoners alike to sing its praises.

Whether or not it is--as some would claim--the greatest genre film of all time, it has become the standard hoisted by a unified front. Comedy, romance, and drama enthusiasts are locked in eternal dispute over which flag to fly, and I feel they are all the more directionless for it. Drama has its Citizen Kane, but so many argue so violently for the superiority of other dramas that its usefulness is forever compromised. Artists and audiences need a Blue Flower to strive for and fall short of, and The Empire Strikes Back is as good a one as I've ever encountered.

When Irvin Kershner is remembered, it will be primarily for his involvement with The Empire Strikes Back. Irvin Kershner is more than The Empire Strikes Back, of course, just as The Empire Strikes Back is more than Irvin Kershner. He directed other things. Of the things I've seen--The Flim-Flam Man, S*P*Y*S, RoboCop 2, Never Say Never Again, The Return of a Man Called Horse, the pilot episode of SeaQuest DSV, and his Amazing Stories episode, "Hell Toupee"--I doubt I could recommend half. I couldn't tell you with any honesty that anything about them stood out to me as characteristic beyond their being competently directed.

I can tell you loads, on the other hand, about Kershner's involvement with The Empire Strikes Back. I can tell you what shots and lines he fought for, where his hand is heaviest, and what decisions he regrets. I can tell you this because his movie made me care enough to research it, and because, despite my research, at times I believe I feel it. Yes, he and The Empire Strikes Back are more than one another. For me, however, neither would have existed without the other. I'm glad to have started my conscious life with them, and I'm glad that, as long as there are movies to get lost in, I can thank them for first showing me how to get lost.


msunyata said...

Superbly composed.

As always.

smurfthumper said...

Thanks. I had some trouble writing it, since I was concentrating on the man. Once I resolved to concentrate on the movie, it came.

I could go on and on and on (and, as you know, I have) about how much The Empire Strikes Back means to me. Somehow, I managed to keep it under 700 words.