“Somebody told me that what I do is good because it tells people that it’s okay to be weird. I’ve been weird my entire life. I tried to be normal and it doesn’t work. I tried to be anything that I’m not and it doesn’t work.” – Sawyer Matheny
The person who I just quoted is a YouTuber I casually check on for his videos because I like what he says as he and his best friend ooze confidence and charisma and are more open about their lives. I’m not because I’m a coward and never been forthcoming and just camera shy. I also associate as myself as someone who is weird personally with because of various little knacks and this neuroticism I feature for the most random things. My mind does not think like others and my style and personality is not compatible with certain places and things and I always feel out of place with other people.
What does any of that have to with Chaplin and Tati, or Fellini and Hitchcock? Well…nothing. But, at least in my mind, everything. Why and how?
Well, the quote was said this year but these films were made decades ago, yet the quote might as well give some theme to the stories and its main characters. In an era of the jerk where people feel the need to be flagrantly rude instead of being there each other, to me, rewatching films about what it is like to be alone and be taken advantage of because you’re not “normal” is a reminder of what it means to really be human. It can be utilized as a tragedy or as a comedy. Social media did not exist back then and the best way to inspire life was through stories like this to stir human emotions and bring sparks of madness. My liking for various movies is because it filled a void in my life and had a relationship with me that being eccentric is okay.
As I write this stream-of-consciousness piece of something rather different within my personal/cinema psychology, I go back to the past with the first iconic characters we have seen. Chaplin’s The Tramp and Harold Lloyd’s “Glasses” qualify as weird figures, one who rebels against the norms of society and another who takes himself too seriously in order to succeed in life. Conformity is not part of their ideology and neither have I been part of conformity but it has come at a social price. Movies, along with the creativity that comes out of it, is collected from the weird, the non-conforming, the livers of mild/wild hearts.
I will start with the eccentric Jacques Tati who also created the famous, memorable Monsieur Hulot. He is probably my favorite slapstick, oddball character because of his throwback to a more silent stance in comedy made in a closely more contemporary style. Hulot is a tall, lumbering figure with his large overcoat, trousers too short, striped socks, and old-school pipe who uses physicality and modernity to showcase the singularity and the ridiculousness of a changing world. The expansive use of technology for every little thing and its malfunctions are played out so extensively that it requires a long stare to capture everything. He’s a man with no formal job (he is a car designer in Trafic but what did he do before that), no formal home (he lives in an old stone building in old Paris in Mon Oncle), and no specific origin or first name – just Hulot. He rarely speaks and when he does it is distant and he gets into conflict with the new world on holiday or on the job.
I relate personally because I am usually behind the curb on social media; I have a vacated Instagram account from 4 years ago because it’s too much social media and I reluctantly joined Facebook and Twitter. And the YouTube personality was not known to me until late 2016 when they’ve been around since YouTube inception. Music? It’s through one ear and out the other for me because my tastes are old-fashioned and the news of upcoming movies is a little late to me because I’m focused on the classics. Plus, I like physical Blu-Rays than digital films (because of my growing eye strain) and champion celluloid over digital film. Hulot is a man still trying to adjust in the consumerist life after the war from the 50s through the 70s and I’m a millennial who prefers some traditional things.
Let me use another character but from a single movie as an example; La Strada from the great Federico Fellini featuring his wife, Giulietta Masina, as the credulous, naive woman, Gelsomina, who is sold by her mother to be the clown for a street performer, Zampano. Zampano previously had Gelsomina’s sister as the clown who has died; we don’t know of what. But Gelsomina goes into the job with enthusiasm and soon finds Zampano as cruel and abusive who demands his playful new clown to be obedient and perfect in performing the way she should. After taking the abuse, she runs away and finds another performer, the Fool, a man with the same zest for life as Gelsomina who interferes with Zampano’s business. The final result is two deaths: one of a person, and the other of the spirit. It is a downer of an ending and a fable to what can happen when the brute comes out on top, then realize the damage he has done.
Gelsomina is still young at heart and can only question the difficulties he is having with such a credulous woman. “Why do you want me?” Gelsomina asks Zampano. She is not musically talented even though she plays the drum and trumpet for the audience and she is not necessarily attractive. Zampano is a jerk, like many that are out there, who use their time to intimidate the more lively but vulnerable Gelsomina. But Gelsomina is not one who will fall in line and is not intimidated very much. But for her to witness tragedy after hearing it about her sister, it is a double death that emotionally blunts her. Her weirdness (and the Fool’s) was worth to enforce emotional and physical blunt force trauma. You hate Zampano, but you do feel emotional about the final scene of him on the beach, drunk, and realizing how his actions are cowardly and explanatory of him being worthless and alone. And to Fellini, it was his world starting to leak from his mind, one that led to a breakdown mentally during the shoot and almost never finished it.
Here’s another example but with a more upbeat manner and ending. Peter Sellers was known for his colorful, strange characters and may have given his best performance towards the end of his life with Being There. It is a dramedy about chance and a man named Chance, a simple-minded, one-dimensional figure who is forced out into the open from his bubbled home in middle age. His old-fashioned, courtly behavior is not fitted with 1979, but chance has him a run into a wealthy businessman and advisor to the President of the United States. Chance, or “Chauncey” as they misheard him, gives his own advice though gardening tips, which is interpreted as legitimate and metaphorical. The miscommunication of his personality and ways leads to funny gags that make things more human and, in the end, gives us a simple explanation of what is life: “Life is a state of mind.”
This movie is a satire on the politics of the times and the anxieties the country fashed with our culture, “innocence, cynicism, and limitless credulity,” as written by Mark Harris. It is very much like today thanks to social media, just like the expansion of the television image that beams into homes all over. “I like to watch,” Chance says in a noted scene with Shirley MacLaine, and we like to watch the walking car crashes people can on TV and social media. There is no tone in his voice at all and voice means everything now in a presentation. Chance’s chance encounter is like real life where all you need to move onward with the gracious support of others. By the end, the viewer may take a piece from it and find ourselves more enlightened and care for those who we may encounter.
So, back to the quote that I started this piece with Sawyer, the YouTuber: what does that have to do with these characters and films referenced? Again, nothing, yet, as it was important to him and his feelings of being weird, it can relate to others who watch just like how these films related to me and inspired me to live, to keep going, take risks, and never change your ways. It’s okay to be weird and different because that is what life is about, especially when it comes to self-expression and helping others in our own way. It is one of the reasons I adored The Shape of Water and why it was my favorite film of 2017 (I will defend its honor and not let be the “fish banging movie”). Amelie is an enriching tale about helping others through astonishing ways, even with the odd curiosities of the titular character, while directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles were larger than life men who created fluid stories and colorful, real characters to perfection and added flair in their self-promotion within the filmography.
With all of this, it examines life as beautiful even in scenes of ugliness and, even in black & white and in another language, these movies are influential in the heart and soul of being a human in general regardless of age, setting, and personality. Being weird is living in a positive state of mind.
Follow me on Twitter: @BrianSusbielles (Cine-A-Man)