Last week, I said that probably reading is more immediate to most of our readers, than any other art form.
A close second to reading would be video and films. This week, I'd like to share with you my views of a pair of films which are readily available for your enjoyment.
Before starting right in with them, however, I would like to share with you a promise of something which will be available across our nation, in January, which very much involves our part of the world.
Richard Gere and Laura Linney play ex-lovers who risk bringing about the execution of a prisoner by allowing their relationship to enter into their jobs as prosecutor and attorney.
The Public Broadcasting System has created a documentary program about Chautauqua Institution. They have titled it ''Chautauqua: An American Narrative.''
I recently was invited to a preview of the film at WNED, at their station, in Buffalo. The film is beautiful, and many people who are well known in our area are interviewed, along with beautifully photographed images of places in Chautauqua which are readily recognizable.
The film has already been shown by the Institution at private occasions. A Chautauqua official who was present at Buffalo assured me that there will be a local showing, sponsored by Chautauqua, as the date of the public broadcast draws closer.
Since each PBS station is an independent operation, each may choose to show the program on the date and at the time of their choice, so it isn't possible to tell you now, when you will be able to see it, but as soon as Chautauqua sets up the date, time and place of their showing, and as soon as WNED firms up their January schedule, we'll let you know, so you can see it - in public, or on your home screen.
In the meanwhile, you have the time to inform friends and relatives who may have never seen Chautauqua, or who may have fond memories of the place, to make a special effort to check for the time of broadcast in their area.
That said, let's ''go to the movies.''
LEAVES OF GRASS
I was looking at a list of new films and videos, which have arrived within the past month at the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, most of which are located at the James Prendergast Library, in Jamestown.
I was surprised to see the title ''Leaves of Grass.'' My first thought was that it was either an educational film about Walt Whitman's famed collection of poetry, or else that it was your standard issue moronic stoner movie, filled with bathroom jokes and vomiting, which seemed inappropriate for a public library.
But I took the time to examine the cast list, which included Edward Norton, Susan Sarandon, and the lovely Keri Russell, who became well known as the title character in the television series ''Felicity.'' That convinced me to sign the film out and watch it.
Now, I'm glad I did, and I'm recommending it to you. I'm afraid that it does concern the cultivation of marijuana, and that Ms. Sarandon's role is brief and not of great importance to the film, but it does deal with cultural conflicts, family relationships, and it deals very much with the real world, in a realistic manner.
I've long felt conflicted about Norton as an actor. I've seen him do some wonderful performances, especially as the Nazi-influenced protagonist of ''American History X.''
I've never met the man, so it might well be only a projection of my own values onto him, rather than any fault of his, but I have often gotten a feeling of smugness and of his being impressed with himself from watching him on the screen. I've come away from performances of his, feeling that he considered himself superior to the character he was portraying. Now in his 40s, he is reasonably good looking, if not movie star handsome, and he seems younger and more physically slight than he actually is.
Here, Norton portrays both members of a set of identical twins: Bill and Brady Kincaid. We meet Bill first, watching him teach a class on obscure ancient Greek philosophy, to a class of clearly brilliant students who hang on his every word. We quickly learn that he is on the faculty of Brown University, an Ivy League Institution in Rhode Island, and that he appears on the covers of a number of magazines and is being courted by Harvard, who is offering him the opportunity to design his own courses and set his own schedule.
Then, we meet Brady. He is just as smart as his twin, but has remained in their home town, in Southeastern Oklahoma, and has put his gifts to work on growing and marketing the highest imaginable grade of illegal marijuana. The combining of two different images within the same frame of film has become vastly better since the days when Hayley Mills starred in ''The Parent Trap.''
To build his scientifically brilliant business, Brady has borrowed large sums of money from a big city criminal. One of the outstanding lines from the film is ''Well, you just don't go into your local bank and say you need a couple of hundred thousand dollars to grow some hydroponic marijuana.''
Brady is having trouble keeping up with his payments, and the loan shark is wanting him to begin marketing crystal meth and similarly destructive drugs, to raise the money to pay him back. Brady's morals won't allow him to be a party to that, and he begins to believe that he will have to go to the city and reach a new agreement with his creditor.
Sensing that things could go wrong at that confrontation, Brady decides to lure Bill back to their home town. Bill left town in his teens and has never returned, and his brother thinks that if people see Bill around, they will think that Brady has been in town, providing him an alibi, if something goes wrong in the big city.
Bill receives a phone call, alerting him that Brady has been murdered. He catches the next plane for Oklahoma, only to learn the Brady is fine, but has plans for his Ivy League twin.
All of that could fit into pretty much any stoner film. What doesn't fit is that Bill begins to confront the things about his family and his youth, from which he has fled, and to recognize in himself the cultural snobbery which makes him believe that although he has lost his Goober accent and didn't choose to cover his arms and torso with primitive tattoos, and he now lives in an expensive condo, that, in itself, is not a proof of his superiority.
The twin idea gives us the possibility to see essentially the exact same person, separated only by a different set of choices, made in late childhood, calling their different circumstances into sharp relief. In dumb comedies, people fall off the roof of a twelve-story building and end up limping around with a leg in a cast, or some such injury. In this film, people who do foolish things end up suffering for it in major, believable ways. As in real life, sometimes the innocent suffer, as much or more than the evil or the foolish.
Russell appears as a high school English teacher in the twins' home town, who writes her own poetry and illustrates her conversations with quotations from classic poets, including Walt Whitman. Her ''Leaves of Grass'' are very different from Brady's.
Tim Blake Nelson was the screenwriter, and the director of the film. He also appears as Brady's loyal sidekick, a man with no intellect, but a genuine and highly respectable intelligence.
Sarandon portrays the twins' mother, a burned-out hippie whose husband decided that death in Vietnam was better than coming home to his family and watching his life slowly drain away, with no point. Her loss of her youthful idealism has left her an empty shell, unable to help her sons nor to participate in day to day life.
Bill's confrontation with the need to apply the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato to very real life, elevates the film. It isn't ''Citizen Kane,'' but it isn't ''Pineapple Express,'' either. There is much to be learned.
Having enjoyed Norton's performance in the first film, I decided to search the library's film department for other of his performances. I quickly found ''Primal Fear,'' the 1996 thriller which was the performance which established his career. He won a Golden Globe for his performance, and was nominated for an Oscar as ''Best Supporting Actor.''
The star of the film is Richard Gere. I wonder what it is about Gere that makes him so believable, when portraying a person who is bright and successful, but little troubled by morals. He's done it many times.
In this film, Gere plays Martin Vail, a wealthy and high profile attorney who has achieved his success by getting his clients acquitted, even when the evidence against them is overwhelming.
The setting is Chicago, in the modern day. Near the beginning of the film, the city's Roman Catholic archbishop is brutally murdered. We see only the first blow being struck, and we only see a hand, holding a knife. By the time the police arrive, the archbishop has been stabbed more than 70 times - off camera - his eyes have been gouged out, and other such horrors.
Soon the police are in pursuit of a teenage boy who is fleeing the scene, his clothes and hair drenched in the archbishop's blood. The boy is soon apprehended and the slimy politician district attorney is demanding the death penalty. He craftily assigns a successful young prosecutor from his staff, reasoning that she will probably succeed, which will win him much credit, but if she fails to convict, he can fire her, and avoid most of the blame, himself.
The defendant is portrayed by Norton, then in his late 20s, believably playing a teen.
Although he gives interviews in which he claims that it isn't his job to care whether his clients are guilty or innocent, only to give them the best defense possible, Vail is soon convinced, contradicting his own public policies, that the rather simple, stammering altar boy wasn't capable of any murder, let alone such a brutal act.
The investigation turns up surprise after surprise. Vail learns that the slimy district attorney - who is brilliantly portrayed by Frasier Crane's father, John Mahoney, with the perfect blend of political power and moral weakness - has lost a great deal of money in a crooked real estate deal which was scotched by the archbishop.
This sends him down a number of paths, seeking others who had motives to hate the archbishop, while his shy, young client seems to have no motive. The number of people working hard to stop him from succeeding grows at a fast clip.
The give and take is colored by the fact that Gere's character and the prosecuting attorney, effectively played by Laura Linney, are former lovers, who both still feel some of the old spark.
Based on a novel by the same name, written by William Diehl, ''Primal Fear'' is effective because the characters are so real. Vail really believes his client is innocent, but he wants to win, even if he isn't. The prosecutor believes the boy is guilty, but she wants to show up the lover who dumped her, even if it means sending an innocent boy to death row. The boy is so meek and seemingly innocent, we want to buy his attorney's verdict outright, but there are a few things about him which don't check out.
Again, it isn't ''Hamlet,'' but it's both entertaining and intellectually challenging.
I enjoyed both films. I recommend them both to you. You can obtain them through any library in the two-county system.
Fans of 1970s rock group Fleetwood Mac will want to get to the Lancaster Opera House on Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m., to hear Fleetwood Mix, a tribute band from Toronto which will perform the original group's greatest hits, including some of the solo hits by the group's singer, Stevie Nicks.
The theater is located on the second floor of the Lancaster Town Hall, which is located at 21 Central Ave. in Lancaster. All tickets are $20.
Purchase them by phone at 683-1776, or by computer at www.LancOpera.org.