Those readers who have gained some experience in life, may remember when commercial movies were made by people.
Younger readers may only remember films which were put together by corporations, where the thinking tends to revolve around ideas such as ''Teenagers buy more tickets to movies than any other age group, and they tend to enjoy violence, loud music, and fast movement, so we will fill every film with those things .''
Many have been the days, in recent years, when I have hopefully looked up the ads for the movie theaters, hoping for a pleasant night out, only to learn that a night ''in'' holds promise of more enjoyment and stimulation.
Actors Natalie Portman (l) and Winona Ryder portray a young dancer who has just captured a major role away from an aging dancer whose career is now doomed in the successful film “Black Swan.'
I originally had a totally different plan for this week's column, but when I picked up the newspaper and learned that two really good contemporary films - both exceptions to the corporate curse - would be opening in Jamestown, last weekend, I just had to share a word about both of them, with you. If you're lucky, you may still have time to catch one or both of them. If not, you can watch for alternative film venues, including the Fredonia Opera House, the Reg Lenna Civic Center, and the Chautauqua Cinema. Failing that, the possibility of buying or renting them on disk or through download is still available.
If nothing else, you could teach the filmmakers that there are reasons besides amusing the masses to make really good films. I hope you'll agree.
We have an unusually large number of ''Winks'' this week, so I'll try to keep the film examinations short.
THE KING'S SPEECH
Almost everything in the film ''The King's Speech'' actually happened. The film is based on the life of England's King George VI, who was the father of Elizabeth II, the present-day Queen of that country, and of her younger sister, Princess Margaret.
Both women appear as characters in the film, although they are shown as young girls. I've read a number of analyses of the film by historians, who say that the largest error of fact is that everything appears to happen within a few days, while the events the film portrays actually took nearly 20 years.
Since few filmgoers have 20 years to watch a film, it seems reasonable that they have limited events to their major influences, and pushed them together into just over two hours.
Surely most people are aware that today's Queen's grandfather died, and left his crown to his oldest son, Edward VIII. Had Edward been more responsible and less of a romantic, he would have married an acceptable woman and produced children, and they would be on the throne now, rather than Elizabeth.
The King of England is, by law, also the head of the Church of England, and in the late 1930s, when the film takes place, that church did not allow a couple, once married, to divorce. King Edward fell in love with an American woman, Wallis Simpson, who at the time was married to her second husband, and was on her way to her second divorce. The Church and the government of England assured Edward that they would not allow him to be king if he married a divorced woman, so he resigned his crown, telling a radio audience that he did so ''for the woman he loved.''
Women around the world, stupified by men who wouldn't give up one game of Monday Night Football for them, gave an enormous sigh, at a man who would give up a crown for a woman, and raised the former king to the rank of hero. Until his death in 1972, Edward and his divorcee bride were feted at American cocktail parties as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
This meant that the second son of the family was now in line to the throne. Called then Prince Albert, he had made a career in the navy, and had virtually no training in the duties of king. Raised by servants, with parents who saw him only on occasion, at the most, the prince was painfully shy, was distrustful of everyone, and had no friend in whom he could confide anything, except his wife. You may remember that wife as the Queen Mother, who died at the age of 101, in 2002. It is she, for whom Canada's Q.E.W. is named, and not her daughter.
Worst of all, the prince had developed such a serious stammer that he could barely say a sentence, yet he had a job where the principal duty was to make speeches. Many people were convinced that a king who couldn't inspire and comfort his people had no business being king.
The film shows how the prince found an Australian speech teacher, who was able to train him to master his difficulties, largely by teaching him to respect himself, and how that enabled him to help support his subjects through the horrors of World War II.
Colin Firth does a masterful job of showing the contradictions of a man used to living in palaces and inspiring bowing and curtseys wherever he went, yet tortured by the fear and lack of self-respect, driven deeply into his personality by the people who had surrounded him, all his life.
Geoffrey Rush was believable and winning, as the teacher, who insisted on calling the king ''Bertie'' and who stated always that if his student, however rich or powerful, didn't follow his lessons, he would never learn them. Our modern education system would have that man delivering pizza for a living, in a matter of days.
Helena Bonham Carter, who in recent years has developed a habit of playing spaced-out, kookie women, made the former queen into a person of dignity and a worthy match to a king.
Probably the greatest irony of the film is watching the future king's stuffy doctors, convince him that smoking cigarettes would relax his throat and improve his speech, because now we know the man died of cancer, due to that smoking, at age 56.
When my wife and I lived in England, briefly, in 1974, people in general still remembered George and his wife, for the courage and the leadership they provided in a day when German bombs struck their country every day and it looked as though jack-booted invaders might arrive at any moment. Today, they'd be mocking his stammer on Saturday Night Live and ambitious politicians would be plotting his overthrow. It's a film which offers us much to learn.
An actor, a dancer, a singer, and other participants in the performing arts, must do far more than pretend to be something they are not.
They must convince themselves and the audiences who watch them, that they are gruesome murderers or magic sorcerers or fearless heroes, and they must change back and forth in their realities, day after day, for many decades. It is not surprising that many such performers, occasionally get a bit confused about which of their realities is true.
''The Black Swan'' is a film about a young ballet dancer, who dances so skillfully that she is cast for the leading role in the classic ballet ''Swan Lake.'' But, the dancer in that role must play not one role, but two. She must be both the noble and good white swan, and the lustful black swan, who lures men to their destruction.
Nina is a very young dancer, hoping for a great career. In dance, women, in particular, who are going to have world class careers must already be world class dancers before they are 20. If they are still dancing at 40, they are ahead of the majority of their comrades.
Nina is chosen by a famous choreographer who is famed for creating great dancers, but for doing it by any means necessary, however cruel or inappropriate. The choreographer finds her pure technique to be perfect for the white swan, but he wants her to abandon technique and become seductive and ruthless for the black part of the role.
Nina lives the life of a little girl, sleeping in a room with pink-flowered wallpaper and stacked high with fluffy, stuffed animals. Her mother is loving, but controlling, and constantly reminds her that she needed to give up her own dancing career because she had become pregnant with Nina.
Nina scratches her own skin, and picks at the skin around her fingernails, in addition to the blisters, torn toenails, and other tortures which are suffered by dancers. She witnesses how the dancer who danced her role in the previous season, has been pushed into retirement and forgotten, although she is still a young woman, and she understands that the other women in the company envy her elevation and might be capable of sabotaging her in any number of ways. Winona Ryder gives an impressive performance as the discarded star.
A new young dancer who is sensuous and earthy joins the company, who embodies the black swan as well as Nina embodies the white one. Is this new woman a newly-hired dancer, or is she the part of Nina's mind she is trying to dig out of her own subconscious. Most of the film describes the gradual deterioration of Nina's mind as she deals with all the pressures of her life.
The film has fine acting from Natalie Portman as Nina, and television actress Mila Kunis as Lily, the possibly imaginary black swan. French actor Vincent Cassell is suitably both attractive and repulsive as the choreographer who seems to bear many of the personality traits of the great George Balanchine.
Barbara Hershey gives us the smothering mother from Hell. Benjamin Millepied, a star dancer and choreographer from New York City Ballet has choreographed a very Freudian version of ''Swan Lake'' for the film, and dances the leading male role, successfully making the leading actresses seem to be dancing with professional aplomb.
Since he and Portman have announced their engagement and a baby on the way, art seems to have imitated life on the set of this film.
You won't like ''Black Swan'' if you like to have everything spelled out for you. If you like a plot which has endless possibilities, as does real life, it's well worth your while to see.
The past week has been one of great tragedy in the arts, having seen the loss of four significant figures, from a local giant to internationally celebrated actors and directors:
The Critical Eye mourns the loss of John Blackman, who has been a highlight of the local arts scenes since emerging from the public schools. He is remembered as an actor, whose roles included the title role in Andrew Lloyd Weber's ''Jesus Christ, Superstar.'' He is remembered as a puppeteer, a mime, a director of professional and scholastic performances, an arts administrator, a dedicated board member, and much more.
The American theatrical scene is much diminished by the loss of most of the great repertory companies, which once taught their audiences the very internal workings of the theater itself. The tradition of established companies in which the same actors create varied and challenging characters, week after week, taught many of us to distinguish what parts of a great performance came from the words of the playwright and what parts came from the interpretive skill of a great actor.
The audience learns to know and value the individual qualities of the actors, and often comes to think of them as personal friends, even if we have never seen them without costumes and makeup.
The repertory tradition continues in Canada, which makes the actors of the Shaw and Stratford Festivals so important to those of us who see them perform, in role after role.
The Shaw Festival has recently announced the death of actor Al Kozlik, who died Jan. 11. Kozlik had a major role in ''The Cherry Orchard,'' in the just-completed season, and also played in ''Saint Joan,'' ''Man and Superman,'' ''Camille,'' and dozens of other soul-touching productions.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has announced the death of Peter Donaldson, who had already been announced to begin his 25th season in a few weeks, on Festival Stages, in ''Richard III,'' and ''Titus Andronicus.'' His past performances in ''King Lear,'' ''The Taming of the Shrew,'' and literally dozens of other principal roles, live in audience memories. His film performances in ''The Sweet Hereafter'' and ''Long Day's Journey Into Night'' were classic.
Finally, Stratford has announced the death of Michael Langham, whose gifts as an actor and stage director - great as they were - were overshadowed by his role as artistic director of Stratford, immediately after the retirement of its first artistic director, Tyrone Guthrie. He is noted as the man who inherited a summer show in a tent and moved it into some of the most remarkable theatrical buildings in North America.
It is a wonderful talent to create something like Stratford. It may possibly be even more challenging to take the new idea and to put it on the path to a long term survival, with a tradition of growth.
A tear is in order for each of these fine artists.