Monday, May 24, 2004

The K Scale

Instead of thumbs up or down, a five star system or a ten point scale, or even the SF Chronicle's "little man" whose posture indicates levels of approval, I am introducing a new system, the K Scale, for the evaluation of new movies.

This new scale is needed I believe because of the sheer awfulness of the vast majority of new movies that ruin the taste of perfectly good cardboard popcorn in 987-screen cineplexes throughout the land.

But more than that it's a highly personal scale. It reflects in part my maturation from a young curmudgeon, mortally offended by degradations upon the cultural potential, to my present state of practicality, and acceptance that demographics have passed me by, additionally leavened by mortality awareness.

So now I make no apologies for my personal taste, and my general priorities of don't waste my time, let alone my money.

I introduce the K Scale in time for the summer movie season. This is actually the time of year I am likely to see new films in the theatre. I know I should be more moved to see the wintry serious films but I find myself spectacularly uninterested in the emotional upheavals of younger Hungarians or the spiritual, sexual and shopping traumas of younger denizens of Manhattan, London or Beverly Hills. The operative words here are "younger" and "trauma." I figure I've paid my dues over the years in having my own emotions wrenched and wrung out for art, through two hours or more of seduction---getting to identify with or care about the characters-and abandonment, as awful things happen to them, with perhaps a couple of glib minutes of hopefulness at the end. Life is taxing enough, thanks.

Which doesn't send me to films of mindless violence either. Possibly due to some mental defect, I find violence disturbing rather than entertaining, even if only as it pushes the fight or flight button. I'd rather not go through that unnecessarily.

Not all action films are just violent. Some are just dull. For instance, the currently popular Kung Fu style fighting bores me to distraction. The fight sequence in the second Matrix film (which I saw only because the first was intriguing; I wasn't dope enough to see the third) only had me yearning for Fred Astaire. He could have done that sequence with so much more style, and with better music.

So the dramas are too draining, the comedies are mostly not funny (and whatever is funny I've seen in the TV promo) and the action pictures are largely without redeeming value. Add to these feelings my new preference for DVDs. In terms of pure viewing---the picture, the sound---they easily beat theatres for me. Plus I can pause, rewind, fast forward, repeat, and indulge in the textural extras and commentaries. All for prices much lower than I would pay for the privilege of sitting in badly proportioned seats behind an excessively tall person who talks throughout the film, my feet sticking to the floor, the picture so dim I can see through the letters in the titles, and the sound pitched to ear-splitting explosions and incomprehensible buzzes of dialogue.

Still, most of my viewing life came before videos, and I have strong affinities for the experience of the movie theatre. I've seen hundreds of films in theatres, including scores I've seen repeatedly. (Glancing through the lists of the ten best film comedies, thrillers, westerns, musicals, fantasies, histories, and dramas in The Book of Film Biographies, edited by Robin Morgan and George Perry, I note that while of course I don't agree with all the choices, I've seen them all except one-"Goodfellas", which I don't miss in the least.)

I also have a partner who likes to go out once in awhile. So once in awhile, and a bit more often in the summer, I'll see a first-run film when it opens. I've always liked science fiction, my favorite as a kid and still appealing if for additional reasons. Science fiction, comic book mythology, fantasy of a certain kind---that's where the new magic is. (Though the Tolkien films were often striking, they were more effect than substance, and the effect was less enchantment than special effects battlefield exhaustion. And I am definitely not interested in the strongest-survive, "fight evil with evil" war movies disguised as science fiction or fantasy.)

So there are a few films I want to see this summer. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban first and foremost-I think this is going to be a good one. I'll see "The Day After Tomorrow" somewhat for professional reasons, but I enjoyed "Independence Day" and found a lot to see and think about, even if I can't say I totally admire it. I was a big Spider-Man comic book fan, so I'll see that one. There are a couple more of that ilk. And of course we all await "Farenheit 911." All this is made easier by a Christmas gift of a movie pass card. Because now that I don't get in free as a reviewer or important art person, money is an object.

So fittingly enough, money is the basis of my K Scale. (What? You think I forgot?) In everyday terms, in our house we tend to rank upcoming films as "see at theatre," "never see until trapped on an airplane with it" or mostly "something to rent when it hits the $1 rack." My K Scale is an outgrowth of this method of thinking.

Instead of rating films based on how much I liked them, which is a sucker's game anyway because you have to see them first, I've decided to rate films I haven't seen by how much money I will require to be paid in order to go to a theatre opening weekend and see it. (I suppose this is also based on habits of mind derived from being a film reviewer, when I saw lots of films only because I was paid to write about them.)

Though the exact K Scale is still in development, here's the basic idea. I start with the smallest amount, say $20. Say there is a film I wouldn't mind seeing and sort of would like to see, like Shrek 2. (I enjoyed Shrek. I loved the Billy Crystal character, and the Harry Hausen in-jokes.) A total stranger could convince me to see it by handing me $20. Then again, I might see it anyway, if I simply wanted to go to a movie and it was playing, or my partner did, or some friends. (Though they are more likely to want to see some serious wintry film, and so I'll go... if it doesn't happen too often. )

After that, we get into serious application of the K Scale. Now we're talking about movies I wouldn't see unless I got paid to see them. (This amount, by the way, is in addition to a free ticket and a pre-paid tub of popcorn.)

So for current movies, the K Scale would be:

VON HELSING.........$30

This is a film I'll probably rent someday, since I'm mildly curious, and I can watch it on fast-forward. But for $30, I'll go to the theatre.


A film I am unlikely to see even on video unless I'm doing research on the Zena Era of Anachronistic History.


A worthy if not brilliant film I'm sure, but I just don't want to go through all that, thank you very much. But for $75, I'll see it.

And so on, up the scale until we get to the likes of:

KILL BILL (any number).... $10,000
That's what it will take to get me to see these films. The idea of going to see the decadent corruption of filmmaking talent wasted on hip shock and unrelenting cynical violence has no appeal, but $10,000 will soothe the pain, especially since I can contemplate it during the film, plus it will pay for some extra Dots and maybe one of those big Snickerdoodles.

I also apply the K Scale to individuals. For instance, I will go to a film with a cast that includes Ben Stiller or David Spade only for the price of $15,000. (For each film. If both are in it, I'll give you a break and take $25,000.)

Though I reserve the right to adjust the scale according to the continuing deterioration of film quality and the level, sanity and agenda of the general culture, I do have a top, or bottom, point of the scale so far. It is:

PASSION OF THE CHRIST....$50,000 (in advance, cash or cashier's check only.)

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