In art, I seek nostalgia. I like hazy pictures and moments on film that capture memories, I like words on a page that I can savor and feel. I used to, and still do to a lesser extent feel slightly ashamed of this, because art is not meant to be a beautiful portrayal of the past. At least, that’s not what I intend in my own art, and not what I know of any artist. A good provocateur does not intend to change the past, but enlighten the present, or inspire the future. However, there is something especially conquering about art that harnesses what we know, that requires the recipient to reflect upon their own memories. This art is striking and perhaps more effective, and though it is certainly not the best word for what I wish to express I call it nostalgia. Nostalgic films, nostalgic books, nostalgic materialism in the way that objects can and always will make me happy by their implied memories. This article is a celebration of nostalgic art in my favorite medium, film.
Stand By Me by Rob Reinier (based on the novella The Body by Stephen King)
Despite the original story’s author, this definitely isn’t horror: It’s the story of four twelve year old boys and rural Oregon, coping with their humanity, on an adventure. It’s so beautiful, and though this is mostly to King’s merit, each member of the ensemble cast is presented as an actual human being. The characters are well-rounded and complex, the acting is mostly superb, and the story is told from the current-day (’86, when the film was produced) perspective of the protagonist. It’s very emotionally wrenching, and does this without an especially dramatic plot. It becomes more and more introspective as the characters (and the viewer) get to know each other better. A good film for reflection on friendship, adolescence, childhood, etc. And the final scene is so well done–omg.
Super 8 by J.J. Abrams
Super 8 is a lot like Stand By Me. It has more comic relief, more characters, and a very different setting, but still–what we’re dealing with is the same. Young people forced to work together, be together. Given that this is the premise, the main difference is what is forcing the characters into this situation. For Stand By Me, it can basically be chalked up to their own childish curiosity, whereas for Super 8, it’s supernatural and extra-terrestrial and (seemingly) exceedingly adult–but the adults have a harder time dealing with it. The film is shot in two colors which is annoying.*
The Virgin Suicides by Sofia Coppola
Though its treatment of suicide and depression is perhaps unrealistic, this film has an artful combination of plot and environment. The characters, though we’re not at a perspective to really get to know any of them, lack some depth. But, this film is still highly nostalgic, the cinematography is delightful, and it has great use of music in the soundtrack. The film feels like a dream or a memory, and is delightfully melancholy. It’s not my favorite film, but I do recommend it.
The Bling Ring …also by Sofia Coppola
When asked why she consistently makes films about teenagers, Coppola 2.0 (as she will be referred to from this point on [hehe]) says “It’s a time when you’re just focused on thinking about things, you’re not distracted by your career, family […] I always like characters that are in the midst of a transition and trying to find their place in the world and their identity.”** This is true, and reflected in her films, especially The Bling Ring. While some characters are fairly simple, they grow over the course of the film. Also, it provides an interesting and realistic take on the “LA lifestyle,” portraying it in all of its loathsome and eccentric glory. The way the viewer experiences the story, through the narrator and yet from a very far-away perspective, is recurring in Coppola’s films and gives a unique nostalgic feeling to the art.
Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock
It’s weird to have to review Vertigo. Um, it’s good? The cinematography sets a standard for all of film? The character development is superb? Yeah. Everything you’ve heard is true, and due to the amazing imagery used throughout the film I no longer think of Muir Woods with such loath (ugh, nature.) I just want to sit at that sea-level bank next to the Golden Gate bridge forever. It took me a while to realize how much I liked Vertigo, but it was worth it. See it in a theatre and give yourself the gift of new eyes.
Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson (written by anderson and roman coppola!)
If you haven’t seen Moonrise Kingdom, I’m not judging, I’m just curious as to how you missed it. I’m running out of ideas, I guess, because this one’s a pretty obvious choice for a nostalgic theme–pubescents in the middle of nowhere, on an adventure. J.J. no doubt garnered some inspiration from Stand By Me. which is good, obviously, as that’s what nostalgia is all about. Anyway, the direction is very impressive, and though I admit it’s been a while since I saw this 2012 picture I do recall the juxtaposition of people and environment, how the characters so thoroughly contrasted New England architecture, ocean, and geologic formations. Scenes are tailored together very well, kids are treated with sympathy. Watch it, if you haven’t already.
**From Coppola 2.0’s interview with Tavi Gevinson via Rookie.