Thursday, September 8, 2011

Super Texts and Super Films

Time is one of those precious commodities that is easy to take for granted. Perhaps this is one of the great faults of our generation: the false notion that we have all the time in the world. We soon learn the ignorance of that statement. Indeed, the clock ticks life away.

Since time is limited and valuable, it goes without saying that how we spend our time is important. This even applies to the books and movies we give our time to. Steve Sample, former president of USC and author of The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, wrote in detail about the time we give to the books we read in a chapter entitled You Are What You Read. In the chapter he argues a rather obvious point: there are certain old books that will always be better than new books. This might be a shocking statement for a culture and generation that is fixated on the latest and greatest. The latest is certainly not always the greatest, especially in the realm of literature. Winston Churchill was once said, "There is a good saying to the effect that when a new book appears, one should read an old one." Sample agrees with Churchill and brought up what he believes are the classics or super texts that have stood the test of time. These include The Bible, The Iliad, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Plato's Republic, and Dante's Divine Comedy to name a few. Sample argued that these texts have stood the test of time and have thus defined life as we know it. Reading them is essential to our own personal development.

Another interesting concept that Sample brought up was that anytime we choose to read one book, we are also choosing to not read another. This can apply to newspapers, magazines and comic books. Time spent reading these forms of entertainment, is time not spent reading a super text. Sometimes choosing to "not read" a book or magazine is important especially if that means we free up our time to focus on something greater.

This applies aptly to movies as well. Now, I've seen my fair share of pointless, dumb movies. Sometimes you just need to kill two hours with something mind numbingly stupid. It feels good. But there is something to be said of the kind of movies we spend a majority of our time watching. Similarly, as with the super texts, there are also super films--those that have stood the test of time to become classics.

I've been experimenting for the past few summers by choosing a theme or genre of film that I will focus on watching. And thanks to Netflix, this has become extremely convienient. So far my list includes classic horror movies (that I started with my roommate in college), romantic comedies (I am married remember), best picture award winners, and most recently this summer, classic movies, especially ones starring Audrey Hepburn. As with the super texts that are unmatched in sheer greatness and originality, there are also timeless movies, super films that most modern day movies are based on. Call me old fashioned, but I love the simplicity of black and white movies, and how special effects don't get in the way of good acting. If you don't believe me, watch the emotion in Humphrey Bogart's eyes when he looks at the camera in Casablanca, or try and find a actress as timeless and elegant as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. You begin to see how these types of films are immortalized and will never lose relevance. They are the inspiration of present day directors, actors and screen writers.

Choosing to watch a particular movie or read a book means we are choosing to not read or watch another. We make these little choices every day. I challenged one of my students recently in this area. I told her that with every new movie she watches, to balance it out by watching an older film next. We can do the same with the books we read. Even in Christendom we can choose some of our own super texts to balance with new books. Try complementing your regular reading list with the works of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Luther, Wesley and others.

Sample is onto something here. I'm trying to use my time wisely. I hope to do so by choosing to spend more time with the super texts and super films this year. I guess I'm saying, to find inspiration, I'm going to be looking backwards, not forwards. I challenge you to do the same.

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