Located on the corner of Libbie and Grove, a stone’s throw from University of Richmond, is a small movie theater that specializes in those movies with the sportingly exclusive subheading, “Coming soon to select theaters!” The Regal Cinemas Westhampton Cinema 2, or simply Westhampton, therefore has preliminary access to some of the artsiest, most ambitious, independent and least talked about movies to come through theaters in a typical film cycle. Contagion will not be showing. Neither will Daniel Craig’s new movie Dream House, or Moneyball, or Lion King in 3D.
Instead, it shows movies like Tree of Life, the massively philosophical latest film from Terrence Malick (which, because of its polarizing nature has actually garnered a good amount of discussion), or Buck the tender documentary of a genuine cowboy with an uncanny understanding of horses, or Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, before everybody was talking about it (for about five minutes). The two movies showing now, The Guard and Life, Above All, both promise to continue in the spirit of this season’s run, if only because Westhampton is showing them.
But to the new, unsuspecting patrons of Westhampton, those who just want to see a quirky movie on a Sunday afternoon, some of these films may seem to have ignored the standard boundaries of the medium and aspired to something more, something different, something unnerving. Such movies, despite the trappings of cinema, are themselves literary, and should be approached, analyzed and even read as such.
This isn’t the typical movie critic’s way of looking at a movie either. This ignores the rather insubstantial “good” or “bad” judgment, but rather focuses on the movie’s thematic (or literary) elements, from the grandest, most obviously intentional symbols, to the smallest, quite possibly subconscious details, and after observing, or reading the movie, hopes to derive from it a literary understanding of the world: A reflection of the “human condition” beyond the surface actions of the story’s players.
Such readings can come from any movie, not just the ones shown at Westhampton, and it certainly doesn’t exclude those like Transformers 3. Learning to read movies in this way makes Rotten Tomatoes seem irrelevant and overstated, because how could a compilation of every critic on the web possibly hope to contradict the simplest explanation that every person watches movies differently? Deriving one’s opinion from such a caucus is easy, accepted, and fleeting. Only by exploration, or investigation, does one finally begin to watch movies in the way that previous generations read books, because if there’s one thing our culture has shown, it’s that it wants to replace the book with the film.
Over the course of several articles, headed “Reading movies as literature” (or RMaL) I hope to provide examples of how to read movies without the prerequisite cost of film school. Yes, some visual metaphors will be overlooked, and some references to German Expressionism will be lost, but statements of the “human condition” are universal for a reason.
Be on the lookout for movies coming through Westhampton. Showtimes occur twice daily within the 4 and 7 o’clock hours, and tickets range from $6.75 for seniors and children 11 and under, and $9.50 for adults. Matinees (earlier than 3 p.m.) are rare and cost $7.25.
Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, shipletm11, for updates on all things locally literary or quirky.