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July 22, 2009 - Rick Chatenever
When I talk about magic, it doesn’t take long to start sounding like a Hallmark card. Double rainbows over Haleakala. Staring into the eye of a whale. Serendipitous coincidences when everything clicks and you actually believe there’s such a thing as perfection.
My version of magic includes random acts of kindness, flying in airplanes, Zen nothingness and/or just being in the zone.
Magic happens. It’s easy. Obviously, I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.
J.K. Rowling does. She’s a leading authority on the stuff. She knows how heavy and dangerous magic can be, and the enormous responsibility that goes with even bringing the subject up.
This knowledge has made her a fabulously wealthy knight of the realm and an inspirational global citizen. It’s what landed the sixth Harry Potter movie — “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” — in theaters last week, to critics’ praise accompanied by studio executives playing happy tunes on their cash registers.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is magic at its darkest. Chaos lurks just around the next corner, danger, deceit and betrayal await.
Director David Yates incorporates some marvelous action sequences to create this menacing mood, but never lets them dominate the narrative. Every stylish camera angle, every establishing shot, adds to the foreboding dangers awaiting Harry as he grapples with the burden of being “the Chosen One.”
But the real adventure this time is less about the never-ending battle against the forces of darkness, and more about the hormones taking over the lives of the young would-be wizards of Hogwarts.
Youthful out-of-control emotions are instantly familiar to movie audiences that have grown up with Harry. Unbearably awkward in one instant, it’s downright hilarious the next.
The young audience I watched the film with hung on every longing look and every breathless breath Harry, Ron and Hermione took in the grip of infatuation and jealousy, not to mention love potions. It was literature’s answer to “I Love You, Beth Cooper.”
These feelings, as much as the special effects, produce the real magic this time, even as Harry and his best friends end the movie sensing that their Hogwarts years have barely prepared them for the dark things awaiting them in the scariest of all realms — adulthood.
The coming-of-age theme reverberated in a very different way last weekend with news of the death of iconic TV anchorman Walter Cronkite.
As the television medium paused to honor this figure who had played such a mighty role in shaping it, we were reminded of a different kind of magic.
The consummate newsman, a product of World War II (“The Greatest Generation”) values, Cronkite was remembered for covering most of the earth-changing events of the late-20th century. The Kennedy assassination. The moon landing. Vietnam. Watergate. And on and on.
His professionalism, his integrity, his humanity were impeccable. He earned the distinction of being “the most trusted man in America” when those words still meant something, before they were cheapened into marketing slogans.
He was a pioneer at discovering the powers and the limits of the new medium. In real time, it fell to him to explain and comfort a nation through the assassination of a president, or guide it home from fighting a wrong war.
While he embodied an objectivity in his reporting, what has been overlooked is just the opposite. The formative years of television were uncharted territory. For all the new technology, Cronkite was practicing the most ancient of arts: storytelling.
Buried under all his stellar accomplishments was the accidental role he played in shaping an era, and mindset, that would come to be known as “the ’60s.” Last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” tribute included Cronkite’s recollection of telling Ed Sullivan that it might help a nation still grieving over the death of John Kennedy to discover the Beatles. Or his memory of his daughters telling them they were going to a “concert,” only to soon learn it was Woodstock.
Never posturing to be part of the counterculture himself, Cronkite, it turns out, “got it” as much as he got the major news stories of his era.
The medium he loved and shaped, long ago discarded the high standards he set for it. Hopefully the generation that grew up listening to Uncle Walter won’t so easily forget what we learned from him.
And the world is short one more storyteller with the death of Frank McCourt. The Pulitzer Prize winner had a gift for taking the words the rest of us use, and turning them into music.
Who knows how he did it? Must have been magic.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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