Miranda July’s Little Gem

Miranda July‘s Me and You and Everyone We Know–she wrote, directed and acted in it– is a little gem of a movie. (I have no idea how I missed it for so long; it was released in 2005; thanks Netflix!) It’s the kind of film you could describe as a ‘quirky indie’–for it wears that genre’s aesthetic quite prominently on its sleeves–and you’d be right. There is a plot of sorts, some very talented young actors, and a wry humor–part visual, part verbal, part physical–that suffuses most of its frames. It begins slowly, finding its way tentatively, and the viewer struggles to find his bearings at first. A few minutes later, you realize you are watching a movie with great comic potential and heart, and you settle in for the ride.

It’s a gentle one, punctuated by moments that are ostensibly outrageous but which, because of July’s deft touch–both behind the camera and in the script–never  seem overstated. (Having once seen Me and You and Everyone We Know you’ll certainly never think of ‘back and forth forever’ and the brand new emoticon ‘)) <> ((‘ in quite the same way again; those that frequent chat-rooms for a little virtual sexual adventure or two might have their universe of ‘who could it be at the other end’ expanded.) These moments–which earned the movie an R rating from the unsurprisingly prissy MPAA “for disturbing sexual content involving children,”–are also quietly hilarious, because they tap into some simple, yet universal, facts about humans: that children, both teens and pre-teens, like it or not,  have a sexual sense and are infinitely curious about it, that adulthood does not always bring sexual satisfaction and completion. You will squirm a bit, giggle too, and in the climactic scene–no pun intended–laugh out loud.

But Me and You and Everyone We Know is ultimately a movie about love: the variety that goes bad and more importantly, that kind which seeks to blossom.  Because it begins with the former and ends with the latter–in not just one, but perhaps two venues–it is a hopeful movie. It showcases the central oddity of love: that it may blossom in the strangest of locales, bringing together odd pairs of fellow travelers in the strangest of ways. The awkwardness and gentleness of the encounters between the ‘couples’–Pam (JoNell Kennedy) and Richard (John Hawkes) (love gone bad),   Richard and Christine (Miranda July) (love coming good), and Sylvie (Carlie Westerman) and  Peter (Miles Thompson) (proto-love, maybe?)–are testaments to the way love can make fools and angels of us all.

A few days ago, I wrote a scathing review of an expensive, bloated, ponderous, big-budget, 3-D action movie–Prometheus–that wanted to claim for itself a piece of the cinematic philosopher’s pie and thus raise itself to the level of a serious intellectual statement. Me and You and Everyone We Know doesn’t aim that high but it still shows that that can be done for far less money and with much less pretentiousness if the essentials of good cinema and storytelling are followed.

Hyman Strachman the Pirate AKA Troops Supporter

Hyman Strachman is a pirate. But he doesn’t fly the Jolly Roger, drink rum, hop around on a pegleg with a cutlass tucked neatly into a cummerbund, board ships while yelling “aarrr!” or call anyone a ‘scurvy bilge rat.’ Rather, he buys DVDs, makes multiple copies of them using a ‘duplicator’ and ships them to US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has not kept an official count but estimates that he topped 80,000 discs a year during his heyday in 2007 and 2008, making his total more than 300,000 since he began in 2004….

That sounds like massive copyright infringement to me. And it is. But Mr. Strachman is not going to be brought to justice any time soon. Not even by the MPAA:

Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America said he did not believe its member studios were aware of Mr. Strachman’s operation. His sole comment dripped with the difficulty of going after a 92-year-old widower supporting the troops. “We are grateful that the entertainment we produce can bring some enjoyment to them while they are away from home,” Mr. Gantman said.

Mr. Strachman’s activity, if carried out by anyone else, for any other reason, would have brought the wrath of the Righteous Copyright Enforcers, sorry, the MPAA, on his head. But Mr. Strachman is doing it for ‘the boys over there,’ fighting for our freedom. So Mr. Gantman eases up, knowing well that if there is one line you do not cross, it is the one that would turn you into a non-supporter of the troops. (Except when you are going after retired generals speaking unfavorably about the conduct of wars overseas; then you load both barrels and fire.)

Of course, the studios have tried to help ‘our boys’ as well, ‘sending military bases reel-to-reel films…and projectors for the troops.’ The reason studios send ‘reel-to-reel films’  to military bases and not DVDs is that they are well aware that DVD-burners and laptops are a dime-a-dozen on bases, and that the young, just-above-teenaged soldiers who make up a sizable portion of the troops overseas are quite likely to respond to DVDs in precisely the same way that young, just-above-teenaged men and women in the US react to DVDs back home: They’d make copies of them or rip them and pass those on. The studios love ‘our boys,’ they just don’t trust them to observe the laws they are defending.

Note:  As expected, the New York Times article linked to above uncritically parrots an MPAA talking point:

Although the most costly piracy now takes place online through file-sharing Web sites, the illegal duplication of copyright DVDs — usually by organized crime in Eastern Europe and China, not by retirees in their 90s in the American suburbs — still siphons billions of dollars out of the industry every year.

It would be extremely useful for the Times to tell us how these staggering ‘billions and billions‘ numbers are calculated. For I have no idea. It would also be a useful enhancement of this debate if once, just once, the Times might talk about how movie attendance is enhanced by the word-of-mouth buzz created by the presence of ‘pirated’ DVDs and torrented versions of movies. Just once.