Monday, April 13, 2009
Another Movie I Like: 12 Angry Men
“I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice. It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply. In almost everything I've written there is a thread of this: a man's seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself.”--ROD SERLING, Los Angeles Times, 1967
I had a student once who would always ask me what films I liked. He was confused as to why I almost never liked anything new. I did what I always do and I talked about craft and the lack of craft of those writers and director making films today.
So the student asked me to name films that I liked and why I think they were so much better. I listed a few and asked him if he had ever seen 12 Angry Men. He hadn’t. I told him that is was well-written and well-directed, entertaining, engaging and smart. It is a combination that is almost never seen any more. I said to this student, “I just want to go to the theater and see 12 Angry Men.”
I meant of course that I want to see its equivalent a movie that is both meaningful and entertaining. Both emotional and important.
This student, unlike most, took it upon himself to watch 12 Angry Men and the next time I saw him he said, “I just want to go to the theater and see 12 Angry Men.”
This, like Paper Moon, is one of those films that I wished I’d made. One of these days if I study really hard maybe I can write something as well as Reginald Rose wrote this piece.
I’ve said it before but those guys knew what they were doing back then. They felt both a social responsibility to tell stories that were relevant as well as feeling a responsibility to engage an audience.
My pet theory, which I cannot back up in any way, is that the writers who fought in World War II felt a real responsibility to their friends who had died on the field. They saw just how inhumane human beings could be to one another and they wanted to remind us to be as good as we could be. To be as fair and compassionate as we could be.
It is all over my hero Rod Serling’s work.
But at the same time they strove to teach, not preach. Drama is a way of getting an intellectual idea across on an emotional level.
12 Angry Men is a story that says that each of our voices matters--that because of our personalities and experiences we can all bring something to the table. It is a story that says we all have value.
It also shows how our prejudices can blind us and how foolish it is to stick to them despite all evidence to the contrary.
12 Angry Men is a masterpiece, plan and simple. It is a lean drama stripped to its essence, all the fat trimmed off.
Do yourself a favor and look past your own prejudices of style, or what you think of black and white film, or old acting styles and see what’s underneath all of that. Treat yourself to the rare experience of both feeling and thinking as you watch a film.
See 12 Angry Men.